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This custom 2013 Jeep Wrangler JK is loud and clear about its off-road ability

Posted in Features on September 9, 2015
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Having a job that makes building up your Jeep easier is handy. For the vast majority of us working a 9-to-5 somewhere—whether that's in an office, factory, or home raising a small tribe of juveniles—it's often the weekends that are free enough to get some real work done on your 4x4. Some folks have a job that makes it easier. They may either be independently wealthy (what must that be like?) or have a sugar mama or sugar daddy (don't really want that) and have all the time in the world to wrench. Or they have a job like that of Taylor Blagdon.

Blagdon is the sales manager at a top off-road shop in Southern California, and although he spends most of his time behind the counter or at his desk, he has free run of the shop just about any time he wants, as long as the boss' to-do list is fully crossed off. That didn't make building his 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport easy; it just made it a little less stressful. Luckily, Blagdon has the skills and a full-blown shop at his fingertips to get the work done.

As you can see from the photos, the Wrangler is not underdressed or overdone, but like the allegory of that trio of bruins, it's just right. As Blagdon told us, "It all began with sturdier axles, a suspension kit, tires, and wheels. Then all the rest seemed to come naturally." Knowing he was headed for some hardcore off-roading, he acquired a set of TeraFlex CRD60 axle assemblies with 5.38 gears—one for the front and another for the rear. These would replace the Dana 44 and Dana 30 underneath the JKU. Currie Enterprises differential covers cap the ARB air lockers he installed in both of the new axles.

A Rebel Off Road bolt-on coilover conversion kit allowed the use of front 12-inch-travel King 2.5 coilover shocks with internal bypass and a pair of rear 14-inch travel King 2.5 coilovers with internal bypass. King 2.0 hydraulic bump stops sit at all four corners. The factory anti-sway bars were replaced with Currie Enterprises' Antirock systems front and rear to help keep the body roll to a minimum while tackling tough trails. The suspension hike and beefier axles required new front and rear drivelines, so Blagdon popped for some stout 1350 units from JE Reel.

The entire reason (as if you really need a reason) behind the axle and suspension system upgrade was Blagdon's desire for taller tires. Specifically, he purchased and mounted a set of 40x13.50R17LT Toyo Open Country Tires wrapped around 17-inch Method M101 beadlock wheels. This aggressively styled combination of rims and rubber are tamed through the use a FOX ATS steering stabilizer.

Interior accoutrements began with Corbeau LG1 black micro-suede front seats with heat for the ultimate in comfort (who can argue with that after a long trip?), a Pioneer AVIC 8000NEX infotainment system, and a Rock Hard 4x4 JK sport 'cage and streamer bar to protect the inhabitants.

Bodybuilding was next for this Jeep. A smorgasbord of parts all came together to get just the right look and armor Blagdon wanted. The front and rear bumpers came from Knuckles, and Nemesis Industries' fender flares shade all four tires. Underbelly protection came by the way of a skidplate system from Rock Hard 4x4 and step sliders from Rock Slide Engineering. In order to carry a spare for the 40s mounted to the axles, Blagdon chose a GenRight aluminum tire carrier and mounted it to the backside of the Jeep.

Rebel Off Road blackout rear RotoPax windows were added because they look cool and hold enough tools and supplies to get the JK home again, if for some reason the tank runs dry. A Warn Zeon 8.5 winch mounted to the front bumper should make recovery (for him or a buddy) effortless if needed. Air storage for to operate the lockers, inflate tires, or run tools, is provided by a Powertank air supply system in the rear storage compartment of the Jeep.

Trail lighting was a big concern as Blagdon knew some night 'crawling would be a part of any extended adventure he chose to undertake. This is one area where he admitted to what he called "intentional overkill." The factory headlamps were exchanged for a pair of Truck-Lite LED units. In addition to that he installed a Rigid Industries SR20 LED lightbar in the grill hoop, SR50 LED lightbar on top of the windshield (using Poison Spyder brackets), Dually XL Pods on the A-pillars, SAE/DOT-spec Dually Fog Lights in the front bumper, SRQ Series LED lights in the blackout windows, D2 Flood Reverse lights in the rear bumper, and SRM Amber Flood dust lights. We don't think illumination is going to be problem.

Blagdon wanted to upgrade the 3.6L V-6 engine in his JK to help turn those massive meats and better propel the now-heavier Jeep up trails or down the highway. He didn't want to start messing with the internals too much to keep it reliable so he chose to give it a little kick in the pants with a Magnuson supercharger kit. It certainly does put some extra oomph into the motor. To help it breath a bit easier, Blagdon also installed an Advanced Flow Engineering (aFe) intake and a custom Borla cat-back exhaust system that dumps just behind the rear axle.

Simons Auto Body of Laguna Hills, California, laid down the final touch: a spectacular custom pearl-silver paint job. A custom paint-matched hardtop encloses the Wrangler's cabin and brings the look of Blagdon's Jeep all together. He wanted to create a rig that was good on the street and is able to tackle any terrain. It took him two years to complete all the work. He told us, "It rides like a Cadillac but flies like a buggy." We went for a ride and can't argue with that. His secret to a successful build: "Patience—Take the time to plan and build it right. You'll get what you want in the end."


Finding something different and functional made the choice of this Knuckles front bumper easy for Blagdon. It will certainly help his JK stand out in a crowd, and it offered the integrated winch mount, D-ring loops, and multiple lighting mounts.

Lighting was something Blagdon felt he couldn't have enough of. Surrounding the windshield is a Rigid Industries SR50 LED lightbar in Poison Spyder LED windshield brackets and twin Rigid Industries Dually XL Pods.

A TeraFlex CRD60 axle was used under the nose of the JKU, and damping and control duties are carried out by 12-inch 2.5 King IBP coilover shocks with remote reservoirs set in custom hoops and a Currie Antirock setup. The front axle is stuffed with an ARB air locker, and those massive meets are kept calm through the use of a FOX ATS steering stabilizer kit.

Massive TeraFlex link bars help locate and steady the front (shown here) and rear axles and offer substantially more strength than the factory units that they replaced. A section of the full underbelly protection system from Rock Hard 4x4 can also be seen.

A combination of the King IPB coilover external reservoir shocks and King hydraulic bump stops are what make Blagdon's JK ride so comfortably on the road and allow for far-reaching, yet well-controlled, axle articulation during off-road jaunts.

Another TeraFlex CRD60 axle assembly sits underneath the tail of the JKU, and a pair of 14-inch King 2.5 coilovers with remote reservoirs in concert with King hydraulic bump stops do good work back here. A Currie Antirock helps add more control in the rear, too. The custom Borla cat-back system is designed to dump just after the rear axle.

A Magnuson supercharger and Air Flow Engineering (aFe) intake system help give the otherwise stock 3.6L Pentastar V-6 engine some extra oomph. It's enough to help move the Jeep down the road or up the trail with little trouble, without the sort of engine modifications that might lessen the powertrain's reliability or smog-legal status in Blagdon's home state.

The blackout rear side windows with Rotopax containers in the JK's hardtop are from Rebel Off Road. They look pretty cool, keep the sun from baking the rear storage area, and provide a convenient location for tools and supplies.

A sturdy and secure transport device was needed to handle a spare for the 40-inch Toyo Open Country M/T tires that are mounted up to the axles. A GenRight aluminum tire carrier was Blagdon's first choice for this job.

Taylor Blagdon's well-built '13 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited is set up to look good, handle the street with manners, and tackle the trails wherever he decides to take it.

For passenger protection, a Rock Hard 4x4 sport 'cage and spreader were installed inside the cabin. Among its many nice features are plenty of grab handles to assist with occupant entry and egress, as well as providing something to hold on to while on the trail.

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