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zmotorsports 03-02-2012 08:29 AM

My 2011 JKU Rubicon Build/Project
Well I have wanted a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon (JKU) ever since their release in 2007 but they were way outside of mine and my wife's budget. We have saved our pennies and were able to start looking last September (2011). I was originally looking for about a 2008-2009, possibly a 2010 if the price was right and something with fairly low miles and a virgin Jeep. I wanted one that someone else hadn't cut up or cut corners on.

We have had several Jeeps over the past 18 years, a 1991 XJ and two 1996 ZJ's. My son has my wife's old 1996 ZJ that he has done some mods to and has kept it in pristine condition and we bought a second 1996 ZJ that I had built up in 2009 for a daily driver, off-road exploration vehicle that we also used to tow behind our motorhome. I figured we had enough money saved up to buy a JKU and then I could sell the ZJ and use that money for the modifications, at least a good start on them anyway.

We stumbled across a 2011 in November and took if for a test drive, the wife (as well as myself) fell in love with the new interior but couldn't afford a new 2012. We struck a deal and drove off the with our new to us 2011 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon with only 3208 miles on the odometer.

I sold my ZJ the next day to the first guy that came and looked at it and then I commenced purchasing parts. Most of the build came fairly easy because I had this thing built in my head for the past several years just waiting for when we could afford it.

Although the build thread is not in real time as it was on another forum as I was building it, I will cover the entire build here and then keep it updated as things change. After all, it is a Jeep they are never really "done".

My Goal:
My goal with this Jeep, my "dream Jeep" as my wife calls it, was to build a vehicle that would be my daily driver as well as a very capable off-road vehicle. It will also spend a lot of time/miles being towed behind our coach or in the trailer over its lifetime. Being a mechanic I wanted this vehicle to showcase my workmanship and somewhat stand out from the average JK on the streets. I am sure I overbuilt it for what I plan on doing with it but like my son and I say, "overbuilt is underated".

I appreciate and welcome any comments.


Here it is on the lift in the shop. I went with a BDS long-arm suspension as I really like the on road manners of a long-arm as well as the off-road capabilities. Overall impression of the BDS system is fantastic. Very happy with the ride on road as well as off-road. I currently have approx. 4k miles on it since we bought it in Novermber 2011.

Tires/wheels are 35x12.5x17 BFG KM2 wrapped around 17"x9" ATV Crawl wheels. I wanted a fairly light tire/wheel package so it robbed as little power as possible from the already anemic 3.8 engine. I also have heard good things about the KM2s as far as longevity and street manners. I must admit I am overall very impressed with this tire so far. I have had them off-road but have not had the opportunity to air them down and try them on the rocks. I don't think I will be dissappointed.

Here is a shot from outside my shop prior to installing the tires/wheels and setting it down for it's rolling debute.

Sitting on all four after torquing the wheels on.

Here it is after backing it out of the shop for its road test. The picture is not the greatest but it was late and I was tired.

I also debadged the entire Jeep upon first bringing it home. I am almost embarrased to admit this but it is the Black Opps edition and the stickers did nothing for me. At this point it also has a MBRP off-road exhaust system on it with the muffler mounted up under the left framerail and exiting at the left rear corner. This is actually a very good sounding system and tucks up nice and tight under the chassis/body. I was really torn between the Dynomax and the MBRP.

I have also installed an AFE cold air intake at this point. I know the exhaust/CAI do not really do much where the 3.8 Jeep engine is a speed/density system but I like the sound and any additional air into the engine has to help even if you don't gain any seat of the pants feel.

N39-W120 03-02-2012 08:34 AM

:action-smiley::action-smiley: Nice!

kbwwolf 03-02-2012 08:35 AM

Very nice, and excellent color choice. :D

So what's next?

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 08:40 AM

Moving on to round two. The BDS system is a 4.5" in the front 4" in the rear to compensate for the factory rake. However, the winch/bumper combo negated the leveling effect of the BDS kit. I absolutely could not stand the nosedive effect so I was torn between just adding a poly spacer or something that would give me some adjustability as time goes on. I went with the JKS ACOS front spacers/bumpstops mainly for the adjustability.

I must admit these are a very nice precision machined part. I highly recommend them if you are looking for something that will adjust to the ever changing Jeeps mods.

By unbolting the shock and allowing the front axle to droop out as far as possible it makes it much easier to get to the factory bumpstops for removal.

Remove the factory bumpstops from the factory holder. The factory holder is merely a smaller section welded onto the tube.

Here you can see where the cut needs to be to remove the bumpstop retainer.

Here is the lower section cut off and ready to be de-burred.

Ground flush with the new drain hole drilled in it.

Finished installation of the ACOS.

Sitting level. Muuuuuuch more gooder.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 08:49 AM

While it was in the shop adding the ACOS I kept having my attention drawn to the rock rails/sliders and how they protruded into the rear wheel opening further than I liked. At first I thought it was just me but my eyes kept getting pulled to it and so I decided to address this issue.

Here you can see what I mean.

I removed them and marked them 1.875" from the end for removal. I didn't want to just chuck it up in the chopsaw as I didn't want to disturb the factory powder coating. I removed the plastic plug on the end and used my vertical bandsaw to cut the end off.

I brushed a small amount of black paint on the cut surface for corrossion protection prior to drilling a new hole for the retainer so I could reuse the factory plastic plug on the end of the slider. I didn't want to leave it open and be a collector of road debris.

Completed. This is the way it should have come from the factory. I doubt my 35" tires ever would have contacted them but this way for certain they won't touch plus they just look better this way.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 09:19 AM

I took the week between Christmas and New Year's off so I could tackle the axles/drivetrain modifications.

Draining the differential fluid in preperation to remove the axle from the Jeep. I have done some welding with them in the vehicles in the past but it is just so much easier with the axle sitting on the welding bench rather than trying to weld standing on your head. It really doesn't take much time to pull the front axle. I think my son and I had the axle out from under the Jeep and ready for disassembly within about an hour and a half.

Axle seperated from the vehicle.

Pieces and parts.

Less the front axle.


Here are all of the holes drilled in the axle tubes for the EVO sleeves.

Rosette welds, sometimes referred to as plug welds.

Several of my welds for the EVO sleeves, gussets and lower control arm gussets.

Painted and ready for assembly.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 09:37 AM

While the paint was drying on the axle I threw the knuckles in the blasting cabinet and bead blasted them followed by a coat of paint.

Disassembling the factory gearset and prepping the Yukon 5.38 gears.


Final assembly. Yukon does a good job of marking the pinion depth on the pinion but it took three times to get the backlash where I wanted it.

Ended up perfect @ .007" backlash.

Drive side markings.

Coast side markings.

I keep detailed notes on all gearsets/axles. This comes in handy to check upon time of service to see if anything is changing or if there is ever an issue I know exactly how it was set up from the start.

I mark all of my gearsets with final numbers as well.

RCV makes a great looking axle. The workmanship/quality is second to none.

Front axle is done.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 09:46 AM

On to the rear axle. Again, once pinion depth is set you can move on to the backlash setting. Don't forget to add a little extra to keep the carrier preload. It is just as critical as the pinion preload. Backlash ended up right @ .006".

Rear axle drive side gear markings.

Rear axle coast side gear markings.

Rear axle done with final numbers marked on the ring gear.

Ten Factory 4340 chromoly rear axle shafts. Again, probably overkill but that should be about right.

Rear axle completed with ARB differential cover installed to match the front.

Back from the road test showing off my bling under the front end.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 10:08 AM

I had mentioned earlier that this will also be my toad for towing behind our coach. I need to fabricate a towing crossmember/bracket to attach my towbar to. I have seen other options out there such as the adapters to hook up the towbar to the "D" ring brackets but that is too far off of the ground.

On my 1996 ZJ, I fabricated a front bumper and incorporated the towbar attachment points into the design and they also served as my recovery points. It actually turned out very nice but the ZJ was not as high off of the ground as our JKU. I was also looking underneathe and noticed how vulnerable the front swaybar electronic disconnect actuator is. I decided to kill two birds at once so I fabricated a front bracket/crossmember that also offers protection for the actuator. I took into account the approach angle and set it slightly back behind and below the front bumper so as to not encroach into my approach angle.

This is what I started with, 1.5" square tube x .250" wall and .375" plate for the attachment points. I made a template for the small brackets and then drilled them and cut the outside dimensions on the bandsaw. The 1.5" square opening I cut with the plasma cutter. I then bolted them together and ground on the disc sander to size them all the exact same on the outside and used a rotary bit to deburr the inside.

Here are the brackets seperated and ready for installation.

On the sides coming down from the frame I used 1/2" plate.

After deburring and a test fit.

Test fit and tack welded.

After final welding and ready to go off to powder coater.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 10:12 AM

The powder coater had it a week and they did an awesome job. The color and texture match the Warn bumper perfect.

Installed on the Jeep.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 10:29 AM

Okay, moving right along. Keep in mind that this build is not in real time, there were actually several weeks between the various individual projects on my Jeep.

I wanted to install a dual battery setup for two reasons, first off is redundancy. If ever a battery failure I have a backup to get us out of the back country. Secondly, for the accessories in which I have added. Between the lights and winch there is a good chance that there could be some serious amperage draw out of the system. We were wheeling last fall in Moab and came upon a group that had lost a battery, probably from bouncing around and it shorted. He was in a position that was hard to get to, he had to be winched up a little and then I was able to go down to him and jump start him. This got me thinking that if he would have had a dual battery setup he could have taken care of the problem right where he was and continued onward.

I chose the Benchmark Designs dual battery setup because I had seen one of these and was quite impressed. I probable could have built one but after still purchasing the Cole/Hersee smart solenoid and materials I opted to purchase one instead. I had also heard the horror stories about the lack of customer service and long delivery times on this kit which made me nervous. I contacted John @ Benchmark Designs and he reassured me that those issues were a thing of the past and he had a kit in stock ready to ship.

I received the package about four days later just as he said. This kit is very well thought out and professionally built. The powder coating is fantastic as well. I must admit, I consider myself a fairly decent fabricator but when I started working on this my first thought was how did someone look at this busy area of the engine bay and say, "yeh, I can fit two batteries in there." I am impressed.

Here is what it looked like before disassembly.

OEM battery and TIPM (Totally Integrated Power Module) removed.

Now on to removing the battery tray. The battery tray runs the entire length of the right fender. It is a large thermoplastic box that incorporates the battery tray, mounting positions for the EVAP solenoid valve, TIPM and the airbox. This is what is looks like when removed.

Empty spot after removal and preperation for installation of the Benchmark Designs tray.

Matador 03-02-2012 10:30 AM

10 Attachment(s)

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 10:50 AM

This is where I deviated somewhat from the instructions. The only two things that I did not like were, in the older (first generation) Benchmark Designs kits they had a seperate bracket that went from the battery tray to the right shock tower. I was not impressed with this due to the fact that the body and frame are seperated by rubber body mounts. I did not want to fasten them together rigidly. In the later generation kits, they do not use that bracket. I contacted John @ Benchmark and he informed me that they did away with that bracket and used thicker plate for the battery tray and it was holding up well.

After test fitting the tray with the weight of the batteries on it I did not get the warm and fuzzies about its rigidity. I also was not impressed with the mounting of the EVAP purge valve. The instructions mentioned to zip-tie it to the wiring going into the TIPM. I did not want to do that and wanted something that looked more factory. I did some research and found someone else who had the same thinking and copied his design. I wish I could take credit for it but I cannot, it was a great idea though. I guess what they say is true, "immitation is the most sincere form of flattery".

The guy that came up with this bracket design was an engineer and used a CAD (Computer Aided Design) to form his bracket.

This is what I started with, a piece of 11 gauge P&O steel sheet.

I do not have that capability so I used my old school CAD (Cardboard Aided Design) to build my bracket.

Using my vertical bandsaw to cut the bracket out.

Getting closer, my small brake couldn't accomodate the full bracket so I made a smaller bracket that would fasten to the larger one to hold the EVAP purge valve in the same fashion that the factory did.

Almost done, I decided to deviate from the guys original design and add a little custom touch to my bracket.

A couple of large dimples.

I threw them in the blasting cabinet and then painted them semi-gloss black.

I cut the front part of the battery tray off so I could use it to mount the AFE cold air intake the way it was designed to fit with the OEM mounting points.

I trimmed everything back and deburred it so you can't even tell it had been cut.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 11:02 AM

Here is the completed bracket after the paint dried and the EVAP purge valve bracket bolted to it and ready for installation.

One other thing that I noticed when installing the tray and batteries was that the heater hoses were rubbing in one spot against the tray. I learned this little trick many years ago and have used it repeatedly. I cut a piece of larger heater hose, cut it lengthwise and wrap it around the area that is in question. This way the wear will not weaken the integrity of the hose carrying the fluid.

What a tight, Freakin fit. I wasted my time putting the dimple dies in my bracket because you cannot even see a bracket in there. It resided between the TIPM and the Odyssey batteries and ties up onto the inner fender in the same fashion that the OEM battery tray/box did. Also note how the EVAP purge valve is mounted, just like the OEM.

I had to re-route the lower EVAP line due to the angle in which I had to mount it. I cut the line and used a piece of 3/8" line to allow movement of the line. I also prefer the small crimp style clamps compared to the stainless steel screw style clamps where usable.

Here it is re-routed around the front of the batteries.

Installation complete. WOW! That is one busy part of the engine bay.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 11:20 AM

I am a firm believer in transmission coolers. Out of all of the transmissions that I have built/rebuilt I would say that probably 90% of them were killed due to heat. The other ones were a catastrophic failure. I generally prefer to use AN fittings on my coolers rather than the push on hose/barb/screw clamp style. I have bought the B&M Super coolers in the past and cut the barbs off and TIG welded bungs on the cooler to use AN fittings which is what I was going to do here. I started to get a list together of the parts/components I would need and ran across a new cooler kit marketed by ORW (Off-Road Warehouse). For the money, I found it to be a fair deal so I went with their kit.

I was impressed with the fit/finish on the bracketry as well as the quality of the lines. I opted for the stainless steel lines vs. the standard rubber lines but I don't think there is anything wrong with the rubber lines. They had the same working and burst pressures as the stainless steel. I like the stainless steel for the abrasion resistance and overall appearance.

Here is the test fit using existing hole in the upper core support. The cooler needs to be test fit to determine placement of the lower mounting fasteners.

I really didn't want to have to remove my Warn Powerplant winch to drill the holes so I turned to my small 90 degree drill for the task. I don't use this very often but when I do it is a life saver.

Installing the lines onto the cooler.

Lines ran through the core support. There is a rubber flap that I merely cut a 2"x2" hole in so the lines could run through it and keep the flap in place to help keep road debris from getting into the engine bay any more than necessary.

Here are the connections underneathe.

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 11:43 AM

Continuing onward.

Another thing that I was disappointed in from Jeep was the fact that there is no longer a voltmeter or oil pressure gauge, only idiot lights. I also am a firm believer in being able to see your engine's vitals. I also could not find an A pillar style pod that would accomodate three gauges. I had found a manufacturer that made one to fit in the top of the dash in the pocket, but I liked that pocket and it only held two gauges. I was also wanting to install a transmission temperature gauge.

This is what I came up with. I decided to fabricate an "A" pillar style mount and keep it as tight to the pillar as possible. I have seen a few others do this but I was not happy with the fact that the wiring was exposed and just running down the back of the dash near the defroster vent. The wiring was also not very asthetically pleasing when looking from the outside into the dash area through the windshield. I wanted the wiring hidden from sight as much as possible.

I started with a piece of 11 gauge P&O steel that I bent to form a 1/2" void on the backside.

I then welded up the topside and metal finished it for appearance.

Channel completed and test fit prior to drilling holes and painting. The upper portion of the "A" pillar has a small trim piece that protrudes inside the passenger compartment slightly more than the pillar trim. I compensated by trimming a small amount off of the top so it will fit flat with the pillar trim.

I painted the bracket semi-gloss black to blend in with the pillar trim panel. I also installed three VDO buckets and installed large grommets where the wiring will run in behind the bracket. This way there will only be a small portion of wiring visible going from the gauge bucket to the fabricated panel/mounting bracket.

Wiring ran.

Here you can see all that is visible of the wiring. I used trailer wiring that has the 4, 16-gauge wires inside a casing. The casing is also supposed to have UV protectors in it so being in the windshield hopefully should last for a long time.

Here is the bracket mounted to the pillar trim panel.

Here is how I ran the wiring behind the pillar trim panel. There is actually quite a lot of room between the actual metal "A" pillar/windshield pillar and the plastic trim piece.

Gauges installed and wires hooked up. Ready for installation into the Jeep.

Installed in Jeep.

Viewed from outside driver's door looking inward.

kbwwolf 03-02-2012 11:57 AM

:eek: :eek:

Now THIS is a build!

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 11:59 AM

Now on to the wiring. I ran the wiring down into the dash area and removed the small side panel for access.

I labeled the wiring just in case I ever forget where the wires go. I don't think that would ever happen.:rofl:

Here is the OEM oil pressure sending unit. Located just behind the lower radiator hose. It is a tight fit but I was able to remove and install a brass tee and street elbow then install the Autometer sending unit along with the OEM sending unit.

Moving on to the transmission sending unit. I also use this as a drain plug when it comes time to service the transmission. It is better to drain as much oil as possible before lowering the pan, it saves having ATF running down your arm and dripping off your elbow. I machined a small bung cutting a step into it to fit into a hole I drilled in the transmission pan. I then tapped it to 1/8 NPT.

Bung TIG welded in place and ready for paint.

I installed the transmission pan and while I was in there a new filter and fluid. At this point the Jeep only had about 5k miles on it but what the heck. One other little detail, I welded three small pieces of tubing onto the front of the pan to run the wire through. I did not want to run the wire up the passenger side of the engine bay and then across to the driver's side where I ran the wiring through the firewall to the gauges. This way the wiring runs right up from the left side of the engine bay and a short distance to the firewall all while being better concealed. The tubes that the wire is running through will keep the wire from getting caught on any brush or debris under the Jeep during those hard-core off-roading trips, I don't know how hard-core it will be actually.

Gauges done and lit up at night after backing it out of the shop.

PittJeep 03-02-2012 12:02 PM

This thread makes me realize how very little I really know about Jeeps! Looks awesome though!

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 12:04 PM

Thanks for everyones comments so far. I really appreciate it. This pretty much brings me up to where my Jeep sits now.

My wife and I are taking off for Moab in about a week so I will get to see how it tows behind the coach as well as performs off-road. I am way excited to get this thing to Moab.:dance:

I have enjoyed my ZJ over the past several years in Moab but I always seem to drool over the JKs running around.

As things progress I will definately keep my build thread updated and current. For now I think the big ticket items are done but when the weather breaks I am anxious to get a softtop on her and a rear enclosure to secure my tools.

Thanks again,


kbwwolf 03-02-2012 12:06 PM


Originally Posted by zmotorsports (Post 2094868)
Thanks for everyones comments so far. I really appreciate it. This pretty much brings me up to where my Jeep sits now.

My wife and I are taking off for Moab in about a week so I will get to see how it tows behind the coach as well as performs off-road. I am way excited to get this thing to Moab.:dance:

I have enjoyed my ZJ over the past several years in Moab but I always seem to drool over the JKs running around.

As things progress I will definately keep my build thread updated and current. For now I think the big ticket items are done but when the weather breaks I am anxious to get a softtop on her and a rear enclosure to secure my tools.

Thanks again,



Have fun on your trip. :thumb:

willee51 03-02-2012 02:37 PM

.......... finally, for the 1st time, I'm speechless :eek:

Great job, great pix and a most enjoyable thread:thumb:

I'm am jealous of your talent :wavey:

Enjoy your trip :popcorn:

zmotorsports 03-02-2012 02:39 PM

Thank you. I appreciate your comments and the welcome I have received to the forum.


zmotorsports 03-03-2012 05:15 PM

I had the Jeep in the shop today rotating tires and LOF. While it was on the lift I realized that I had forgotten about the charcoal canister heat shield. When I ordered the exhaust system I didn't order the heat shield because it was $58.99 and I thought I would just build one. Well I had forgotten until I was checking everything over underneath today in preparation for our Moab trip next week.

I figured I would take a few minutes and fabricate one this morning.


Here is what it looked like before I started. You can see there is not much room between the exhaust and the charcoal canister.

I drilled two 5/16" holes in the charcoal canister mounting bracket.

I used a piece of 1" x .125" angle iron cut to 6" in length and a piece of .125" thick 6061 aluminum sheet that measures 4.750" x 12".

Here are the two pieces bolted together after painting the piece of angle iron.


Sherifftruman 03-03-2012 05:47 PM

Good god. Why not just build a jeep from scratch? ;) Clearly you have the skills.

07XMan2Door 03-09-2012 10:15 AM

Jus tread through your build thread. You got mad skills Bro!!
Very nice!!

More later, got to go.

zmotorsports 03-09-2012 10:32 AM


Originally Posted by Sherifftruman (Post 2099158)
Good god. Why not just build a jeep from scratch? ;) Clearly you have the skills.


Originally Posted by 07XMan2Door (Post 2121024)
Jus tread through your build thread. You got mad skills Bro!!
Very nice!!

More later, got to go.

Thanks guys. I appreciate the comments.


RBURROWS 03-09-2012 02:17 PM

Fantastic abilities my friend. Very Nice :drool::appl:

zmotorsports 03-09-2012 02:22 PM

Thank you.


Arsonman 03-09-2012 02:55 PM

Good god man, here I sit thinking if I could put on the bumpers myself.

Well done sir, well done. :appl:

Now to plan a road trip to Northern Utah. :D

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