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Hell Raising Jeep JK Wrangler

Posted in Features on January 24, 2017
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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.

The LED taillights are from Maxbilt, while the rear bumper is a GenRight aluminum model that weighs less than 20 pounds.

Chassis

Most 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.

The frontend features a Currie XHD RockJock Dana 60 fit with an Eaton E-Locker and brakes from a Ford Super Duty pickup. Note the King 2 1/2-inch shocks with dual coilovers.
The rear is a triangulated four-link design with King coilovers to control movement of the Currie RockJock Dana 70 (also filled with an Eaton E-Locker). Gear ratios front and rear are 4.88:1. The rear brakes were swapped off the factory axle.

Powertrain

The 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.

The Wrangler’s centerpiece is a 707hp supercharged Hellcat Hemi engine.

Running Gear

The 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 Interior

Factory-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.

The only hints of a modified vehicle from the interior are the dual shift levers from the Atlas two-speed transfer case.

Good, Bad, And What It’s For

Although 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 Facts

Vehicle: ’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

The ’16 Wrangler Rubicon wears factory Granite Crystal paint and is accented by GenRight bumpers, fenders, and rocker guards.
A GenRight aluminum skidplate protects the Atlas transfer case.
A GenRight aluminum bumper protects the Warn winch. Note the PSC steering assist.
The rear shock upper-mount brackets are covered to match the rear upholstery.
A week following this leisurely test drive near the Dakota Customs shop, the Hellcat JK participated in the rugged Chile Challenge in New Mexico.
The Wrangler is shod with the B.A.D beadlock wheels and Maxxis Trepador 40x13.5-17 tires.
Installation of the GenRight Elite kit started by cutting all factory suspension mounts.
A GenRight crossmember supports the lower links in the rear suspension. Brackets for the upper links are mounted to the frame.
Up front, brackets are installed to support the shocks, bump stops, and track bar.
GenRight brackets were mounted to the Currie axles.
Here the front axle is test-fit so the control arms can be cut to fit.
This view is from the top of the front three-link suspension arrangement.
Once the suspension was set and the chassis detailed, the Hellcat Hemi was installed along with the heavily modified WA580 transmission and Atlas two-speed transfer case.
The body had to be positioned numerous times over the chassis to check for clearances of the exhaust, wiring, and fluid lines.
This is an overall look of the completed chassis. The GenRight kit also includes a 20-gallon fuel tank.

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