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The 1997-2006 Jeep Wrangler (TJ series)

Also see the CJ, 1975-76 Jeeps, 1987-1995 Wrangler, 2007-2010, 2011-16, and 2017+ Wrangler

1997 jeep wrangler

Prototypes for the Jeep Wrangler “TJ”

There were three prototype vehicles competing to become what became the 1997 Jeep TJ (the 1996 model year was skipped). The preceding Jeep CJ and YJ (in that chronological order) were live axle designs with Hotchkiss suspensions, commonly known as a “parallel leaf spring” suspension.

The production group at Jeep/Truck Engineering (JTE) proposed a long-spring version of the YJ suspension to increase mobility, the lowest cost upgrade possible for the YJ. The Vehicle Development group proposed adapting the XJ/ZJ link coil suspension (Cherokee/Grand Cherokee) as the medium cost solution. This was eventually approved for, and used in, the TJ.

Evan Boberg and I, from PreProgram Group (this was the R&D group for Jeep and Dodge trucks), were tasked with hacking together an independent design to approach the Jeep performance standards for production. We were able to greatly exceed those standards, exceed on-road standards, anduse a narrower track width. We got 17 patents on the design, which had a floating axle to eliminate the main issue of an independent drive axle—that of half shaft joint angularity. This set up was used on a mule called “Li’l Blue.”

lil blue rear suspension

The downside to our design was cost. Not just a little bit more expensive, but a lot. I am sure we could have reduced the cost, given more time, but we only had just under ten weeks to design all the parts, build the vehicle, and get it to Moab, Utah for testing.

TJ Jeep Wrangler final-production suspensions

The TJ Jeep Wrangler used a Quadra-Link front and rear suspension, similar in basic design to that of the Cherokee; modifications were made to the Dana 30 front axle (also used in the prior YJ), and a Dana 44-3 axle was added in the rear to accommodate the Quadra-Link (link-coil) suspension.

The Dana 30 front axle has an under-slung carrier and is identical to the ZJ’s. The steering knuckle and ball joints have the same service features as the previous YJ model. The brake caliper adapter is part of the steering knuckle and non-adjustable steering stop. The lower ball joints are lubricated for the life of the vehicle and have no grease fitting due to space constraints.

In the Quadra-Link suspension, four control arms are connected to both the frame and a driving axle – the same ones used on the Grand Cherokee (the only difference being the bushing rates). Anti-dive effects were incorporated into the control arm angles, improving braking performance. The front and rear control arms use rubber bushings that help isolate road noise; the control arms are mounted to the axle and frame through the bushings. The front and rear lower control arms are identical, but the upper control arms have isolator bushings in both ends.

Instead of leaf springs, the suspension uses single-rate coil springs, which provide minimal friction and thus more free articulation and smoother operation. Four spring rates were available – computer-selected depending on the option packages ordered on the Jeep. Variable-rate rear springs improve the Jeep’s ride height and ride control at full load. The rear variable-rate springs were available with three spring rates (also computer selected).

The standard twin-tube, 1.18-inch (30-mm) diameter shock absorbers have deflected disc valves that control ride motions and oversized reservoir tubes. The oil passage area varies through the deflection characteristics proportionally to the shock’s velocity; faster motion results in a larger passage area and limited dampening force. The shocks are low-pressure gas charged to help prevent air pockets (cavitation) during rough road operation. The rear shocks are attached to the fuel tank cross member using weld nut

1964 Toledo plant

High-pressure monotube shocks were also available in the optional heavy-duty suspension package. Compared to the standard shock absorbers, the option has larger-diameter pistons, more fluid capacity, and higher gas pressure. Ride height is the same as with the standard shocks, and the mounting is inverted (compared to the 1995 Wrangler), putting the shock’s body lower in the air stream to improve cooling.

The TJ Jeep’s frame was fully redesigned since the YJ, increasing thickness by 25% and torsional stiffness by 15%; the full-perimeter frame, chosen due to high off-road use, was retained. A two-piece box-section fuel tank cross member with corner gussets contributes to the increased torsional stiffness, along with a thicker, flanged transfer case skid plate that supports the transmission mount.

A front track bar controls front-axle lateral movements, and body roll is minimized due to the high-roll centers based on the track bar’s axes. The angle of the front track bar and the steering linkage angles also reduce steering effects from vertical movement. A rear track bar is attached to the left axle bracket and the frame rail on the right side, using rubber bushings at both ends.

 jeep wrangler

Concealed by a valence panel, the spring-steel stabilizer bar is mounted across the chassis’ underside to the rear axle. Links connect the stabilizer bar to the axle brackets, and sleeve bushings are on the upper and lower ends of the links. The mounts are isolated by rubber bushings.

Urethane, micro-cellular jounce bumpers on the front and rear engage with the axle early in jounce travel. The progressive, dual-rate bumpers have a quick rising rate that help minimize the possibility of bottoming out. The jounce bumpers are in steel cups that act as full-travel stops, and a solid urethane core gives a second stage rate.

The TJ Wrangler’s diagonal articulation was greater than that of the YJ at about 7 inches (178 mm), helping off-highway capabilities to return to roughly the space of the last Jeep CJ.


1994-2003 Jeep Wrangler Changes

The 1997-2002 Jeep Wranglers

Jeep skipped the 1996 model year entirely, jumping from 1995 to 1997.

Air conditioning became an option for all engines. Tires and wheel wells were enlarged. Shocks (dampers) and tires have been upgraded. The old AMC 2.5 liter engine was boosted to 120 hp, 140 lb-ft of torque. A new cam and valve springs provide a smoother idle, more low-end torque, and quieter operation. Aluminum pistons and new rings reduce noise and vibration.

Transmissions are either 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic (up to 2002). All have part time 4WD with low and high speed ranges. The transmission feels heavy duty, and has a long throw and clutch action. The old AMC 4.0 six was upgraded to 181 hp and 222 lb-ft. It also got new pistons and cam, along with a stiffer block. The valve cover was isolated and a main bearing brace was added. The result is an engine which moves the Jeep quickly and with much torque.

Raising or lowering the soft top requires less than one-third the time it did on earlier models, and sealing is better. The hard top is 15 lb lighter and has quick release latches.

Overall weight was 3073 to 3210 lb. Ground clearance is at least 8.3 inches, and at most 10.1 inches. Power steering is standard.

2000 changes

For 2000, the Jeep Wrangle had new colors, LEV compliance for the 4.0 in California-like states, a four-speaker cassette stereo standard on Sport, and an improved NVG 3550 five-speed manual transmission. The 4-liter engine gained redesigned cylinder heads, new exhaust manifolds, dual close-couple mini catalytic converters (on LEV models), and rail-coil distributorless ignition for better performance and lower maintenance (no cap or rotor); the 4.0 thereby reduced its emissions and increased its durability, according to Jeep.

2003 changes

In 2003, changes included vibration-free rear view mirrors, an optional auto-dimming compass/thermometer-equipped interior mirror, replacement of the ancient AMC 2.5 engine with the Chrysler 2.4 (for 25 extra horses), and the replacement of the even more ancient TorqueFlite three-speed automatic with a current four-speed automatic. The five-speed manual was updated with a synchronized reverse gear and better shift quality in cold weather. Four wheel disc brakes were optional on the Sport and the Sahara. There was a new side view mirror design, along with new steering wheels. New seats have more rearward travel, and a new, more easily removable fold-and-tumble rear seat has child seat anchors. New standard corner pods (see review for illustration) replace the optional sound bar, and also provide interior lighting. There are also new colors, and a new three-ply soft top.

A Smoker's Package was optional on all models. The 2003 Wrangler featured an auxiliary 12-volt outlet, Speaker Pods to replace Sound Bar, new flush-mounted stereos, and an On-Board Refueling Vapor Recovery (ORVR).

The new Rubicon model featured Dana 44 heavy-duty front and rear axles, rear electronically controlled locking differentials with limited slip. A push-button operated switch allowed either both the front and rear axles to be locked or just the rear differential for increased off-road performance. There was also a 4.11 axle ratio, Rock-Trac heavy-duty part-time transfer case with 4.0:1 low range, LT245/75R16 MTR 31"-tall tires, 16"x 8" Moab aluminum wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, and diamond plate sill guards with a unique "Rubicon" graphic.

More changes — see our 2007-2014 Jeep Wrangler pages

Quick Wrangler YJ Note

1994 Jeep Wrangler updates

In mid-1993, an optional Add-A-Trunk was made available; this was a steel storage container that mounted behind the rear seat, bolted to the rear wheel houses. It had a hinged lid which was flush with the tops of the rear wheelhouses and had a carpeted cover; with the gate open, the trunk lid could be held open with a prop rod.

wrangler cutaway

An easy-operating soft top was made optional on Wrangler during the 1994 model year; it came with the hardtop's full doors rather than the standard soft top's half doors. The top included over-center tension bars to make folding and raising one person operation. A boot system covered the folded top sides when not in use; rear side curtains and the rear window were attached in the same manner as the standard soft top. Regardless of top, Wranglers in 1994 got a tail-mounted extra brake light, posted to the right height by a gooseneck bracket.

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