Magazine project vehicles are sometimes loaded with esoteric aftermarket parts and the vehicle builds can be quite complicated. Many of ours fit this bill, with some, such as Project TrailRunner and the Real Steel YJ running for years. Jeep Wrangler JK and Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons are capable vehicles stock. With a few parts, they can be built into great backcountry exploring vehicles. We were talking with Dakota Customs, and they offered to perform a “simple” buildup on a new Rubicon Unlimited X. The Rubicon X is similar to last year’s 10th Anniversary Rubicon model, sans the red leather interior.
Simple started as a 2014 Jeep Wrangler JK Rubicon X with a W5A580 automatic transmission and all the Rubicon X features, including vented hood, front X (or Anniversary) bumper with removable wings, rear X bumper, Mopar rocker guards, Mopar gas filler door, front and rear Tru-Lok electronic locking differentials, NVG241OR Rock-Trac transfer case, SmartBar electronic sway bar, and more. We planned to retain the OE front and rear bumpers, 4.10 gears, Tru-Lok locking differentials, NVG241OR, and SmartBar swaybar.
Even simple projects need good parts. After experiencing a friend’s AEV-equipped Unlimited, we opted for an AEV 3.5-inch DualSport RS suspension system that‘s completely bolt on. The AEV kit includes control arm brackets that correct the lifted Jeep’s suspension geometry and comes with Bilstein reservoir shocks. The system is designed to enable the lifted Wrangler to perform better than stock with no issues. An AEV swing-away tire carrier and 10.2-gallon fuel caddy were added to the OE Rubicon X rear bumper. A Warn 9.5cti-s winch was installed in the OE front bumper. The 3.5-inch suspension lift made room for 35x12.50R17LT Goodyear Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar tires mounted on 17-inch AEV Pintler wheels.
No matter how simple a Jeep Wrangler JK project is, even if leaving the Jeep completely stock, the weak front end needs to be addressed. There are outstanding aftermarket housings available today, but for Simple, we opted to beef up the OE Rubicon Dana 44. Synergy knuckle gussets, and inner axle sleeves make the housing stronger. RCV CV axles with 300M inner shafts are stronger than the housing. 300M is a low-alloy, vacuum-melted steel of very high strength.
Essentially, it is a modified AISI 4340 steel with silicon, vanadium, and slightly greater carbon and molybdenum content than 4340. It’s used in aircraft landing gear and airframe components. A Synergy track bar and sector shaft brace keeps the steering gearbox working and the track bar bracket on the frame, even though Simple probably won’t be heading for the Hammers any time soon. The OE track bar hits the Synergy sector shaft brace bolt, so a JKS Jeep Wrangler JK front track bar was installed. Synergy ball joints replace the weak OE ball joints.
Simple is a sleeper built for highway and backcountry exploring and exhibits outstanding performance. The AEV parts work stunningly well. Except for the axle gussets, all parts were bolt-on easy, and Dakota Customs built the Jeep Wrangler JK in one day. They then delivered it to our door, just as they’ll do with all their customer project builds.
2014 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon X
Engine: Jeep 3.6L VVT V-6
Transmission: W5A580 5-speed automatic
Transfer Case/Low-Range Ratio: NVG241OR Rock-Trac/4.0:1
Front end: Reinforced Jeep Rubicon Dana 44
Rear end: Jeep Rubicon Dana 44
Front Differential: Jeep Rubicon Tru-Lok electronic locker
Rear Differential: Jeep Rubicon Tru-Lok electronic locker
Suspension: AEV 3.5-inch DualSport RS
Tires: 35x12.50R17LT Goodyear Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar
Wheels/Backspacing: 17-inch AEV Pintler/5.2 inches