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2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited Truck - Retro Truck

Posted in Project Vehicles on June 1, 2009
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Photographers: Alex ScherbJeff Scherb

Despite the extremely smooth Gladiator concept truck from a few years back, AEV's bitchin' Brute truck, and the recent buzz created by the Moab appearance of a couple of JK Wrangler-based Jeep trucks, the jive turkeys at Jeep corporate have not sold a Jeep pickup within the U.S. borders since 1992. This has prevented cool cats like us from laying any cargo between Jeep bedsides for some time. So when Jeep corporate can't commit to building the fly Jeep truck you are jonesin' for, you just have to build it yourself. That's exactly what one smooth operator named Jeff Scherb, a retired Information Technology and Operations Executive from Elmira, New York, did. The result is this well-engineered Jeep pickup that looks like the Jeep that Jeep should have built. This Jeep's look combines design cues from past and present.

Starting with an idea, Jeff did what all jeepers should, but very few do, he planned how to build this Jeep and gathered all of the necessary parts before any construction began. The plan was to assemble a Jeep truck that had all the modern comfort and conveniences of today's Jeeps along with retro-styling from other Jeep pickups including the '47-'64 Willys pickup, AEV's Brute, and the overseas-only '80s-era CJ-10. Other requirements were that the truck have a fullsize bed capable of carrying a 4x8 piece of plywood as well as having enough legroom for a 6-foot, 6-inch driver. Another amazing feat, Jeff was able to construct the truck in 17 days after 14 months of planning and parts gathering. This included the acquisition of a clean '06 Unlimited that would be the base of the build. As you can see Jeff's patience, planning, and attention to detail paid off with the retro-groovy Jeep you see. Dig it!

Chassis & Driveline
Adding a bed capable of holding a full sheet of plywood on to the frame of any recently-built Jeep is going to involve the addition of some serious length to the Jeep's backbone. Once it was decided to lengthen the frame Jeff contemplated using AEV's frame extension kit on his Unlimited since he had already sourced the cab closeout from AEV. This would yield a wheelbase that would work with Jeff's design, but would require two welds per frame rail. Another stronger option required grafting two TJ Unlimited frames together to yield the proper 126-inch wheelbase. This method of lengthening the frame might have been bit more expensive, but would yield a cleaner frame with only one weld seam per side. Jeff was able to source and buy a rear section of an Unlimited frame perfect for the Jeep truck project with the use of some groovy gadget called the Internet. To further strengthen the now-longer Unlimited's frame Jeff added a piece of 21/2-inch 0.250-wall square tubing to the bottom of each frame rail extending from just behind the transmission skid plate to the trailing arm bracket. Once the frame was all burned together and gusseted with plate steel the truck's frame was also lengthened an additional 11 inches behind the rear axle. This keeps the rear bumper and class III trailer hitch flush with the back of the truck.

The drivetrain of the low-mileage loaded '06 Unlimited was left unchanged to retain reliability, although the stock rear driveshaft was lengthened by a local shop to match the stretched frame and new longer wheelbase. Jeff went out of his way to find the last year model of LJ with the six-speed transmission for this conversion to ensure the most modern features and creature comforts available. Power comes from the Factory 4.0L and spins the tires via factory 3.73 ring-and-pinions in the front Dana 30 and rear Trac-Lok'd Dana 44 after power is split by the Jeep's factory NVG231 transfer case. Stopping power comes from all four factory discs while 2-inch coil spacers front and rear boost the Unlimited's original suspension. A set of Air-Lift airbags are inflated out back to help out when the Jeep truck's bed is put into service with a heavy load. The retro truck rolls on Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 16x8 Moab wheels wrapped in 265/75R16 Goodyear Wrangler RT/S tires.

PhotosView Slideshow

Body & Interior
The retro-realistic truck bed and tailgate are reproduction units made by Mar-K Quality Parts intended for '41-'46 Chevy trucks. The stamped Jeep logo from the tailgate of a CJ-8 was grafted to the reproduction '41-'46 Chevy tailgate. The mechanisms for closing and opening the tailgate are made up of a Jeep TJ paddle, Mazda latches, and Toyota tailgate stays. Jeff assembled the bed floor using not wood, but Timber Tech, a type of synthetic lumber intended to be used in deck construction. This allows the Jeep to have the retro-look of a wood bed without the swelling and warping associated with real wood.

The rear truck fenders were hand-fabricated by Jeff to resemble those from a '46 Willys truck, while matching the wider and deeper profile of the Sahara front fender flares. Believe it or not Jeff rattle-canned and clearcoated a set of Sahara flares to match the Unlimited's red paint with Duplicolor paints and a bit of color sanding between coats.

Arguably the single largest modification of the '06 Unlimited was when Jeff used a reciprocating saw and a couple of spot-weld removing drill bits to pull his nearly spanking new Unlimited's tub in half. Once in pieces Jeff was able to lengthen the Jeep's frame and install AEV's Brute truck cab closeout. With the cab closeout in place the factory soft top bows were modified to fit. Jeff farmed out the re-sewing of the original Sunrider soft top to make it fit the new truck cab. Jeff also removed the stock rear downbars of the Unlimited's sport cage in keeping with the pickup truck style.

The stock rear bumper of the Unlimited was also drawn under the knife where Jeff added a gap for a license plate and step to form a truck-style bumper. Once assembled and together in one piece, Jeff hauled the Jeep truck down to the local body shop to have it sprayed. Jeff also had the inside of the bed and the top of the rear tub where the hard top will sit coated with a color-matched bedliner to prevent scratching. Two T155/90D16 compact spares mounted on 16x4.5 alloy wheels reside next to the bed to retain the retro Jeep truck look. These road-usable spares are mounted to the bed using two stock TJ spare tire brackets.

The interior of the Jeep retains most of the stock comfy Jeep factory shwagg while tunes come courtesy of a factory Sirius radio with an iPod jack and a set of custom speaker enclosures, once again, built by Jeff. This keeps occupants cozy and in tune with some smooth groves, beats and guitar riffs.

Good, Bad, & What's It For
This truck was built to be used, and also to be an eye catcher. It sees both duties as Jeff drives it to and from the store, and occasionally off-road. We also hear that recently the Jeep truck made a road trip between New York and Illinois. It's an all-around driver, a groovy, groovy driver, man! Future plans had included the installation of a modified CJ-10 metal cab which was completed just before we went to press.

Why I Featured It
The funkiest part of the whole groovy retro-Jeep truck buildup is that Jeff did almost all of this work himself without the benefit of years of experience in fabrication or bodywork. All Jeff used was what he remembered from shop class, a few good tools, patience, planning and the desire to build the Jeep that Jeep should have built. I think this is one smooth truck that looks factory and combines enough of the past with enough of the present to make me want one for my very own.Verne Simons

Hard Facts
Vehicle: '06 TJ Wrangler Unlimited/RetroWrangler
Engine: 4.0L
Transmission: NSG370
Transfer Case: NVG231
Suspension: 2-inch budget boost with rear Air-Lift airbag helper system
Axles: Stock Dana 30 (front), stock Dana 44 (rear)
Wheels: 16x8 Jeep Moab
Tires: 265/75R16 Goodyear Wrangler
Built For: Retro-coolness, pick-up utility
Estimated Cost: $40,000

PhotosView Slideshow

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