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2004 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon - A Couple Of Crawlers

Posted in Features on April 3, 2007
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If you have ever dealt with JBA Performance Exhaust, then it's more than likely you know who Mark Matthews is. Mark has been the go-to marketing and promotions guru at JBA for over a decade. On top of being involved in the world of off-roading on a business level, he and his wife Melissa are also huge fans of hitting the dirt in their spare time. Also, with Melissa being an avid rockclimber, Mark needed to build a vehicle that would not only satiate his craving for the dirt but one that would also be capable of transporting Melissa and her gear to the numerous rockclimbing events she attends.

Mark's first vehicle was built for speed: an '86 Ford Ranger complete with a C4 Transmission, fiberglass fenders, a 6-inch lift kit, and more, pushing over 15 inches of travel both front and rear. After some time, he realized that although his prerunner was fun, it wasn't very practical for his particular needs. Having come from the world of off-road desert racing, Mark wanted to find out what this four-wheel-drive and rockcrawling world was all about. During a trip to the TDS Safari in the Anza-Borrego Desert, Mark took a ride in Cole Quirrels' flatfender Willys Jeep and he was hooked. That ride proved to Mark the value of a solid four-wheel-drive vehicle and compelled him to start his own Jeep project. We guess it would be safe to say that both Mark and Melissa enjoy spending time crawling on rocks.

He chose to begin his creation with an '04 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon because of the vehicle's well-known strength and out-of-the-box versatility and quality. As soon as the vehicle was purchased, it was sent straight-away to JBA's research and development facility in San Diego, California, to receive a newly designed set of Cat4ward ceramic-coated stainless steel headers and a stainless steel 2.5-inch exhaust system. Mark also swapped in a RedTop Optima battery to ensure proper ignition and power considering the amount of abuse and audio modifications intended for the vehicle. A K&N FIPK kit with a dry charger filter wrap was also added to help keep the massive amount of dirt and dust the Jeep sees out of the engine.

Next up was tackling what most Jeepers consider the good stuff: suspension modifications. The stock Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is one of the most well-equipped four-wheel-drive vehicles on the planet. Not many people would argue that you can't take this vehicle places where most stock vehicles could never get to. Mark left the stock Dana 44 axles under the rig and stuffed them with Superior 4.56 gears and air lockers both front and rear. To give the Jeep more height, greater articulation, strength, and tire clearance, Mark chose to install a Rubicon Express 5.5-inch long-arm kit. The kit would allow installation of 315/75R16 Toyo Open Country M/T tires and 16x8 KMC XD Series Moab wheels. This tire size is the equivalent of a 35-inch-tall tire, which is more than enough to tackle just about anything Mark and Melissa have planned. With all that new articulation, a CV (constant velocity) driveshaft, also by Rubicon Express, was installed.

After the suspension and tires were taken care of, Mark wanted to add some body protection. Body Armor 4x4 of Corona, California, had just what Mark was looking for in a set of bumpers and rock sliders. Body Armor 4x4 offers its front and rear bumpers in various lengths, depending on your project's requirements. They are no-drill, bolt-on applications and have a wall thickness of over 3/16 inch. Up front, Mark chose model 9331 in a 59-inch length to cover the entire front end and also carry his winch. The bumper has a front receiving hitch and D-ring hookups. The Ramsey 9500 winch came highly recommended by Mark's friend, so it was a no-brainer to add one. The 9500 is a 5.5hp 12V DC unit complete with a proven three-stage planetary gear system designed for fast line speed. It also features an automatic load-holding brake, is weather-resistant, has a four-way roller fairlead, comes with a limited lifetime warranty, and boasts a rated line pull of 9,500 pounds. Out back, the Body Armor 4x4 model 2991 59-inch rear bumper and tire carrier can hold a fullsize spare tire and dual gas cans, and has a CB antenna mount and a place to mount a Hi-Lift jack. We thought the setup of this rear bumper was well thought out, with the spare tire being the rearmost object, protecting the gas cans from any unfortunate driving accidents.

Inside the Rubicon, occupants plant themselves in MasterCraft Baja RS seats. These seats are a great choice for enthusiasts looking for the security of a race seat while still needing the ability to recline for comfort. MasterCraft makes a number of factory mounting systems for the seats, which you can adapt to your rig. A couple of the seat options include an adjustable headrest, adjustable lumbar support, and a seat heater. MasterCraft also installed its Jeep Grab Handles to aid in getting in and out of this much taller Jeep. One last interior feature worth mentioning is the B&M shifter kit that helps reduce the throw range for shifting. You don't see a great deal of short-throw shifters on Jeeps built for trailrunning, but we guarantee that once you drive a Jeep with one installed, you'll want one.

Mark is a big music fan and iPod user. Al & Ed's Autosound in Temecula, California, installed an Alpine head unit complete with full iPod controls, Sirius satellite radio, and a custom-made enclosure for a 10-inch Kicker Solo-Baric subwoofer. Mark's Jeep is now rockin' on the inside and rockin' on the outside. His ride has already been a feature vehicle at the Off-Road Expo in Pomona, California, the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, and at the 4Wheel Parts Truck Fest in both Ontario and San Diego, California. During your next adventure on the trail or at a local off-road show, keep an eye out for this head-turning Wrangler.

PhotosView Slideshow
Year/Make/Model: '04 {{{Jeep Wrangler}}} Rubicon
Owner: Mark Matthews
Engine: 4.0L
Transmission: NV3500
Transfer Case: NVG241OR
Axles: Stock Dana 44s
Ring-and-pinion: 4.56
Suspension: Rubicon {{{Express}}} 5.5-inch
long-arm kit
Tires/Wheels: 315/75R16 Toyo Open
Country {{{M}}}/Ts/16x8 KMC
XD Series Moabs

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