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Trying to get it mostly right the first time: A 5.9 Magnum and 46RE swapped, Tummy Tucked Daily Driven Jeep TJ


Birmingham, AL
Sep 5, 2012
The quick backstory: I've been into off roading since I was taken on my first trail ride in 2001 and have been hooked ever since. My actual wheeling experience had been limited to web-wheeling and riding shotgun with friends up until I graduated from Auburn in 2016 and bought a clapped out 2004 Yamaha Rhino with a +6" long travel setup. The Rhino was fun, but I'd still always wanted a Jeep and a friend's 1997 TJ came up for sale in May of 2019 so I jumped on it.

This first post will bring you up to date from over 2 years of ownership and what led me to the build that's about to start. There's not too much real 'tech' to be had as much of this has been maintenance related and added creature comforts, but there's a place for those things as well.

Spoiler Alert: Just so I don't lose anyone right off the bat, the Rhino has been sold and there is a literal pallet full of parts and a 5.9L Magnum waiting to go onto the TJ as I'm typing this. But first, the history of my TJ:

I drove to Carrolton, GA with an empty trailer and pocket full of cash to pick the Jeep up in May of 2019. The Jeep was a 132k mile 97 TJ SE with the 2.5L and 5 speed. The PO had owned the Jeep since 2004 and had been mainly used as a grocery getter and hunting rig. The only modifications it had was 31x10.50 Kenda Klever MTs, 2.5" RC lift and a 3" body lift. Overall it was a pretty clean rust free TJ that needed some TLC. Here it is the day we brought it home:




I originally intended for this to be a reliable stock-ish daily driver and mild weekend toy. In my pursuit of that, the following has been done to the Jeep:

· ZJ rear disc brake upgrade to replace inoperable rear drums.
· Replaced 3" body lift with 1.25" body lift
· Painted the fender flares with Krylon Fusion satin black
· Busted radiator fan shroud replaced with a Mishimoto electric fan
· Barnes 4wd rocker guards and custom slider installed
· Added a Superwinch TS9500 on an Amazon winch plate
· Installed flush mount LED pods in the rear bumper
· Installed new JVC KD-X35MBS
· Installed Noico 80mil sound deadening
· Replaced the horrendous Rough Country shocks with Rancho RS 5000X
· Installed Polk DB652s in the dash and sound bar
· Installed Moab wheels with 305/70 Toyo MTs
· Bought and sold a hard top
· Replaced the 9 year old Smittybilt top with a Bestop
· New Cooper 305/70/16 STT Pros installed. (Best tire ever, IMO)
· Installed Rugged Ridge Dash Multi Mount System
· Installed Savvy transfer case shifter
· Rebuilt the front drive shaft
· Installed 1.25" Spidertrax wheel spacers
· Installed Amazon Truck-lite knockoff headlights
· Installed a full center console
· Replaced the intermediate steering shaft

Here it is now:

Early 2020 is where the Magnum part of this begins. Not long after buying the Jeep, my lovely wife makes a comment that she wishes it had an automatic transmission in it so she could drive it (she can drive a 5 speed but doesn't really enjoy it). Like any good gearhead husband, I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to kill multiple birds with 1 stone and upgrade in the process. I pitched a V8 and automatic swap and was met with "Well, what are you waiting on?" Remember when I said I wanted to keep this Jeep mild-ish?

To be fair, the 2.5L and AX-5 is a reliable combination for a stock-ish Jeep and is good for backroads cruising but is painfully slow no matter which way you slice it. Initially, I wanted to swap in the spare 5.3 LM7 I had in storage, and while it had the 'sexy' appeal, it was a bit cost prohibitive (to do a bare bones LS swap decently well STARTED at $3500. The LS swap also doesn't integrate with the Jeep electronics at all, so a lot of 'adapting' was needed to marry everything up. My research led me to the Magnum V8 Discussion thread on the other forum and the slippery slope that thread is. Combine the low cost of donor vehicles and the almost seamless integration of electronics and a lot of other OEM parts and I was immediately sold on the Magnum swap.

Since my Jeep is a 97 with the CCD bus, I was looking for 97-00 Rams, Durangos and Dakotas and even entertained Grand Cherokees. I preferred a donor Ram since I wanted to harvest the front axle for a solid axle swap I have planned on another vehicle, but had trouble finding one for a reasonable price.

I kept watch on FB Marketplace and found a 1999 5.9 Durango that ran and kinda drove for $500 in May of 2020.


I was in the middle of a bathroom renovation, so the Durango was delicately unloaded in the back lot at work and parked while I got my ducks in a row (okay, at least in the same pond) for the swap.


After a few months my parking spot for the Durango had expired, so I needed to make it disappear. A perk of my job is access to equipment. A few sawzall blades and body bolts later:


Off to the scrap yard it goes! I wish I had the space to store the Durango and part it out but this was the best option.


I labeled and removed the wiring harness and PDC (power distribution center) and only cut the harness where it passes through the firewall. I am planning to use the Durango harness as the base for the swap since I am going from a manual to automatic transmission.


The trans has '12/04' written in paint pen, so I am assuming it was rebuilt swapped in with a junkyard unit at some point and the missing bolts have me skeptical of its longevity. Y'all…my wife is a saint and lets me get away with far more shenanigans than should be allowed. The engine lived in our carport for a few days before I had a chance to take it to the farm to put in storage. I figured it needed time to get acquainted with the Jeep anyway.


I had plans to use my 2020 tax return to fund the swap, but the .gov decided I owed money that year, so the swap was put on hold and the Jeep went back to getting regular maintenance while we put some miles on it. We took it backroads cruising to the lake:


We also took it down 600-1 in the Talladega National Forrest on the way to our anniversary weekend getaway at Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, AL. I didn't get many good pictures since we caught the sunset and did most of the trail in the dark (not my smartest move, I'm aware).



Don't worry, it's about to get good.
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My original plan was to take my annual bonus and swap the Magnum in around January 2022. This scope was limited to swapping the drivetrain and any required modifications in order to get it running and driving. But in August of 2021 I decided to sell off my Rhino, flip another Rhino and sell a CLEAN Honda Fourtrax 250 in an effort to build the best daily driver / weekend wheeler I could with that 'pot' of money. With my budget now close to 3x what I originally planned on, I now had the opportunity to set this TJ up as a capable DD now, but equip it to be taken to the next level later.

Will the TJ replace the Rhino in terms of capability? Absolutely not, and it isn't meant to. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was realistically going to use the Jeep and have let that guide my plans the entire way. This Jeep will be 90% daily driver and 10% weekend wheeler and I decided for my design criteria to be focused on using as many off the shelf OEM parts as possible so that it can be easily repaired in the event of a breakdown. I also chose to build around 33" tires and 4" total lift, which meant I could utilize the stock axles with without too much fear of breakage and they already had 4.10 gears, which should be perfect for this combo.

With the intended use, lift and tire size decided, here is how the build plan shook out. I'll elaborate further on each item once I start that specific item:

· Swap in the 5.9 magnum and 46RE. Inspect and refresh as required. Upgrade as necessary.
· Install transmission and power steering coolers and a transmission temperature gauge.
· Install a SYE. Brand / style TBD.
· Keep the stock short arm suspension and install adjustable control arms.
· Install a Rockjock Anti-Rock sway bar.
· Lift springs are TBD. I'll weigh the TJ once it's complete to figure out what I need.
· Install new track bars, both fore and aft.
· Tummy Tuck using either a Barnes or UCF skid plate with a custom transmission crossmember.
· Install a full Bedrug carpet kit and Mastercraft Baja RS seats.
· Upgrade the stock front bumper to either Barnes 4wd or Motobilt.
· Install a subwoofer in the center console (because why not?).
· Install a rear cargo rack and organize tool, cooler and luggage storage.

Admittedly, I love a spreadsheet so I created one to both keep track of this project and to hopefully serve as a good resource for someone else looking to do this swap. The latest draft can be found HERE.
I've had an aluminum UCF skid for over 10 years now and have been pleased with it. Went from a Teraflex to UCF/UHC and it was probably 1/3 the weight.

I know you are not planning to go extreme yet but I would highly consider at the least a rear axle upgrade. Gonna be a lot more stress with a V8 under even daily driver status. One too heavy throttle from a stop light could end bad. Other than that good luck with the swap!
I've had an aluminum UCF skid for over 10 years now and have been pleased with it. Went from a Teraflex to UCF/UHC and it was probably 1/3 the weight.

I know you are not planning to go extreme yet but I would highly consider at the least a rear axle upgrade. Gonna be a lot more stress with a V8 under even daily driver status. One too heavy throttle from a stop light could end bad. Other than that good luck with the swap!

As much as I want to ignore that, I know its just a matter of time before the 35 gives it up. I've been browsing FB Marketplace for them lately.

Anyone know of a 4.10 8.8 local to Birmingham? :ROFLMAO:
Good luck on this project. I've never done a motor swap like this, but that 5.9 will have plenty of power to do what you're wanting to do with ease. Look forward to keeping up with this.

I agree with the others on the 8.8 that's needed. It's only a matter of time. In my YJ 3 years ago I swapped from 3.55 gears in a dana 35 to 4.10 gears in an 8.8 and I love it (33's with a 5spd manual). Cruises fine and I know it's strong enough to not worry. Plus it was a very cheap swap to get the gears and strength I needed.
Results from car-part.com 1999 Explorer V6 4.10 ratio. I think these are open, easy to add a lunchbox locker.
Birmingham Area
Digging the build so far.


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Sad to see the Rhino is gone/no more updates but always love a budget build thread that includes a spreadsheet!

I was too. It was a great rig... when it worked. It was just too much expense (and time) to keep it on the trail and parts were starting to get hard to find. I also hated to see that much money sitting in something that was only used a few times a year. I drive this TJ almost every day.
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I intentionally waited on Black Friday deals to post since my budget needed all the help it could get. While browsing FB Marketplace one Friday at work, I happened up on this:


This was a deal that I knew I couldn't lose on so a guy did the right thing and grabbed some cash and the trailer and headed to TN to pick up another TJ. This was a clean titled, rust free 98 TJ with a 5.2L Magnum and 44RE transmission that had kinda been installed and then abandoned.


Why on earth did I buy this?

My TJ gets driven at least 50% of the time and is backup to my 2003 Silverado so I didn't really want it down for months while I figure the swap out. This would allow me to mock the entire swap up (and probably get it running) before I put in my TJ. With the current state of the world I didn't want to get halfway through the build and have something hold me up for weeks on end because its floating off the coast of California. I might even swap in the 5.2/44RE it came with and sell it as a running and driving Jeep. Probably not, but we'll see. Worst case I can see the 98 TJ for what I paid for it.

Black Friday rolls around and I managed to snag some better deals than I expected since most of this stuff really doesn't go on sale. Everything I ordered was either required to get it running and driving or was too good of a deal to pass up since I'd be buying it later anyway. The parts list I now have sitting at my house is:

· Motobilt Front Bumper
· Motobilt Fairlead Mount
· Motobilt LED Fairlead Mount
· Motobilt Cargo Rack
· Custom Splice Diamond Winch Line
· Custom Splice Cheetah Rope
· Rock Jock Anti Rock
· Rock Jock Track Bar
· Advance Adapters Motor Mounts
· Barnes 4wd Crossmember Kit
· UCF Ultra High DIY Skid Plate in 3/16" variety
· Flowmaster Catalytic Converter
· Magnaflow 5" Muffler
· Flowmaster 2.5" Exhaust Tube
· Haden Transmission Cooler
· OER Coolant Overflow Tank
· Summit TJ V8 Radiator
· Glow Shift Transmission Temp Gauge
· Bedrug Carpet Kit
· Mastercraft Baja RS Seats
· Hughes Engines Plenum Plate
· O/D and Misc Light Switches (eBay)
· Infinite Offroad Stop, Tail Chase Light
· Savvy Rear Upper Control Arms
· Advance Adapters Slip Yoke Eliminator
· ZJ Power Steering Bracket
· TJ Automatic Shifter (eBay)
· TJ Automatic Brake Pedal (eBay)

Out of that entire list, only 1 package was lost (GC steering bracket) and the 2 Rock Jock items were a few weeks backordered. Everything else came pretty much on time.

Every forum I posted this on immediately asked when I was upgrading the D35. Point taken. I decided to quit ignoring the fact that my D35 rear was going to have a short life and found a 4.10 geared 8.8 local to me that I'm picking up on Friday. I weighed the option of a Super 35 kit against the 8.8 due to cost and aftermarket support.
I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and good new year.

I picked up an open 4.10 8.8 2 weeks ago and have set it aside until I get this rig running.

Myself, ibrokeit, Terryjmatthew and another feller hit a few roads in the Talladega National Forest the weekend before Christmas, the most notable being 600-1. It's a scenic gravel road / light trail that runs from Sylacauga to Talladega and then from Talladega to Mt Cheaha.




The only real 'obstacle' we hit was this rock climb coming out of a creek crossing. Everything else was rutted out muddy roads.



I also spent a minute over the Christmas holiday working on the Jeep. I got the Motobilt bumper, Custom Splice fairlead and Diamond winch line, Currie Rock Jock Anti Rock and Roadshock LED bar installed.


I installed the Anti Rock with the links as short as they'd go without trimming and set them on the middle hole as a starting point and will play with adjustments in time. I'll get the angle of the arms dialed in once my final ride height and springs are selected. My first impression of the Anti Rock is positive and aligns with everything I'd read about it– The Jeep absolutely rides smoother and the added body roll was definitely noticeable on the first test drive but I got used to it quickly. It's not anything I'd consider a negative – it's just different. The decision to go with the AR came from not having the budget for a Sway Loc but wanting an upgrade over disconnects and still wanting some sway control when on the trails.

And here was my view on the way to work this morning – 2" of snow and 30 degrees. It has been high 60's for the past week and had tornado warnings 24 hours ago.

Progress has been sparse due to prior commitments, me being sick for a week and it being far below my cold threshold for working outside. This build is primarily being done in my open carport at home.

Two Fridays ago I received a notification in the morning that my seats had been delayed another 3 weeks which was a bummer but not the end of the world since I don't have to have them. Much to my surprise, my doorbell rang later that day and:


Go figure. I had a free day this past weekend and decided to focus on the interior so I could enjoy the new Bedrug and Baja RS seats.
Mastercraft wanted $89 per side for the seat adapter bracket, which looked like nothing more than a piece of flat bar with 2 spacers welded to it so I decided to make my own


I managed to get the seats and front Bedrug installed as well as mounting the transmission temperature gauge and switches. Here was the final result:



First impressions on the seats is positive – the fit and finish is great and the seats sit really well. The only complaint I have is that they sit way too high, but that is entirely due to my brackets. I was unable to find any installation instructions to borrow pictures from so I really just winged the install. I used 1.5" x .25" flat bar for the mounts and 1" coupling nuts for the spacers. The limiting factor here is a bracket that's riveted on the factory seat base that has a 1" rise, so I can't go below that without cutting that bracket off. I'm going to ponder on this issue and live with it for now.


The O/D switch is an OEM Mopar unit and the others are from Gold Coast Distributing on eBay. I wish they all matched, but GCD doesn't offer an O/D switch so I'll live with the slight variation. The transmission gauge is from Glow Shift and fit nicely in this space. This will all get wired later.


As with everything these days, SYEs have been a little hard to come by. I noticed a forum post over on Wrangler TJ Forum that the JB Conversions SSSYE was back in stock about the time I received notification that my Advance Adapter SYE was pushed out to a possible 2/26 ship date, so I canceled the AA order and ordered the JB Conversion unit which arrived yesterday.
Anti Rock update: I've put about 500 miles on it so far (all on pavement) and continue to be impressed with it. Just from going over potholes and driveway transitions I can tell that the Jeep rides much smoother. I'm eager to see what it does in the dirt.

I also learned the hard way that soft top windows get EXTREMELY brittle when its cold.


This past weekend brought King of the Hammers coverage and some warmer weather, so I turned on the live feed and went to work getting the driver side seat lowered. I cut off the factory bracket that was previously holding the seat up and bolted the seat directly to the sliders. I'm 5' 9" and the seating position is dead on. As with any suspension seat, getting in and out of the Jeep is slightly more difficult but having this quality of seat is well worth it.


The live feed coverage was top notch, as always.


If I had it to do over again, I'd probably still make my own brackets as I still think I'm ahead of the $200 price tag of the adapters.

Last night I started what seems like the most feared part of this swap – the wiring. And yes, that's 11x17 paper. Not today eye strain! I'll write a dedicated wiring post that outlines my method to approaching this once I'm further along. Once I figured out how to find information in the FSMs, this seems straight forward.


Since we're all gearheads here, I figured some of you would want to see my 'shop'.



It's a 12'x24' building that stores all my tools and some small parts – the big stuff lives at my in-laws farm about 30 mins away. Everything in here is on wheels so it can be rolled outside to service any project that doesn't fit in here. I've been in this space about 18 months and it's still evolving as I figure out what layout works and what doesn't. Once I purge a last bit of clutter it'll be just about dialed in. I'd like to tell you it's messier than normal, but it's not. I ALWAYS have something in process that keeps my workbench occupied. I sit behind a desk 40+ hrs a week, so projects that enable me to work with my hands are what keep me sane, really.