Custom 4x4: Jeep JK Wrangler Rubicon

Custom 4x4: Jeep JK Wrangler Rubicon

This wild JK Wrangler might be called Unlimited, but with just 30 examples landing in Australia back in 2013 it’s anything but.

Y’see, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Rubicon nameplate, Jeep decided a special edition model should be launched in very limited numbers, and Australia’s allocation of the imaginatively named Rubicon 10th Anniversary Model was just 12 examples of the two-door Wrangler and 18 of the four-door Unlimited.

Jason Storace was already a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon owner when he first heard about the launch of this anniversary edition, and he knew straight away it was the vehicle for him, which would mean waving goodbye to his 2010 Wrangler Rubicon shorty… so long as he got his order in early enough for his local dealer to secure him one of the very limited Unlimiteds.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon rear“My dealer and I basically had to fight to get allocated one,” Jason says. “There were only 18 coming into the country, and I got the only one in this colour, with a manual gearbox, for Victoria.”

The Rubicon-spec Wrangler is a pretty serious bit of off-road kit, even straight from the factory floor. Super-low 4:1 gearing in the transfer case combines with 4.1:1 diff ratios to provide a handy 73:1 crawl ratio in low-first gear. Team this with a live-axle suspension set-up with long-travel coil springs, electronic front sway-bar disconnect and heavy-duty Dana 44 locking differentials and you have something that’s pretty much unstoppable.

The 10th Anniversary Model also has an additional inch-and-a-half of ground clearance, MOPAR rock sliders and extra underbody skid-plate protection. But like many Jeep aficionados, once they get the bug, Jason soon discovered that too much off-road capability is never enough.

JK wrangler driving downhill“Having owned the shorty, I already knew how good the Rubicon was, so I made the decision to upgrade to the four-door Unlimited to make use of all the money I was going to spend on it,” laughs Jason. A mechanic by trade, Jason could at least save a bit of money on labour. But parts don’t come cheap and Jason didn’t want to make any mistakes with this build, so he called on the advice of some Jeep experts to make sure he made all the right decisions.

“I definitely want to say a special thank you to Andrew Bottomley and all the guys at Double Black Off Road, as well as all the guys at JeepKonection, because they were all terrific in helping me with set-up,” says Jason, who had a pretty clear picture in his mind’s eye of exactly how he wanted his Anvil grey Wrangler to look.

“Everyone comments that I’ve maintained what looks to be a military edition as it would’ve left the dealership, and that’s what I was after,” Jason says. “And the idea is I can still rip off the roof and cruise down the beach and have that nice look that you expect from a convertible. So a lot goes into the thinking, all the way down to the finer details. I mean the wheel nuts are black instead of the standard chrome ones. I pay a lot of attention to detail in anything I do to make sure I get the look that I want.”

AEV suspension upgradeLike many Jeep owners, Jason turned to US-based AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) for many of the goodies you see on his rig, starting with the suspension. “It has an AEV 2.5-inch lift on it, with the high-steer geometry kit to improve the steering,” Jason explains.

As well as springs and matched Bilstein shocks, the AEV DualSport 2.5-Inch XT Suspension System includes a custom rear track-arm, front stabiliser end-link relocation brackets, bump-stop extensions and brake line relocation brackets. As Jason’s Jeep has a fair bit of gear on it, he soon found the rear-end wanting, so he beefed it up with heavier-rated King Springs. “That’s been a lot better with the extra weight that I’ve put on it,” he says.

That extra weight is a result of fitting items such as the neat-looking steel bar up front, winch, rear bar, roof rack, rooftop tent and all the other goodies you need for a long trip away in the bush. “I really wanted it to look like, and be set up for, expeditions, so I can be on the road for two or three weeks and be 100 per cent self-sufficient,” Jason says.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon front barThe steel bar up front is from an American company called Rock-Slide Engineering. It houses a pair of seven-inch LED driving lights and is home to a Warn Zeon 10-S winch running Dynamica rope. Extra light output comes courtesy of four LED light bars mounted to a Smittybilt light rack above the windscreen. In addition to the Rubicon’s standard underbody protection package, Jason has added a Rock-Slider Engineering bash plate beneath the bar and an AEV rear diff slider. It has an AEV rear bar, too.

“It has an AEV rear bar and that has water storage with an electric tap set-up on the bumper bar for easy access,” Jason explains. “Then I have the AEV spare wheel carrier, and built into that is an AEV moulded fuel tank that literally sits on the inside of the spare wheel, in between the wheel and the tailgate, and gives about 38 litres of fuel storage. You just siphon it out of there with a jiggler and fill up the tank and you can do another 250-300 kays.”

Pop up roofJason reckons the Wrangler averages around 15.0L/100km on the highway with its 35-inch Pro Comp muddies on 17-inch AEV alloy wheels, which he says is about on par with many of the diesel vehicles he regularly goes touring with.

As for those black AEV wheels, Jason says they have a factory offset, so they sit neatly within the standard wheel-arches, helping him to maintain that factory-standard look he wants.

Up top, Jason has fitted a James Baroud Explorer Evolution rooftop tent, which is mounted to a three-quarter length rack. “The roof rack is from Double Black Off Road; the rack is from MBRP in the States, and it allows me to put the James Baroud Explorer camper on top,” Jason says.

Pop up rooftop“You just release some clips and the tent pops up. And your bed is in there with your pillows and your sleeping bag, and you’re in bed in about eight seconds… very lazy mate; it’s about how quick you can get to your beer,” he laughs. “It only takes about a minute to pack away. You just walk around the car and pull against the struts and put the clamps in, and then you’re off and running.”

As well as the tent, the MBRP roof rack is home to an Eezi-Awn Manta 270 swing-out awning that offers shade from the side around to the back of the Wrangler. Pop open the tailgate and you’re presented with a well-thought-out and functional storage space; although, there’s no drawer system in sight. “I’ve got a fold-down TeraFlex picnic table on the tailgate, an 80-litre Waeco in the back on a custom-made slide, and an Adventure Trailers upper storage shelf, Camp is set up in less than five minutes and I’m good to go,” Jason says.

“I’ve kept the fridge down the bottom and the shelf up top because I can rip off the roof rack and sleeper and then take the hardtop off. I can head down the beach with the dog and have the red leather out in the breeze. I didn’t want to go the whole drawer system; I’ve got Pelican boxes that I use.

Storage and fridge“The back seat is still in there; the whole idea is to have as much storage space in the back as possible. I’ve got a hot water camp shower I keep in the back, all my cargo gear and everything. The only time I’ve got to put the seats down is if I’m taking the dog with me,” Jason says.

There’s not a hell of a lot of space under the bonnet of a Wrangler, so rather than fit a traditional dual-battery set-up, Jason opted for a more portable solution. “It has a second battery in the back, a Thumper 105Ah battery, and that’s a mobile power unit,” he explains. “It comes with a charging kit, so it’s literally plugged into your main battery system.

Jeep wrangler unlimited engineI’ve got it hardwired through the isolator switch and then all I’ve got to do is disconnect an Anderson plug and I can pull it out of the car if I want to. It’s in its own case and, if you want, you can rip it out and put it in your boat. The Waeco will run off it for five days with no problems, and if I’m not driving I just whack out the solar panel.”

Compared with the engineering, accommodation and storage modifications, Jason hasn’t done a hell of a lot to the interior of the Wrangler, other than fitting a Uniden UHF and a mount for his phone.

“It comes standard with an Alpine premium seven-speaker sound system. It’s probably one of the better sound systems I’ve heard,” Jason says. “I use the standard Jeep navigation system and my phone with Hema Maps loaded; I like to keep a very factory look inside.

JK wrangler red interior“I’ve got a few bits and pieces to go on the inside, like cargo bags. I’m looking for that military SWAT look for some of the luggage stuff, but nothing fancy. Generally the interior is quite stock standard, it has heated seats – all that comfort stuff,” Jason says.

Jason reckons he’s “pretty happy” with where his Rubicon 10th Anniversary Model is at right now and that, other than a custom-made shade system for the roof-top tent, there aren’t any serious mods on the cards… but he does admit to grander ambitions. “The dream mod would probably be the 6.4-litre Hellcat V8 conversion,” he laughs. “One day… or Jeep might bring out a V8.

“Right now? I just want to keep on enjoying it,” Jason says. “We head out with the dirtbikes a fair bit, I probably go camping about once a month. We do a lot of day trips, a lot of weekend trips. We’re about to do the Victorian High Country for nine days, starting from Haunted Stream near Omeo, then doing Davies High Plain and Tom Groggin. I’m just dying to dip into that. I’m really looking forward to getting across to that side, because we’ve done heaps around Dargo and all through there, and Wonnangatta.

Wrangler top view“We’ve got a two-week trip planned for September through Oodnadatta, Alice Springs, Birdsville and all through there. A friend of mine did it last year so he’s dragging a whole bunch of us out.”

These days working as a mortgage broker, Jason says he can be quite flexible with his time, which allows him to get out onto the scrub quite a bit.

“We do a lot from the office but also a lot of mobile work,” he says, “so I can go away and be four-wheel driving and do two or three hours’ work, and then call it quits for the day and keep going.”

But for some blokes with the off-road bug, getting away from it all, even regularly, simply isn’t enough.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon driving dirt roads“I’m based in [Melbourne’s] western suburbs, Caroline Springs, and I’m looking at land near the Wombat Forest. I’m trying to put the forest in my backyard,” Jason laughs.

Once he’s done that, we reckon you’d need a crowbar to pry him out of his beloved limited Unlimited.

2013MY Rubicon 10th Anniversary features

• 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 (209kW/347Nm)
• 6-speed manual (optional 5-speed auto)
• Dana 44 axles with 4.10 axle ratio
• Tru-Lok electronic locking differentials
• Rok-Trac transfer case (4:1 low-range)
• Electronic front sway-bar disconnect
• Lifted suspension
• 17-inch Rubicon black alloy wheels
• Power Dome bonnet
• MOPAR rock rails, black fuel filler and tail lamp guards
• 10 Anniversary badges on front guards
• Red silhouette ‘Rubicon’ decals on
the bonnet
• 3-piece body-colour Freedom hardtop
• Soft-top also included
• White or Anvil paint schemes only
• Red leather seats with Rubicon 10th Anniversary embroidery
• Unique gauge cluster and switches
• Body-coloured guard flares
• Tinted rear windows
• 6.4-inch touchscreen GPS navigation
• Reversing camera

 

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