Fullsize Jeeps are the Rodney Dangerfield of the off-road world; they get no respect. Overshadowed by the "Big Three" fullsize trucks and snubbed by their short-wheelbase brethren, they don't seem to fit in anywhere. But sometimes not fitting in is a good thing. Instead of following trends, Jim Rhodus decided to turn his '77 J10 into a vehicle that would turn heads and demand respect. Jim bought his J-truck when he was only 16, and it was on that old bench seat where he first fell in love with sand drags. The bench seat fell by the wayside a long time ago, as did many of the factory components, but over the past 20 years Jim has transformed his fullsize into a sand drag monster with a niche all its own.
One of the keys to going fast is having a good power-to-weight ratio. The key to a good power-to-weight ratio is more power and less weight. Duh. As the owner of Rhodus Fabrication in Shandon, Ohio, Jim knows a thing or two about how to set up a chassis. To that end, Jim back-halved the J10 in 2000. The frame was replaced with 1 5/8-inch, 0.134-wall tubing that reduces weight and strengthens the chassis. The tubing ties to the internal rollcage and extends all the way into the engine bay for safety and torsional rigidity. Now all of the power is transferred to the ground instead of twisting the frame.
When the rear chassis was built Jim took the opportunity to ditch the 4-inch-lift springs on the truck and redesign the suspension. He had a vision for the entire truck and instead of spending time and money twice, executed it all at once. A custom Rhodus Fabrication rear four-link suspension that uses 1-inch, 0.156-wall DOM links and 3/4 x 5/8-inch FK chromoly rod ends works in conjunction with QA1 coilovers. Up front, more conventional leaf springs are used with QA1 shocks that help transfer the weight to the rear of the vehicle.
Previously the J-truck was powered by a 565 ci big-block making "only" 900 horsepower. Fellow racer and friend Jason Steele offered to build a new engine for the truck with one catch. Building an engine is cool, but knowing that drivers get all the glory, Jason wanted his chance behind the wheel of the J10 too. Once the deal was struck, Jason got to work building a 401 ci V-8, but this is no AMC motor. The small-block Chevy displaces fewer cubes than the previous Rat engine, but it makes up for it with a Procharger F-2 supercharger that pushes 34 pounds of boost through the intake. At the big end of the track, the engine is spinning 8,200 rpm and the belt-driven, centrifugal supercharger is turning a whopping 72,000 rpm. To handle that kind of cylinder pressure, a Dart Rocket block and Dart Pro1 aluminum heads were used in conjunction with a Callies forged steel crankshaft, GRP billet aluminum connecting rods, and JE forged pistons. The engine injests alcohol through a C&S 950cfm blow-through carburetor with electronic float bowls and exhales through custom Rhodus Fabrication headers. Being down 164 cubes to the former Rat, how does the Mighty Mouse measure up? Dyno sheets show a mind-boggling 1,687 horsepower at 8,000 RPM and 1,182 lb-ft of torque at 6,900 rpm.
The quadruple-digit power is routed through a Powerglide two-speed automatic. The 'glide is the transmission of choice for drag racing, as they are light and don't take a lot of horsepower to turn. The transmission uses a Dedenbear case, a Cone 1.69 straight-cut gearset and valvebody, and a super-loose PTC 6,400-stall torque converter. A short driveshaft connects the tranny to a divorce-mounted NP205 transfer case that uses a Ford input shaft with a Chevy case for the passenger-side drop. Driveshaft hoops keep the driveshafts in check for the front and rear axles.
Those axles consist of a Competition Engineering-fabricated Ford 9-inch in the rear and, surprisingly, the stock Dana 44 up front. How the front withstands this sort of power is beyond us, but the open differential, 3.54 gears, and small front tires help. The Dana 44 is steered with a Competition Engineering Pinto-style rack-and-pinion setup that sheds weight from the steering assembly. This wouldn't be the hot setup for a rockcrawler with big articulation, but it is perfect for drag racing. The rear paddles are much harder on parts than the front tires, but Jim fortified the 9-inch with Moser 35-spline chromoly axle shafts, Aerospace disc brakes, and a Moser nodular third member with 4.56 gears and a full spool to prevent any breakage. Yeah, the truck runs different gears front and back, but when the different front and rear tire diameters are taken into consideration, the wheels are spinning at nearly the same speed.
Body and Interior
This isn't a show truck, or even a daily-driver for that matter. The interior has been gutted and now contains an aluminum Kirkey racing seat and a Rhodus Fabrication cage with X-braced doors. The 5-inch Auto Meter Monster tach looks more at home here than in the Honda Civics in which they are usually forced to reside, and is complemented by additional Auto Meter gauges to monitor the engine's vital signs between passes. Otherwise the interior is bare, save for the Hurst shifter and wiring for the MSD 10 ignition.
Despite the all-business interior, the factory doors still open and shut and all of the body is American steel. The rear bedsides are from the factory bed, but were shorted to match the 110-inch wheelbase when the rear half of the frame was removed. Inside the bed, huge wheeltubs keep the 36x17x16 Sand Tires Unlimited Super Scooper paddles with 20 scoops from sandblasting the crowd. Behind the wheel tubs, dual Optima Yellow Top batteries sit at each corner and assist with weight balance. More weight can be added to the rear of the truck to allow Jim and Jason to race in different classes, rather than against each other. This allows the pair to split costs and be competitive for less money, which is smart business in this day and age.
Good, Bad, and What It's For This Jeep is fast on the track, and the paddles hook up hard. The NP205 seems like an odd choice given the desire to save weight, but perhaps an aluminum chain-drive case would not stand up to the power. There really is no "bad," although a truck like this is so purpose-built that you aren't going to drive it to church on Sundays anymore. When it comes to sand drags though, there are few vehicles than can keep up.
Why I Shot This Feature
Uh, did you read the part where this Jeep makes 1,687 horsepower? This Jeep makes almost as much horsepower as all of the other Jeeps I have featured combined! On top of that, I love that this truck looks so unassuming with its straight sheetmetal and plain white paint. I prefer loud, obnoxious engines to loud, obnoxious paint jobs, and Jim's J-truck delivers in spades. -Harry Wagner
Vehicle: '77 J10
Engine: 401ci small-block Chevy
Transmission: Powerglide two-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Divorce-mount NP205
Suspension: Leaf springs (front); four-link (rear)
Axles: Dana 44 (front); Competition Engineering 9-inch (rear)
Wheels: 15x8 Centerline Pro Street (front), 16x16 Weld Pro Stars (rear)
Tires: 12.00-15 Sand Tires Unlimited (front); 36x17x16 Sand Tires Unlimited Super Scoopers (rear)
Built For: Beating Chevys and Fords at the sand drags