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Posted in Features on April 28, 2005 Comment (0)
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Nitto's Mud Grappler tire has become popular with off-roaders because of its backcountry performance, quality, and beefy construction. When Nitto wanted a vehicle that would showcase its tire's qualities, the company turned to Currie Enterprises, famous for building top-quality 4x4's for extreme backcountry use. John Currie and company told Nitto they were ready to build a vehicle, but wanted to keep it to use at events around the country. Nitto agreed. The 4x4 would belong to Currie Enterprises, but would also appear at Nitto events throughout the year. The Curries and Nitto also agreed that this 4x4 needed to be more than a show queen. In other words, it had to really work in the backcountry. They decided the 4x4 would be called the Grappler, after Nitto's tires, and would be a rescue vehicle that could extricate others who had gotten in over their heads off-road.

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An '04 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited was chosen to become the Grappler, as it would make a great base vehicle to build the new rescue 4x4. The Wrangler Unlimited has a 10-inch-longer wheelbase than the stock Wrangler, making it more stable at higher speeds and steeper angles. Because of the longer wheelbase and a bit more body behind the wheelwells, the Unlimited has more room inside to carry rescue equipment.

Upon delivery of its new Electric Lime Green Unlimited with the 4.0L EFI six- and four-speed over-drive automatic tranny, Currie Enterprises went to work converting the stock Jeep into a rescue Wrangler that would really work. An Advance Adapters Atlas 3.0:1 transfer case with 32-spline output shafts was installed for extra strength and the ability to use two-wheel-drive High and Low range, and front-wheel drive. A Currie bolt-in flat transfer case skidplate and crossmember were installed to protect both the Atlas and the transmission pan.

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For the frontend, a polished-aluminum Currie Rock Jock high-pinion 60 with polished-aluminum cover was built using 5.38 gears; 35-spline ARB Air Locker; 35-spline inner axles and 30-spline 1-ton outer axles; 1480 U-joints; 356T6 polished-aluminum Rock Jock outer knuckles; Ford F-450 1-ton unit bearings redrilled to a 5 on 5-1/2 wheel bolt pattern; 12-1/2-inch Wilwood disc brakes with drilled, slotted, and vented rotors; and billet four-piston calipers. The rearend is also a polished-aluminum Rock Jock high-pinion 60 with polished aluminum cover; 5.38 gears; ARB Air Locker; 1350 yoke; 35-spline forged Currie axle shafts; 5 on 5-1/2 wheel bolt pattern; 12-1/2-inch Wilwood disc brakes with drilled, slotted rotors; billet four-piston calipers; and an internal drum-style parking brake. A pair of heavy-duty driveshafts from Powertrain Industries gets the power to the Rock Jocks.

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The 37x13.50R17 Nitto Mud Grappler tires are mounted on Walker Evans 17x9-inch bead-lock wheels. This combo ran surprisingly true, even unbalanced at highway speeds. The tires are noisy on pavement but work very well in sand and on the rocks. Walker's wheels are designed to be bead locks from the beginning and are very strong. They also feature angled bolt seats, so when the rings are tightened over the beads, the bolt heads sit flat on the ring.

The frame was modified a bit, too. The two rearmost body mounts on each side were cut off the frame, moved up 1 inch, and then welded back on for better rock clearance. All lower control arm mounts were cut, raised, radiused, rewelded, and gusseted with custom laser-cut steel plates. Currie front upper coilover shock mounts replaced the stock front upper coil spring bucket and upper shock mount. Currie rear upper shock mounts were installed in back. The addition of Currie Enterprises' body lift kit allows a little over 1 inch more clearance below.

Stock, the Wrangler Unlimited's four-link coil suspension works very well, but not well enough for hard-core use. Up front, Currie installed its three-link Johnny Joint front suspension system with adjustable J-arm lower control arms; Walker Evans coilover shocks; polished 1-1/4-inch-diameter 7075T6 aluminum tie rod, drag link, and track bar all with chromoly high-misalignment Heim joint ends; PSC heavy duty steering gearbox and hydraulic ram steering assist; and Currie aluminum Anti-Rock antisway bar. In back, Currie's four-link Johnny Joint suspension system was installed, with its triangulated upper control arms that deletes the rear track bar; Currie coil springs; Walker Evans gas-charged remote rear canister adjustable shocks; and Currie aluminum Anti-Rock antisway bar. A Currie 24-gallon stainless-steel gas tank was installed to replace the wimpy stock tank and give the Wrangler more range.

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The Rock Crawler II rear tire carrier and bumper allows the tire to swing away for easy access to the rescue equipment in the back. The Tail Bonez wrap around and protect the lower rear quarter panels.

A Currie Rock Crawler II shorty front bumper with heavy-duty fairlead mount hoop was installed, along with a Warn 9.5 TI winch. In back, a Rock Crawler II rear bumper and tire carrier with high-mount taillight was bolted up, along with Currie Tail Bonez for rear quarter panel protection. Rock Ribz rocker panel guards with side protection tubes keep nasty rocks from biting the Jeep from the side. James Gang Racing built the custom tubular doors with stainless inserts, as well as the custom stainless-steel roof with polished aluminum diamond-plate insert for mounting the Code 3 lightbar up top.

The tires on the Grappler are (of course) 37x13.50R17LT Nitto Mud Grapplers mounted on 17x9-inch Walker Evans bead locks. The 37s are a new size for Nitto and they fit great on the Wrangler. Warn 7-inch TJ flares cover the wider meats and not only look great, but their super-tough urethane construction will work great off-road. A steel heat reduction hood from American Expedition Vehicles was painted factory Electric Lime Green by Mahood's Auto Body and bolted on. Under the hood, the engine was raised 1-1/2 inches and a Turbo City Rocket Tube air intake with K&N filter was installed, as was an ARB air compressor. The washer bottle and coolant overflow tank were relocated to clear the upper front coilover mounts and PSC power steering pump.

To help with rescue operations, a Tuffy Security drawer was added in the back and a Warn Multi Mount 9.5 TI winch was bolted to the top. The Multi Mount allows the Warn winch to be moved and mounted in a variety of positions, wherever there's a receiver hitch. Fire extinguishers, a first aid kit, a multitude of straps, chains, and sundry, and other rescue equipment reside in or on the Tuffy box. Blaine Johnson helped with the installation of the Code 3 emergency lights and the strobes in the marker lights.

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We put the Grappler through its paces during our photo shoot and can report it works very well. The Mud Grappler tires made some noise on the pavement, but they didn't shake a bit at higher speeds -- even with no balance weights attached! Off-road, the Mud Grapplers showed surprising versatility in the sand dunes and on slickrock. The Currie suspension has been around for a while now and is a proven product. Using it on the lengthened Unlimited was an eye-opener, though. The Jeep was very stable, no matter what attitude we got it into. Having the front and rear adjustable Anti-Rock antisway bars were a boon, too. We could dial-in the suspension right to where we wanted it. Walker Evans coilovers and shocks offered great adjustability, too, and it made a surprising difference when adjusting them even one click.

During the shoot, one of the other vehicles rolled and the Grappler came to the rescue and righted it again (we might mention here that if it has four wheels, Clifton can roll it). If there are any negatives that need to be mentioned, it's the lengthened body of the Unlimited behind the rear wheelwells. We smashed down pretty hard back there when coming off of steep drops. In our opinion, Jeep should have left that part of the Wrangler unchanged from the regular YJ with its minimum overhang in back.

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Nitto Tires has a superb vehicle it can show off and showcase its tires in the tough off-road environment. The Curries have a Jeep they can take pretty much anywhere and not only give their products exposure, but can help others in need in places there isn't much help. The Grappler off-road rescue Wrangler will get you home.


Nitto Tire
Cypress, CA 90630
Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880


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