SEMA 1999

Article By Kenneth “N2wishN” Montijo

Vegas…lights, money and glamor or maybe lights money and amusement parks! Anyway the XJ was washed and the roof rack in the shop (Parking garages!). We were going to Vegas! Myself and my “I would rather just gamble partner” were headed to Automotive Aftertmarket Industry week in Sin City. After an early start and a uneventful 4 hour drive I got lost, then managed to find the Las Vegas Convention Center right were it was last time I was there. We got our name tags and were instantly hit with a endless mecca of automotive splendor. As far as you could see there were cars, trucks, tires, bedliners, and air freshener displays. I will focus this story on the Jeep aspect of the show, although it was hard to focus amongst the lowered civics’, excursions and the plethora of Dodge Dakota Club cabs (vehicle of the show).

My first stop was the Jeep/Chrysler booth. A four door open cargo area Safari XJ was the highlight there. It was gold and had two Bass boat type seats in the back and a couple of telephoto camera and viewfinders on the roof. Nice but not what I was looking for.

The next notable booth was the Warn booth. They had a green flamed trail warn CJ7 on display on the ramp with their coil-over shock conversion, not new but very impressive. I really liked the design and for a almost bolt on kit it was very well designed. I also was glad to see the flat black paint over the trail scares on the undercarriage. It’s great to see all these suspension products that are made to work, not just to fit bigger tires.

When I spied the red XJ in the ARB booth I noticed it had a striking resemblance to the one in the Jeep area, only better. I quickly asked one of the red polo shirted gentleman who built this? A gentleman with an AEV shirt came up and I was already under the back looking at the frame mod’s that tied in the cocky rear cage. I talked to Dave Harriton – tech@aev-conversions.com – at length and he explained the similarity to Jeeps concept, he built it also. AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) – http://www.aev-conversions.com – build’s those great 4 door Wranglers and sells a lifted XJ also, so I was familiar with the company but had no idea of the work they did. The process was to start with a 99′ XJ classic and cut the back off. Now that AEV was committed they soon found that the thin metal of the unibody was not easy to work with. The decision was made that the entire rear door jam and back was to be hand formed with 14 gauge. Then they tied the rectangular cage into the new stronger unibody and went to work on the trimout. An MJ tailgate was painstakingly cut down to fit into the cavity left by the hatch. The stamped JEEP logo made this XJ look factory built. The headliner was trimmed and an electric rag top sunroof was added. The XJ was like most SEMA vehicles, finished just in time to hit the road from Montana to Vegas. The future has in store a ARB air locker for the front D30 and the long awaited Corporate 8.25 version. It will also get more lift and the 265/75-15 tires. A rear rag top similar to an Amigo will be incorporated at a latter date.

AEV has a beautiful rear bumper with a receiver that looks stock, but is ultra strong. It also incorporates a swing away tire carrier that uses a stock Wrangler door latch for it’s locking mechanism. The brackets are works of art and I am not embarrassed to say that a copy is being made in my shop right now, less the laser cutting. Other innovations included their electric sway bar disconnect and custom aluminum rims with stock backspacing ($225.00+ per wheel). Dave said that they have no intentions of selling XJ’s with a similar mod’s as the work involved was to great, but you might persuade him to fab another for nine grand or so! This concept won best vehicle of show and I agree completely.

We kind of wandered awhile and stopped to talked to the people at Sway-a-way and Doestech. We looked at the Excursion on 44″ at the Cepek booth they have a new filter coming out that is said to flow better than K&N. They also promise that the XJ panel version will fit! I saw John Force walking around, Rod Millen was at the Powertrax both. To those that were wondering, Powertrax does have a locker now available for those with the 29 spline Chrysler 8.25″.

I spied TeraFlex’s XJ out in the show car area with their coil conversion on display. I looked at it for awhile before talking to any one about it. The upper link is a arm attached to the top of the pumpkin with a new cover that is incorporated into the mount. The lower is an articulating control arm that utilizes the front spring hanger for its mount along with a bolt on spring and shock mount. The kit is simple and seems to flex well. They have been testing for awhile so the bug’s should be gone.

Tera plans to have a six inch kit available with front and rear parts, or just the rear. The rear kit should incorporate all of the brackets, control arms and the a-frame, a new cover for your 8.25 or D30 (44’s will come later, although custom work is always available) and of course the springs. The rear will come in under a grand, I don’t think that you could do it yourself for much less at least with out the time and R&D. I believe it is a good idea and will definitely make a trail worthy contender out of the box, of course whether it will beat out a high quality leaf spring shackle combo remains to be seen.

We spent some time out side and looked at the old CJ that Mike Smith used to cross the Darian gap, and the one that Jeep is building to repeat the trip! Both are safety orange and loaded with survival gear. Should prove to be interesting, the 99 TJ was not finished but looked good anyway.

Pro Comp had their YJ coil Conversion on display and I checked it out briefly. Its a four link and is all bolt on. I t should out flex a leaf spring YJ. The kit looked complete but I wasn’t able to get prices or much info. I think we will have to see if Explorer prices this below Warn’s kit It will sell well, If it is the same $ wise, the coil-overs will win.

I seem to have missed the Rescue XJ at Trail Master’s booth, but I did check out the high sierra rescue YJ that Road Armor had outside. Amazing tube work, and that thing was driven from Washington to the show with 35″ boggers!

The show is overwhelming and I don’t know how you could get any work done there your first year. I just kind of wondered, when I would try to stay on a path I would see something a wander off.

Unfortunately unless the powers that be plan another week the show will conflict with the Baja 1000. Next year the 1000 will become the Baja 2000 and I will not miss that! See you on the trails!

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