By Jon Maib
Wanting to get out of the house after being stuck in quarantine, journalist Steve Garret and I decided to hit up one of our local off-road parks here in Texas. Steve brought out his project Swampcat and I had our project Vulture. It was meant to be just a day of easy play and goofing around. Not too many were at the park, so it was great to grab any trail we wanted and not get stuck behind anyone or have to worry about someone coming the opposite way. We picked some trails we had never been down and even ended up meeting a father and son just out playing in their Jeep. We invited them to hang out with us and helped them with obstacles they were not comfortable doing. We all had a great time.

It was nice getting out of the house and the day wheeling went smooth with no issues, well, that was until the drive home for project Vulture. The off-road park is about an hour and a half away from our home and about 30 min before I was to get home, I pull up to a light and push the clutch in and then BOOM. I feel the clutch drop to the floor and hear a loud pop coming from underneath. I quickly throw in neutral pull to the side of the road and come to the realization the clutch blew up. Originally I was thinking it maybe something else, but I knew. I had to get the Jeep towed home and it was time to start shopping for a new clutch.

If you begin talking to the off-road community about clutches for your Jeep, the first one that everyone mentions is the Centerforce clutch. The Centerforce clutch is a good clutch but it's not the end all of Jeep clutches! I admit, when I started looking to get a new clutch for the Jeep, I obviously started with the Centerforce, but was looking to upgrade the clutch from OEM. This was all during the pandemic, so to my surprise and to my luck, trying to find a Centerforce clutch immediately available was near impossible. I called several places and they were all on back order for my year Jeep. I began to scrub the web to find what was available in my price range. There are several great companies out there, but I finally landed on the South Bend Clutch. After lots of research, I have found they are very high quality, have great customer service and most race cars run them. South Bend offers several different stages of clutches as well. Let me break them down for you.

Stage 1
Is a heavy duty version of the stock O. E. clutch. The Pressure Plate has an increase clamp load for extended life. The disc is dual dampened for smooth engagement and increased transmission life. Premium friction material ensures rapid heat dissipation increasing the life of the clutch. This upgrade is recommended for 'spirited' and daily driving.

Stage 2 (Daily, Endurance, and Drag versions available)
Engineered for HP modifications. This Heavy Duty Pressure Plate has an increased clamp load with little or no increase in pedal pressure. The Organic disc material has a high metal content that increases the co-efficient of friction by two times over a stock lining and increases rotational strength up to a 12,000 RPM burst point. This clutch system maintains a stock feel while offering strength and durability.
This is recommended for daily, street and moderate race.
An SFI approved single mass flywheel is recommended for this application to get optimal performance. This clutch system is designed for the racing climate. The pressure plate is precision balance for vibration free operation at high RPM. The pressure plate fulcrum is altered for a positive disengagement and a quick shift. The disc is engineered with a Dual Damped design to provide accurate control when accelerating through corners. The friction material is a hybrid using a full face Feramic (Sintered Iron) lining on the flywheel side and a high metal content Organic lining on the pressure plate side. Engagement is positive yet buffered due to the high graphite content unique to Feramic facings. This is recommended for daily and street with an emphasis on Rally and Endurance racing. 

I wont get into the drag stage here, cuz, well, don't think Ill be drag racing the Jeep any time soon. As our project Vulture has been intended to be a dual-purpose rig, daily and trail, I decided to just go with the stage 1, which is an upgrade from stock and gives a chance to have those 'spirited' shifts. I'm always a big fan of doing all my own work, but I just wasn't feeling doing the work without a lift, so contacted my friends down at Baertrax in Dallas to get the work done for me. They were able to get me in quickly and made short work of the replacement. Here is what they found when they opened the bell housing up! (Pictures provided by Baertrax)

Baertrax did a great job replacing our clutch. The new clutch has the same petal pressure as it did with the OEM clutch. The grab when you let out the clutch is much more prominent though. I haven't had the Jeep out on the trail since we swapped in the new clutch, but it has worked great on the street and you can really feel it grab. The quality of the South Bend Clutch is there, you can even see it in the product itself. The red looks really good in... uh... well... the box! I appreciate a company that still wants their product to look good even though it will never be seen once installed. Be sure to check them out and if you need help getting it installed, call my good friends over at Baertrax and let them know I sent you.

South Bend Clutch