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2006 Jeep Rubicon LJ Wrangler Unlimited: The Ultimate Jeep LJ Upgrade Checklist

Posted in Features on May 1, 2017 Comment (0)
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Allen Ribelin picked up his Impact Orange ’06 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon in 2007 with a scant 20,000 highway miles on it, and then drove it home from Montana to his home in Flagstaff, Arizona. He’s owned it for a decade, and it has seen a number of modification phases along the way. As he played with it, he developed an idea of what he eventually wanted it to be. It went through some period of time on 35-inch tires and a Rubicon Express long-arm lift. As it turns out, at one time or another, a sort of checklist was defined, and today, all the boxes seem to have been checked off that list. It now sits on 40-inch rubber, has a customized link suspension, and V-8 power.

Chassis

Allen had a head start on building a competent desert crawling when he chose the Wrangler Unlimited as his starting canvas. The factory wheelbase at about 104 inches is right in that sweet length range that makes for a great desert crawler that’s short enough to turn fairly tight yet long enough to climb rocky waterfalls.

The center crossmember from the Rubicon Express kit installed in 2008 remains, but now a custom three-link up front and double-triangulated four-link rear setups serve to position the axles and control their geometry. Solid aluminum links are used all around. The lower links use Ballistic joints, while the uppers use FK rod ends. ADS 14-inch-travel coilovers and ADS bump stops support the Unlimited plus control compression and rebound movements.

John Kanicsar of Hunter Offroad fabricated the custom eight-point rollcage designed to provide adequate headroom and safety for four occupants. Up front is a Campbell Racing bumper housing a Warn Endurance 12.0 winch and a Poison Spyder bumper brings up the rear.

A PSC power steering box that’s been tapped for hydro assist lines sits on the driver framerail and connects to a custom pitman arm and double-shear, high-steer arms fabricated by Campbell Racing. Steering rods are all aluminum and fit with FK rod ends. An 8-inch PSC ram helps push the tie rod back and forth when sent pressurized fluid from the steering box. A Howe cooler under the hood helps maintain healthy steering fluid temperatures.

Drivetrain

The completion of the bucket list came when Allen installed a ’13 L96 6.0L V-8 engine. He’d been considering the conversion for a while when his dad generously offered some cash to help make the swap happen. About the same time his friend, Eric Askins, volunteered his garage space and help with the project. The swap was a success and Allen is now an appreciative son with a cool new drivetrain.

Behind the swapped V-8 is a GM 6L80 six-speed automatic from a ’15 Chevy donor that was programmed by Zero Gravity Performance. Shifting is done with a floor-mounted Winters Sidewinder gated shifter, but finger control at the steering wheel can be done with a PCS paddle shifter. Once in gear, power is then transmitted to an Atlas II transfer case with 4.3:1 low-range gearing.

To keep the V-8 engine happy in the desert heat, Allen used a custom oversized Ron Davis aluminum radiator that pulls air with a pair of Spal electric fans. Campbell Racing motor mounts were used and a modified engine skidplate from 4 Wheelers Supply helps protect the oil pan. The transmission is mounted using a GenRight frame mount kit that was modified by Campbell Racing to adapt to the 6L80 and still be removable with the Rubicon Express center section brackets installed. Campbell Racing also installed a remote transmission cooler with Spal fans on the underside of the Jeep.

Front and rear axles are both Dynatrac ProRock 60 units with ARB air lockers and 5.38 gear sets. The front uses Dynatrac stub hubs and Dynatrac lockouts. The Jeep runs disc brakes at all four corners. Front brakes are Chevy 1-ton units, while the rears are Ford Explorer components with a parking brake. Both driveshafts have been upgraded and use 1350-series joints. All this sits on a set of 40x13.50R17LT Nitto Trail Grapplers wrapped onto 17-inch Trail Ready beadlock wheels.

Body and Interior

Allen has changed the look of the original LJ with the addition of some GenRight aluminum goodies. Swapped in are Hi-Fender front fenders with matching rear flares, plus their armor to cover the doors, side panels, and rear corners.

The interior is well-appointed with front and rear Mastercraft suspension seats and full harnesses that are all tied into the rollcage. A Tuffy console sits between the front buckets and a Tuffy LJ Unlimited Security Drawer provides weatherproof storage in the rear bed. Above that rides an Engel portable fridge flanked by a Powertank CO2 bottle. This Jeep doesn’t ride on a trailer but gets to the trails via highway. A large, 31-gallon GenRight fuel tank helps make those longer trips easier without fuel worries.

Electronics for communication and navigation include a CB radio, UHV/VHF handheld radio, GPS tablet plus a sPOD touchscreen for control of a variety of Rigid LED lights and other accessories.

Good, Bad, and What It's For

Allen has methodically built up a competent Jeep. It’s got plenty of power, a beefy drivetrain, interior comforts, and fuel capacity to do hardcore wheeling and easily lay down substantial highway mileage. At about 5,500 pounds, it won’t win any weight-saving contests, but the rig is a solid off-road performer.

Why I Wrote This Feature

This rig turns heads. It’s a really clean build and not what you see in your average Jeep LJ. The mechanicals are top-notch and it’s a sharp-looking rig. However, climb under it and you’ll quickly see this Unlimited gets used on trails and has scars to prove it.

HARD FACTS

Vehicle: ’06 Rubicon Wrangler Unlimited
Engine: ’13 GM L96 6.0L V-8
Transmission: 6L80 6-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Atlas II with 4.3:1 low range
Suspension: Custom 3-link front, Custom 4-link rear, ADS 14-inch coilovers & bump stops
Axles: Front: Dynatrac ProRock 60, 5.38 gears, ARB air locker
Rear: Dynatrac ProRock 60, 5.38 gears, ARB air locker
Steering: PSC hydro ram assist, Howe cooler, aluminum links
Wheels: 17x9 Trail Ready beadlocks
Tires: 40x13.50R17LT Nitto Trail Grapplers
Built For: Exploring rocky desert trails

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