By Steve Garrett
In a lot of ways, owning a Jeep is like having a kid, right? For one, they're expensive to buy. Now you may be saying, "I didn't buy my kids!", to which I reply, "Yes you did." You either adopted them, or you walked into a hospital one day and left with a kid (and a large bill). I dunno about you, but to me that's a purchase, haha. But I digress. Also like kids, Jeeps are expensive to feed, time consuming, fun, and they almost always go through puberty. Changing from their natural-born form into a bigger, better version of themselves.

Project Swampcat was an early bloomer, hitting her growth spurt after only a couple months of being free in the world. Choosing a lift is never an easy process. There are many things to consider... intended use of the Jeep, tire size, available budget, manufacturer reputation and quality, lift height, body or suspension, adjustable control arms, etc, etc. The finer points of lift kit design and selection warrant their own article (or book, haha). On top of that, since Swampcat is a JL, which has only been available commercially since January, we were limited to a few reputable aftermarket companies that had released lift kits. We also had a big trip to Colorado coming up, and of course I wanted to take the Jeep, so we needed to have the lift in and sorted before that. Long story short, we ended up going with Metalcloak and their 3.5" Game Changer kit, but instead of their 6-pak shocks, we opted for an early-release set of Falcon 2.1 Series Monotube shocks specifically for the JLU. This setup checked all the boxes for us. In addition to the suspension, we fitted 37" BFG KM2s on Hutchinson Rock Monster Beadlock wheels in Argent. The Argent color perfectly matched the 'silver' accents in the Jeep exterior color scheme, so that turned out unexpectedly well.

I did the install in my garage, over about 5 days. That's longer than it'll take you, because I was shooting videos and pictures as I was going, and I also installed a full set of skid plates, step/sliders, and wheels/tires at the same time (keep an eye out for future articles on those). Metalcloak has put together a pretty decent installation procedure, and says it should take 6-8 hours. I'd say that's accurate if you've done lift kit installs before and have access to a professional shop. If you've never done a lift before, or you don't have access to a shop, I'd budget 10-12 hours.

The lift can be done with basic hand tools, but of course having professional grade stuff makes it easier and faster. Everything is bolt in, but there are a couple spots where drilling/grinding is necessary. These are the front track bar bracket, front lower control arm brackets, and front lower spring perches, and in each case you're just widening or enlarging existing holes (be sure to repaint any bare metal).

The only really tricky part throughout the install is making sure you've got the axles properly supported when swapping out the control arms and track bars. Without proper support, gravity will do its thing, which could cause damage to parts of the Jeep or your body, neither of which is desired. It also helps to have some experience adjusting axle position with jacks and jackstands to get the arms lined up to put the hardware back in. These things aren't hard, but they can take some patience and careful forethought to execute well. Swap the control arms one at a time.

Overall, the whole thing was pretty straightforward. The instructions didn't include any torque specifications, but I found the factory torque specs here. The control arm lengths provided by Metalcloak were good enough for me to get to the alignment shop. I highly recommend going to an alignment shop that does aftermarket Jeep suspensions. Adjusting these control arms and track bars will require removing one side of them from the Jeep, so it's best to have an alignment tech who has experience with these. Also, just as an FYI, most alignment shops use alignment racks that are NOT rated for any tires larger than 35" (and YES that makes a huge difference). So, if you have tires larger than 35's, make sure your shop has a rack that is rated for them.

After everything was installed and aligned, I drove it back and forth to work for a couple weeks, and on-road performance is better than stock, smooth as butter at highway speeds. I had the dealership do the software update to correct my speedo for the larger tires (and make sure my 8-spd auto shifts properly), and I'm still averaging 17.5 to 18 MPG, which is crazy for a lifted Jeep on 37s. Then we took Swampcat out to the 2018 Crawl-4-Christ in Disney, Oklahoma and I could not be happier with the off-road performance of this setup. It tackled everything I tried out there, and just kept begging for more. Slight rubbing on the plastic inner fender liner for the rear tires at full stuff, but otherwise flawless. I didn't get into the crazy rock crawling obstacles (anything that had very high potential for body damage), but Swampcat performed better than my JKU did with 37"s, coilovers, long-arm, 1" stretch, RCV chromoly axle shafts, high-angle driveshafts, Dynatrac axles, etc, etc. That was just the shake-down run, though. Last month, I took Swampcat and the family on a 4,000 mile road trip through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Kansas. That majority of that was paved (we tried to avoid major highways), but of course we hit the trails in Colorado. For three days we traversed one mountain pass after another, hitting all the major trails except Black Bear Pass an Poughkeepsie Gulch (due to weather). Here again, Swampcat tackled everything with ease, and we pulled back into our driveway with nothing more than a slight steering wheel adjustment needed.

My goal for Project Swampcat is a family-friendly overlanding Jeep that is a 'Jack of All Trades, Master of None'. After installing this lift and driving on it for ~5,000 miles, I can satisfactorily say that this suspension setup exceeds that goal. I may upgrade the shocks to Falcon 3.3 Series (when they're released) for easy street/trail tuning adjustments and better heat management. For now though, I'm completely satisfied with the post-pubescent version of this kid.