What Happens When You Bring Rodney Dangerfield to the Country Club?
If you've seen the show "Sons of Guns" on the Discovery Channel, you know that nothing Will Hayden and his crew at Red Jacket Firearms build is modest. From a flamethrower cannon to the USS Kidd gun restoration project, Hayden and company have a flair for the dramatic. So what happens when Hayden asks someone else to build something for him? Exhibit A is a 2011 JK Wrangler built from the ground up by the folks over at Venchurs Vehicle Systems. VWerks, as the company is known, took the body of a 2011 JK Wrangler Unlimited and turned it into a machine gun-wielding, off-roading brute that has little trouble climbing over or through anything. VWerks went back and added an array of features requested by the JK Wrangler Recon's new owner before it was finished.
I recently had a chance to check out Hayden's new toy up close. The Recon looks more like a movie prop for the next big zombie flick than a vehicle that could handle the demanding serpentine trails of the Malibu hills. The Wrangler sits on 17-inch Hutchinson Bead lock rims wrapped in 39-inch BFG Krawler tires. It has also been lifted an extra 4 inches, along with an additional 1-inch body lift , and it sits on super-heavy-duty coil springs designed to handle additional payload on top of what Jeep has already recommended.
Did I mention there's a 360-degree rotary mount fitted for a M2 replica machine gun in the back where the second row of seats should be? The floor has been reinforced with 7/16-inch-thick bed armor plating for extra protection, and instead of a passenger's side mirror, an M240 adapter for a MK93 has been added. There's also a spot in the bed floor that allows the gunner to kick rounds out of the Wrangler, so he isn't ankle-deep in hot shell casings.
So what happened when I got to take Hayden's customized Wrangler off the beaten path? A whole lot of dust, torque, and some off-camber trail riding. While I've driven an array of vehicles outfitted (both professionally installed and not) for all sorts of off-roading excursions, this was the most daunting truck I had driven to date. But to my surprise, it was as easy as taking a stock Wrangler to the local supermarket. The Wrangler Recon crawled up the rocky Malibu mountain path with ease. The swapped-in 5.7-liter Hemi engine had no trouble climbing over and through anything dumb enough to get in our way.
I was astonished. How could a heavily modified off-roading vehicle drive just like its on-road sibling?
"This is incredible. It just goes over anything so easily. It's like we're going on a calm Sunday drive," I said to Pat Muldoon, vice president of Product Development Engineering for Venchurs. Muldoon, who was riding shotgun, just glanced back with a grin that spanned his entire face.
Muldoon is no stranger to Jeep and its off-roading capabilities. Before joining Venchurs, he was the senior manager of Product Development Engineering at Chrysler. During his time in Auburn Hills, he created products like the Mopar Jeep Wrangler Blue Crush, the V-10 Drag-pack Challenger, and the Mopar Ram Runner.
A couple of holes along the path swallowed up the tires, briefly, but the Wrangler Recon pulled itself out without any engine strain. This became routine as we made our way up the trail until we reached the summit overlooking the rest of Malibu and the surrounding area. Going back down the mountain was just as easy, thanks to the 5-45RFE transmission upgrade, which kept the 5600-pound Wrangler Recon under control at all times. The descent was just as uneventful as the ascent, as the Wrangler slogged along over anything that got in the way.
We had one final obstacle to conquer before we could return to where we started the climb: mud. Without hesitation, we entered the mud pit with a simple push of my right foot onto the accelerator and just like that, we were schlepping through the mud without issue.
After we climbed out of the mud pit, and my ride was over. I was expecting to do some intricate off-roading, but the Wrangler Recon does it all for you. That's a good thing, though, as it's easy enough for anyone to drive, no matter their level of off-roading experience. Besides, we see life for Hayden's Wrangler Recon as more of a firestarter than just solely an off-roading vehicle. It will do either thing exceptionally well. Hayden, his crew, and the folks at VWerks wouldn't have it any other way either.
Written by Trevor Dorchies of Automotive.com