Home mechanics often complain about how the people who design auto parts must not have to install or use those products. Foreign-sports-car engineers are the most common targets of home-mechanic venom, but aftermarket truck parts designers aren't immune.
Luckily, many 4x4 manufacturers are small enough that - for better or worse - their engineers have a hands-on stake in product development and testing. Their jobs don't entirely involve playing with CAD/CAM software on a computer screen. Superlift/Black Diamond Head Engineer Kevin Dill is one example of a hands-on product designer. Before signing on with Superlift, Kevin designed the original Atlas transfer case while working for Advance Adapters, so he has broad-based knowledge of what backcountry 4x4 enthusiasts need to go farther and better.
First, Kevin shelved the stock engine and transmission in favor of a 6.1L Hemi V8 coupled to a 545RFE automatic transmission. This drivetrain is a first for a TJ Wrangler and is an outgrowth of Superlift's project-vehicle relationship with Chrysler's Jeep SkunkWerks team. Previous project friends at Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas, supplied and prepped the Hemi, then handled the swap using a wiring harness from Squier Incorporated (also in Mena).Instead of using custom one-off parts to build the rest of his Jeep, Kevin selected from among the best off-the-shelf parts the off-road industry offers.
An aluminum Griffin radiator helps dissipate the V8 heat. Once his Jeep was back in Louisiana, Kevin added an Airaid intake and an Edelbrock nitrous system to wake things up even further. Terry Carpenter, local talent in West Monroe, Louisiana, custom-fabricated and TIG-welded a stainless steel exhaust system using a single Edelbrock SDT muffler.Underneath, a Dill-designed Superlift 4-inch Rockrunner long-arm kit was the underlying reason for this Jeep. To fit 39x13.50-17 BFG Krawlers on 17x9 Walker Evans beadlocks, Kevin also designed and added in the Black Diamond Bilstein coilover shock option to his build. (The suspension kit's threaded Rockrunner arms allow a wide range of caster adjustment to restore handling.)
As the father of the Atlas transfer case, Kevin procured a 3.8:1 Low range unit from Advance Adapters. Tom Wood's custom 1350 CV driveshafts connect the Atlas to Dynatrac ProRock 60s. The axles were built with Detroit Lockers, Wilwood brakes, and 5.13 gears. Currie Antirock sway bars, both front and rear, help control side-to-side weight transfer, and a PSC Motorsports ram-assist makes front meat maneuvering effortless.
Kevin's interior is mostly business. A Poison Spyder cage keeps Kevin's life insurance policy claim-free. MasterCraft suspension seats are cushy for long runs. To ensure that the Jeep always has plenty of music (rock and hard rock), Suncoast Sound in Monroe, Louisiana, upgraded the sound system. It begins with a double-DIN Alpine head unit and ends with Kicker speakers in Q-Logic enclosures.
On the outside, Kevin went for clean and functional. Bolt-on armor includes Hanson Enterprises bumpers and tire carrier, a Warn winch, and Poison Spyder Rocker Knockers. Before Jamie's Body Shop in Downsville, Louisiana, laid on the paint and graphics, Kevin procured an AEV Highline body kit: heat-reduction hood and fenders/flares that look stock but are contoured enough to allow for the 39-inch BFG tire clearance and modest lift height.
Although most of Kevin's days are spent driving a computer in Superlift's R&D building, he romps his Unlimited every chance he gets. His favorite shake-down venue is the Superlift Off-Road Vehicle Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, but Kevin has also mastered trails in Moab and California.
Strangely, the toughest terrain turned out to be the field across from work. During an early test session, Kevin mashed the Hemi pedal and flipped the Jeep. Kevin sustained a mild brain hemorrhage before he had even taken the Jeep to Moab. Bret Lovett, Superlift/Black Diamond's owner, decided to call Kevin's newly built Unlimited the Widow Maker. Kevin's engineering report presumably said that the long-arm suspension seemed to work best with much less throttle and all four tires contacting the ground. We're just glad that report was on paper instead of a tombstone.