What kernel of knowledge was revealed from the meticulous work performed by Dakota Customs of Rapid City, South Dakota? Horsepower and wheel travel can go together on a new Jeep. The power comes from a 707hp Hellcat Hemi V-8 crate engine, and the travel is courtesy of a GenRight Elite coilover conversion. After adding the cost of a new, fully optioned Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, the bill was right at $70,000 worth of parts in the shop. Throw in custom axles, wheels and tires, a beefy transfer case, a bullet-proof transmission, and body armor, it’s easy to see how quickly the build tab inflated, and that’s before a single wrench was turned.
This four-door Wrangler is a hoot to drive, though. With 650 pound-feet of torque and 4.88:1 gears, there’s plenty of neck-snapping acceleration and a rowdy exhaust note that turns heads at every stoplight. Although these photos were taken during a quick and undemanding test drive near the shop, we were told that the owner quickly got it very dirty on some rigorous trails during the Chile Challenge in New Mexico shortly after taking delivery.
ChassisMost of the labor costs were tallied while installing the JK Elite coilover kit from GenRight. This long-arm, long-travel conversion features a three-link/track-bar design in the front and a triangulated four-link in the rear. It added 3-4 inches of suspension lift when installed. Outboard-mounted King 2 1/2-inch coilover shocks with dual progressive-rate springs are located at all four corners. The kit required a rear-mounted fuel tank to allow more secure lower control-arm mounting positions. In fact, the entire kit is designed to allow for maximum ground clearance, and the aluminum skidplate provided a flat-belly surface for sliding off obstacles. Other features included 1/4-inch steel brackets, rear sway bar, and 2-inch hydraulic air-bump stops. Dakota Customs then added a Currie Antirock sway bar up front. Factory steering was retained, and Dakota Customs added a PSC steering-assist ram.
PowertrainThe engine is a factory Hellcat Hemi crate motor rated at 707 hp and 650 pound-feet of peak torque. A number of Dodge Challenger parts, including front accessories, torque converter, and bellhousing, were needed to complete the swap. Dakota Customs retained the stock transmission, but it took some $5,000 worth of heavy-duty clutch packs, a modified valve body and other upgrades from Southern HotRod to withstand the Hemi’s power. Bolted to the rear of the tranny is an Atlas two-speed transfer case that allows 3.8:1 low range in FWD, RWD or 4WD. Dakota Customs performed the tuning and ECM calibration. Finally, a custom 3-inch dual exhaust was fabricated with down-swept tailpipes exiting before the axle.
Running GearThe GenRight kit was initially designed around Currie RockJock axles, so a Dana 60 model was ordered for the front, and a Dana 70 model with 40-spline axles was selected for the rear. Both are fit with an Eaton E-Lockers and 4.88:1 gears. On board the front axle are disc brakes from a Ford Super Duty pickup, while the factory rear disc brakes were swapped over to the Dana 70. Driving the axles are Tom Wood’s 1350 series CV ’shafts. Rolling stock included B.A.D. wheels wrapped with Maxxis rubber.
Body And InteriorFactory-fresh inside with leather seating and navigation as options, the Jeep received a SwitchPro station to control the axles, as well as lightbars (in the future). To help clear the supercharger, a hood was sourced from a Hard Rock–edition Wrangler. The stock Granite Crystal paint is accented with GenRight aluminum bumpers, rocker guards, and fenders. Tucked inside the front bumper is a Warn winch.
Good, Bad, And What It’s ForAlthough quite costly, this JK is dressed to impress as both a car show and on the trail. To be fair, there were significant challenges in balancing luxury, capability, and horsepower. This was not a weekend, bolt-on project. Serious planning, measuring, fabricating, and strategy went into building this rig. In the end, it turned out to be a one-of-a-kind fun ride, which was exactly what the owner was looking for.
Why I Wrote This Feature“Because it’s there.” No doubt there’s a certain poetry to building a clean-sheet rig that offers twice the capability at a fraction of the cost. However, there’s also a certain respect to be earned by pushing the performance envelope on a stock Jeep while maintaining the factory’s intrinsic character.
Hard FactsVehicle: ’16 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Engine: 6.2L supercharged Hemi V-8
Transmission: Chrysler WA580 modified by Southern HotRod
Transfer case: Atlas 2-speed w/ 3.8:1 low range
Suspension: GenRight Elite 3-link/track bar, King 2 1/2-inch coilovers (front); GenRight Elite four-link, King 2 1/2-inch coilovers (rear)
Axles: Currie XHD RockJock Dana 60, 4.88 Eaton E-Locker (front); Currie RockJock Dana 70, 4.88 Eaton E-Locker (rear)
Wheels: 17x10 B.A.D. Eklipse with internal beadlock and RDS
Tires: 40x13.5-17 Maxxis Trepador
Built for: Trail rides and crawling
Estimated cost: $160,000