Who here remembers Sarge, the J8 concept vehicle that Mopar Undrground rolled out in front of our eyes a few years back in Moab? No one with a pulse could miss the drab-flat modern military green, those utilitarian wheels, that slick little hood scoop. How ’bout the simple yet effective bumpers front and rear? We love that Jeep! When we first saw the ’13 JK in Commando Green we were unable to think of much other than our old pal, Sarge. This color does what every owner should try to do when personalizing their Jeep by harkening back to the civilian Jeep’s military past. Combine this new color offering with the relatively new 3.6L Pentastar V-6, five-speed automatic transmission, and the fact that no one on Jp’s full-time staff had ever owned a new JK, Feature Editor Verne Simons did the unthinkable (and unadvisable given his salary) and went down to the local Jeep dealership to start haggling for a new Jeep. You see, Verne had never bought himself a brand-new Jeep off a dealer lot, and for some unexplainable reason, the time was ripe and he had to have one. A few hours later Verne rolled back into his driveway with a new green Jeep, a big smile, and a greatly depleted bank account.
"The skidplate system provides nearly seamless protection for our new JK’s belly."
Our plan for the little green Jeep is to build it up -- mildly at first, like any new Jeep owner should. We want to follow a utilitarian military theme using the J8 as an inspiration, but don’t expect us to cut and lengthen a new Jeep just yet -- or for us to ever fill the J8 mold exactly as Jeep built it, ’cause we like doing things a little differently here at Jp. In this first installment, we are going to show you a few relatively simple upgrades that will help us enjoy our new Jeep as well as protect it from the elements. We’ll then follow up by beating on the poor new JK, all while making repairs and modifications along the way for your edification and enjoyment. For now, the little ’13 Sport JK is still rolling around on stock tires and wheels, but that’s bound to change. We have some tricks up our sleeves yet to come, so stay tuned.
Step By Step
Ahh, our poor, poor, unsuspecting victim. Little does this brand new ’13 JK Sport know about what the future holds for it. While we are sure that the Commando Green is either a “love it” or “hate it” color, we are definitely in the first category. And the similarities to the green used on Sarge, Mopar’s J8 concept vehicle from a few years back, is undeniable. We like military vehicles, and we like Jeeps. Win-win!
We managed to leave the little JK alone for a couple of months while breaking it in. After about 1,500 miles, we decided that we had to start making improvements. One of the first and easiest modifications we’ve done was to add Bestop’s Tinted Window Kit for ’11-’14 two-door JKs (PN 58134-35, $269.99). This replaces the side and rear windows on the Jeep with tinted versions. The install took just minutes, and the Bestop parts fit seamlessly. The tinted windows help keep the sun and prying eyes out of our Jeep and refines the look of an otherwise basic Jeep.
First we used a plasma cutter to cut a 2-inch section of the square tube. Sure, we could have looked for a piece of 2x5x3⁄16 channel to use instead, but when scrounging for drop steel pieces, beggars can’t be choosers (and the remnants may become a rear bumper). The one other major component in this Sargesque bumper was a winch plate. After digging for a while we came across a 3⁄16-inch steel winch plate from Rugged Ridge (PN 12052.1710, $219.99) from our friends at Quadratec that we were pretty sure would work. We then notched the section of steel channel we’d cut to fit with the winch plate. Drill holes, add paint, and our clone bumper is almost done.
The winch plate bolts to the top of the front frame horns as well as to the front bumper via some steel reinforcements that we added to the rear of the bumper shown here. All in all, the bumper and winch plate provide a solid mount for a winch as well as functional tow points.
The last step in building our bumper was to fabricate some D-ring shackle mounts. To do this we used some 1⁄4-inch plate steel and Synergy weld-on Clevis Mounts (PN 3225, $20 each) and burned them together. These finish the look we are going for and add front tow points that we lost when we pulled the factory front bumper and towhooks. The bumper is sandwiched between the front frame horns and these clevis mounts.
We’ve already mentioned that we believe that the new Commando Green paint on ’13 and ’14 JKs is probably a nod to Sarge, the Mopar Underground concept rig from a few years back -- but our plans for this Jeep takes that inspiration a little bit farther. We knew pretty early on that we wanted a winch and a simple front bumper. Despite the hundreds of winch bumpers available in the aftermarket for JKs, none really had that J8 Military look we were going for with our JK. So basically we searched images of Sarge and started concocting a way to make a clone J8 front bumper for our little green JK. To do this we ran down to the local steel shop for a drop piece of 5x5x3⁄16 square tubing.
Once all the pieces were finished we fogged the bumper with Krylon’s Ultra-Flat Woodland Light Green (PN 4296), which almost matches the Commando Green factory paint. We then mounted up Quadratec’s Q9000s Self Recovery Winch with Dyneema Synthetic Rope (PN 92122.2030, $449.99). We have yet to get stuck in the new JK (not for a lack of trying), so we haven’t used the winch under load yet. We did, however, respool the winch rope and the winch ran quickly and smoothly while respooling. The controls were easy to use and straightforward. You can bet we will beat on this winch and get back to you with a full durability assessment in the future.
The next item on our agenda was to get some better protection for the underbelly of the beast. Our JK came with factory skidplates, but they are made out of thin stamped metal and don’t even reach under the low hanging and vulnerable engine oil pan. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. With a quick call to Synergy Manufacturing we were literally covered with an upgrade. In need of a lift to make the install go more smoothly, we headed down the road to Absolute Offroad in Phoenix, Arizona, to have the skidplates installed.
Both Synergy and Absolute Offroad have been modifying JKs for more than a few years now, so we knew we were bound to get parts and service that fit our shiny new Jeep well. Jason Seamons of Absolute Offroad quickly got underway installing Synergy’s heavy-duty skidplates on our green JK. This system replaces the stock crossmember with a transmission skidplate that has a bolt-on T-case skid and engine skidplates (PN 5709-BK, $1,250). We opted for the full black powdercoating option for maximum corrosion resistance. Here Seamons is installing the T-case portion of the skidplate system behind the new Synergy crossmember.
The skidplate system provides nearly seamless protection for our new JK’s belly. All of the skids are made of 3⁄16-inch crush-resistant Grade 50 A-572 steel plate for maximum strength while saving as much weight as possible. The skids also include Grade-8 hardware throughout. These skids are not only stronger than factory, but also span a larger distance covering more of the otherwise vulnerable areas of your Jeep’s underside. Now we don’t have to worry about that low-hanging engine oil pan. A gas tank skidplate is also available from Synergy (PN 5713 in raw steel, $400 or PN5713-BK in black powdercoat, $550).
Next, Seamons started working on installing a pair of Synergy Rocker Guards (PN 5502, $475) that we’d just fogged in our Krylon Green paint before installation. These rocker guards attach to the body of the JK as well as integrate two of the body mount positions along the JKs frame. That’s stout. Here Seamons grinds at part of the factory body mount where the new rocker guards will bolt on.
The best part is that these rocker guards fit tight against the body, providing protection and matching our simplistic yet durable military look. Once installed, we ran a bead of clear silicon over the upper seam between the rocker guards and rockers of the JK. We have yet to bash the rockers into anything too hard, but we know they are stout. The slim design also does little to impede entry and exit to the vehicle, which is nice.
Handling Rivet Nuts
As already mentioned, the rocker guards attach to both the body and a couple of body mounts. The mounting points to the JK’s body use these rivet nut threaded inserts. Installation of these little useful inserts can be frustrating, but the key is to be sure you are installing them correctly. First be sure to drill a pilot hole, and when drilling out to the final 17⁄32-inch hole size, drill slowly without applying too much pressure, as the JK sheetmetal is thin and soft. Once these holes are drilled, first push a rivet nut into the hole with the lip facing you and then hold a tooth lock washer against the outer surface of the rivet nut. Next is a nut that matches the size of the tooth lock washer, but that is larger than the bolt that threads into the rivet nut. You want to hold this nut with a pair of locking pliers or the closed end of a box-end wrench. Then put the graded bolt through the nut (the bolt should pass through the nut without hitting the threads) and thread it into the rivet nut. Then use a box-end wrench or ratchet to tighten the bolt while you hold the nut, tooth lock washer, and rivet nut in place with the other wrench or locking pliers. As the bolt tightens, it will expand the knurled part of the rivet nut against the sheetmetal.