The term “ridden hard and put away wet” has come to mean a lot of things today, but we want to go back to the original meaning of the phrase here. If you ride a horse hard enough or fast enough for long enough, it sweats. It is then inadvisable to put the horse in the stable until it is dry and has cooled down. For some reason, this Wrangler Rubicon seems to thrive on that same kind of treatment. We ran into Vicki and Alan Hahn out in Johnson Valley, California, just after Thanksgiving of 2011. And, as we are wont to do, we started checking out their Jeep. We’ve said it once and we will probably say it again—looking under a Jeep is a fast way to find out how it is used, and from the bent factory frame-side body mounts to the gouged and chewed up skidplates, we knew this Jeep had seen use.
However, black Jeeps don’t generally photograph well so we decided to move on. Then, we were approached by Vicki. She told us that it was her Jeep and asked if we had any questions. We almost always have questions, so we asked a couple of questions about the rear axle and the skidplates and she knew every answer. Then we got into how long she’s been wheeling it, and she’s got this totally don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-broke attitude about the Jeep, and obviously “bent ain’t necessarily broken.” So, we gave her a form and figured out how to get the best photos of the Jeep. Using tried-and-true map and compass techniques, we were able to find a trail that caught the early-morning sunrise to make this Jeep look the best it could in our photos.
The factory Wrangler frame is still present and accounted for with some tears in it over the years from hard use, especially around the steering box. The front suspension consists of 6-inch Nth Degree springs and a high-clearance long-arm conversion. Bilstein 5160 shocks handle the jounce and team up with a Sway-Lock sway bar disconnect system to keep the body roll down. Out back, an Nth Degree spring relocator fixes the factory TJ Wrangler spring angle and an Nth Degree shock relocator allows longer shocks to be placed behind the axle, outside of the frame to help articulation. A Currie Antirock rear sway bar resides ahead of the axle and Nth Degree longarms combine to keep the action of the rear of the Jeep predictable on- or off-road. A Kilby Enterprises steering box skidplate keeps the Saginaw box safe while an 8,000 pound Warn winch was sunk in a custom mount between the framerails low in front of the grille to keep airflow through the radiator at a maximum. A rear Wilderness Industries bumper and Savvy Off Road aluminum gas tank skidplate bring up the rear.
Again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The 4.0L engine and factory four-speed automatic transmission are still in place. The exhaust has been rerouted to clear control arms as needed and the factory NV241OR still reduces and splits power front and rear. Up front the factory Dana 44 axle was stuffed with 4.88 gears and fortified with Alloy USA shafts, and a Solid diff cover. A Vanco big-brake system helps the factory master cylinder and booster bring the big tires to a stop and TeraFlex high-steer knuckles with heavy-duty aluminum tie-rod, and drag link help manhandle the tires when in the rocks.
Out back, a True Hi9 centersection was loaded with 4.88 gears and a Yukon Grizzly locker before being put into the custom-fabbed Currie Enterprises F9 housing. Larger-than-stock-diameter JK-sized axleshafts help keep things from twisting or breaking. Raceline Rock Monster beadlocks keep the 37x12.50R17 Goodyear MT/Rs mounted no matter how low the tire pressure gets.
Body and Interior
The front tube fenders are Poison Spyder units, while the rear fenders were sourced from GenRight Off Road and coupled with Poison Spyder rocker guards to protect the body of the Jeep front to back. The body of the Jeep has seen its fair share of damage and custom repairs as well. The windshield frame is off a ’98 Wrangler and modified to accept the Rubicon trim. Other custom touches include straightening body panels with a forklift and wielding a reciprocating saw to make more clearance as needed. Bestop half doors keep the big rocks out and the people in.
Inside under a factory-spec soft top are the factory front seats, radio, and steering wheel. A Lowrance HDS-5M GPS unit sits on the dashboard with a Tumbleweed communications bag hanging from the ’cage next to it in front of the passenger. A CB and Race radio are hung from the Rock Hard 4x4 front roll cage. A 1-inch Daystar body lift provides extra clearance for those big Goodyears
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Using factory parts until they pop is a great way to keep things as reliable as possible but could leave you stranded. So far, however, that front Dana 44 is hanging tough, even with how hard this Jeep is wheeled on those 37-inch tires. Skidplating everything under the Jeep is also a great way to make things last and is our favorite form of preventative maintenance.
Why I Wrote This Feature
I was sent out to the Hammers trails one weekend with the orders to bring back a cover shot. I never thought that a black Jeep would “pop” on the cover, so I was hesitant to shoot it. But between how hard this Jeep has been wheeled, as evidenced by the worn skidplating, as well as the fact that it’s a real Jeep chick who’s been doing the wheeling, it was something I had to see for myself and thought you guys might like to see it, too.
Vehicle: 2003 Wrangler Rubicon
Engine: 4.0L inline-six
Transfer Case: NP241OR
Suspension: 6-inch Nth degree (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 44 (front); Currie F9 (rear)
Wheels: 17x9.5 Raceline Monster Beadlocks
Tires: 37x12.50R17 Goodyear MT/R
Built For: Get over rocks in Coyote Canyon