Evolution and the path to the JL Project

Evolution to JL

In 2011, I bought my latest Jeep, a Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, as a new 2012 model. I had been wanting a 4 door Wrangler since before they made them. There were rumors of the 4 Door in 2005 and 2006, when I had my 2003 Wrangler, but at that point just rumors. I needed a Jeep with more room and when there was no four door Wrangler in 2006, I traded my TJ on a…gulp…Commander. It was a decision that turned to regret as soon as it became real. The Commander gave me the space I needed, but I never once kidded myself into thinking I had a Jeep. So the next year when the four door finally emerged, it was like a kick in the gut. I persevered though and in 2011, the Commander was paid off and I was ready to get back into a real Jeep. Why didn’t I just buy a 2011 Wrangler four door? Simple, I drove one and the horrible 3.8L minivan engine just killed it for me. The bigger question though is why Jeep?

My 1985 CJ-7

Well, I’ve always had Jeeps. It’s in my DNA. I wanted a Jeep for as long as I can remember wanting to drive. I was old enough to get my first car (of my own) in 1986, I bought a 1985 CJ-7 for $7500. It was the coolest thing I’d ever driven, even though it seemed to be a truck from a bygone era. A very short, time after I got my beloved CJ, Mother Nature felt the need to smite my beautiful CJ with baseball and softball sized hail. The sheet metal was pounded as if by sledgehammers, the top was perforated and it even broke the dash and horn center cap.  It was my first truck that was actually mine and I’d only had it a short time when it was just clobbered by the hail. Being in a small town, there were limited options for repair so the dealer body shop got the job of restoring my Jeep to it’s previous state. They did a horrible job and were completely unable to match the paint and refused to repaint the whole vehicle. In the end, they made me an offer that appealed to my attraction to shiny objects, and the color black. They offered to give me the full price I paid for the CJ towards the brand new 1987 Wrangler that they had just received with giant wheels and tires. It seemed to be newer, cooler and more modern – and compared to the CJ it was. I walked away with the coolest looking Jeep I’d ever seen. Bear in mind that I knew NOTHING about Jeeps other than I really liked them. My new YJ Wrangler had 33″ tires on really wide wheels that caused the tires to stick way outside the fenders. I just knew it was awesome looking. I soon realized that the tires were too large and it needed a lift because the first time I took it offroad the tires kept jamming so far into the fenders that I’d get stuck until everyone got out of the Jeep. I had fun though and it began a life long journey into the Jeep life and probably more so, the life of off-roading.  Over the years, it has included a large number of different off-road vehicles including:

1985 CJ-7
1987 Wrangler
1988 Comanche 4×4
1968 Wagonneer
1979 CJ-5
1989 Wrangler
1969 Ford Bronco
1979 K-5 Blazer
1997 Dodge Ram 4×4
2000 Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4
2003 Wrangler Rubicon
2006 Commander
2012 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2014 Grand Cherokee Limited ecodiesel

Before the mods began..
After

I see each of the above as evolutionary stages to where I am now.

I saw my 2012 JKU as the Jeep I always wanted, The One Jeep that did everything that I wanted a Jeep to do the way I wanted to do it. Like most owners, I slowly began to modify it to do the things I wanted it to do. While it still had dealer tags, I took it on a trip with friends to Clayton Oklahoma, an area known for big rocks and technical trails. The Jeep did fine but continually tested it’s skid plates so I decided I needed to get it up off the ground with a lift and bigger tires. My friend Jason at JeepinOutfitters.com hooked me up and soon the Jeep was standing tall(er) and that began the process of transformation. I won’t bore you with the details, but as anyone in the Jeep Life knows, it becomes a never ending process of making your Jeep…well, YOURS. If you own other types of vehicles, you can put different tires and wheels on it, you can Add some stickers, but really, it’s not easy to make it different than everyone elses. Jeeps are different though, they just scream to be made different because there are so many ways you can make it yours. Some changes you make to improve things that you don’t like, some just to look the way you want. After 6 years, I’ve got my Jeep about the way I like it but I’ve got almost 100,000 miles on my Jeep and its my daily driver and there is nothing wrong with it – everything functions perfectly well.  But, it’s missing some cool features other newer trucks have and I’ma techie that likes new tech.  On the other hand, I don’t want to get rid of my Jeep because I have put a lot of work into getting it where I want it and I don’t want to start over.  The idea of driving a Jeep with 100k miles to Moab, wheeling it hard and then driving it back seems like asking for trouble. It’s kind of like relying on an aging quarterback to get your through the play offs healthy. It could happen, but you are playing with fate. The ideal solution would be to get a tow rig (pickup) and a trailer and trailer my Jeep for trips. But pickups are expensive (more expensive than Jeeps!) and then I’d still need a trailer so that’s another $3 grand.  There is a part of me that would love to have something like a Ford Raptor that I could do the occasional off-roading in, but that would be comfortable and easy on my daily drive. It would require trading my Jeep in and it would mean either abandoning the Jeep Life or buying an older rig to wheel and tow. That has been a very appealing idea to me of late. But now there is a new option. It’s called the JL.

Jeep has released the successor to the Wrangler JK, and it’s called the JL. The early peeks at it look like they have created the hardcore offroaders dream. You see, it comes from the factory solving a lot of the off road Jeeper’s issues with the Wrangler. To make the Jeep do the things we want it to do, it needs at least 35″ tires, if for no other reason than the fact that the Jeep just looks ten times better with them. The problem though is that when you add big tires, you create a number of issues. To fit the larger tires, you have to lift the Jeep to clear them. This can create questions about warranty coverage as well as introduce problems like flaky steering or even exhaust clearance. So you have to modify the exhaust and/or the steering for better handling. The bigger tires also make the brakes much less effective so the Jeep doesn’t stop near as well, you have add aftermarket brakes to stop normally. The JK’s front axle is also known to not be as strong as it needs to be for 35″ and larger tires. To minimize the risk of bending the axle, you need sleeve and most also replace the ball joints with heavier duty ones. Oh yeah, you need new drive shafts because you lifted the Jeep. Where do you put your big spare tire? Oh yeah, you need to buy a new rear bumper with a tire carrier. The headlights suck so you have to get LED’s to replace those or add auxillary lights. You want to add lights and other accessories that require switches? You need to buy an SPOD so you don’t have to cut holes for switches and find a place to wire them. OUCH! As you can see the cost quickly adds up and you end up modifying the Jeep in ways that take you into the realm of questionable warranty coverage. You end up spending a lot of money. Well, the JL just made life a lot easier for the new Jeep owner. Here is a short summary of how it will save the new Jeeper a lot of money and I’m talking about the Rubicon model, because what else would you buy?

  • No lift needed for 35’s – The Rubicon has fenders designed for 35″ tires. No need to modify the exhaust either since you aren’t lifting it
  • The axles are designed to handle up to a 37″ tire – no need to beef it up, unless you want to…
  • The brakes are designed for larger tires – no need to install bigger brakes.
  • No need for longer drive shafts because you aren’t lifting – unless you just want to…
  • The tailgate has been designed with a larger spare in mind, the brake light even adjusts for larger tires – no need to go aftermarket – unless you want to!
  • The headlights are LED’s – No need to spend money on aftermarket LED lights
  • There is a built in “spod/auxillary power center” – no need to add aftermarket
  • Improved steering that will handle larger tires better

The list is long, but they seemed to have touched on everything. The windshield now easily folds down. You are probably asking, who folds their windshield down? The answer is nobody because on the JK it takes AN HOUR AND A HALF! Now it can be done in less than 5 minutes. The doors are 15-18lbs lighter each! Ever taken your Jeeps doors off? It’s going to be much easier now! They have even molded handles into them for easy transport The soft top can easily be put up with one person, with one hand even . If you’ve tried to put a JKU’s soft top up by yourself you know how huge this is. The Jeep is slightly larger so there is 2″ more legroom in the backseat of the 4 door and they have reclined the seats and added AC vents to the rear. Now your rear seat passengers will feel like they are more than “cargo”. Do you fold your rear seat down for your dog(s) to enjoy?  In the JK the seats don’t fold down very flat and there is a giant hole between the cargo area and where the rear seat folds. My dogs fall in the hole continually.  Now it’s flat and the space is covered. There are tons of others features including some really high tech stuff on the center display…oh yeah, there is an 8″ display that has Android Auto (and apple car play) as well as tons of useful info about the engine and systems complete with specially designed screens for venturing offroad!

 

So I’ve decided that I will be passing my JKU on and getting a new Wrangler JL Rubicon 4 door to replace it. I plan on doing a full review after I get it and then documenting the build up of the Jeep as I “make it mine” both here and on Youtube. Stay tuned for more.