If you want to see some of the most advanced four-wheel drives duke it out off-road, then look no further than the Ultra4 Racing series. Its pinnacle King of the Hammers race has spurred new innovation that continues to trickle down into the mainstream wheeling community. The series has also ignited some of the most unique builds we’ve come across in years. Matthew Cutler’s ’90 Jeep Comanche is an excellent example of this racing innovation and influence.
To the untrained eye, the faded red paint and trimmed bodywork might make it appear like your average trail rig (although seeing an MJ off-road is rare in its own right). It isn’t until you get close that you realize that this classic Jeep is something incredibly special. With the body paired with a custom tube chassis, this LS-powered Comanche rides the line of a trail rig and 4800 series Ultra4 machine. Handbuilt in his shop in North Carolina, the Jeep truck took a hearty 19 months to complete.
We caught up with Cutler and his one-off MJ at the Flats Offroad Park in Marion, North Carolina, where we were able to spend some serious time ogling the build in action. Keep on reading as we reveal to you all the details of this amazing vehicle.
ChassisThe truck was originally a two-wheel-drive Eliminator edition. With a sound game plan already laid out, Cutler contacted Goat Built for one of its subframe kits. With it secured, Cutler sliced the MJ’s body at the firewall, rockers, and floor panels. With the cab in the air, he proceeded to comprise his own tube chassis using primarily 1 3/4-inch, 0.188-wall and 0.120-wall DOM tubing. The custom tubular structure ties into the Goat Built subframe, which gives the truck its high-clearance belly and boat sides.
For high-impact areas, such as the rockers, the DOM sleeves 775 aluminum inserts. At the back of the truck, you’ll find an 18-gallon Goat Built fuel cell, using a Walbro 255 in-tank pump. It’s nested neatly in front of the 39-inch BFG Baja T/A KRT-B spare that helps create a better weight balance for the truck. The original sheetmetal bedsides were bobbed 5 inches at the front and the wheelwells opened to accommodate the 115-inch wheelbase.
Removing the bedsides will expose a bevy of custom sheetmetal work that creates a home for his recovery gear and tool set. Up front, the custom bumper secures a Smittybilt 10,000-pound winch. As is the case in the rear, the front fenders were modified and made to be easily removed. Of course, much of this was done to ensure easy access to the suspension system. For the front, a double-triangulated four-link was crafted using 2-inch, 0.250-inch-wall control arms, Barnes 4WD joints, and 16-inch-travel 2.5 series Fox coilovers with DSC adjusters.
Out back, Cutler’s go-fast goals drove him to fabricate a set of rear trailing arms, which secure 14-inch-travel Fox 2.5 DSC shocks. This setup is centered by a set of triangulated upper control arms and stabilized by a Currie 0.750-inch sway bar. This nets the Jeep an impressive 21 inches of vertical wheel travel.
DrivetrainPowering the Jeep is a 6.0L LS2 V-8 that originally lived in 2006 Chevy Corvette. It uses a Mast Motorsports computer and harness to thrive and a Flex-a-Lite radiator with a 3,000-cfm fan to keep cool. It’s backed by a TH350 transmission that was modified with a lower First gear ratio and reverse manual valve body for better control. The beefed-up automatic is locked to a gear-driven Atlas II transfer case with a 3:1 low-range ratio.
Bolted to the transfer case you’ll find a set of custom 1350 series drivelines from Tom Wood’s. These 0.188-wall ’shafts propel a custom Spidertrax front housing that’s been outfitted with Ultimate 60 knuckles, CTM U-joints and axleshafts, Mega Hi9 third member, spool, and 5.43 gears. Cutler is using a 3.5-inch Spidertrax rear housing, which is fit with 35-spline 300m ’shafts from CTM and a spool locker as well. Stopping it all is a four-piston caliper set from Wilwood.
To make sure steering wouldn’t be an issue, a fully hydraulic steering setup from PSC Motorsports was added to the build. This makes pushing around the 39x13.50R17 BFG Baja T/A KRT-B tires at single-digit pressures much easier. Since the truck is currently plated and the Baja T/As are off-road only, Cutler runs 37x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers for his highway jaunts. Both the BFGs and Nittos are secured to 17x9 Pro Comp beadlock wheels.
Body and InteriorThe network of well-placed tubing runs inside of the cab for a custom race-ready ’cage, while Twisted Stitch seats and PRP five-point harnesses ensure driver and co-pilot remain safe. With the powertrain pushed back, a custom firewall was crafted as well. Along with a fire suppression system, Cutler keeps a 2.5-pound fire extinguisher within reach thanks to a quick-release TMR mount. Helping with communication is a Rugged Radio 660 ’com system.
With no A/C, it gets a bit warm inside of the cabin. To help, Cutler fabricated custom tube doors that hide behind the OE sheetmetal, which can now be quickly removed. It’s also worth mentioning that the all of the truck’s lights remained operational and there’s even a washer fluid reservoir!
Why This Jeep?The biggest complaint among those looking to build an MJ is the lack of traditional body-on-frame construction. Cutler more than addressed this issue. While this Comanche might be more buggy that original Jeep truck, it still looks the part. We admire the attention to detail and applaud the fact that it’s more than just a tube chassis with a few body panels grafted on to give it an identifiable look. This is one trend we’d love to see more of.
Hard FactsVehicle: ’90 Jeep Comanche
Engine: 6.0L GM V-8
Transfer Case: 3:1 Atlas II
Suspension: Custom double-triangulated four-link front w/16-in-travel Fox 2.5 coilovers, trailing-arm rear w/Fox 14-in-travel coilovers, Currie sway bar
Axles: Spidertrax housings, 5.43 gears, spools
Wheels: 17x9 Pro Comp 1026 beadlocks
Tires: 39x13.50R17 BFG Baja T/A KRT-Bs