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This 2016 Jeep JK “Unlimited” Was No Budget Build

Posted in Features on January 4, 2017
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You’ve seen many JK Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited features in these pages. Many of them could qualify as semi-sleepers, look fairly mild, and are designed to work well as daily drivers and off-road rockers, while still others have been diced, sliced, and hiked up so much that they barely resemble a Wrangler anymore. With the JK platform around almost a decade now—and some might say getting long in the tooth—this owner decided to build his JK using some of the most high-end products available today. As this wasn’t going to be a budget build, he decided to call the project “Unlimited.”

He visited Classic Motors in Richfield, Utah, for a new ’16 JK Wrangler Unlimited Sport S model with the 3.6L VVT V-6 and WA580/NAG1 five-speed automatic transmission. While you might think a Rubicon would have been better suited to the high-end theme, the axles, transfer case, and swaybars were going to be replaced, so there would be nothing Rubicon left and the higher initial buy-in didn’t make sense. Red Desert Off-Road LINE-X of Southern Utah in St. George, Utah provided their considerable resources and expertise helping transform this mild Sport S into Unlimited.

Suspension and Driveline

While Unlimited was going to be just that, it was decided that OE-length control arms that work fine on JKs that are lifted from 1 to 4 inches and afford better breakover clearance than long arms would be used. Currie Enterprises’ bolt-in 4-inch JK suspension system was installed by Red Desert, as was the optional front and rear Currie AntiRock swaybars, ultra-beefy 1-5/8-inch diameter 4130 chrome moly heat treated steel tube CurrectLync tie rod and drag link, and John Currie’s custom aluminum lower control arms with skidplates. The arms are adjustable even after installation. Fox Racing IFP air bumpstops up front and in the rear smooth out harsh jolts, and have an innovative threaded body and locking rings that make adjustment simple. What wasn’t quite as simple was “frenching” the rear IFP cans into the frame. Red Desert cut the frame and installed the cans, and the welds look better than factory. Fox Racing 2.5 Internal Bypass Reservoir with Dual Speed Compression Adjuster shocks were installed and can be dialed in for the perfect balance between ride and control.

The two-speed Advance Adapter Atlas has a 3.0 low range, which works well with 5.38 gears and the automatic transmission. An AEV ProCal was used to match the Atlas to the Jeep. If this isn’t done, a ’12-current Wrangler will go into limp mode because it doesn’t recognize the new transfer case. Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts built the front and rear polished 1350 CV driveshafts.

Axles, Wheels, and Tires

Unlimited wouldn’t be unlimited without its heavy-duty front and rearends. The Currie RockJock 70 high-pinion frontend features a 65-45-12 ductile-iron center section, 3.5x.375-inch DOM steel tubes, AR400 heat treated bottom skidplate, heavy-duty fabricated steel diff cover, forged steel 1350 yoke, forged 1-ton inner knuckles, and heavy-duty JK suspension brackets. Inner and outer axleshafts are Currie Performance 4340 35-spline with Spicer 1480 U-joints. The owner chose to run Currie 5.38 gears and Eaton’s new four-pinion Dana 70 ELocker. One-ton knuckles featuring Currie 1-ton unit bearings with a 6-on-5.5 lug pattern and JK tone rings allowed OEM ABS and ESC retention. Zinc-plated caliper brackets made retention of the stock JK front calipers possible, and they work well with 13-inch rotors on the Currie axles. The Warn manual locking hubs were swapped out for a set of Yukon Hardcore Hubs with chromoly internals that default to locked-mode if they ever fail.

The RockJock 70 high-pinion rearend is as beefy as the front and came with a heavy-duty cast-iron red Currie diff cover, forged steel 1350 yoke, and billet steel full-floating housing ends that allow the factory JK disc brake hardware, including the ABS and ESC sensors, to bolt back on. The rotors did have to be drilled for the 6-on-5.5 lug pattern, though. As in front, 5.38 Currie gears and an Eaton four-pinion Dana 70 ELocker were chosen. Currie 4340 chromoly 40-spline full-floating axleshafts, billet steel full-floating hubs, factory disc brake backing plates that are modified for this application, drive flange kit, and heavy gauge Currie JK suspension brackets complete the rear 70.

Interco Birddog wheels are built with a patented bead retention feature, but Ultimate needed clamping beadlocks. OMF Performance converted the 17x9-inch Birddogs to beadlock wheels, making them the perfect place to mount 40x13.50R17LT Goodyear Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar tires. The owner mounted the tires on the wheels (always mount your own beadlocks), and the 40s balanced with surprisingly little weight. However, two of the tires did exhibit some radial runout.

Armor, Steering, and Electrical

The Expedition One CORE Series front bumper for the JK Wrangler is clean and not hideously large. Before the bumper was mounted, Red Desert pulled out the grinder and removed the stamped-tin factory crossmember, and then relocated the brake system booster pump. Even though we all know where the crossmember bracket should be on the frame, we couldn’t find any trace of it after Red Desert’s work. A Warn ZEON 10-S winch fit between the frame rails and a Factor 55 hawse and Flatlink E foldable winch shackle assure reliable and safe winching. Casey Currie’s new 3/16-inch steel CRC Rock Rails installed easily and the stainless panel on top doubles as a step. No rocker panel ground clearance is lost.

In back, the Expedition One CORE Series rear bumper is clean and tucks in close to the Jeep body. A TeraFlex tire carrier hinge-reinforcement and tire carrier kit carries the space-saver 35-inch MT/R with Kevlar spare and a 2-gallon RotoPax gas can rattle-free. The owner chose Bushwacker flat-panel flares because they are lightweight and crush without hurting sheet metal.

Red Desert Off-Road/LINE-X had extensively trimmed Unlimited’s rear wheel wells to clear the big 40-inch Goodyears, and there were holes and OEM body foam showing. Because of this, Red Desert suggested a LINE-X treatment on the rear wheel wells even though there was a lot of prep required. We think the result is stunning. The LINE-X covered the holes and factory indentations, leaving a clean, good-looking finish. The big tires take some effort to steer, so a PSC Performance cylinder assist kit was installed. Instead of using a finned aluminum cooler, Red Desert fabricated the needed bracketry and installed a Hayden flat plate oil cooler that cools more efficiently and adds more power steering fluid volume to the system. The RockJock 70 came with an installed bracket for the steering ram and Currie supplied a larger clamp that fits around the 1 5/8-inch diameter Currectlync tie rod.

Finally, no JK would be complete without LED lighting. While this owner is not a fan of the large LED windshield light bars many JK owners feel are mandatory, a KC HiLiGHTS Flex 20-inch LED lightbar was installed on the front bumper. Together with the light bar, KC’s new Gravity LED headlights and Gravity OEM-replacement foglights do a great job illuminating the road ahead at night. A sPOD JK Source with six double LED light rocker switches controls the ELockers and light bar. The sPOD system came ready to install, and running wiring from the lockers and light bar to the Source box under the hood was all that was required. For off-road situations where no electronic nannies are needed or wanted, a switch was mounted on the console that completely defeats the ESC/ABS system. Aside from programming for the Atlas T-case, we were able to program tire size, gear ratio, and TPMS thresholds with the AEV ProCal.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For

We’re not surprised Unlimited is outstanding off-road. The 40-inch tires roll over ledges that make lesser 4x4s tremble, and they don’t rub anywhere. We saw no problems with the short-arm geometry on steep climbs, and there’s no rock rubbing on the lower control arm brackets when breaking over an obstacle. This was certainly not a budget build, and that’s all the owner would say about that subject. Whether it’s driving around town (no malls), on the freeway, or on the trail, Unlimited does its job well, and we saw no trade-offs.

Why I Wrote This Feature

We’ll admit to liking “beaters” that work and don’t fall apart on the trail or highway. However, we also really like clean builds that get the job done without looking like mall crawlers. Unlimited can take on a trail that would break a lot of rigs and still come home looking sharp. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: ’16 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport S
Engine: Jeep 3.6L V-6
Transmission: WA580/NAG1 five-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Atlas 3.0 two-speed
Axles: (Front) Currie RockJock 70 with Currie 5.38 gears, Eaton 4-pinion ELocker, 35-spline axles, Yukon hubs, Currie fabricated cover; (Rear) Currie full float RockJock 70 with Currie 5.38 gears, Eaton ELocker, 40-spline axles, Currie cast-iron red cover
Suspension: Currie 4-inch JK suspension with AntiRock swaybars, Fox 2.5 Internal Bypass Reservoir with Dual Speed Compression Adjuster shocks, and Fox IFP air bumpstops
Wheels: 17x9-inch Interco Birddog with OMF Performance beadlock conversions
Tires: 40x13.50R17LT Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar

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