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After owning 4 Jeep Cherokee's (3 XJs and 1 KL) we finally decided to jump off the deep end and get our first Wrangler. Introducing Galactica - the 2018 JL.

We have been researching and planning out or JL build over the past year and were lucky enough to find a great deal on a used Sport S. Considering that we expect to replace most factory components we were focused on finding a Wrangler in good body and interior condition!

Lets just say that things escalated rather quickly....

Our primary goal is to buy the right/best part now, rather than iteratively upgrade over the life of the Jeep. Through our XJ ownership and build process (and by talking to many other Jeep owners), we well understand the cascading effect of minor changes and why Jeep can be the abbreviation for “Just empty every pocket.” As a result, we saved up, so that we could build the Jeep the way we want it for the long-haul right from the start. We know there will be breakages and minor upgrades along the way, but we are confident that we will save money overall by building it to spec now. This is also why we pursued a lightly used Sport versus a new Jeep or new/used Rubicon. Knowing that we would be upgrading quite literally every component meant that the advantages of the Rubicon were not present from a cost standpoint.

Reliability Also very important to us is the ability to drive to the trail, wheel hard, and drive home. This means that we are focusing on components that are more than capable of handling the most challenging trails we anticipate completing. We are also building everything to handle the largest components we would anticipate ever putting on the Jeep. For example, even if we don’t put 42’s on it now, we will be able to with little impact on other components later.

We are starting this process with the powertrain. We opted to replace the factory 3.6L V6 with the 6.2L LS3 from Bruiser Conversions. Bruiser is the only company that has been able to fully integrate the LS3 platform with the Jeep body, engine, and transmission control modules. So, with the ability to run a non-Chrysler engine with a Chrysler computer, we liked the LS3 over a hemi conversion for a few reasons. First, there is a great degree of reliability in terms of aftermarket support for the LS3 platform, and it is generally a reliable engine (almost like the legendary 4.0L in-line 6). Second, the overall packaging of the LS3 is quite compact, such that it fits even better in the Jeep than the stock engine. Third, the serviceability is better/easier on the LS3 compared to the hemi (e.g., we have seen hemi conversions that require removing the whole front clip to change the serpentine belt).

Our later posts as the next year goes on will discuss our other choices – stay tuned!

Installation and maintenance We enjoy tinkering, and we are YouTube-certified Jeep mechanics  Ability to both do the build and maintain all of components ourselves (i.e. reliability and build quality) is important to us. In terms of the powertrain, Bruiser offers a great kit that is pretty much plug-and-play, with pre-fabbed wiring harnesses and all of the components you need to do the swap. While the kit costs more than if we were to purchase a crate engine and piece together a swap ourselves, it was certainly far easier and quicker to get this kit (not to mention the computer programming aspects mentioned above). Bruiser also offers great tech support during and after the install should issues arise, which we definitely took advantage of. As we are one of the early adopters for the DIY swap on the JL (particularly the 2-door), Bruiser offered us a discount on our kit for documenting and reviewing our install experience. Hopefully future DIY kit purchasers can benefit from our process, and we are certainly happy to assist any other NovaJeepers who might go this route.

As we move forward with other components, we will be selecting those that offer good serviceability, vendors with good reputations, and the ability to rebuild broken parts, rather than having to necessarily fully replace them (also a plus for the environment).

Weight One of the excellent things about the XJ is how light it is. It can tackle obstacles seemingly improbable based on its equipment level simply because it is quite light compared to other similarly-equipped Wranglers. One of our main goals is to therefore keep the sprung weight as light as possible. This is among the reasons we selected a 2-door, and we will be using as many lightweight/aluminum components as possible. As to the engine, the LS3 is a full aluminum block. We weighed it coming off the pallet and compared it to the 3.6L Pentastar going onto the pallet for sale. The LS3 – for two extra cylinders and almost double the displacement – is only 42 pounds heavier. That’s a deal in our minds. For the unsprung weight, we are also trying to strike a balance between light and strong, and it seems the options are only getting better.