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First Jeep Wrangler JL Built Sets Bar High

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 12, 2018
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Once every 10 years. That’s how often the Jeep designers and engineers get the opportunity to reinvent the Wrangler. The same is true for enthusiasts and aftermarket companies. The Jeep JL is an all-new blank canvas for us to make what we want. Even though it looks a lot like a JK, it’s not. Just about everything except the tires will require some reengineering to fit and work correctly. The new canvas also means a rare opportunity for our Dirt Every Day TV show to cover a buildup of this newest Wrangler that pretty much sets the standard for Wrangler JL buildups to come.

The team at Dynatrac seized the opportunity, building its 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL, named CODE1, not only in record time but also with a vision for what the new JL could be: a build that will stand out and be instantly recognizable for all of the right reasons. The basis for CODE1 actually began more than a year ago. At that time, Tony Carvallo was the Jeep Wrangler product planner at FCA. His primary job was to define what the new JL would be. An avid off-road enthusiast, he defended things that make the Jeep Wrangler one of the best off-road vehicles out of the box. He worked with the designers and engineers to protect for the upgrades and modifications that he knew people would want to make.

To lead those modifications, Carvallo, by now a Dynatrac employee, helped come up with a plan to build this JL into a 42-inch-shod monster that balanced that which was simple, effective, and in your face. The Jeep concept took on its final form in some rough sketches: a long-wheelbase two-door built for overlanding and rockcrawling. And yes, sitting on 42-inch-tall Maxxis Trepador tires and sporting a pair of seriously beefy Dynatrac ProRock axles. The long-wheelbase two-door option was missing from the Jeep order form, so the company purchased a four-door and planned to fill in the rear door to create the look and function. As soon as the new production JLs started rolling off the assembly line, Carvallo and Dirt Every Day’s host, Fred Williams, flew to Michigan and started circling Jeep dealerships like hungry hawks looking for a warm meal.

They purchased a silver Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport at Dave Dennis Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Dayton, Ohio, and made a cross-country run for the Dynatrac facility in Huntington Beach that would have made Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise proud.

All project vehicles start somewhere. CODE1 started as one of the first 2018 Jeep Wrangler JLs to roll off the assembly line. Tony Carvallo of Dynatrac and Fred Williams of our TV show Dirt Every Day picked up the Unlimited Sport at a dealership in Dayton, Ohio. Except for this photo-op stop at the Mississippi River, the blitz trip across the country was a blur of interstate, snow storms, and gourmet coffee shops.
Photo: Fred Williams

To make the shooting schedule for the planned Dirt Every Day episode, they would have only eight days to go from factory to finished. For a normal JK build, that wouldn’t be too bad, but this wasn’t a typical build. What’s more, even though some companies had a head start on engineering components for the JL, this would be the first production vehicle to fit these new aftermarket parts. And much of what would be done to this Jeep would be custom anyway.

A project like this doesn’t happen without vision, planning, and a whole lot of coffee and elbow grease. It also requires some great partners who are willing to make parts at a moments’ notice, drive them to the worksite, and, in some cases, lend a hand installing them. Every ounce of help was needed. The final modifications to CODE1 were made the morning that we headed out to Johnson Valley for the photo and video shoot, which also served as a test session for the complete vehicle.

While there was quite a bit of nervousness as the team pointed the massive tires toward the first trail, CODE1 impressed everyone as it crawled with ease over massive boulders on the Chocalate Thunder and Turkey Claw trails. We think that CODE1 not only achieved the goal of being the first JL built, but it will be an iconic build that will be as memorable and cool years from now as it is today.

As soon as the Jeep drove into the Dynatrac facility, disassembly began. One of the key visual and functional upgrades to help CODE1 stand out is the 42x14.50-17 Maxxis Trepador tires. These tires are massive and extremely sticky. The height, combined with the Dynatrac ProRock axles, will give this JL excellent ground clearance.
A section of the Dynatrac facility was set aside for the CODE1 build. In the beginning, every bolt removed was bagged and labeled. As the clock ticked and hours accumulated, the work zone started to look more like a chop shop. Dynatrac employees changed shirts at the end of the normal workday to help complete this build in just eight days.
To create the look of a stretched, long-wheelbase two-door Jeep, Nick Decredico from Jas Custom Street Rods fabricated fill panels for the rear door openings. These were welded in place and then finished with a thin layer of body filler.
The Jeep JL is larger in all measurement than a JK. The Dynatrac ProRock XD60 front and ProRock 80 rear axles for a JL measure 72 1/2 inches from wheel flange to wheel flange. The 1550LT wheel ends let the front axle steer extremely tight even though the vehicle is wider and has a longer wheelbase. The front axle is outfitted with an Eaton ELocker and 5.38 gears. The XD60 axle uses a 10.1-inch ring gear, and the massive 3 3/4-inch-diameter axletubes help the axle assembly be the strongest and lightest in its class.
A prototype Evo Manufacturing winch mount and Pro Series steel front bumper were fitted to the JL. The Warn Zeon 10S Platinum winch tucks tightly against the grille. In order to slide the Evo bumper all the way into place, the lower frame extensions were cut off. Anyone building a JL for off-roading will want to cut these off for improved approach angle.
This shows the mockup of the winch and bumper. This winch uses wireless control, including clutch engagement and disengagement. We have also marked the rough location for the Baja Design LP9 off-road LED lights.
Mike Kim at Fox Shocks came to measure the Jeep for shock fitment, and Jason Schieck from HANS PowerNet flew in to fit CODE1 with a PowerPack300 and a Solar Briefcase for off-grid overlanding trips. They ended up helping with quite a bit more, including mounting the Maxxis tires on the 17x9 matte black beadlock Method Race Wheels.
A custom-made Bestop soft top completes the stretched two-door look. Solid side panels were chosen for an overlanding look and to conceal the gear that will eventually fill the rear, including the HANS PowerNet equipment and Goose-Gear slide-in storage system. For a completely custom look, the entire Jeep was wrapped in Matte Military Green.
Photo: Henry Velasquez
There’s nothing quite like building something no one else has for a vehicle that’s so new that replacement parts are barely hitting the dealership shelves. The maiden voyage for CODE1 was to Johnson Valley. The factory electric power steering pump didn’t complain about the tires at all, partially because of the steering geometry that the Dynatrac ProRock 1550LT wheel ends provide.
The rear three-quarter view is where you can really appreciate the execution of the long-wheelbase two-door, which is accented by the custom Bestop soft top. The sides of the top zip out and can also be rolled up and tied in place to give access to the rear cargo area.
The front and rear suspension is an Evo Manufacturing 4-inch Extreme Overlanding kit. It includes adjustable upper and lower control arms and new coil springs. The kit is available with a variety of shock options, and CODE1 is outfitted with Fox 2.0 adjustable shocks with remote reservoirs. The J.E. Reel driveshafts transfer power from the stock transfer case to the axles.
CODE1 uses Mopar High Top fender flares to retain a factory look but increase the wheel opening by nearly 2 inches all the way around. The functional rock sliders are also from Mopar.
The Dynatrac ProRock 80 rear axle is massive with 4-inch axletubes and an 11 1/4-inch ring gear, and yet still has best-in-class ground clearance. Evo Manufacturing made a custom rear bumper with “CODE1,” “Evo,” and “Dynatrac” cut into the steel centerplate.
The Baja Design LP9 LED off-road lights are impressive to say the least. They feature a low- and high-beam settings, and they have corner lights for extremely broad coverage. The Evo Manufacturing front bumper keeps the Warn Zeon 10S winch tucked low in front of the grille.

Tech Specs

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport
Engine: 3.6L Pentastar V-6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Rock-Trac with 2.72:1 ratio
Front Axle: Dynatrac ProRock XD60 10.1-inch diff, 5.38 gears, and Eaton ELocker
Rear Axle: Dynatrac ProRock 80 11 1/4-inch diff, 5.38 gears, and ARB Air Locker
Springs & Such: Evo Mfg. 4-inch Extreme Overlanding system with Fox 2.0 adjustable remote-reservoir shocks
Tires & Wheels: 42x14.5-17LT Maxxis Trepador on 17x9 Method Race Wheels beadlock
Steering: Factory
Other Stuff: Baja Design LP9 LED off-road driving lights, Evo Mfg. front and rear bumpers, Warn Zeon 10s winch, HANS PowerNet off-grid PowerPack and Solar Suitcase, Goose-Gear sliding cargo storage system, custom Bestop soft top, and Mopar fender flares and rock sliders

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