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2004 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon - The Catbird's Seat

Posted in Features on August 1, 2004
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Involved in the off-road aftermarket since 1985, Robbie Pierce knows a thing or two about what it takes to build a custom 4x4. Robbie operated a high-tech welding facility for a number of years before purchasing his current operation, MasterCraft Race Products, in 1999. Since that time, he's expanded the business to further appeal to the multifaceted off-road industry. In familiarizing himself with the Jeep market, Robbie first tagged along on a few trail rides, sitting shotgun in a buddy's rig. The itch to man the tiller soon took over, however, and it wasn't long before Robbie was searching for a Jeep to call his own. So when a silver '04 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon caught his eye on the dealer's lot, fate saw its opportunity and quickly intervened.

With rich roots in desert racing, this was Robbie's first foray into the trail-running and rockcrawling scene. Wanting to start things off on the right foot, Robbie looked to a suspension company that had also emerged from the desert-racing field. A call to Fabtech Motorsports produced one of its 6-inch long-arm systems, which Robby installed himself at the MasterCraft facility. The lift system rendered enough clearance for a set of 35x12.50R15 Goodyear M/TR meats mounted on 15x8-inch American Racing Baja wheels. Fabtech also addressed Robbie's need for a quality front bumper and winch mount, equipping his rig with one of its Jeep TJ bumpers constructed from 1-3/4-inch-diameter tube. The bumper features a 3/16-inch skidplate and was outfitted with a Warn 9.5ti winch and a set of KC HiLites HID-series lights. A second set of KC SlimLite-series lights adorns the windshield frame and is secured using brackets from KC. The rear bumper was built by Robbie and the MasterCraft crew and includes mounting provisions for a Hi-Lift Jack. Robbie further enhanced the vehicle's exterior with some custom graphics and MasterCraft logos applied by Tony Barraza Design Works in San Jacinto, California.

Being that Robbie selected a Rubicon-model Jeep Wrangler as the basis for his buildup, a number of key components were already in place before the vehicle left the dealership. The factory front and rear Dana 44 axles feature 4.11 gears and Tru-Lok air-actuated locking differentials, and heavy-duty driveshafts lead to an NV241 Rock Trac 4:1 transfer case. Other Rubicon attributes include the venerable 4.0L Power Tech I6 engine, a four-speed automatic transmission, diamond-plate doorsill guards, and a transfer case skidplate.

Considering the nature of his business, Robbie found great interest in developing the interior of his TJ. The stock front seats were removed to make way for a set of black-and-red MasterCraft Rubicon suspension seats, and the rear seat received a matching MasterCraft Factory Fit seat cover. Once the stock rollbar padding was removed, a bolt-in harness bar from Rock Hard 4x4 was installed, along with a set of MasterCraft bolt-in lap and shoulder restraints. Noting that the rollbar looked too bare with the factory padding removed and wanting to improve interior safety, Robby recognized a need for a new MasterCraft product. This decision produced a line of MasterCraft sectional replacement rollbar pads designed to fill the voids left by the removal of factory padding, in addition to providing a much more form-fit appearance. Other interior enhancements included the addition of a fire extinguisher and rollbar grab handles.

Robbie only has a few 'wheeling trips under his belt so far, but judging by the incessant smile welded to his face every time he gets behind the wheel, we figure he has a good deal of adventures to come. We even heard the part's train whistle blowing as he detailed future buildup plans, which included a Poly Performance coilover suspension system using Fox Shox, a Howe hydraulic-assist steering system and performance steering box, bead-lock wheels, PCI race radios, and a Poison Spider Customs Sport Cage. While we have to agree that his future plans add up to a great recipe for a well-built 'crawler, we can't disregard the fact that Robbie already produced a well-oiled rock machine.

SPECIFICATIONS
Vehicle: '04 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Owner/hometown: Robbie Pierce/
  Santee, California
Engine: 4.0L I-6
Induction: Stock
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Transfer case: NV241 Rock Trac
Frontend: Factory Dana 44 with an
  air locker
Rearend: Factory Dana 44 with an
  air locker
Suspension: Fabtech Motorsport's
  6-inch long-arm
Ring-and-pinion: 4.11
Tires/wheels: 35x12.50R15 Goodyear
  M/TRs/15x8-inch
  American Racing Bajas

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