Building a rock solid hardcore JK Wrangler with perfect street manners - The Anvil Part 3
Wrapping up our solid-as-steel JK project
It all started with a phone call from a buddy: “Hey, I just bought a 2014 Wrangler Rubicon and wanna totally build it up. What parts should I use?” Now, you never want to recommend stuff to your buddies that are sure to cause problems, require a ton of maintenance, or fail in the field. We decided right there we’d spec out only the very best components in the industry for this one. And when he showed up in our driveway and we saw the color was Anvil Grey, well, the project name was a slam dunk. So to recap the Anvil project, we took a completely stock 2014 JK Unlimited Wrangler Rubicon to our friends at Jeeps R Us in Laguna Niguel to have only the most durable, solid, and proven parts installed on it, beginning with a Rock Krawler 2.5 X-Factor Stage 1 mid-arm suspension kit and 35-inch Toyo Open Country MTs on AEV Pintler wheels. Then, we dragged it through the proverbial AEV garden, outfitting it with AEV’s properly engineered front and rear bumpers, Fuel Caddy, Rear Vision System, ProCal programmer, and mount for a Hi-Lift jack. The Jeep now drove down the road like stock, with no creaks, groans, shimmys, wandering, or other ill-handling issues, but it had the flex, strength, clearance, and bite to go pretty much anywhere we wanted to take it. Now comes the fun stuff.
It’s one thing to tart up a mall crawler with widgets and gizmos aplenty, but it’s quite another to carefully select top-quality components that are worth their weight in gold in the off-road environment. For starters, we were really excited to get our hands on one of the new sPod SE eight-circuit Mosfet systems. As if ditching analog relays to squeeze two more circuits, the new sPod SE has the option of being controlled by a color touchscreen LCD display and can even sync to your smart phone via Bluetooth, allowing you to remotely operate your accessories. When it came to selecting a winch, we naturally went with Warn’s stellar 9.5cti-s thermometric winch. The 9.5cti-s packs all the regular punch of Warn’s regular 9.5cti (9,500-pound pulling capability, extreme sealing, thermometric temperature indicators, and more) but adds 100 feet of 3/8-inch synthetic rope and (in our opinion) the nicest aluminum hawse fairlead on the market. To help ensure we don’t fall off the trail at night and have to use that Warn winch to drag us out, we selected a pair of Rigid Industries high-performance LED lights: a 10-inch E2 Driving beam for the front bumper and a 50-inch SR-Series Combo lightbar for above the windshield. Read more on these below, but in a nutshell, the results are blinding. Finally, since a Warn Powerplant winch doesn’t easily fit in the AEV front bumper, we selected one of our favorite methods of airing up and down with a 15-pound Power Tank Package C system. The PN PT15-5360-CB includes everything you need to keep a huge supply of air, and the larger-than-usual 15-pound bottle supplies the extra volume needed by most JK guys running 37 or 40-inch tires.
After the wrench spinning stopped and the dust started flying, we have to say we’re very happy with the choices we’ve made for this particular build. It’s got the hardware to handle any situation the recreational off-roader can throw at it with nary a worry of failure, yet is as pleasant and predictable to drive as it was in stock form.
We pulled the AEV front bumper apart and unboxed our spankin’ new Warn 9.5cti-s winch and readied it for install.
The 9.5cti-s fit the AEV winch mount and bumper system with no need for drilling, cutting, or grinding. Not every winch will work with the AEV bumper system, so check before you buy.
A word of caution: It’s best to attach the synthetic cable to the Warn drum before you install the bumper back around the winch. We learned the hard way there’s barely any space to get your hand inside the front cutout. After a little finagling and a lot of swear words we finally got the retaining button screw threaded in. Note the ample room to access the winch engagement lever and remote plug.
We got one of the first sPod SE eight-circuit Mosfet systems made. Since the company didn’t know if we’d like the touchscreen controller, it sent a standard control panel with red rockers so we could evaluate both. However, after using the touchscreen, we never even unwrapped the rockers. It’s really easy to use, easy to see, and easy to love.
By ditching the old-school analog with all-Mosfet circuitry, the company was able to cram eight circuits into a Source unit that’s actually 1/2-inch smaller than the old six-circuit design. Plus, there are features like heat-sensing auto-shutoff relays, ability to handle an 80-amp load, a low-voltage cutoff, and more. It’s amazing stuff.
There’s nothing low-quality about the touchscreen control, from the windshield suction cup and clamp mounting system to the screen resolution and operation.
Although you’d think it’d be somewhat difficult to operate the touchscreen controls while bumping down the road, the JK’s unique windshield-to-steering wheel position allows you to almost reach out with a finger and engage the touchscreen while keeping your hands on the wheel. Double-tap the screen and the unit turns on. Then just tap the channel to turn that circuit on or off. We didn’t mess with the smart phone control yet.
Although the sPod can handle a max of 30 amps through each circuit the Rigid 10-inch E2 30-LED unit we selected for the bumper only pulls a meager 5.43 amps, yet it throws a huge 9,000 lumens of light. The Driving beam is super-useful in most circumstances, hitting the sweet spot between dispersed flood pattern and razor-sharp long-range pencil beam.
Generous allow cooling fins ensure trouble-free operation in any condition. These are not cheaply made units you see advertised for pennies on the dollar. This is real quality stuff. The wiring harness is included, but we didn’t need it with the sPod. More on the wiring when we cover the windshield bar.
Rigid supplied brackets to mount its SR 50 low-profile 50-inch LED lightbar above the windshield. Opening the box, we discovered the brackets appeared to be Poison Spyder units, although they weren’t marked as such. They included a nice rubber grommet to prevent the paint from getting dinged if you ever take ‘em off.
We had to hit the forward cowl bolt holes under the windshield with a die grinder to open them up a bit, but otherwise the brackets and LED lightbar dropped right in place. One bummer is the weatherproof connector for the wiring prevented the harness from being run inside the bracket. We conjured this zip-tie solution to hold the wiring firmly in place. We cut the zip ties to length, loosened the bracket, and sandwiched the zip ties between the bracket and rubber grommet to hold the wiring firmly in place.
We originally tried the lightbar with the cooling fins facing down (wiring on the passenger side) but flipped it after we discovered it whistled horribly going down the road. With the cooling fins pointing upward, the light bar is as quiet as a church mouse at freeway speeds.
We absolutely love the chunky Warn aluminum fairlead. Note the abrasion sleeve over the synthetic line. Always put it on any obstacles the winch line may encounter to prevent chafing that could lead to catastrophic line damage. The AEV bumper had slick little brackets that worked with the Rigid E2’s mounting brackets perfectly.
Editor Hazel busted out his older 10-pound Power Tank to show the size difference between it and the 15-pound bottle. The PT15-5360-CB “Package C” system includes the candy blue bottle (hence, the CB), regulator, Super Bracket, regulator bag, tank boot, Super Coupler, roll bar clamps, tire repair kit, and hose. You can just squeeze the 15-pound bottle on the upper rear leg of the rollbar under the hard top if you angle it inwards towards the cargo compartment just a little. For us, we’re going to devise an external mount next to the spare tire.
Power Tank is always revamping and improving its line of hardware. We’re always impressed at each revision. In this case, the hose chuck features a slick on/off coupler you can use to cut the air supply with the flick of a collar.
Another improvement we noticed compared with our older 10-pound tank is the regulator knobs are beefier, knurled aluminum. Not that the old ones are slouches, but it’s just one more thing that shows how Power Tanks are always striving to stay at the front of the curve.
It’s common knowledge at this point, but we still geek out over all the little features you find hidden in AEV’s products like the integrated water tanks in the rear bumper that hold 5 gallons of non-potable water.
Another bonus is AEV’s optional 10-gallon Fuel Caddy that neatly sits behind the spare tire. Admittedly, the caddy and spare orientation do eat up almost all your rearward visibility.
To regain our rearward view, we used AEV’s Rear Vision System, which mounts a wide-angle camera and LED third brake light through the spare tire. Two birds, one cool gadget. The backup camera system includes a special programmer to kick the factory navigation screen on when the vehicle is put in Reverse. For Jeeps without the factory touchscreen LCD head unit, AEV offers a new rearview mirror with integrated display screen.
Even in the daytime, the Rigid lighting is absolutely blinding. To complement the bumper-mounted E2 Driving pattern, the SR 50 is a combo pattern featuring both spot and flood patterns. The center lamps are spot and the outers flood. The result at night with all the lighting on is an absolute swath of white illumination. Despite putting out 18,750 lumens, the SR 50 draws only 14.5 amps.