Clayton Off Road 3.5-inch Jeep JK Suspension Kit

Oct. 13, 2011 By Pete Bach
Our Bodo Papenfuhs Jeep turned out better than we expected thanks to Clayton Off Road.

Over the many years that we’ve been wheeling Jeeps, we’ve tested many suspensions from different manufacturers. Most use long arms or short arms, fixed rubber or urethane bushings and/or flex joints. The design and configuration of these suspension components are typically similar. However, we always run across a company that likes to change things up just a bit. Clayton Off Road is no new comer to the Jeep aftermarket and has been building quality Jeep suspensions for over 10 years. So, when we were asked to check out their somewhat unconventional Jeep JK suspension, we jumped at the chance to see for ourselves what many off-roaders have been raving about, and installed it on our Bodo Papenfuhs Rubicon.

Clayton chooses square tubing for strength.

Unconventional how, you ask? Most other suspension manufacturers use some form of DOM tubing or solid round stock when designing Jeep control arms. Not Clayton. Their theory is that square tubing is stronger and safer than DOM, so it is used throughout their entire catalog of Jeep suspensions.

These arms are not mounted backwards.

The differences don’t stop there. All other manufacturers design their suspension kits to run a fixed bushing at the frame and a flex joint or heim joint at the axle. Not Clayton.  They reverse this typical application and run a factory style rubber Clevite bushing at the axle and a Currie Johnny Joint at the frame. According to Clayton, by putting the greasable flex joint at the frame end, it gets it into an area that won’t see as much dirt, sand and road grime, like it would being mounted at the axle end. This converts to less maintenance and better longevity of the joint. 

Currie Johnny Joints are as good as they get.

Clayton is a smart guy … but we wondered why he seemed to be reinventing the wheel.  Sure, Clayton and his team could have gone out and designed a new type of flex joint, but when you have access to an already proven and excellent design, like the Currie Johnny Joint, why not incorporate it into your own suspension. Johnny Joints are tough, easily serviced and provide awe-inspiring articulation to four-link suspensions setups. These Currie units are also used throughout the Clayton lineup. 

JKS Manufacturing also plays a roll in a complete Clayton suspension. Their quick disconnects are used in many of the Clayton suspension kits and many off-roaders know of the reputation for quality and design from JKS.

No trimming is necessary on the Clayton kit to run 37s.

Each component in the Clayton kit is well thought out and built for rigorous punishment in the outback. The huge Johnny Joints and shanks, accompanying the beefy square tubing control arms, were a welcome sight when unpacking the kit, although some of the fixed jam nut welds were less than perfect. The 3.5-inch kit allows fitment of 35-inch tires with no clearance issues, however, our Bodo Papenfuhs Jeep would be running 37-inch tires. We were able to lengthen the rear control arms enough to avoid trimming to the rear wheel well body and rocker skids. It’s nice to have the adjustability in a quality kit that doesn’t call for these types of modifications.

The complete Clayton Off Road Premium JK kit.

A fine-tuned suspension cannot rely on quality bits and pieces alone. The parts must be engineered correctly as well to perform off-road maneuvers and to safely roll down the highway at 75 mph. Clayton’s suspensions are extremely complete, which is why we were excited to install the Premium Kit on our Bodo Papenfuhs project Jeep. This particular JK project was being built in honor of a long-time Jeeper who recently lost his life to heart failure but was a long-time proponent of a very well built Jeep. With a German heritage, Bodo demanded quality built and engineered parts. While, unfortunately, he’ll never see or wheel the Jeep, he would have been completely satisfied that no attention to detail was left unaddressed with the Clayton kit. To the front and rear bump stops and nylon coated stainless steel brake lines, to the bolt on style rear track bar mount, there is hardly anything to be left wanting or needing. 

This suspension has everything needed to bolt on and then hit the trail with no worries. The 3.5-inch Premium JK kit uses a stout front and rear adjustable track bar. One thing we’d like to see, however, is a raised front bracket in combination with the rear to further correct roll centers of the lifted Jeep.  While handling is outstanding with the Clayton kit, we feel that a raised bracket could add even more on-road control. 

Here is a rubber Clevite bushing.Speaking of on-road performance, we are very impressed with the factory-like Clevite bushings. The soft rubber bushings allow deadening of road vibrations, yet they are still firm enough to offer excellent handling characteristics. Clevite bushings are also known to last for years with no servicing necessary.

Overall, the Jeep feels very solid, with none of the clunking sounds or noisy rattling that can be associated with other lift kits on the market. Handling is crisp and precise, with very little body roll during hard cornering. 

Suspension flex is second to none with the Clayton kit. With a traditional four-link, track-bar design, there is inherent bind; however, you’d never suspect it with this Premium kit using Johnny Joints. Articulation is predictable, smooth and seems to be limited only by shock length. We used 12-inch travel Bilstein 5100 shocks and have enough wheel travel to flex through any obstacle, rarely lifting a tire.

Suspension movement is smooth and controlled.

The kit really shines in the rocks, and we had the chance to test it out in Moab, Utah, where flex, toughness and durability are a must. The Bodo Papenfuhs Jeep, with Clayton Suspension, made short work of every obstacle we could throw at it in Moab. The 3.5-inch lift height, combined with the controlled flex, got us over every ledge we encountered. We were surprised to see some slight tire rub on our front control arms, even though they have a pronounced bend in them for clearance purposes. The rubbing is so slight, however, that the tires didn’t even remove powder coating from the arms. 

Moab was no problem for our Clayton suspension.

The Clayton kit is one of the most complete suspension kits we’ve ever tested. We love the fact that after bolting on every component of the kit, the Jeep is ready to tackle some of the most severe terrain in the country. This is exactly what Bodo and most Jeep owners want from a suspension lift. The kit offers a great level of detail and completeness, offering reliability, toughness, and longevity in each Claytons kit. Our friend Bodo would be extremely happy with the Clayton Premium JK suspension, and we think you will be too.

Clayton Off Road
1261 Meriden Rd
Waterbury , CT 06705 - 3637
Phone: (203) 757-0339 Newsletter
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