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All-Terrain, All-Season 2009 Jeep JKU Rubicon

Posted in Features on July 11, 2018
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Eight years ago, Carlos Velez’ 2009 Jeep Unlimited Rubicon probably would have been one of the last rigs in a group wheeling along some of the more challenging Jeep trails in the Pacific Northwest. At that time the 20-something-year-old off-roader’s Sun Burst Orange JKU was new and bone stock, and although he had owned Jeeps and been off-roading since he was a teenager in North Carolina, he took it slow and easy—at first.

His passion for off-roading, and the adventurous seasonal 4x4 challenges the West Coast provided, eventually led him to supercharging the V-6 and slipping a 6-inch lift and 37s underneath, along with built 44 axles and other goodies. Then he met Scott Daniels, the owner of Evolution Auto in Keizer, Oregon, and a fellow member of the Salem Jeepers.

The more time Carlos spent off-roading with Scott and fellow club members, the more his competitive side heated up, as did the look and functionality of his JKU. When Carlos saw a mechanical limitation that needed changing, he conferred with Scott and the appropriate changes were made.

“We were always pushing each other to do some of the most difficult lines we could find, almost like a competition,” Carlos told us. “This, coupled with him being such a fantastic mechanic and helping me out when I catastrophically broke my Jeep numerous times, has made us great friends. I like to do my own mechanic work, but when things required welding or very heavy lifting it was always a no-brainer to have Scott do it since he’s one of the best mechanics I ever seen.”

In doing so, Carlos, a project engineer with the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, is now more often than not the leader of the pack—and it takes a special 4x4 to follow in his Jeep Unlimited Rubicon’s tracks because both driver and Jeep have evolved over the last couple years into being one of the most capable Jeeps in all terrains and all seasons.

Powerplant

It takes horsepower to navigate the big dunes and soft sand of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area where Carlos enjoys time with his family and friends. The factory 3.8L V-6 just didn’t cut it, even with the addition of a RIPP supercharger, so he went V-8. Scott and Carlos used a Motech JK LS swap kit to drop in a GM 6.0L sourced from a 2012 Silverado 2500HD, backed with a 6L80 six-speed automatic from a 2013 donor Sierra 1500 4x4. A Black Bear Performance tune, customized Camaro LS3 headers, and 2.5-inch resonators into a Flowmaster Super 44 muffler bring power to just over 400 ponies. So far, that’s enough power to meet the present needs.

The crowded LS 6.0L engine compartment is well organized with the Viair compressor tucked in behind the Motech E38 GM CPU and fuse box. The ARB Air Locker solenoids sit just outside the brake fluid reservoir.
The 400hp GM truck 6.0L doesn’t leave much space inside the JKU engine compartment. Motech’s JK LS V-8 swap kit helped simplify the power upgrade.

They retained the stock GM torque converter, slid in a Motech input shaft and adapter to mate the JK’s 242J transfer case to the GM automatic, and swapped in a center console and shifter from a 2012 JK to handle the gear-selection duties. From there the power flows through Tom Wood’s Custom 1350 driveshafts to 1-ton axles (2004 Dana 60 up front and a shaved 2007 Chevy 14-bolt in the rear) via an Artec swap kit. Both axles are loaded with 5.13 Nitro gears, Currie 35-spline chromoly axleshafts, and ARB Air Lockers.

A 2004 Ford Super Duty gave up its Dana 60 to provide Carlos’ JKU with a near-bulletproof front axle assembly. Artec trusses, ARB Air Locker, and Currie control arms keep the power going where it’s needed. It also runs Currie 35-spline unit bearings and 8x6.5-pattern slotted rotors.

Currie’s JK 8x6.5-inch unit bearings, JK Big Brake Booster, and Warn premium hubs tidy up the power side. A big CSF High Performance double-row aluminum radiator handles engine cooling, and a B&M Super Cooler helps keep transmission fluid temps under control.

Suspension

A good deal of this JK’s all-terrain ability is its massive suspension travel, allowing the 40-inch Cooper Discoverer STT Pro tires to seemingly glide over boulders and through deep ruts with ease. The suspension has seen several iterations, as tire sizes went from stock to 37s and now 40s. It now runs a “conservative” 7-inch lift with 7-inch Skyjacker coils, a custom 1-ton track bar, and Curries Enterprises Johnny Joint control arms up front. The same control arms (lengthened 2 inches) are used in the rear with a Rubicon Express 1-ton track bar.

A shaved and Artec-trussed 1-ton GM 14-bolt houses Currie chromoly axles, Nitro 5.13 gears, and an ARB Air Locker. aFe Sway-A-Way remote-reservoir shocks and 7-inch Skyjacker coils handle the ups and downs.

Carlos opted for aFe Sway-A-Way 2.5-inch remote-reservoir shocks at all four corners to handle the wide range of demands, from highway driving to running dunes to rockcrawling. However, the antisway bars remained stock, but are fitted with custom quick-disconnects to retain good street habits (it’s Carlos’ daily driver) while allowing maximum suspension travel when the pavement turns to trail.

The steering has been upgraded with a PSC Hydro Assist to handle the bigger, heavier treads and beefier brakes and hubs. It also sports a RuffStuff 1-ton drag link and tie rod along with a Weaver Manufacturing high-steer arm.

Traction is never in question with the Cooper Discoverer STT Pro 40x13.50R17s mounted on Pro Comp Vapor Pro 2 Competition Beadlocks.

The suspension, brakes, and steering setup is just the right combination to handle the Cooper Discoverer STT Pro 40x13.50R17s wrapped around 17x9-inch Pro Comp Vapor Pro 2 Competition Beadlocks, which Carlos airs down to about 6 psi on the rocks and sand. The 450cc Viair compressor mounted under the hood and 2.5-gallon air tank in the rear cargo area handle the refilling duties.

Exterior

This Rubicon Unlimited is far from being a trailer queen, and it’s easy to spot trail scars and “brush” strokes. But they are worn with pride, and each one is a reminder of some past trail challenge. Smittybilt XRC armored fenders with XRC armored cladding on the rocker guards provide plenty of tire clearance, and the Poison Spyder hood louver helps vent engine heat.

Carlos plumbed in a Mile Marker HMMWV H10500 hydraulic winch so he didn’t have to worry about draining batteries under challenging winching operations. The Rock Hard stubby bumper serves well as both mount and protection.

The winch cable and roller fairlead on the Mile Marker HMMWV 10,500-pound-capacity hydraulic winch, mounted in the Rock Hard stubby front bumper, shows signs of multiple uses, and the combo Smittybilt XRC rear bumper has a few gouges on the underside, as do the tube rock sliders.

Spare parts, HiLift, towing and winching accessories, fluids, tools, along with a first aid pack, food, and water are the normal occupants of the rear cargo area. Camping gear and other goods get loaded on the Garvin JK Track Rack roof rack.

In normal conditions Carlos, who lives near Eugene, relies upon the halo LED headlights and quad-cubed LEDs mounted on the bumper to light up the roads. But when daylight wheelin’ off-road turns into a night foray, as it often does, the 50-inch LED lightbar above the windshield handily lights the way ahead. And should there ever be a need to replace a tire, the HiLift and air tools are sitting at the ready behind the spare mounted on the swing-away carrier.

Interior

If you are looking for a show-rig interior, don’t bother opening the door of Carlos’ Unlimited Rubicon. You’d be disappointed. But if you are looking for functionality, it’s all there—from the worn Rugged Ridge Ballistic seat covers to the heavy-duty rubber floor mats to the Uniden CB to the Autometer pillar-mounted gauges and Infinity sound system.

Rugged Ridge Ballistic Nylon seat covers have seen plenty of use over the years, keeping the stock seats protected from snow, mud, rain, sand, and even ash from raging forest fires.
The stock manual transmission was replaced with a GM 6L80 six-speed automatic, so Carlos swapped in the shifter and center console from a 2012 JK. The CB radio comes in handy during fire duty and running trails with fellow Salem Jeepers. Switches control the LED lights and lockers.

Of course in the cargo area there’s everything you’d expect to find in a veteran Forest Service employee and seasoned off-roader’s rig: first aid pack, machete, axe and shovel, spare tools, parts, fluids, and towing and winching accessories. Whatever the situation, conditions, or terrain Carlos may find himself in, his JK is nicely equipped to handle it all.

Why This Jeep?

This Jeep is the perfect example of how an avid lover of the outdoors, with a passion for exploring backroads and challenging off-road trails, has modified his JKU over the years to keep pace with his own evolution as an off-roader. It has the power for the big dunes, agility for severe rockcrawling, and traction for deep mud or snow. All the while remaining a comfortable, reliable daily driver.

The Garvin JK Track Rack and Smittybilt XRC rear bumper/tire carrier allow Carlos to be fully self-contained when the need arises. His JKU weighs more than 6,200 pounds, yet it handles soft sand with aplomb.
Carlos hits the trails year around. Whether the trail is a staircase of rocky ledges or covered fender-deep in snow, his red JKU is his favorite tool for getting the job done. “It’s set up so I'm able to hit many double- and triple-black trails, all the while driving it home at the end of the day.”

Hard Facts

Vehicle: 2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Engine: 2012 Chevrolet 6.0L from Silverado 2500HD
Transmission: GM 6L80 6-speed automatic
Transfer Case: NV 242J
Suspension: Custom 7-inch Skyjacker coils with Currie Johnny Joint control arms and aFe 2.5-inch Sway-A-Way remote-reservoir shocks
Axles: Artec-trussed 2004 Ford Dana 60 (front), shaved and trussed 2007 GM 14-bolt (rear), with 5.13s and ARB Air Lockers
Wheels: 17x9 Pro Comp Vapor Pro 2 Competition Beadlocks
Tires: 40x13.50R17 Cooper Discoverer STT Pros

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