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A Modern 1976 Jeep Wagoneer Sleeper

Posted in Features on July 2, 2015
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Everyone loves a sleeper. You know a car or truck that is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The term sleeper usually applies to cars that look understated but are built to blow anyone’s doors off. A well-executed sleeper looks average and does not easily give up its secrets until it’s too late. In the end, all you see are taillights.

It’s a little known fact that there is also an off-road version of the sleeper. The off-road sleeper looks stock but hides a trick drivetrain, more flex than expected, and well-matched components to increase off-road performance. This Wagoneer is one.

At first glance Kyle Evans’ 1976 Jeep Wagoneer looks like something out of a vintage Jeep advertisement. Mix in a couple of vintage flatties and you have yourself a sense of time travel. The build began with finding the right southwestern Wagoneer. The original Renegade Sierra paint was cleaned up, and a modern Pepper White was added as accents in the spear and roof. The new paint was sprayed by Olson’s in Traverse City, Michigan. Kyle also added the razor grille from a later Waggy and those round amber foglamps for a hint of extra flavor.

Kyle Evans, a designer who lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, owns and designed this 1976 Wagoneer sleeper. The well-executed plan was to build a Waggy that would look like a restored FSJ from a distance but would hide performance and suspension underneath. Closer inspection would reveal the wild yet period-correct 1970s interior. Once drawn in by these immaculate details, you may not notice the modified frame, trick suspension, and heavy-duty modern drivetrain hiding just inches away from the hip interior. With this Jeep the layers of intrigue and the details continue to pour out as you check things out. The Wagoneer is built to drive down the road with the utmost of modern comfort and reliability and yet be cable of getting the occupants farther down the trail than anyone expect from a vehicle that looks like a showroom restoration.

The Waggy also wears an early 1960s flip-down license plate bezel so the plate is visible while the tailgate is down. The rear bumper is strengthened with hidden tube work and has a recessed receiver for a trailer hitch or a rear tow point. Peeking out from underneath the Jeep is the silhouette of a Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 axle, indicating that things are a bit different underneath.

We’re going to let a few of the cats out of the bag. Believe it or not, Kyle’s Waggy is far better than new, with multilink suspension based on TJ geometry using Fox 2.0 coilovers up front and JK rear coils out back. Axles are an all-new, high-pinion Dynatrac Pro Rock 44 front and a Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 rear. The original frame was boxed and beefed before a 6.2L GM L92 aluminum V-8, a 4L80E transmission, and a Novak-sourced NP231 transfer case were added. That’s just the start of all the details Kyle designed into the Wagoneer and executed over 2 1/2 years with help from Leelanau Motorsports, John Houdek Welding LLC, Slack Upholstery, and Thomas and Milliken.

Kyle’s style and skill are not a coincidence. He has close ties to Jeep as one of the automaker’s former designers. His ideas and designs are clean and functional, which is also true for his Wagoneer.

The Jeep receives ample power from a 6.2L all-aluminum GM L92 V-8 bolted to a 4L80E transmission. The engine and transmission were installed and wired by Kalchik of Leelanau Motorsports using Novak Conversions motor mounts and a Novak engine wiring harness with PCM reflash.

Tech Specs
1976 Jeep Wagoneer
Drivetrain
Engine: 6.2L aluminum GM L92 V-8
Transmission: 4L80E
Transfer Case: Novak NP231 with SYE
Front Axle: Dynatrac Pro Rock 44 with 4.10 gears and ARB Air Locker
Rear Axle: Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 with 4.10 gears and ARB Air Locker

Suspension
Springs & Such: TJ suspension, Rusty’s Offroad control arms, Fox 2.0 coilovers with Eibach springs (front) and AEV JK springs and Metal Cloak 6 Pack shocks (rear)
Tires & Wheels: 31/10.50R15 BFGoodrich tires on 15x8 Wheel Vintiques wheels and original hub caps
Steering: Stock
Other Stuff: hidden tube bumpers with integral tow points, hidden Viar Air Compressor, Optima BlueTop battery, Daystar Stinger bumpstops, vinyl flooring, plush shag carpet floor mats, Novak Conversions motor mounts and engine wiring harness, boxed frame, custom trans crossmember, custom skidplate.

The spare tire is floor-mounted over vinyl wood that planks the rear compartment and is accented with chrome strips.
PhotosView Slideshow
The rear axle is a Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 that holds 4.10 gears and an ARB Air Locker. The rear suspension uses Rusty’s Off-Road control arms and a unique Watts linkage that keeps the rear axle and tires centered within the fenders even as the axle flexes. A traditional track bar would push the axle into a fender as the Jeep flexed. Suspension travel comes from AEV-sourced JK rear coils holding Daystar Stinger bumpstops and Metal Cloak 6-Pack shocks. These shocks allow for much more travel within a confined packaging space.
PhotosView Slideshow

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