PayDirt – Building the Ultimate LJ in Stages

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Story by Val Douglas, Photos by Jami Pellegrino

4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 29Have you ever sat down and added up your receipts for your Jeep build? We don’t recommend it. You’ll begin to question your sanity and really understand why some say JEEP stands for Just Empty Every Pocket. But what if there was a way to build it right, without breaking your bank account, and do it in stages over a few years? Andrew Harris found a way, and it wasn’t easy. It took five years to get his 2006 Jeep Wrangler LJ built into his dream Jeep. The wait was worth it; he now has one of the most capable LJs on the trails, and the LJ still drives like a dream down the highway; all it took was planning and patience.

Andrew purchased his 2006 LJ in 2015. It was a bone stock Khaki Metallic Rubicon, which was ideal for his end goal: 4-link rear, 3-link front suspension with King Coil Overs, and 40’s sitting as low as possible and have the lightest armor for weight savings. Sounds ideal, right? Here is how Andrew transformed his LJ and did it without repurchasing parts during different build stages.

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Andrew never lifted the Jeep until 2020. He kept the stock suspension and added beefed up Currie control arms and a track bar, added a 1” body lift to put a flat belly skid on it from GenRight Off-Road, which was the only suspension upgrades he added. He knew he needed to proceed in stages to build it right, so next in line to fit 37s under the LJ, he added GenRight Off Road Aluminum Hi-Line fenders and inner fenders on the front and rear, plus rear corner guards and GenRight steel rocker guards, and eventually, he added steel bumpers front and rear, and then a GenRight Off Road Full Roll Cage and Aluminum roof, that fits under the hard and soft top. The thought process: armor first to keep the occupants safe, add the 37” tires to get on the trails in Big Bear, CA or Stoddard Wells, CA. Andrew never saw himself needing to tackle trails at the Hammers like Sledgehammer, Wrecking Ball during the 2015-2018 seasons.

In 2019, the Tracer Suspension System derived from a Trail and Racer suspension, engineered and manufactured by GenRight Off Road, was introduced. This new suspension system for the Jeep LJ stretched the wheelbase to 115”, lowered the ride height and center of gravity by 3” by lowering the engine and clocking it. It removes the OEM brackets and replaces them with new brackets, allows for an LS motor swap and your choice of transmission/transfer case combo. 4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 27

Andrew, like most, loved the idea of the Tracer Suspension System but couldn’t afford the LS swap along with all the other upgraded goodies the system offered, but what if a 4.0L could still be utilized, with the Atlas and OEM transmission – Andrew’s LJ has a manual transmission. In 2020, Andrew asked Tony Pellegrino, owner of GenRight, about using the Tracer Suspension with the 4.0L, or even a stroker motor. Ironically, GenRight had already been engineering new motor mounts for the 4.0L engine, knowing not everyone wanted to LS swap immediately with the Tracer Suspension, and they needed a test vehicle for fitment; Andrew just happened to ask at the right time!

4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 30GenRight had a Tracer Suspension rolling chassis available and no motor mounts, so the newly developed 4.0L mounts could be utilized.  GenRight wanted to do the build in-house in case any redesigns for the 4.0L motor mounts were necessary. With the roller chassis available, that would cut down the shop time hours from 8 weeks to 3 weeks, saving thousands in labor costs, plus he used the savings to put a stroker 4.6L motor in the Jeep for a little bit more power on the highway drives. All of his old components, like the Rubicon axles, 37” tires, control arms, and track bar, he sold and used the money to make his dream LJ a reality.

In his build, Andrew added 4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 24a custom dash to the passenger side which mirrored the drivers’ side OEM dash, and a Baja Designs custom light bar to the windshield controlled by a Switchpros unit on the dash; other additions included Simpson Seats, 5-point harnesses, and a carbon fiber hood by Varozza.

Once the build was complete, GenRight went with Andrew to test the vehicle since this was a first-of-its-kind. “I took it out on the trails, and it’s kind of like cheating,” Andrew explains with a giant grin on his face. With the Tracer Suspension complete, and 40” Mickey Thompson Baja Boss tires underfoot, the Jeep actually sits lower than the 37” no-lift version he originally had built. The roller chassis made the build process easier and less stressful because everything was already welded in place on axles and links; this simplified the process leaving dropping the drivetrain onto the chassis, the body, and cage onto the chassis and wiring it up.

“It’s named PayDirt because my grandfather was a gold miner, and the ‘dirt’ essentially paid for everything. Plus, it is Khaki Metallic in color, like gold, so PayDirt fit.

Driving it on the trail, the Jeep does everything better than before: Steep ledges are climbed with ease, off-camber is stable, and I still drive it 3 hours to and from the trails, and it does 70mph no problem! It feels like cheating in Jeep terms. The Tracer Rolling Chassis swap was simple, and the motor fit on the first try, so things went smoothly.”

4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 33Andrew recently took PayDirt on its first Jeep Jamboree outing in Big Bear on the Holcomb Creek Trail. “The jeep crawled through the giant boulders like they weren’t even there!” exclaimed Andrew with a giant grin. “The build may have taken five years, but I didn’t buy parts twice, and this was totally worth the wait!”

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