|[an error occurred while processing this directive]||Short Cuts|
by: Bart Jacobs
|Computer generated mock up by Alan Taylor|
|Tape lines are marking the cuts|
|Putting plasma cutter to use|
|Top of D pillar removed|
|Top gone to C pillar|
|Most of the back cut off|
|Had to remove most of the wheel wells|
Project XYJ has been in the planning for 18 months and was the result of a culmination of ideas to eliminate the sheet metal intensive rear section of the XJ. I found that on tough trails I was always banging the rear quarter panels, on the side and the bottom of the overhang (in front of the rear bumper). Another problem with that area was that the expensive tail light assemblies were extremely vulnerable and susceptible to rock hugging. I went through 5 assemblies before wising up and removing them before doing tough trails. A final problem was that even with a great aftermarket rear bumper (I've been running the Custom 4x4 that's held up extremely well) there was a whole lot banging, scraping and rock rubbing going on.
My first intentions were to cut the bottom boxes from the rear quarter panels to eliminate part of the overhang problem and give me more clearance. To do this I would have had to either make a new rear bumper to match the new bodylines, or modify the existing one. The next plan of attack was to eliminate the stock rear lights. I was thinking that if I armored the side of the quarter panel, I could wrap a solid piece of ¼" metal around to the tailgate and install a flat light in the rear. The problems with this were the existing side panels were not flat so the armor plate would look funny and actually stick out farther on the side than some of the existing sheet metal. Also, in the rear, the tailgate would stick out further than the new wrap around armored sides.
The last and final straw was that I was tired of the top and the station wagon look. There was just too much of it. I wrestled with the idea of taking the whole top off, but it just didn't seem right. I know I could have sold it and bought something without a top, but I really like the way the XJ handles and it still hauls the family. Then I started thinking about full sized sunroofs running the entire length of the top and finally thought of just lopping off the rear section to lighten the whole thing up.
When I started putting all the remedies together the vision of the outcome was not a pretty picture. I know that's not important in a dedicated rock crawler, but hey, I like a clean look. Also it was adding up to whole lot of work to band aid the overall sheet metal problem and had the possibility of actually weighing more and not really be solving anything. I kept coming back to the simplicity of the corners of the Wrangler tub and how they already had everything I wanted. Then one night laying in bed I thought why not see if I could replace the rear section of the XJ with a Wrangler tub. I decided to take some measurements and see if somehow it could be incorporated. The bodylines had to be close and when I measured them it finally seemed doable. I mentioned the idea to a few friends and Alan Taylor did a computer generated mock up of the concept and from there I was sold.
After all the planning and finally locating the rear portion of Wrangler tub (courtesy of Rocky Mountain High 4x4) I started with a couple of concepts and went from there. I had been running without the rear hatch so that was already out of the way. I wanted to keep the upper, rear portion of the top (D pillar) because it had structural support. I removed it first. Then I did away the top over the rear window. From there I had to trim metal to graft the old D pillar onto the existing C pillar (support behind the rear doors).
Then the ugly stuff started, completely removing the quarter panels from the uni-frame and floor. In the middle of doing this part there were several times I doubted the validity of the overall project, and that maybe I was just freaking nutz. The right quarter came off without a lot of trouble but the left side was complicated by the fuel filler. There's just something about a plasma cutter next to fuel lines that really bothers me. Finally the rear portion was removed and I gazed at it with mixed feelings. If worst came to worst I realized I could always just tube frame it from there and run a little flat bed. With that small bit of comfort I started fitting the tub and quickly surmised that the tub would have to be cut in half and fitted one side at a time because the XJ body is approximately 6 inches wider than the Wrangler tub.
With each test fit I found that more pieces of the uni-frame and floor needed to be removed. It took the better part of a day to get the pieces to fit right and match the bodylines. When I was satisfied with the fit I tacked them in place and then started working on the 6" gap to piece the two sides together in the rear. Keeping the goal in mind of less sheet metal I decided to the taper the rear in a bit to avoid as much future rock contact as possible. This resulted in a filler piece of just over 4 inches.
Immediate plans are to cut the bottom rear corners of the tub and eliminate more sheet metal. The fuel filler will be relocated into the rear also along with the flat round taillights. Then I need to make the final transition from the C pillar to the tub portion. This entire project needs to finished, including body work and paint, by February so stay tuned for updates.