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Bench Racin’ - What Kind Of Jeep Do You Want?

Jeep J Truck
Verne Simons
| Senior Editor, Jp
Posted May 1, 2013
Photographers: Jp Archives

Ideas To Bump-Start Your Jeep Project

There is no doubt that currently fantasy football is very popular all over the U.S., and honestly, we have no idea why—although we can see the benefits of a virtual 350lb linebacker tackling us instead of the real deal. Maybe it’s because we are totally obsessed with Jeeps. Yeah, that’s probably it. Still, we are slightly jealous that we can’t waste our time doing what we love in an imaginary way. Oh wait, we do that all the time. We like to call it “bench racing” Jeeps, and that is the focus of this article. It’s basically the Jp equivalent of building your own fantasy football team, only here we build fantasy Jeeps. Hopefully this will help inspire your plans for that new project Jeep you just bought. Please feel free to take our ideas and use them for your own build. We’ll keep working on the computer program that combines all these ideas and parts lists and makes these “bench racing” projects real…OK, we’re probably not gonna do that last part.

Tow Rig
There’s nothing like towing your Jeep with another Jeep. The only bummer is that Jeep never made a really good heavy-duty tow rig. I’d love to take a J-truck, saw the back off of it, section in part of a Wagoneer, and make myself a crew-cab J-truck pickup with a Cummins 6BT, NV5600, and NVG271 out of a later-model Dodge. But when I come down off my glue-sniffing euphoria, I realize I’d never have the funds nor the time to make a project like that come to fruition. So, instead I think I’d take a ’70s Wagoneer or Cherokee Chief as my starting point. A diesel is the only proper tow rig engine, but for the sake of easier fitment, I’d nab a 6.2L, 403hp L92 or VVT L9H from a late-model GM pickup and stab a 6L80E transmission behind it with a chain-drive aluminum T-case.

A pair of AAM 1-ton axles from a late-model Dodge pickup would give me massive stopping power, and if I loaded ’em with 4.10s, there’d be enough grunt to haul up any grade. I’d most likely need to add some airbags to the rear suspension to aid in stability and prevent squatting when the trailer was hooked up. In the end, it’s a more realistic build idea than the crew-cab J-truck, although not nearly as cool or impressive. It would probably be safe to haul up to 10,000 pounds and should easily knock down 20 mpg when cruising the open roads unloaded.
-Christian Hazel

Daily Driver
Chrysler is about to put a diesel engine in the WKII Grand Cherokee. Sign me up for the idea, but not the monthly payment. But I think if I had to live in a Jeep every day for umpteen-thousand miles a year, it’d have to be a Grand Cherokee. I’ve always loved the WJ platform, and nowadays they’re almost felony-cheap to buy. However, that pesky 4.7L engine isn’t the most reliable thing in the world. I’d prefer a full-blitz ’02 or ’03 Overland model from the final years of the production. That would give all the widgets like sunroof, steering wheel controls, dual climate zones while still retaining solid front-and-rear axles.

But even the Laredo would do for a sleeper. I’d add some massive disc brakes at each corner and would wait about a week or two for the 4.7L to chuck its guts before stabbing in a 390hp Hemi with MDS. I’d back the 5.7L with a 545RFE five-speed auto from a pickup and an NVG241 from a newer JK. Some Katzkin leather seat covers would refresh the interior, and electronic satellite radio gizmos with USB integration for my iPod and video game hook-ups for my kids in the back wouldn’t be all that bad. It wouldn’t have the wow-factor of the same drivetrain slammed in a last-run Wagoneer from the late ’80s or early ’90s, but it’d be way quieter on the highway and more comfy on long hauls.
-Christian Hazel

Sometimes a guy just has to give into his baser instinct and embrace the shag carpeting and faux-wood paneling. Okay, maybe not. But there’s just something about retro that’s killer. For most, when they think of retro Jeeps they think of ’60s- or ’70s-era off-road build with slot mags, period-correct high-mount winches, and stuff like that. I’m going back another decade or so to the ’50s. For me, I’ll take a purple flake paintjob on an early ’50s CJ-5. Toss on a column-shift three-speed T-90 so I can have a front bench seat covered in white tuck ’n’ roll vinyl.

A super-sweet Corvette or Power Pack Chevy 283ci V-8 with Rochester dual-quads would complement an old-school 30/30-grind solid cam, and it’d bark through Ram’s horn manifolds into some mellow glasspacks out the back. Mount up some old-school wide whitewall tires on painted reverse steelies, top it all with a white surrey top, and I’d be rockin’ the roads and scenic trails in ’50s style.
-Christian Hazel

Road-Course MJ
Remember back in the late ’90s when the SCCA Sporttruck used to pit Nissan Hardbodies, against Ford Rangers, Jeep Comanches and the like in road racing competitions? Yeah, so do we. Those low, fast trucks were cool and still are. Now if we could just get our grubby grease-covered hands on one to tinker with. Yeah, it would be cool to have one just like they used to race back in the day, but what about building one that is just a touch more potent? How ’bout a low-slung, all-wheel-drive, road-race-capable Comanche with wide meats and gobs of power?

We’d start with a cheap-tired MJ. We are talking swapping in a healthy 5.7L Hemi crate engine if we can hold out till those are available, or maybe a fire-breathing 6.2L E-Rod. Add a six-speed transmission for banging shifts, maybe a NV242 so we could run all-wheel-drive on the track and snow days and still do some smokey rear-wheel burnouts. Low range would be basically useless. Build up a Ford 9-inch rear axle to handle all that power and abuse and a non-disconnect high-pinion Dana 30 up front. Add in a rollcage for chassis stiffness and safety, and keep it all street legal so we can blow the doors of any and all tools in their douchebagged-out Bavarian manure wagons. The truck could still be daily driven as long as we keep our foot out of the go pedal. And hell, we could use it for towing our other Jeep junk around when necessary.
-Verne Simons

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