The ’07-present Wrangler JK platform can be a double-edged sword. It is the most comfortable and refined open-top platform that Jeep has ever offered. The bulk of JKs are destined to be used for daily drivers, something few were interested in enduring in a CJ. JKs are also the most capable platform produced, with a standard coil suspension and traction control. It also benefitted from a 4:1 transfer case, selectable lockers, and even a disconnecting sway bar on the Rubicon model. The problem is they are expensive. Even used, they have excellent resale value, and while they are capable, few want to push their investment to the point that body damage is likely.
Well, Tom Courson is one of the few who is willing to push to that point and beyond. Tom caught the wheeling bug when he went to Badlands Off Road Park with his best friend, Brad Passalacqua, back in 2009. “The winters in Indiana are pretty long,” Tom comments. “So you have a lot of time to spend in the garage working on your Jeep.” He has owned half a dozen Jeeps through the years, from TJs and JKs to Grand Cherokees and Liberties, but none of them were as radical as his current two-door JK.
Tom started with an ’07 Sahara he bought brand new off the dealer lot and kept relatively stock for the first three years of ownership. Starting with a two-door model meant that there is less sheetmetal to damage compared to a four-door JK, but the shorter wheelbase can be a disadvantage when trying to climb steep obstacles. To cure this issue, Tom created a custom suspension that stretches the wheelbase to 109 inches, resulting in approach and departure angles over 90 degrees.
The front suspension uses a three-link configuration with a track bar and the rear suspension uses a double-triangulated four-link configuration to locate the axle. Tom built the suspension himself with lower links constructed from 2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM tubing and upper links from 1.75-inch, 0.250-wall DOM tubing. A combination of rod ends, Currie Johnnie Joints, and MetalCloak Duraflex Joints are used on the links. Up front, the track bar runs parallel to the drag link to minimize bump steer, and both are nearly flat at ride height. A full PSC steering system was used to turn the 42-inch Goodyear MT/R tires, including the pump, reservoir, steering box, and a hydraulic assist ram mounted on the tie rod that reduces stress on the steering box and frame.
King coilover shocks are used on the front suspension with remote reservoirs fit with billet King compression adjusters. The coilovers use 150-over-250–lb-in coil springs and are aided by King hydraulic bump stops. Out back, a pair of 16-inch travel King coilover shocks are frenched into the frame with hydraulic bump stops and the same coil spring rates. Tom doesn’t run any sway bars and said that the Jeep is like driving a big green marshmallow on the pavement, but it flexes like mad on the trail.
The factory 3.8L V-6 engine was retained, and shares room under the hood with an ARB air compressor, Warn winch controller, and PSC steering reservoir. The engine breathes through a custom intake with an industrial Donaldson pre-filter through the cowl. Spent gases exit through a custom dual exhaust from Nate’s Precision to accommodate the wheelbase stretch. The engine is backed by the original 42RLE four-speed automatic transmission, but the stock transfer case was replaced with a transfer case that has as many gears as the transmission. The four-speed Advance Adapters Atlas II provides ratios of 1:1, 2.72:1, 3.8:1, and a whopping 10.3:1 to fit any situation on any trail.
Tom has built enough Jeeps to know that when it comes to axles, you spend time and money ahead to do it right the first time. Instead of adding gears and lockers and trusses to the factory axles, he replaced them with Dynatrac ProRock 60s front and rear. Both axles use 5.13 gears, ARB Air Lockers, and full-floating 35-spline chromoly axleshafts. The stout axles allow Tom to run 42-inch Goodyear MT/Rs on Hutchinson Rock Monster beadlock rims without concern.
Body and Interior
Starting at the front of the Jeep, Tom built a custom front bumper that holds a Warn M8000 winch with Masterpull synthetic cable and a Super Bright LED light bar. Tom built his own tubular front fenders with recessed LED lights and increased tire coverage. The Wrangler started silver, but Tom had it wrapped in factory Gecko Green that makes it really pop for the camera. He built the custom rock sliders from 3⁄16-inch steel and angled them to maximize ground clearance. The rear corners are from River Raider with LED taillights and are comp cut to allow the wheelbase stretch. The factory fuel tank was replaced with a GenRight Crawler tank for a TJ in the rear cargo area.
Tom built the rollcage himself out of various-sized DOM tubing that ties into the windshield frame. As hard as he wheels this Jeep, we would be more comfortable with down bars at the A pillar. Under the ’cage, Corbeau seats are used in conjunction with Schroth harnesses.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Tom is well on his way to having a rock buggy, and the JK is rarely driven on the streets anymore. Still, starting with a Jeep that not only has a title and a VIN number but a frame, firewall, and dash means more time on the trail and less time in the shop (or opening your wallet) when compared to a full-fledged tube buggy.
Vehicle: 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara
Engine: 3.8L V6
Transmission: 42RLE four-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters four speed Atlas II
Suspension: Three-link (front), double triangulated four-link (rear)
Axles: Dynatrac ProRock 60s front and rear
Wheels: 17x8.5 Hutchinson Rock Monster beadlocks
Tires: 42x14.50R17 Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar
Built For: Wheeling the hardest rock trails
Why I Wrote this Feature
Since moving from Indiana to Reno, Nevada, Tom has been like a kid in a candy store, hitting every trail ride he gets invited to. His enthusiasm to tackle any terrain, and do so with such a calm and cool demeanor, made for photos too good not to share with our readers. The fact that his Jeep is bright green doesn’t hurt either!