Wran­gling a Chevy LS and40s

Our cover Jeep shows how it’s done

Jp Magazine - - Ta­ble Of Con­tents - By Bruce W. Smith jped­i­tor@jp­magazine.com Pho­tog­ra­phy: Bruce W. Smith

Eight years ago, Car­los Velez’ 2009 Jeep Un­lim­ited Ru­bi­con prob­a­bly would have been one of the last rigs in a group wheel­ing along some of the more chal­leng­ing Jeep trails in the Pa­cific North­west. At that time, the 20-some­thing-year-old off-roader’s Sun­burst Orange JKU was new and bone stock, and although he had owned Jeeps and been off-road­ing since he was a teenager in North Carolina, he took it slow and easy—at first.

His pas­sion for off-road­ing, and the ad­ven­tur­ous sea­sonal 4x4 chal­lenges the West Coast pro­vided, even­tu­ally led him to su­per­charg­ing the V-6 and slip­ping a 6-inch lift and 37s un­der­neath, along with built 44 axles and other good­ies. Then he met Scott Daniels, the owner of Evo­lu­tion Auto in Keizer, Ore­gon, and a fel­low mem­ber of the Salem Jeep­ers.

The more time Car­los spent off-road­ing with Scott and fel­low club mem­bers, the more his com­pet­i­tive side heated up, as did the look and func­tion­al­ity of his JKU. When Car­los saw a me­chan­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion that needed chang­ing, he con­ferred with Scott and the ap­pro­pri­ate changes were made.

“We were al­ways push­ing each other to do some of the most dif­fi­cult lines we could find, al­most like a com­pe­ti­tion,” Car­los told us. “This, cou­pled with him be­ing such a fan­tas­tic me­chanic and help­ing me out when I cat­a­stroph­i­cally broke my Jeep nu­mer­ous times, has made us great friends. I like to do my own me­chanic work, but when things re­quired weld­ing or very heavy lift­ing it was al­ways a no-brainer to have Scott do it since he’s one of the best me­chan­ics I’ve ever seen.”

In do­ing so, Car­los, a project en­gi­neer with the U.S. For­est Ser­vice in Ore­gon, is now more of­ten than not the leader of the pack—and it takes a spe­cial 4x4 to fol­low in his Jeep Un­lim­ited Ru­bi­con’s tracks, be­cause both driver and Jeep have evolved over the last cou­ple years into be­ing one of

the most ca­pa­ble Jeeps (and driv­ers) in all ter­rains and all sea­sons.


It takes horse­power to nav­i­gate the big dunes and soft sand of the Ore­gon Dunes Na­tional Recre­ation Area where Car­los en­joys time with his fam­ily and friends. The fac­tory 3.8L V-6 just didn’t cut it, even with the ad­di­tion of a RIPP su­per­charger, so he went V-8. Scott and Car­los used a Motech JK LS swap kit to drop in a GM 6.0L sourced from a 2012 Sil­ver­ado 2500HD, backed with a 6L80 six-speed au­to­matic from a 2013 donor Sierra 1500 4x4. A Black Bear Per­for­mance tune, cus­tom­ized Ca­maro LS3 head­ers, and 2.5-inch res­onators into a Flow­mas­ter Su­per 44 muf­fler bring power to just over 400 ponies. So far, that’s enough power to meet the present needs.

They re­tained the stock GM torque con­verter, slid in a Motech in­put shaft and adapter to mate a swapped-in NV242 trans­fer case to the GM au­to­matic, and swapped in a cen­ter con­sole and shifter from a 2012 JK to han­dle the gear-se­lec­tion du­ties. From there the power flows through Tom Wood’s Cus­tom 1350 drive­shafts to 1-ton axles (2004 Dana 60 up front and a shaved 2007 Chevy 14-bolt in the rear) via an Artec swap kit. Both axles are loaded with 5.13 Nitro gears, Cur­rie 35-spline chro­moly axle­shafts, and ARB Air Lock­ers.

Cur­rie’s JK 8x6.5-inch unit bear­ings, JK Big Brake Booster, and Warn pre­mium hubs tidy up the power side. A big CSF High Per­for­mance dou­ble-row alu­minum ra­di­a­tor han­dles en­gine cool­ing, and a B&M Su­per Cooler helps keep trans­mis­sion fluid temps un­der con­trol.


A good deal of this JK’s all-ter­rain abil­ity is its mas­sive sus­pen­sion travel, al­low­ing the 40-inch Cooper Dis­cov­erer STT Pro tires to seem­ingly glide over boul­ders and through deep ruts with ease. The sus­pen­sion has seen sev­eral it­er­a­tions, as tire sizes went from stock to 37s and now 40s. It now runs a “con­ser­va­tive” 7-inch lift with 7-inch Sky­jacker coils, a cus­tom 1-ton track bar, and Cur­ries En­ter­prises Johnny Joint con­trol arms up front. The same con­trol arms (length­ened 2 inches) are used in the rear with a Ru­bi­con Ex­press 1-ton track bar.

Car­los opted for aFe Sway-A-Way 2.5-inch re­mote-reser­voir shocks at all four cor­ners to han­dle the wide range of de­mands, from high­way driv­ing to run­ning dunes to rock crawl­ing. How­ever, the anti sway bars re­mained stock, but are fit­ted

“The rea­son I did 99 per­cent of the things I have done to my Jeep is due to sus­tain­ing dam­age or part fail­ures when off-road­ing.”

with cus­tom quick-dis­con­nects to re­tain good street habits (it’s Car­los’ daily driver) while al­low­ing max­i­mum sus­pen­sion travel when the pave­ment turns to trail.

The steer­ing has been up­graded with a PSC Hy­dro As­sist to han­dle the big­ger, heav­ier treads and beefier brakes and hubs. It also sports a Ruf­fStuff 1-ton drag link and tie rod along with a Weaver Man­u­fac­tur­ing high-steer arm.

The sus­pen­sion, brakes, and steer­ing setup is just the right com­bi­na­tion to han­dle the Cooper Dis­cov­erer STT Pro 40x13.50R17s wrapped around 17x9-inch Pro Comp Va­por Pro 2 Com­pe­ti­tion bead­locks, which Car­los airs down to about 6 psi on the rocks and sand. The 450cc Vi­air com­pres­sor mounted un­der the hood and 2.5-gal­lon air tank in the rear cargo area han­dle the re­fill­ing du­ties.


This Ru­bi­con Un­lim­ited is far from be­ing a trailer queen, and it’s easy to spot trail scars and “brush” strokes. But they are worn with pride, and each one is a re­minder of some past trail chal­lenge. Smit­ty­bilt XRC ar­mored fend­ers with XRC ar­mored cladding on the rocker guards pro­vide plenty of tire clear­ance, and the Poi­son Spy­der hood lou­ver helps vent en­gine heat.

The winch cable and roller fair­lead on the Mile Marker HMMWV 10,500-pound-ca­pac­ity hy­draulic winch show signs of mul­ti­ple uses, and the

Rock Hard stubby front bumper and Smit­ty­bilt XRC rear bumper have a few gouges on their un­der­sides, as do the tube rock slid­ers.

In nor­mal con­di­tions, Car­los, who lives near Eu­gene, re­lies upon the halo LED head­lights and quad-cubed LEDs mounted on the bumper to light up the roads. But when day­light wheelin’ off-road turns into a night foray, as it of­ten does, the 50-inch LED light­bar above the wind­shield hand­ily lights the way ahead. And should there ever be a need to re­place a tire, the Hi-Lift and air tools are sit­ting at the ready be­hind the spare mounted on the swing-away car­rier.


If you are look­ing for a show-rig in­te­rior, don’t bother open­ing the door of Car­los’ Un­lim­ited Ru­bi­con. You’d be dis­ap­pointed. But if you are look­ing for func­tion­al­ity, it’s

all there—from the worn Rugged Ridge Bal­lis­tic seat cov­ers to the heavy-duty rub­ber floor mats to the Uniden CB to the Au­toMeter pil­lar-mounted gauges and In­fin­ity sound sys­tem.

Of course, in the cargo area there’s ev­ery­thing you’d ex­pect to find in a vet­eran For­est Ser­vice em­ployee and sea­soned off-roader’s rig: first aid pack, ma­chete, axe, shovel, spare tools, parts, flu­ids, and tow­ing and winch­ing ac­ces­sories. What­ever the sit­u­a­tion, con­di­tions, or ter­rain Car­los may find him­self in, his JK is nicely equipped to han­dle it all.

The 400hp GM truck 6.0L doesn’t leave much space in­side the JKU en­gine com­part­ment. Motech’s JK LS V-8 swap kit helped sim­plify the power up­grade.

A 2004 Ford Su­per Duty gave up its Dana 60 to pro­vide Car­los’ JKU with a near-bul­let­proof front axle assem­bly. Artec trusses, ARBAir Locker, and Cur­rie con­trol arms keep the power go­ing where it’s needed. It also runs Cur­rie 35-spline unit bear­ings and 8x6.5-pat­tern slot­ted ro­tors.

The crowded LS 6.0L en­gine com­part­ment is well or­ga­nized with the Vi­air com­pres­sor tucked in be­hind the Motech E38 GM CPU and fuse box. The ARB Air Locker so­le­noids sit just out­side the brake fluid reser­voir.A shaved and Artec-trussed 1-ton GM 14-bolt houses Cur­rie chro­moly axles, Nitro 5.13 gears, and an ARB Air Locker. aFe SwayA-Way re­mote-reser­voir shocks and 7-inch Sky­jacker coils han­dle the ups and downs.

The Garvin JK Track Rack and Smit­ty­bilt XRC rear bumper/tire car­rier al­low Car­los to be fully self-con­tained when the need arises. His JKU weighs more than 6,800 pounds, yet it han­dles soft sand with aplomb. Trac­tion is never in ques­tion with the Cooper Dis­cov­erer STT Pro 40x13.50R17s mounted on Pro Comp Va­por Pro 2 Com­pe­ti­tion bead­locks.

The stock man­ual trans­mis­sion was re­placed with a GM 6L80 six-speed au­to­matic, so Car­los swapped in the shifter and cen­ter con­sole from a 2012 JK. The CB ra­dio comes in handy dur­ing fire duty and run­ning trails with fel­low Salem Jeep­ers. Switches con­trol the LED lights and lock­ers.

Spare parts, Hi-Lift, tow­ing and winch­ing ac­ces­sories, flu­ids, tools, along with a first aid pack, food, and wa­ter are the nor­mal oc­cu­pants of the rear cargo area. Camp­ing gear and other goods get loaded on the Garvin JK Track Rack roof rack.

Car­los plumbed in a Mile Marker HMMWV H10500 hy­draulic winch so he didn’t have to worry about drain­ing bat­ter­ies un­der chal­leng­ing winch­ing op­er­a­tions. The Rock Hard stubby bumper serves well as both mount and pro­tec­tion.

Rugged Ridge Bal­lis­tic Ny­lon seat cov­ers have seen plenty of use over the years, keep­ing the stock seats pro­tected from snow, mud, rain, sand, and even ash from rag­ing for­est fires.

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