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Family Accommodations: A JK Wrangler and Trailer Combo Fits This Family Well

Posted in News: Features on August 19, 2019
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Keith Berkshire loves exploring in the desert, and he often brings his family along for camping in the wild. He owned a modified Jeep CJ-7 for years, but he's had to get more creative when taking the entire family Jeeping.

A few years back, Keith acquired this '07 Wrangler and became the third owner of the Unlimited Sport model. It had been lifted and sat on aftermarket axles when he got it, but he wanted further upgrades to haul weekend gear and his family of seven, including himself, into the dirt. Now this rig supports third-row seating and a custom trailer made to follow the Wrangler most anywhere he points it.

With the added load of the occupants and cargo, the stock 3.8L V-6 just wasn't up to the task of confidently pulling the Jeep up mountain grades on the highway. Keith rolled the Jeep into his home garage and pulled the original engine from its bay. A GM 6.2L LS3 crate engine was lowered in its place along with MoTech conversion components. Behind the 430hp V-8 sits a six-speed 6L80E transmission salvaged from a Cadillac Escalade. Overall, it's a very clean swap and is fully emissions compliant. The original NP241 transfer case is still used but has been upgraded with a larger input shaft from MoTech.

The Wrangler engine bay is pretty full with the 6.2L V-8 tucked inside. An aluminum radiator with electric fan from a late-model Camaro SS helps keep the 'plant cool. A Mishimoto cooler helps keep transmission fluid temps at bay. Two ARB twin compressors sit on a custom mount over the engine that fits snugly under the AEV heat-reduction hood. They fill a 2-gallon tank mounted under the Jeep for airing up tires after a day on the trail.

With a healthy powerplant and the intention to run big tires, the plan had to include hefty axle assemblies. Up front, there's a TeraFlex CRD60 that's been converted to 8-lug with manual-locking hubs. It's filled with 5.13 gears and an ARB Air Locker. Steering effort is reduced with a PSC Motorsports hydro-assist setup with custom cooler. To help slow down the Jeep, Keith upgraded the front axle with a TeraFlex Big Brake Kit, and fluid is pushed to the calipers by a master cylinder from a Dodge 3500 pickup. In the rear is a GM Corporate 14-bolt axle. The differential on this full-float unit was shaved using the Ballistic Fabrication 14 Bolt Shave Kit. Matching gears and another ARB Air Locker can be found inside, and the axle has functioning parking brakes.

The suspension is flexy but well balanced. A TeraFlex long-arm setup is used front and rear with King shocks. The front uses 12-inch coilovers combined with a Currie Antirock sway bar. The rear uses 14-inch coilovers with a relocated track bar. Artec Industries towers support the upper end of each shock, and the rear towers were frenched into the frame and tub. Fox bumpstops control the final inches of compression travel at each corner. All this hardware allowed fitment of 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers on 17x8 TrailReady beadlock wheels. The wheelbase remains at 116 inches.

A TeraFlex CRD60 provides front axle beef and ground clearance. The TeraFlex long-arm suspension articulates well, using 12-inch-travel King coilovers with remote reservoirs. A PSC hydraulic ram assists in steering the 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers on TrailReady beadlock wheels.
The GM Corporate 14-bolt axle in the rear was shaved using a Ballistic Fabrication kit. It's also been trussed. The rear suspension includes a pair of 14-inch-travel King coilovers, a TeraFlex long-arm setup, and a pair of Fox nitrogen bumpstops.


Keith also focused on comfort and safety for his family. He commissioned Hunter Offroad to build the custom 1.75-inch-diameter rollcage with third-row seating coverage and provide frame tie-ins at the A-, B-, and C-pillars. Keith has custom full and bikini tops to fit the full cage. Stock Wrangler seats are used, but they're covered with Bartact covers on all three rows. The third-row seat is a rear seat from a two-door JK Wrangler and was installed using a modified TeraFlex kit to also accommodate a custom slide-out storage drawer below.

The body itself has not gone without modification either. While the Wrangler was disassembled and under heavy modification, Keith had it painted a custom color similar to the Ice Blue Metallic he'd had on his CJ-7. Many of the accessories on the Jeep were also painted to match the body, including a wide array of Rigid Industries LED lights.

The shorty ACE Engineering front bumper maximizes the Jeep's approach angle. A Warn HS9500i winch with synthetic rope sits at the ready, and Rigid LED lighting is mounted on the bumpers, windshield, and underneath the rig for rock lighting.

Trailing the impressive Wrangler is a custom cargo trailer that Keith designed and constructed. He started with Timbren off-road suspension units with wheel hub assemblies to run beadlocked 40-inch tires. The main bed is fabricated from square steel tubing and covered in sheetsteel. He built nearly all of it at his home, with his son assisting with the welding chores. Once complete, it was finished in matching blue paint and the interior was covered with bedliner material.

We recently spent a day on the asphalt and trail with Keith and found that his Jeep runs quite smooth on the highway. The LS3 provides great power to turn the big rubber and pull the trailer behind. The trailer is not small, but it tracks behind the Jeep surprisingly well through tight trail spots. Keith attributes this to a recommendation he got to set the distance from the Jeep hitch to the trailer tires to match the Jeep wheelbase. The formula seems to work well and this rig is well suited to haul the family in the outdoors.

Hunter Offroad fabricated the custom rollcage to accommodate seating for seven with the third-row seat. Speaker pods are welded onto the cage to complete an eight-speaker Infiniti system driven from a Pioneer head unit.
Seeing past the 40-inch spare tire on the rear is nearly impossible, so Keith uses a rearview camera instead of a mirror. The Jeep is fully armored with Poison Spyder Customs and ACE Engineering rocker protection, ACE fenders, and Poison Spyder Crusher Corners that have been color-matched to the body.
Keith designed and built the custom trailer to follow almost everywhere his Wrangler could go. A Max Coupler links the Jeep and trailer, allowing for impressive flex between the two. The trailer carries an additional spare tire.
The trailer shares a close track width with the Jeep and offers substantial interior volume, plus a rooftop rack for storing other camping items. RotopaX containers outside carry spare fluids.
The trailer suspension is simple and offers excellent ground clearance. A Timbren Axle-Less trailer suspension was used and it utilizes rubber springs. Keith added electric brakes and 8-lug wheel hubs that match the Jeep pattern. A hand-operated parking brake holds the trailer in place when unhitched.
The top lid of the trailer opens with assist struts revealing the bed-lined interior. The tailgate is from a CJ-7. Keith modified the tailgate with internal release latches, so it and the trailer lid are lockable.
A custom sliding drawer provides storage for tools and spare parts under the Jeep's third-row seat. A River Raider trunk is also installed in the floor underneath the drawer.

At a Glance
Vehicle: '07 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport
Owner: Keith Berkshire
Stomping grounds: Arizona
Engine: GM LS3 6.2L V-8
Transmission: GM 6L80E
Transfer case: NP241
Low range ratio: 2.72:1
Crawl ratio: 56.2:1
Front axle/differential: TeraFlex CRD60, TeraFlex Big Brake Kit, 5.13 gears/ARB Air Locker
Rear axle/differential: GM Corporate 14-bolt, drum brakes, 5.13 gears/ARB Air Locker
Front: TeraFlex long-arm, 12-in-travel King coilovers, Currie Antirock sway bar, Fox bumpstops
Rear: TeraFlex long-arm, 14-in-travel King coilovers, Fox bumpstops
Steering: PSC Motorsports hydro-assist, custom cooler
Tires: 40x13.50R17LT Nitto Trail Grappler
Wheels: 17x8 TrailReady beadlock
ACE Engineering front and rear bumpers, AEV heat-reduction hood, Warn HS9500i winch, full body armor and skidplates, eight-point rollcage, third-row seating, ARB air compressors, Rigid LED lighting, River Raider trunk, custom off-road cargo trailer with Timbren suspension and 40-in tires

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