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FrankenBrute is a monster of a 2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ

Posted in Features on August 8, 2015
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Photographers: Verne Simons

Off-road rigs are built for many different reasons. Some are built for rockcrawling, some for overland-style camping, and still others are built for racing. However, when Greg Henderson from Lennon, Michigan, decided to create the custom-built Jeep pickup you see here, he had a deeply personal reason.

His son, Liam, was suffering from a brain injury similar to shaken baby syndrome, and although strapped for cash to pay medical bills, Henderson was not short on ideas or skills. A friend suggested that Henderson put those skills to use building a custom Jeep that could be raffled off at an upcoming fundraiser organized to help Liam. The starting gun for what would be a sprint to finish the project build in time was fired and Henderson began a 700-mile round trip to gather up the major body parts to get the project off the ground.

Proving that FrankenBrute is no showboat, Henderson displays the amazing flex of the AEV and factory Rubicon suspension system he created for the rig.

Henderson's first stop was at Manley ORV to pick one of its trailers. He would eventually modify the trailer and turn it into the bed of the Jeep Wrangler he secured at this second stop. The foundation for what would soon become known as FrankenBrute, a '06 Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited, came from Davey's Jeeps & Parts in Salem, Ohio. The nickname for the project came from the fact that it was assembled with a handful of different body parts.

Skeletal Mods
The bed is a complete Manley ORV trailer, but Henderson frenched the Manley frame into the 27-inched stretched TJ frame. He wanted to keep the lights of the trailer, and the added bonus is that with the rear half of the Wrangler removed to accept the Manley trailer, FrankenBrute became a flatbed pickup. He also modified the fenders of the trailer to flow better with FrankenBrute's final bodylines. A good friend of Henderson's made the carbon fiber Jeep logo for the tailgate. Other modifications made to the bed include a custom under-bed trunk and recessed ammo boxes for additional dry storage.

Henderson put a considerable amount of time into designing the custom engine hood for FrankenBrute, beginning with a clay model to create the fiberglass mold for the carbon fiber overlay. This overlay was then incorporated into an AEV hood for the final result.

Henderson knew that he was going to alter the platform, so it didn't make sense to go for a full AEV Brute kit. With the rear section of the TJ moved forward, the only part needed from AEV was the top kit. He was lucky enough to get his hands on the old top that was damaged on a previous project, Teal Brute. After some repairs and reshaping, it was used to create the new top for FrankenBrute.

Because of all the modifications and the extra weight going on the rear portion of the frame, Henderson added 1 1/2 inches of new material to the top of the factory frame, turning it into a fully boxed frame. This added to the overall strength of the frame and helped to prevent any flex that may have been introduced.

In a way, it's too bad you can't easily see all the frame modifications that went in to making FrankenBrute so versatile and drivable. The extensive frame mods were the only way Henderson was able to fit 37-inch tires on the Dana 60 front axle and Dana 70 rear axle with just an inch of suspension lift.

Body Parts
After the frame and bed modifications where complete, Henderson moved onto the front of the Jeep. He wanted the Jeep to resemble a '49 Willy's pickup truck, so the guys at Poison Spyder Customs were contacted. The company's steel TJ DeFender XC 3-inch High-Line tapered flares bore a strong resemblance to the flat fenders of the '49s, so they were an obvious choice for the build.

Putting the power to the ground and keeping it there is a set of gnarly 37x12.50R17 Pit Bull Rockers wrapped around 17x8 TrailReady Beadlocks.

When the fender job was accomplished, Henderson could turn his attention to the re-design of the factory TJ hood. It was his first attempt at clay work, so it took some time, but the end result was exactly what Henderson was looking for. The clay model was used to make a fiberglass mold for a carbon fiber overlay on the final hood design. He also added a '49 Willys hood ornament (still at the chrome shop at the time of this photo shoot) for the crowning touch.

Now it was time to move onto the hardtop, with the same meticulous attention to detail. Henderson reshaped it from the standard AEV design to a form that resembled the '49 top. Once the difficult hand work was finalized, all of the body panels went off to Chelsea Custom Paint in Chelsea, Michigan, and were coated in a blend of colors meant to mimic that of Jeep's official Anvil hue.

A RIPP supercharger gives the nearly stock 4.0L inline-six engine a kick in the pants, helping drive FrankenBrute up and over virtually any terrain Henderson chooses to challenge with it.

Only two weeks before its reveal at the fundraiser, the project remained a bare frame and many of the parts had yet to arrive. From that point on, Henderson spent every waking hour—when he wasn't at his day job—furiously working on the build. In fact, he didn't even start the suspension work until a few days before the event, so some final adjustments had to be made later.

Up front, FrankenBrute sports a RockSolid Performance Dana 60 with a 5.13 Yukon limited-slip. Henderson used a set of AEV JK 2-inch lift springs that took the TJ up 1 inch. Bilstein shocks provide damping duties.

The better part of the build took Henderson three months, including nights and weekends, with the help of some great friends and sponsors. He told us that the monumental feat would never have been possible without the help of companies such as Truck-Lite and RockSolid Performance that provided the headlights and axles, respectively, for the project. Included in the long list of companies that helped pull this fundraiser vehicle together are Advance Adapters, Pit Bull tires, sPOD, Premier Power Welder, Superwinch, Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts, BDS, and many more that donated to the construction of FrankenBrute.

The owner of Lifted Ladies LLC ended up holding the winning raffle ticket, but she graciously chose to leave the custom Jeep with Liam so that it could continue to raise awareness for Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Except for the sPOD interface on the dash and the custom lever to manipulate the Advance Adapters Atlas transfer case, there is not much in the cab that would lead you to believe this is anything other than a standard '06 TJ.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: '06 Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited
Engine: 4.0L I-6 w/ RIPP Supercharger
Transmission: 4-speed 42RLE automatic
Transfer Case: Atlas, Tom Wood's driveshafts, Tummy Tucker skidplate
Suspension: AEV JK lift springs, factory JK Rubicon rear springs, Bilstein shocks, BDS front and rear control arms, Currie rear track bar
Axles: Dana 60 (front), Dana 70 (rear)
Wheels: 17x8.0 TrailReady Beadlocks
Tires: 37x12.50R17 Pit Bull Rockers
Built For: Cruising Trails

Why I Wrote This
We love anything that helps sick kids. And besides, this customized Jeep is flat-out awesome in appearance and hardware. Who wouldn't dig driving this thing off-road?

Henderson frenched the frame of the Manley ORV trailer into the rear section of the TJ's frame, which ended up being stretched a total of 27 inches to accommodate all the body parts and modifications. The trailer's modified fenders and the Poison Spyder flatty style fenders compliment each other, adding to the project's vintage look.
The Dana 70 in the rear also came from RockSolid Performance and is augmented by a 5.13 ARB locker for total traction. Bilstein shocks control spring oscillation here too, and the front and rear axles use F-350 disc brakes.
Helping make FrankenBrute's drivetrain nearly bulletproof is an Atlas transfer case and custom driveshafts from Tom Wood's that take the power down to the Dana 60 front and Dana 70 rear axles. An Nth Degree Tummy Tuck belly pan protects the Atlas transfer case.
Ammo boxes are incorporated into the flat cargo bed created by the transformed Manly ORV trailer. These boxes provide secure dry storage space while not interfering with the open and flat cargo-handling abilities of FrankenBrute's bed.
Creating the cargo bed for his custom rig from the Manley ORV trailer not only allowed Henderson to retain the trailer's pre-existing taillights, but it also gave the project an overall look reminiscent of a vintage pickup truck.
The underhood power supply from Premier Power Welder adds to the functionality of FrankenBrute, and makes on-trail repairs quick and easy.
A custom rig built from a '06 TJ melded with a Manley ORV trailer to create the cargo bed and Poison Spyder front fenders to give it a '49 flatty look. FrankenBrute also carries hints of AEV styling in its roofline and engine hood.

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