Custom made high clearance rockers!
Custom made high clearance rockers!
Most companies make rocker panel protection that is a bolt on (no body modifications) or have a runner tube along the side, or some similar variation. These are fine for most people, but I had very specific wants for my rocker panels that no one produced. To complicate matters even further, I have a fiberglass body with non-standard body mount locations, tube fenders, and TJ rear flare openings. What I was looking for simply did not exist. I decided if I was going to get EXACTLY what I wanted, I would have to either pay someone to make them (high $$) or do it myself. So I fabricated my own rocker panel protection for my 1982 Jeep CJ7.
1) Maximum clearance rocker panels
2) Strong enough to protect my jeep body with my type of 4 wheeling terrain
3) Go all the way under the body to the framerail
4) Tie into maximum number of body mounts
5) Tie into the roll cage feet both front and behind front seats
This is what my Jeep rockers looked like before I started, with small Stainless steel strips. Not much protection, and honestly didn’t look so good.
I was willing to cut the body for maximum ground clearance, but not so much that I had to separate the body seam between the floor and side body panel. I’ve seen that done, and the results are huge amounts of increased clearance (and less room for your feet inside). However on my Jeep the front foot for my roll cage was directly next to the body seam. If I did cut into that seam, not only would I have to re-fiberglass the corner, but also modify the roll cage foot, neither of which I wanted to do. The only company that makes something even close to what I wanted is Poison Spyder Customs. However PSC does not make them in aluminum (what I wanted), and my body mounts were also in custom locations for the fiberglass body. If you don’t have these restrictions like I did and don’t mind spending the money, the PSC rockers look like a pretty good alternative.
Cutting the body:
First thing I did was look to see how much body I could cut with this restriction. It turns out that there was about 1.5” height of flange that was just hanging down on my fiberglass body (If you have a steel body, look closely where you trim because there are spot welds holding panels together in this area). I went ahead and started cutting away. When I was done, I had an almost straight line at the body seam.
I live in Michigan, so I don’t do a ton of wheeling in the rocks. I use my Jeep at the Silver Lake Sand dunes, trails, and occasionally at the Badlands Offroad park in Indiana. With that in mind, I chose 3/16” aluminum. I’ll bet that many people reading this are thinking, “aluminum, is he crazy?” I thought carefully about my options, and I did not need to support the weight of my entire vehicle against rocks. What I was looking for was lightweight, and decent trail and basic impact protection. Sure you could get bulletproof protection with 3/16” steel, but with the size pieces I would be working with, they would be unreasonably heavy, and difficult to cut and install. The aluminum will gouge and dent with hard impacts, but that is a compromise I am willing to make.
Shape of the material
To determine the shape, I obtained a very large piece of cardboard, and started mocking up the panel. I was able to get a small 45-degree bend for a little bit of extra clearance. That small 45-degree bend also stiffens the panel significantly, and looks nice as well.
Having the raw panels fabricated:
With the cardboard pattern in hand, I made a small drawing (with dimensions, angles and blank size) to take to a local shop. Here in Holland, Michigan, Stu’s Welding is kind of a “jack of all trades” shop who have helped me with little projects before. Stu’s had the equipment to make a bend on the four foot long side in 3/16” material, and also had two huge sheets of 3/16” Alcoa aluminum on hand. For the decent price of $75 I got both panels including bends. I had the panels made in a square shape on the ends, knowing that I would have to come back and trim the fender openings and body mounts.
Here is the drawing I supplied to Stu’s. They produced exactly what was drawn.
Here the raw, blank panel is being tried in place after first unbolting the body and roll cage mounts. I needed to raise the body a little to slip the panel in-between the frame and body. I carefully marked with a black pen the areas to trim off. I used a 4.5” angle grinder with a fiber cutoff wheel to trim the material, but a shop with a plasma cutter could do the job as well. You should put some masking tape on the backside of the panel where it sits against the body to protect your paint.
Here is the panel after rough shaping, getting ready for another trial fit. I had to do this step about 4 times to get it to fit up just right at the fender openings.
To do the final marking, and trimming, I used clamps to hold the panel to the body. This was the stage where I also marked holes to drill into the body side panels.
On the inside of the body use thick, large washers (also called fender washers), or a flat metal panel with matching holes should be used. This distributes the force of any impacts across the whole body side instead of just in one spot. You also may want to put some rubber or tape between the body and rocker panel to protect the paint from scratches.
After the panel was complete, with all holes drilled and edges smoothed out, I cleaned and degreased the panels, then sanded them with a red Scotch Brite pad. I painted the panels using silver Rustoleum hammered finish. The final finish looks almost like powder coating.
The fender flares were trimmed higher to match the first bend of the 45-degree angle for additional clearance, and a matching look.
The total cost was $75 panels + $15 paint + $10 cutting wheels, which was less than what I expected. The project took one week of on and off nightly work. These rockers tie the frame and body mounts together, adds clearance, protects the rockers and underside from sticks and rocks, and looks great! Before I did the project I was scared to tackle this thinking that they would look cheap and garage built, but they turned out way better than I expected. Of all of the custom modifications I have made to my Jeep, this is one of my favorites because of the bang for the buck and the satisfaction I got my making them myself. My biggest suggestions are to take your time, and measure twice before you cut. I’ve included a few final installed pictures, and one picture after I installed tube fenders.
A few additional notes: Feel free to email me at email@example.com for questions or pictures you would like me to take for you. I received no free products or services from anyone when completing this write-up. EVERY Jeep is different (even one right behind the other coming off the assembly line), so keep that in mind that what did work for someone else might not exactly be the best solution for you (and the other way around). These articles are my opinion based on my experience. Don’t send me hate mail if you don’t agree. Do all of this work at your OWN risk. I am not responsible if you don’t know what you are doing and you hurt yourself in any way.