Tony G's '18 Firecracker JLUR DD/Crawler Journal

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*December 22nd, 2018

Well... Wife and kids headed out of town Wednesday afternoon, providing me with a day and a half of "me" time before I had to go back to work. What better way to spend it than wrenching on the Jeep, right? Started working on it late afternoon and continued late into the night on the first day. Second day was an all day, late night affair. Today I am back at work and am tired, achy, and only partially done with the rear end. Haven't even touched the front end yet.

So, what happened? Some extra hardware, a bunch of missing hardware, no overall hardware inventory list, and pre-release instructions that didn't really go into much detail about which pieces of "supplied hardware" went where caused confusion and provided the first challenge. The real issue though was bracket fitment. The instructions indicated some bending/cutting of the pinch seam may be required so I was prepared for it, but it needs to be done in small increments, in a very tight space, with very limited access for tools. Even after clearancing the pinch seam, the passenger side bracket solidly contacted the body and the driver side made minor contact. I ground down the driver side bracket and had to cut a pretty good chunk out of the passenger side bracket to finally get it to fit in there. Also drilled a couple of small holes so I could remount the wiring clips that were originally attached to the factory shock tower.

I must have installed/removed each bracket at least 10 times during the fitting. Mind you they don't just slip into place. They need to be manipulated just right in order to get them under the wheel well liner, around wiring, past the fuel fill hose, under the trimmed pinch seam, and into position surrounding the factory shock tower. I then needed to remove them one final time to repaint them due to the cutting, grinding, drilling, and scraping damage I had inflicted upon them. This was a long and painstaking task, but I was pretty proud of how it turned out when I was done.

I called EVO a few times throughout the day and they were very helpful. They shipped out my missing hardware (as well as my backordered limit straps), answered some questions for me to confirm that I was proceeding correctly, and assured me that it would be OK to trim my brackets. Said they hadn't run into my issue with the 10 or so kits they had installed thus far, but that they weren't surprised as there are bound to be minor variations in dimensions between different vehicles. He also said they'd update the CAD drawing to reflect the needed design modification.

I'll post a few pictures when I get a chance. I started out taking lots of pictures, documenting the steps as if I was putting together instructions. However, as my progress got further and further off track, I started giving up. The whole experience was really pretty frustrating at times as I wasn't expecting a high-end (read expensive) "bolt on" kit to require this much fabrication on my part. I'm really hoping the front end install goes much smoother. Regardless, I still thoroughly enjoyed my "me" time...





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*December 22nd, 2018

Just realized I kind of made it sound like I accomplished almost nothing during my day and a half of wrenching. I should add that I removed my factory shocks, coils, upper and lower control arms, sway bar, and track bar. Anti-seized, adjusted length, and installed all my new Metal Cloak control arms. Installed EVO raised track bar bracket, upper coilover brackets, rear shock skids, brake line relocation brackets, sway bar drop brackets, and reservoir mounting brackets. Anti-seized, adjusted length, and installed Metal Cloak rear track bar. Also, painted the trimmed edges of my pinch seam to help prevent rusting down the road.

Ok, I feel much better about the progress I've made now...

Hardware arriving tomorrow will allow me to install my sway bar links, bump stop extensions, and limit straps, as well as reattach my sway bar and brake lines to their new brackets. Finishing the rear should be pretty quick really. After that it'll finally be time to bolt in the coilovers and start working on the front end!
 
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*January 3rd, 2019

Well, still working on it. Rear is pretty much complete aside from bolting up the sway bar and doing a little additional trimming on the pieces of the wheel well liner that bolt up to the back of the rear bumper. The front is just about there too, however the front kit was missing hardware as well. All the metal cutting/drilling/trimming is done and the new control arms and track bar are in place. I just need to bolt everything up once I receive the missing hardware and then do a little more trimming on the front wheel well liners.

Full review coming on the install when I'm done. Pictures eventually, I promise. It's just that I only seem to have time to post here when I'm at work, and all my pictures are on my computer at home!
 
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*January 16th, 2019

FINALLY finished up my lift install a few days ago! There are a few minor details still in need of tidying up, but at least I was able to drive it to work again. I was joking with my wife that it had been out of service for so long (considering the relatively short amount of time I've owned it), that it was like getting a brand new Jeep all over again! My commute is 30 miles with about 75% of it consisting of highway driving. It drove beautifully, especially considering that I hadn't done any real fine tuning of my caster/pinion angles beyond my initial control arm set up measurements. Sooo nice to be back on the road again...

So wow, it took me 24 days from start to finish! Granted, I didn't work on it every day. Family celebrations for Christmas, my birthday, my son's birthday, and New Year's occurred. I worked my regular shifts at work. Wife went back to work after being on disability since the beginning of the year. And, I took a family trip to Disneyland. A very busy time of year for sure, and maybe not the best time to take apart my primary mode of transportation, as it made for some very cold commuting to work on my motorcycle.

I worked on it a little here, a little there. On more than a handful of days where my wife stepped up and kept the kids busy for me, I worked on it all day long. Couldn't even tell you how many hours I've spent on it all together, but I can tell you this install isn't for the casual weekend warrior. I consider myself mechanically inclined, have a pretty darn solid set of tools, and have done plenty of wrenching on Jeeps. If I have anything working against me, its that my attention to detail slows me down as I like to be very thorough and precise. A complete set of hardware and more detailed instructions would have helped for sure, but don't plan on casually knocking this install out by yourself over the course of a weekend while enjoying your favorite frosty beverages. It just isn't going to happen...

So the one bonus of this whole drawn out install... I mentioned earlier in this post that there was a family trip to Disneyland that occurred. Well, it turns out that EVO headquarters is only about 5 miles from the happiest place on earth! At that point in time I was working my way through the front end hardware issues and had a number of questions about the install and the intent of the pre-release instructions I had. I got up early one morning (while the family was still asleep in our hotel room) and made my way over to EVO. I met with Andrew, the engineer of the EVO coilover kit as well as the guy that had been providing me with technical support over the phone. We spent an hour or two going over the instructions and discussing hardware sizes/lengths/inventories/etc. I believe we were able to clear up a lot of the issues that I had encountered which (hopefully) will make for an easier DIY install for any of you that decide to purchase this kit down the road.

Once everything regarding the install was squared away, I got a tour of the facility which handles design, production, and shipping of all their products. Laser cutting and powder coating are both done nearby, but all the rest of the welding/fabrication is done on-site. Off-Road Evolution (right next door) handles the retail and install side of the business. Not the fanciest shop in the world by any means, but they really take pride in what they do and they are able to maintain a high level of quality by handling everything in house. I really enjoyed my time visiting with Andrew and it reassured me that I had made the right choice by going with EVO for my lift.

By now my family had realized I was missing and it was time for me make my way back to the hotel. I was excited to find that sometime during my visit, EVO's flagship JL had pulled into the parking lot. I consider myself a very anti-selfie type of guy, but I couldn't help but take advantage of the opportunity before I left...

img_0172.jpg
 
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*March 24th, 2019

Wow... so OK, I'm finally back. I was just pretty burnt out after this whole ordeal and kind of needed to take a mental vacation from anything Jeep related. Started poking around the forums again a couple of days ago and finally have the opportunity to post up some pics...

You've seen the boxes, now here's some of the parts...

EVO Stage 1 Rear Coilover Kit: (EVO's stages indicate the number of control arm sets in the kit, Stage 1 has none)

fullsizeoutput_4d1b.jpeg



MetalCloak Control Arms, Front and Rear: (The reason I went with the Stage 1 kit)

fullsizeoutput_4d1c.jpeg



MetalCloak Track Bars, Front and Rear:

fullsizeoutput_4d1d.jpeg



And (drumroll please...) the King Rear Coilovers!:

fullsizeoutput_4d1e.jpeg



Freshly built, and the EVO spec gets you these fancy customized top ends:

fullsizeoutput_4d21.jpeg



You'll notice that I have no pictures of the EVO Stage 1 Front Coilover Kit, or the King Front Coilovers. Yeah, by the time I finally made it around to unboxing the front end stuff, I was just ready be done with it and had long since abandoned my step-by-step photo documentation. You can check out EVO's website for the kit pictures if you really want to see them. ;)
 
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*March 24th, 2019

I'll save you the step-by-step for now, but let's just say my garage looked more or less like this for the next month. Some days it was better, most days it was way, way, way worse...

fullsizeoutput_4d2e.jpeg



Despite it being a two-car garage, I don't have a whole lot of space due to storage cabinets lining both sides. Pulled it in just far enough to clear the garage door, and jacked it up as high as I could (without hitting the retracted garage door) so I could get as much droop out of my axles as possible. All work had to be done with the garage door open as that was the only way I'd have any room at all. After I finished the rear, I had to pull my Jeep out, flip it around, and repeat the process so I could work on the front.

More detailed photos of the install coming in the next few posts...
 
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*March 25th, 2019

On to the rear install. As I mentioned, this won't be a step-by-step, but I figured I'll try to post up some pics of what I would have like to have seen prior to purchasing this lift.

Upper Rear Shock Bracket Mounting

Passenger side sheetmetal trimming - This was part way through the process. I ended up trimming a little more and then of course came back with some enamel paint and touched up the raw edge to help prevent rusting. The plastic wheel well liner has to be held back while doing this and it's still tight. I found a right angle die grinder with a small cut-off wheel worked best.

fullsizeoutput_4d2f.jpeg



Passenger side bracket trimming - The leading edge of the bracket was interfering with the body tub. EVO told me their mock-up had at least a pinky finger's width of space between the two, but I trimmed off a pinky's worth and then some.

fullsizeoutput_4d30.jpeg



Passenger side bracket installed - You can see the raw edge touched up with black paint. A hole has to be drilled all the way through the frame for the bolt in the lower right corner of the picture. It can be tricky to get this straight. I later realized there was an existing hole on the driver side of the frame that I could have used to locate the passenger side hole rather than blindly drilling through the frame with a long bit. I also drilled an oblong hole on the trailing edge of the bracket to remount the displaced wiring harness.

fullsizeoutput_4d31.jpeg



Driver side sheetmetal trimming - The driver side seemed easier to trim for some reason, but it may have just been because of what I had learned while doing the passenger side. The biggest obstacle here is the fuel filler hose which can be seen on the left die of this picture.

fullsizeoutput_4d32.jpeg



Driver side bracket trimming - Just a small corner had to be shaved off here.

fullsizeoutput_4d33.jpeg



Driver side bracket installed - These brackets don't just slide into place. They have to be threaded in behind the factory mount, rotated up and over the top of the mount, and then slid down into place. You get pretty good at after all the test fitting, but still hope for a clean run the last go-round so you don't gouge the paint on the bracket.

fullsizeoutput_4d34.jpeg



With the factory upper rear shock mounts now reinforced, it was finally time to move on to the next chapter of this install! (And to think I started with the rear because I though it was going to be easy... :swear:
 
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*March 25th, 2019

Next up was installing the control arms. It was a nice change of pace to be installing a straight up bolt on part after all the fiddling with the brackets. They come with some anti-seize on them, but I pulled them apart and added some extra so all the threads had a nice thin film on them.

I printed out both EVO and MetalCloak's directions for installing adjustable control arms so I could compare them. They agreed on some of the lengths, but had as much as a 1/2" variance on others. I for the most part went with the EVO numbers since I'm installing their lift, but kinda spilt the difference on the one they really disagreed on. In the end, I still had to make some some additional length adjustments after everything was installed and my Jeep was back on all fours.

MetalCloak Passenger Rear Arms Installed - My upper arm was kind of a dull grayish yellow color as opposed to the shiny golden yellow zinc finish MetalCloak is known for. I'm hoping this doesn't cause issues down the road, but haven't gotten around to checking with MetalCloak to find out.

fullsizeoutput_4d35.jpeg



MetalCloak Driver Rear Arms Installed - This image gives you a pretty good look at the brake line relocation bracket as well. Speaking of brakes... the parking brake cables need to be disconnected and rerouted under the frame in order to get full droop out of your axle.

fullsizeoutput_4d38.jpeg
 
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*March 26th, 2019

Metal Cloak Rear Trackbar with EVO Trackbar Relocation Bracket - Both pretty straightforward to install. Getting the bracket in place is a bit like making that last second rotation to slip a Tetris piece into position, but it was actually quite easy to do. One hole gets drilled in the side of the bracket for a bolt to help keep everything in place along with some assistance from a U-bolt that clamps the opposite side of the bracket onto the axle. I started off with the trackbar at stock length, and then extended it a bit. Still needed some adjustment after everything was back on the ground though.

fullsizeoutput_4d3a.jpeg



Rear Passenger Coilover Installed - Another thing that I was expecting to be easy, but had to fight all the way... These coilovers are LONG when fully extended. With the way the lower shock mount skid/relocation brackets are shaped, you have to drop the axle even further than the length of the shock. With my Jeep still jacked up as high as it could go, the axle had to be just about sitting on the ground to finally get the lower shock eye into position. Would have been really nice to have been working on a lift for this part of the install. Reservoir mounts bolt into the existing holes where the wheel well liner clips go. The ones on this side are just barely close enough together to capture both ends of the reservoir.

fullsizeoutput_4d3c.jpeg



Rear Driver Coilover Installed - A little more breathing room on the reservoir mounts on this side. You may have noticed the large zip-ties hanging off the reservoir hose in both this picture and the previous one. They're not necessary, they were just holding my rear sway bar in place while I was waiting on the missing hardware from EVO. Wheel well liner on both sides has to be trimmed to make room for the coil spring and to allow the reservoir hose to pass through.

fullsizeoutput_4d3b.jpeg



Rear Coilover Tire Clearance - Not a lot of room between the coilover and the tire, but not a lot is needed according to the EVO folks. This is with my factory wheel, LT315/70R17 tires, and SpiderTrax 1.75" wheel spacers. 6.125" backspacing on the factory wheel combines with the spacers for 4.375" overall backspacing. I could swear that EVO's marketing materials said 4.25" was suitable with Rubicon axles back when I bought the kit, but everything now says 3.75" with no mention of Rubicon axles. The rear works just fine with the combo I've got, the front not so much. I really love my factory wheels, but sadly they may have to be replaced somewhere along the way.

fullsizeoutput_4d3d.jpeg



Rear Coilovers Installed - And here is the final rear view with both coilovers set at their minimum preload (lift height). Pretty sexy if you ask me... Lots of adjustments yet to be made, but at least it's back on the ground! :bop:

fullsizeoutput_4d41.jpeg
 
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*March 27th, 2019

On to the front end... Here's where the "no going back" moment comes in. I was hoping this kit would be somewhat reversible (and maybe in some cobbled together sort of way it is), but here's where the major modifications come into play. The factory front upper shock mounts actually get cut in half, with the outer portion of them being removed altogether.

So, the basic operation for installing the front upper EVO coilover brackets involves holding the bracket in place to use as a template for your first shot at trimming the wheel well liner, cutting the aforementioned factory shock mount, and then drilling the coil tower once the bracket is bolted up as the bracket is used to locate the hole.

Front Passenger Shock Mount Trimmed - I decided once again to go with the passenger side first. The hole seen at the top center of the picture is the threaded hole for the factory shock bolt. In other words, prior to trimming, the shock bolt usually passes through the outside of the bracket, through the upper shock eye, and then threads in to the pictured hole. All that remains of the outer portion of the bracket is the small rectangular shaped piece of metal seen just to the right of the hole. Access is tight, but not horrible with the liners still in place. This might require a few test fits to make sure you've trimmed enough to allow the EVO bracket to install without interference.

fullsizeoutput_4d43.jpeg



Front Passenger Coil Tower Drilled - After finishing up your trim job, you install the bracket and all of its bolts to get it lined up. There is one extra hole in the bracket that gets used to locate a hole that needs to be drilled in the coil tower. EVO advised this extra bolt may not be 100% necessary (they don't have it on their flagship JL) but they thought it would be a good idea to install an extra bolt to bridge the long span between the front hole and the factory shock mounting hole. A right angle drill would be very handy for drilling this hole as there is very little room to work and this gets done (at least initially) from the top. That being said, it is very possible to do it with a smallish standard drill and a little ingenuity.

fullsizeoutput_4d4e.jpeg



Front Driver Shock Mount Trimmed - Process is simply repeated on the other side with the exception of the axle breather tube having to be removed. If you do it right, there's plenty of room to re-attach it after surgery. Again, this side was easier after having done it once already on the other side. I used a variety of tools to trim the mounts. Mostly a 4.5" grinder with cut-off wheel, and then a right angle die grinder with a smaller wheel once I ran out of room. Came back with a grinding stone on the die grinder to smooth everything out, and then of course applied a generous coat of enamel paint to prevent rusting. At this point in time, fight the urge to trim any more of your wheel well liner than you have to. There'll be time for that when the coilover is bolted up and you have a better idea of how all the pieces fit together.

fullsizeoutput_4d4c.jpeg



Front Driver Coil Tower Drilled - Again, a repeat of the process that you did on the other side. During one of your test fits however, I would highly recommend taking a look at the hole in the EVO bracket where the coilover is going to be bolted in. Just above it, there is a small platform that supports some of the brake equipment. There is a little tab hanging off the bottom of this bracket that isn't a problem, until you try to bolt up your coilovers. Take a close look, you'll see it. Cut that evil little bastard off now before everything is bolted up and torqued. You'll be very, very glad you did. Trust me...

fullsizeoutput_4d4d.jpeg
 
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*March 29th, 2019

As I mentioned earlier, the farther along in the install I got, the fewer pictures I took. Here's some pictures of the front end after everything was pretty much done.

Front Passenger Coilover Installed - I apologize for not having a picture of just the bracket installed, but well, it is what it is. You can see the reservoir bolts on in the spot where the factory shock used to reside. The factory shock bolt essentially anchors the top of the EVO bracket to the vehicle, and a mounting tab for the reservoir gets sandwiched under the head of the bolt.

fullsizeoutput_4d4f.jpeg



Front Passenger Coilover Upper Close-up - The trailing side of the bracket is laser cut with the EVO logo. They give you brushed aluminum plates that you can either leave natural, or paint to match your color scheme. I had mine powder coated in a Firecracker(ish) red and really like the way it turned out. You may notice my "KING Off-Road Racing Shocks" stickers are backwards... When I received them, the driver side was labeled right and the passenger side was labeled left. I guess this is one of the early adopter bugs I have to deal with. Fortunately, I was able to verify with EVO that the valving on both sides is identical so the issue is only cosmetic.

fullsizeoutput_4d51.jpeg



Front Passenger Coilover Lower Close-up - Bump stop gets installed on the old coil spring perch, brake lines get relocated with the silver bracket in the middle of the picture.

fullsizeoutput_4d50.jpeg



Front Passenger Coilover Lower Rear View - The lower shock eye gets moved outboard a bit with this shock skid/relocation/limit strap mounting bracket.

fullsizeoutput_4d52.jpeg
 
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*March 30th, 2019

Front Driver Coilover Installed - Also seen in this picture are the replacement sway bar links (kinda too long seeing as I'm at full droop and they're still almost at a 90), and my SpiderTrax 1.75" wheel spacers. I've never been a fan of wheel spacers, but I really love my factory Rubicon wheels, and I'm just not ready to part with them yet. A note about the replacement sway bar links... don't try to torque them to factory specs. Chances are pretty good that you'll crush the bushing sleeves. Just get them gudentite.

fullsizeoutput_4d55.jpeg



Front Driver Coilover Upper Close-up - I tried to trim the wheel well liners as similarly as possible. Back and forth, taking measurements, over and over again between the driver and passenger side. You only get one shot at this so take it in little bites. You'll soon find however that the two sides aren't the same. Different contours, ridges, and bump outs are on each side depending on the equipment hiding behind them. Also, what looks good from the side may very well leave a large gap between the bracket and the liner when looked at from the front. If you follow the trailing edge of the bracket exactly, you'll end up with a large gap just waiting to catch whatever debris is being flung off your tires. This picture also gives a good view of where the limit strap bolts to the frame using an existing hole and an EVO supplied flag nut.

fullsizeoutput_4d56.jpeg



Front Driver Coilover Lower Close-Up - Not a lot of room in front of the lower wraps of the coil, especially before you've dialed in your front pinion angle.

fullsizeoutput_4d57.jpeg



Front Driver Coilover Lower Rear View - Bottom end of the limit strap can be seen here bolted to the inside of the factory lower shock mount. Limit straps are only required on the EVO coilover kits if you are running short/mid length arms as the suspension geometry changes more drastically during the travel of the shock than it does with a long arm kit. Benefit is that you can keep both your factory driveshafts (though I'm a bit concerned about my front Rzeppa boot), downside is that you lose a couple of inches of travel.

fullsizeoutput_4d58.jpeg



And of course, playing a supporting role in the background of the last two posts, are my MetalCloak adjustable upper and lower control arms. I have high hopes for these Duroflex joints. They seem nice and solid and I appreciate that they can be torqued prior to setting the vehicle back on the ground. The bushings actually rotate inside the ends of the arms so you can tighten them wherever and then just rotate them into position. Here is the coordinating MetalCloak front track bar with its Durotrak joints. (It's the gold one... :))

fullsizeoutput_4d5e.jpeg
 
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*March 30th, 2019

So how about some before and afters? Keep in mind, this is right after finishing so all coilovers are set at their minimum preload (adjustment rings all the way at the top of the shock body). Control arms length haven't been adjusted for pinion/caster nor has the overall wheelbase and centering of the wheels taken place. I have quickly realized that one of the best things about these coilover kits (with adjustable arms all around) is the infinite adjustability so you can fine tune it for your needs. I have also quickly realized that one of the worst things about these coilover kits is the infinite adjustability.

Match your preload side to side, and now your rake is off. Adjust your arms for pinion angle and now your ride height has changed. Change your ride height and now your wheelbase and wheel centering are off. Fix your wheelbase, and now your pinion angles are off. Each adjustment affects another and you just have to play with them until everything settles into the position you want it. Then you have to set your coil spring isolator stops... :headbang:

Without further ado, here we go:

BEFORE:

fullsizeoutput_4d60.jpeg



AFTER:

fullsizeoutput_4d59.jpeg


Did you notice the install took so long that the Christmas ornaments are gone?.. :(
 
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*March 30th, 2019

BEFORE:

fullsizeoutput_4d6c.jpeg



AFTER:

fullsizeoutput_4d5a.jpeg



Kinda makes my metric 35's look a little small now...
 
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*March 30th, 2019

BEFORE:

fullsizeoutput_4d6a.jpeg



AFTER:

fullsizeoutput_4d5b.jpeg



Hadn't quite figured out how I wanted to handle the bottom section of the wheel well liner when I took these pictures, but I eventually got them on there.
 

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