Jeep's JK Wrangler is its most successful entry-level model. More than the TJ, which appealed to hard-core Jeepers by bringing back the classic Jeep 7-inch round headlights but adding a modern coil-sprung suspension, the JK is popular with small families that might otherwise consider car-based SUVs. JKs are basically the most daily-driveable off-the-lot bobtail Jeep yet.
Johnny Ansani knew this before he bought a one-owner 2007 Sahara Unlimited. A truck enthusiast, Johnny ran his own customizing shop, specializing in things like fabricating rollcages for everything from prerunners to street-racer ponycars. Johnny also uses his artistic impulses to design and build modernistic furniture.
A couple years ago, he pulled the plug on his install business to become an aftermarket manufacturer. Currently, the Ansani Designs product line includes replacement fullsize-truck composite front bumpers with molded-in pods for driving lights, as well as a Yamaha Rhino hood scoop that houses auxiliary lights.
Before buying a Wrangler, Johnny spent many hours on the various JK boards. His conclusion: most JK owners are first-time Jeepers; many of the vehicles are still under warranty, so the average owner goes for mild to moderate modifications that personalize the Jeep but don't render it un-streetable.
Johnny's research also revealed some voids in the JK accessories market. He noticed that the few available aftermarket hoods had classic muscle car-inspired scoops. Johnny thought a modern design along the lines of the new Camaro would look clean while also improving underhood cooling. So he tooled up a mold and began making induction hoods. Uni-directional, hand-laid fiberglass constructs a hood that's lightweight but rigid enough to not distort at highway speeds. On his personal JK, Johnny secured his Ansani Designs hood with polyurethane Daystar Hood Wrangler latches.
Next, he began playing with the iconic seven-slat grille. Johnny's first design included recessed rectangular LED light bars. It looked simultaneously modernistic and YJ-throwback. Instead, Johnny decided that the aesthetics of round driving lights would look "right" next to round headlights. His pre-production grille seen here is made from fiberglass and has pods for a pair of 6-inch round KC SlimLite driving lights (the production version might be molded using OE-type composite plastic).
Because Johnny wanted to keep the JK streetable, he decided to limit the lift to 4 inches, which would clear 35s without any fender or hood trimming. A Superlift 4-inch kit was chosen. A bang-for-the buck package, this "short-arm" system offers a few available upgrades. Johnny stepped up to the optional Rockrunner arms, which have threaded links and affordably serviceable poly bushings instead of Heim ends. The Rockrunner arms also have grease fittings for quiet operation, and they out-articulate Heims since the Rockrunner design has 360 degrees of available swiveling. Further, the Superlift kit offers different spring rates. Stiffer coils are intended for the extra weight of Unlimited model JKs, especially ones that run hardtops.
Johnny chose a few other optional lift-kit components. He went with front and rear adjustable track bars, which allow the axles to be precisely centered under the Jeep for stock-like handing. Shocks are upgraded monotube Superlift SS models, which rely on Bilstein 5100 series technology. The steering stabilizer is a matching Bilstein monotube cylinder. Another upgrade is Superlift Bulletproof front brake hoses. DOT-legal, they have Kevlar-reinforced Teflon liners inside braided-steel hose that's protected by a plastic outer sheath. The Desert Rat store in Tempe, Arizona, helped Johnny install the kit on short notice before last fall's Off-Road Expo.
Wheels were a high priority. A set of KMC XD Monsters from Wheel Pros in Phoenix were obtained, along with a set of wheel spacers (1.5 inches) from Trailsport 4x4 to bring the backspacing closer to the 3.5-inch distance that many Jeepers feel is optimal for full steering and more stable handling.
To fill in the wheel wells, Johnny went with a set of LT325 BFG Mud Terrain T/A KM2s. They're aggressive enough to handle the JK-conquerable trails but still well-mannered enough for daily-drivability.
Under the hood, Johnny chose to stay emissions-compliant. An Airaid intake and PowerAid billet throttle-body spacer improve breathing and fuel atomization.
A Superchips Jeep Flashpaq tuner was also used to wake up the V-6. It adds up to 18 hp (when using high-octane fuel) and offers numerous other powertrain programming features such as idle adjustment for onboard welders, speedometer correction for oversized tires and/or non-stock axle gears, tire-pressure monitoring lowering, electric fan adjustments, auto-trans shift point adjustments, and speed and rev-limiter tweaking. Superchips even has a Crawling Tune to maximize low-end performance when in low-range.
The rest of the powertrain is comparatively stock. Desert Rat re-geared the diffs with 4.88 Motive Gears to keep the V-6 in its powerband. Johnny retained the factory rear limited-slip. He'll stick with the OE D30/D44 axles until they die in the line of duty.
To make the blacked-out JK stand out even more, Johnny added a Wild Boar Fastback Hardtop, which he had Rhino Lined. The textured finish corresponds with the warm-weather-wheeling tubular Body Armor 4x4 Trail Doors, AMP Research Power Steps, and Mopar bumpers and spare carrier. Speaking of the spare carrier, Johnny mounted his HiLift jack with Daystar isolator to the swing-away rack. InPro Car Wear LED taillights also help rear-end functionality.
Like the rest of the Jeep, Johnny wanted the interior to be custom but somewhat stealth. He consulted custom upholstery expert Todd Abraham of Advanced Performance Co. in Herndon, Tennessee. Abraham recommended two-tone Roadwire leather upholstery, which was installed by The Upholstery Shop in Phoenix. Other interior upgrades include an Alpine head unit and amp, a Tuffy security console, and Daystar illuminated switches and switch panels. Mopar mud mats help protect the carpet.
In the cargo area, Johnny created an Ansani Designs composite box for a Kicker 10-inch subwoofer. The rear end also houses a Power Tank Comp Series 10-pound CO² system. Real Image in Phoenix hydro-dipped the tank with a carbon-fiber-patterned film to create a custom effect.
Like all Jeeps, Johnny Ansani's JK is a work in progress. He's happy with it for now. But as he goes on more trail runs, he anticipates his Wrangler getting a winch, larger axles, lockers, bigger tires, and a higher lift. Then he might have to buy another 4x4 to serve as the around-town family hauler.
Vehicle: 2007 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Sahara
Owner: Johnny Ansani
Hometown: Tempe, AZ
Contact: (480) 323-0504 www.ansanidesigns.com
Engine: 3.8L V-6
Transmission: 42RLE automatic
Transfer Case: NVG231
Low Range Ratio: 2.72:1
Front End: Dana 30, Superlift eXtreme Ring cover
Rear End: Dana 44, Superlift eXtreme Ring cover
Ring and Pinion: Motive Gear 4.88:1
Front Differential: Open
Rear Differential: Limited-slip
Suspension: Superlift 4-inch kit, Rockrunner link arms, adjustable track bars, SS monotube shocks, Bilstein monotube steering stabilizer
Tires: LT325/60R20 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2
Wheels: 20x9.5 KMC XD Monsters
Backspacing: 4.5 inches