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2008 Jeep Wrangler JK Rubicon - Project Rat Patrol

Posted in Features on December 1, 2008
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Building a project vehicle is a balancing act. On one hand, we want to showcase the latest and greatest, and on the other, we want to keep it simple. Every time we ponder a new aftermarket part, we ask ourselves whether or not that part would bring us closer to creating a simple, functional trail rig. Too many parts just make for a cluttered rig.

Editor-In-Chief Phil Howell located this two-door '08 JK Rubicon at Hemet Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Hemet, California. Yours truly retrieved it from the dealership.

The rolling stock consists of 17x8.5-inch American Expedition Vehicles Pintler beadlock wheels wrapped with 35x12.50x17 Toyo Open Country MT tires.

Before making any modifications, a theme had to be chosen. We've got immense respect for the courage and dedication of the men and women of the armed forces, and that respect brought the 1960's television series "The Rat Patrol" to mind. A running theme of the "Rat Patrol" was "Impossible Mission? Impossible Task? Give it to the Rat Patrol!" In short, the Rat Patrol was ready to do battle anytime, anywhere it the world. The JK's deep green combined with the well-documented military heritage of the Jeep tied in well with the Rat Patrol theme. Our goal with this JK is to build a trail rig that can go anywhere and do anything. It's a simple idea, but the execution proved a little more involved.

Our first order of business was to drop the vehicle off to Mel Wade, owner of Off-Road Evolution in Fullerton, California, to begin our build. Following our mission statement, a 3-inch Black Diamond Suspension system was installed along with Off Road Evolution's air bump system at the front coils. In addition to retaining the factory geometry of the vehicle, the Black Diamond system replaces the factory front lower control arms for more durable and adjustable units and includes adjustable heim-jointed traction bars in the front and rear. Based upon our vehicle's trim level, model type and other parameters, the front and rear coil springs in each kit are matched accordingly from the factory. A factory option that we chose to incorporate into the kit were custom-valved Bilstein 5100 Series shock absorbers. To compliment the shocks, a pair of Bilstein bump stops were chosen as part of the Off Road Evolution air bump system, which borrows the same technology that desert race trucks utilize to help absorb some of the suspension rebound and ride harshness when on hard packed roads and trails. Once at a respectable trail height, a set of high-quality and durable American Expedition Vehicles 17x8-inch Pintler factory cast bead lock wheels replaced the factory Rubicon units along with a set of equally durable 35x12.50R17 Toyo Open Country MT tires. Given the additional height increase and extreme angles of articulation that the front suspension possesses, the OE front brake lines were replaced with extended stainless steel versions from Currie Enterprises.

The factory hood was replaced with an American Expedition Vehicles heat reduction hood which allows fresh and cooler air to enter the engine compartment through the top and side vents. Fitting seamlessly into the hood is an AEV snorkel / pre-filter kit which scrubs the air prior to it entering the air box.

The upgraded suspension combined with the meaty tires and wheels had a domino effect on the drive train. The factory 4.10 gears did a great job of turning the factory-supplied 31-inch tires, but were no match for our 35-inch Toyo Open Country M/T's. The crew at Off-Road Evolution swapped the factory ring and pinion sets for a pair of 4.88 gears from Reider Racing. While performing the gear change, the front and rear axle shafts were also upgraded for a pair of Superior Axle & Gear's Evolution Series axle shafts. Fully compatible with the factory Dana 44 axles, Superior's cold-rolled axle shafts are installation ready and include new studs, bearings and seals. Knowing a system is only as strong as its weakest link, the stock front and rear driveshafts were replaced with units from J.E. Reel Driveshafts and compliment the Rock-Trac Rubicon transfer case with 4:1 low range. The 1350-Series drive shafts manufactured by J.E. Reel feature 1-3/8-inch diameter slip yokes versus the factory 1-1/4-inch units and have been lengthened an additional inch in the slip joint. To protect the entire drive train and underbody components, a pair of High Caliber Products/Magnum Off Road steel skid plates was installed, including one that protects the evaporation canister in its stock location.

The 3-inch Black Diamond suspension is paired with Bilstein 5100 series shock absorbers and an Off Road Evolution Evo Air Bump System. This setup provides a plush ride and ample clearance for the 35-inch Toyo Open Country MT tires.

With the drive train poised for battle, beefing up the body armor was next. Starting at the front and working our way back, an American Expedition Vehicles front bumper was installed along with a stout Ramsey Patriot 9000 lb. winch with synthetic winch line and a pair of IPF HID off road lights. Easily one of the best looking front bumpers for the JK, the AEV unit is the only stamped steel front bumper on the market. Fabricated from 1/8-inch thick steel, the bumper is able to retain both the factory fog lights and the factory air bag crush canisters. The sides of our rig have been protected with a set of PUREJEEP formed rocker guards that feature a side step for additional protection. The durable steel plate and thick-walled tubing allow our vehicle to slide off of virtually any rock formation without so much as a scratch or dent to the bodywork. Each of the rear corners have been wrapped with American Expedition Vehicles steel corner guards. Following the same construction methodology, each corner has been fabricated from 1/8-inch plate steel and stamped for a truly factory fit and finish. Bringing up the rear, our friends at Rock Hard 4x4 were called upon to make the back end of the rig be as bulletproof as the front end. Starting with their 1/4-inch thick steel plate rear bumper with integrated Class 2 receiver hitch and tapered ends for increased departure angles, their swing out tire carrier was installed along with their mountain rack and jerry can holders that feature military-spec 5-gallon Spectre fuel cans secured with Steel Core locking tie down straps. An additional wheel and tire combination was installed on the rear tire carrier which swings on a 1-1/4-inch steel shaft and 2-3/4-inch hub with upper and lower sealed tapered roller bearings. A trick swing stop has also been incorporated into the package to help manage the spare when the rear gate is open. For added safety, a pair of Whelen LED strobe lights and an extreme Hi-Lift jack was added to the tire carrier's A-frame.

Being a two door Rubicon, cargo space is at a premium. To help add more real estate to our rig, a pair of Yakima roof racks was added to our factory three-piece hardtop. Installed using Yakima's track system, each piece of the three-piece hardtop has had a track installed, that way the targa configuration may still be used with the racks staying in place.

Protecting the underbody and new drive train components are High Caliber/Magnum Off Road's 1/4-inch thick steel skid plate system, which even includes a skid plate that allows the evaporation canister to be kept in its stock location but further protected. The new J.E. Reel driveshaft also benefits from the skid plate system.

Given the amount of steel products added to the JK, the 3.8L V-6 began to experience the consequences in the performance department. To bring performance back to par, we utilized a Hypertech Max Energy power programmer which allowed us to optimize our tuning settings on the vehicle, including fuel programming, speedometer and odometer correction and cooling fan settings. Helping to filter the intake air and provide an additional line of protection to the engine, an American Expedition Vehicles snorkel/pre-filter system was installed which utilizes the factory air box and mounting bolts on the body. Working in seamless conjunction with the AEV snorkel system is an American Expedition Vehicles heat reduction hood that has been designed to provide fresh intake air and critical cooling within the engine compartment. This is achieved through a series of strategically placed openings on the side and top of the steel hood. With attention to detail never overlooked, the AEV team uses perforated stainless steel grates to cover the hood openings. Since the hood came e-coated and ready for paint, our resident paint expert Alex Paul of AP Designs in San Marcos, California, laid down the color matched metallic Jeep Green paint for a factory appearance.

The risk of side injury to our JK's body has been greatly diminished thanks to PUREJEEP's formed rocker guards that have been built from stout 1/4-inch thick steel plate and heavy walled DOM tubing.

Moving to the interior, a Lowrance GlobalMap Baja 540c GPS unit was installed atop the factory MyGig unit and housed within a Daystar console insert. As anyone who has ever ridden in a Jeep with the top down can attest, you can't hear yourself think due to the wind noise. To resolve this issue, a David Clark 9800 Series "Go Fast" marine intercom system was called upon. Using the latest in voice activated technologies; the intercom system is able to integrate an iPod, a VHF radio and even a cell phone for hands free driving. Tasked with controlling all of the electronics and lighting accessories on the vehicle is an S-pod switching system which incorporates a better than factory looking fuse and relay box which mounts onto the factory ECU mounting bolts and incorporates the six lighted switches above the rear view mirror. Always keeping safety of our occupants a top priority, a Rock Hard 4x4 interior sport cage was bolted in along with their soon to be released rear safety harness bar. The factory front seats were removed and replaced with a pair of Mastercraft's fully adjustable Baja RS units with their 2-inch safety harnesses. To keep the cargo from shifting while traversing trails, a High Caliber Products/Magnum Off Road cargo divider was acquired. Aside from just holding cargo back, the divider also serve double duty as a mounting platform for our Powertank air tank and had the capability to store extra quarts of vital engine fluids should we ever need them.

Our Rat Patrol JK is built for the ultimate in serviceability. This story alone doesn't do justice to the Jeep or to the parts used to build it. Watch for more detail in upcoming issues.

PhotosView Slideshow


Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
American Expedition Vehicles
Wixom, MI 48393
Rock Hard 4x4 Parts
St. Paul, NE 68873
Toyo Tires
Ramsey Winch
Tulsa, OH 74116
Tulsa, OK
Off Road Evolution
Fullerton, CA 92833
Reider Racing
J.E. Reel Drive Line Specialists
Yakima Products
Black Diamond / Superlift Suspension
David Clark Company
Hemet Chrysler Jeep Dodge
High Caliber / Magnum Offroad
Steel Core Products
Superior Axles & Gears

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