The Trail Reaper build
As you know by now, this build has been a two-year process to figure out how I wanted the Jeep to preform and what I needed to do to make that dream a reality. I had three performance parameters I used to guild my build. Living just outside of Johnson Valley, the home of the Hammers, this area is where my inspiration was born. First I wanted a build capable of tackling all the headline trials in the Hammers. Trails like Chocolate Thunder, Wrecking Ball, Jackhammer, SOS, and so on. Second I wanted my Jeep to be more then just a rock crawler. I wanted to blast through the whoops in the desert getting from trail to trail with speed. Last, but most definitely not least, I wanted to build something capable enough to take on the infamous Backdoor obstacle. Having that in mind I started collecting parts and MADE IN AMERICA is the name of the game!
The first thing I found was a Dana 60 High Pinion front axle that Jesse Haines was selling. I had him put in a Yukon Zip Locker, re-gear it to 5.38, Chromoly axle shafts, upgrade to Super60 35 spline outers, and had him add his High Steer kit to the knuckles. I got to meet Jesse and pick the axle up from him at the 2015 King of the Hammers (great guy if you get the chance to meet him). I then added an Artec hydraulic ram mount/skid plate to the front, Synergy drive flanges, and changed the wheel studs so all the studs and lug nuts matched. Next I was after a Corporate 14 Bolt rear axle which I ultimately ended up finding in a junkyard in Oceanside. This axle took quite a bit of work to get it the way I wanted. I tore the axle down to a bare housing and shaved 2” off the bottom of the diff housing and got a 15 bolt conversion shave kit from Ballistic Fab. I had Mike from B.A.S. Off-road install an ARB Locker, regeared to 5.38, and weld the new shave plate to the cast housing. Then I welded together a full length axle truss from Artec, removed the drum brakes and installed a disk brake conversion, then put in all new lugs and lug nuts so both axles matched and the axles were complete.
While working on the axles I also continued collecting parts I would need for the build but was not ready to install until I was ready to tear the Jeep apart. Keeping the Jeep drivable for as long as possible was important. So I started with the steering. I was sick of battling bent tie rods, broken pitman arms, and weak steering power. Not to mention how difficult it is to stretch the front axle forward and retain all the proper geometry. So I was done with mechanical linkage and decided to go with full hydraulic steering. I chose PSC’s Full Hydraulic steering kit. It includes a new high output steering pump, orbital valve, double ended ram, heim joints, steel tube, and all the hoses and fittings I needed. Then I picked up a set of Savvy aluminum blank full length corner guards to cut new wheel wells for the stretch, larger tires, and improved body protection. For the stretch to work, I also needed to reconfigure the gas tank to make room for the axel. The gas tank sits right behind the rear axle on TJs and LJs like mine, so I got GenRight’s 23gal aluminum Comp Tank. It has a special concave shape to allow for up to a 7” stretch with a Dana 44 while still giving me an extra 4gal of gas. For shocks I decided to go with King shocks. They have dominated the off-road world for many years and best of all, they are 100% American made right here in Southern California! I was pretty confident from the start that 16” travel shocks were what I wanted. That would give me 7- 8 inches of up travel to handle whoops at speed and 8 – 9 inches of droop to soak up jumps and keep the tires on the ground in the rocks. I went with Kings 2.5” coilovers with remote reservoirs and the “on the fly” adjustable compression valve option. The adjustable compression valve gives me the ability to fine tune my shocks without having to re-valve them. So when I get my shocks tuned I’ll have the the Jeep in it’s lightest configuration and tune the shocks with the valves set at the lowest compression setting. That way, as I load up the Jeep with tools and friends, I can increase the compression to compensate for the added weight. The Jeep will run perfectly whether it’s empty or fully loaded! Having this capability “on the fly” with out having to re-valve will be amazing!
Due to some interest from Stone Coast marketing, and picking up a couple of sponsors, The Trail Reaper was born. The creation of the Reaper changed the build in a couple ways, the biggest being the tires. I’m proud to say we got the support of Pit Bull tires, an amazing American made tire company based on the East Coast. With their support we had the privilege of running any tire we wanted. With the increased exposure The Trail Reaper was going to receive, I wanted to take the build to the next level. I made the decision to run the 42”, that’s right, 42” Pit Bull Rocker tires. Believe me, they are true to size! Running tires this big certainly creates a lot of clearance challenges but when you add 16” travel shocks into the mix, retaining 7”- 8” of up travel for desert speed performance, and all the while keeping the Reaper as low as possible to maximize stability in the rocks is a huge challenge! Just as quickly as my tire needs were solved so was my need for wheels. Through the grapevine, an old acquaintance of mine at Fuel Off-Road got wind of my build and gave me a call. After a long conference call, they wanted to be a part of it. They are exactly what I look for in a company. Everything made in AMERICA, even better Southern California based, high quality product, great customer service, and just down right friendly people so I was really happy to have them be a part of out team! I got a set of their 17”Anza beadlock wheels and had them powder coated candy red to match the theme of the build. They came out looking unbelievable! Now that The Reaper was going to be on 42’s, stretched, and it needing to be “next level”, an Atlas transfer case from Advance Adapters was going to be a must. After doing some research and while I was at the SEMA auto show in Las Vegas I stopped by Advance Adapters booth. I had the chance to talk to Scott Corgiat (Vice President) at Advance Adapters and we agreed, the Atlas 4 was going to be the best fit for the build. The Atlas 4 has all the features of the Atlas 2 but also has an extra planetary gear reduction unit in front of it which gives the drive 3 gear ratios to select from during operation. The gear ratio in The Reaper is 2.72:1, 3.80:1, and 10.34:1.
As I got closer to getting all the parts I needed, I had to figure out what I was going to do about actually building this thing. Custom suspension needed to be fabricated for the stretch I wanted to do, custom shock towers would need to be fabricated to house massive coilovers, I need to do something about my stock cage, and there was going to be a lot of body work to make space for the tires. This was a problem! I have the tools and capability to do some fabrication work but not to tackle a project this size. Not to mention, I don’t have a big enough shop, all the tools needed, nor the time to get it done myself so I started exploring the option of hiring a professional fabricator to do the job. Some friends told me I should check out Camp Rock Fabrications. So I drove down to the shop one day and met the owner and operator Clint Griffith. We talked about the build, he showed me some of the other builds he’s done, and shared some ideas he had for my build. He was very knowledgeable, I liked his ideas, and I could tell he was a genuine person. For me, the quality of the people behind a company are way more important then how popular or established a company is. Camp Rock Fab was a fit for me and they seamed very excited about the possibility of doing a build that would be seen by a lot of people though social media and shown at a few events each year. Now that the build has started and I have had the chance to work with Clint and his team at Camp Rock Fab I know I made the right decision!
We are two weeks into the build process at Camp Rock Fab and things are going well. The body mount/ body lift has been installed, the front Poison Spyder High Line fenders are in, Poison Spyder custom LJ roll cage has been welded, Master Craft front and rear seats test fitted, GenRight gas tank installed. Now we are in the process of cutting the back inner and outer wheel wells out for the stretch and monster tires. We expect to have the build done the beginning of June and it will be unveiled at Forest Fest off-road event in Running Springs California, June 16th – 18th. The Trail Reaper will be on display in Pit Bull tires booth and will be leading one of the trail runs that weekend. So come see the final product at Forest Fest just a few months away and meet some of the people that made it all happen!