The Rube Goldberg Machine Build - 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock

Hey Everyone,

I figured I'd start a build thread here, even though I'm already well into my build. I figure it might help folks that are just starting out, and I know for a fact that I will learn a lot from all of you.

I started my build thread originally over on WranglerForum, but as I got most of the "JKU specific" research done, I started looking more and more at the expedition side of things, which led me here. Longtime lurker (with a few posts), but now I've decided to move the build over this way.

The rig is a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock (that's a mouthful), known to me as "Rube Goldberg" or just "Rube."

Also, you can find me on Instagram as @rubicongoldberg if any of you have accounts on IG and want more real-time updates.

Can't wait to get more involved in this exciting and experienced community!

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I've decided that I will kick things off with a list of vitals, then current mods, and finally planned future mods. Without further ado...

  • 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (Hard Rock edition)
  • 6-speed manual
  • Dana 44 housings front & rear with e-lockers front & rear, 4.10 gearing
  • Mopar premium soft top
Current Mods:
  • Coms
    • Decommissioned: Cobra 75 WX ST 40-Channel CB radio & 3' Firestik FireFly antenna
    • Decommissioned: BeoFeng BF-F8HP radio
    • Current: BTECH UV-50X3
  • Engine Bay
    • Mopar Hood Lock
    • JWM4x4 Gloss Black Mopar Lock Grille Insert
    • ARB On-Board High Performance Twin Air Compressor
      • Related Mod: MetalCloak under hood mounting bracket for ARB twin compressor
    • sPOD 8-switch SE Source
  • Exterior
    • Drake Off-Road RocKlaw hood latches
    • Mopar soft top boot
    • AEV Tire Carrier & Fuel Caddy
      • Originally added the TeraFlex HD Hinged Carrier & Adjustable Spare Tire Mounting Kit with the JK Third Brake Light Extension Mount Kit for HD Hinged Tire Carrier. It is a great kit, but I ultimately decided that it did not meet my needs as well as the AEV setup
    • Factor55 HitchLink 2.0 (Red)
      • Related Mod: Bolt 5/8" receiver lock
    • Mopar 3-Piece Hard Top with Mopar headliners (premium soft top removed and stored)
    • 21" AntennaMastsRus spring steel stubby antenna
    • Magnaflow Y-pipe (without loop delete)
    • Rhino Rack Backbone System plus Pioneer Platform Roof Rack
    • Tepui Ruggedized Autana 3 Rooftop Tent (Expedition Orange)
    • Armor
      • Moved EVAP canister skid over to avoid contact with rear drive shaft boot
      • Riddler Differential Covers, front & rear
      • MetalCloak UnderCloak fully boat sided skid system
      • Synergy front lower control arm skids
    • Driveline
      • Synergy upper and lower inner C gussets
      • Adams Driveshaft Extreme Duty Series Solid Front 1310 CV Driveshaft
    • Lighting
      • JW Speaker 8700 Evolution J LED Headlights
        • Related Mod: Mopar Horizontal Headlamp Adjustment Screws
      • Rigid Industries SR Pro Series Midnight Edition 20" LED Light Bar
      • Baja Designs Squadron Pro Driving/Combo LED Lights
    • Suspension
      • MetalCloak Game-Changer RockSport Edition 3.5" Suspension Lift
    • Wheels & Tires
      • AEV Pintlers (Color: Argent)
        • Related Mod: Gorilla Spline Lug Nuts
        • Related Mod: Rugged Ridge Wheel Locks
        • Related Mod: Spidertrax 1.25" wheel spacers for WJ (WHS-006)* (needed at least 4.5" of backspacing, the Pintlers have 5.25", wheel spacers bring the backspacing to an effective 4")
          • *DO NOT attempt to install these wheel spacers on a JK / JKU without consulting Spidertrax first.
        • Might switch these out for the new AEV Borah beadlock, that have the exact backspacing I need
      • 35x12.50R17 BFGoodrich KO2
    • Winch setup
      • Warn 9.5CTI-S
      • Original Mopar winch mounting kit for Hard Rock front bumper (only worked with Warn 9.5CTI-S and a handful of other similarly offset winches)
      • Factor55 aluminum fairlead 1.0
      • Factor55 FlatLink (red)
        • Originally had the Factor55 ProLink (red), sold it and replaced with a FlatLink as I liked the tucked in profile of the FlatLink better
      • Custom fabricated bumper trim piece behind fairlead from Curvilinear Components, LLC
  • Interior
    • Mopar Cargo Area Slush Mat
    • MetalCloak Rear Seat Support
    • GraBars, Front & Rear
    • Vector Off-road JKE-Dock With RAM Mounts
    • sPOD 8-Switch Panel with OTRATTW Rockers
    • ARB 50 Qt (47 L) Fridge Freezer
    • Outback Adventure Products JK Trailgater With Bamboo Cutting Board
Planned Future Mods:
  • Exterior
    • Maximus-3 bumper hoop (Deciding between the Classic, and the X hoops - this is giving me fits)
    • Nemesis Industries fenders
    • Rearview Camera (Raxiom? Brandmotion? AEV? NavTV + Audiovox or other camera?)
    • Dynatrac ProGrip brakes (front & rear)
    • Awning... Foxwing? Alu-Cab?
    • Driveline
      • Dynatrac ProRock 44 unlimited
      • 4.88 gearing
      • Rear Driveshaft Upgrade (Adams to match front)
      • Axleshaft upgrades (leaning RCV)
    • Steering
      • Reid Racing knuckles
      • Fox 2.0 ATS steering stabilizer
      • SteerSmarts YETI XD tie rod & draglink
      • Dynatrac ProSteer ball joints
    • Wheels & Tires
      • AEV Borah Beadlocks
      • 37" BFGoodrich KO2
  • Engine Bay
    • Genesis Dual Battery Setup (reconsidering this as I have heard dual battery setups are more trouble than they are worth from many sources... thoughts?)
    • Hemi swap...? :)
  • Interior
    • Stove
    • Fridge & stove slide (leaning Goose Gear)
    • Drawer system of some kind (leaning Goose Gear)
  • Lighting
    • Mopar LED Hard Rock bumper specific fog lights (p/n 82214785) - pending decision
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Before we get into the build, here's a few pictures of Rube when he was just a pup. Oh, by the way, I name my vehicles. Some my find that weird, but people name boats and planes, so why not vehicles? Also, in case you're wondering, I use SmugMug for photo hosting (it's awesome).

Alright, enough babble... Time for some pictures!

Alright, onto the mods! After driving home from the dealer through almost 3 hours of torrential rains, I quickly realized the stock lights were not only inadequate, but actually a safety hazard.

So, the first modification I made was to the headlights. I replaced the stockers with JW Speaker 8700 Evolution J LED headlights.

The lights are designed and built in the USA and carry a lifetime warranty. The build quality is excellent, the installation is easy and the light output is fantastic for this type of light. It's not quite the same as the light output from a true HID, like I had in my BMW, but it is definitely adequate.

The only thing I will mention for those wondering - if you live in an area with a lot of snow, road prep and freezing temperatures / ice storms, I would look into the heated version of the Truck-Lite, as LED headlights in general do not put out much heat at all and thus wet snow (like you see on the East Coast) is likely to stick to them. I would also recommend using a product like Plexus to coat the headlight at least a few times a month leading up to and during winter to make the lens shed liquid better, thus reducing the likelihood of ice or road prep buildup.

Here's a few shots of the lights themselves prior to install.

The next mod was the Mopar hood lock, to keep people out from under the hood as those headlights aren't cheap and I had other mods planned for under the hood (we'll get to those soon enough).

I didn't actually do the install of the hood lock, I had it done when I was having factory fluid levels checked (if you buy a new JK/JKU, I would recommend doing this, as many have noticed the fluid levels are very low from the factory - my transmission fluid was low, everything else was fine).

The boys at the dealer did it for me for free (I don't own a rivet gun and didn't want to buy one for installing a few rivets); they had never installed one so they used it for a "learning example." :)

I "supervised" the install because I had read the instructions and they hadn't, but it was a 5 minute install, just lining up the lock and riveting it in; pretty straightforward.

I don't have any pictures of the install, but here's a picture that shows the hood lock (taken when I was starting the install of another mod, but that's a story for another post).

The next mod I made was another easy install - the MetalCloak Center Seat Support for the rear seat of the 4-doors.

After sitting on the center seat before and after, I can say this makes a huge difference. Without it, the center rear seat feels like you're sitting on a piece of foam that was placed on top of a 5 gallon bucket with no lid. With it, it feels like you're sitting on a proper seat. High quality, inexpensive, fantastic results. Gotta love it, right?

Another early mod was the Mopar boot for the factory soft top.

As you can see in the picture below, Baja Yellow looks good with the top dropped, but the top looks a mess even when you take the time to fold it back carefully...

Well, Mopar boot for the soft top to the rescue! I think most of the expedition community that are using Jeeps as their platform are running hardtops (including myself, now), but if you're running a soft top and like to drop the top back on occasion, this is a great way to keep the top from flapping around. It also doubles as a way to store the top if you remove the soft top seasonally.

Another quick/easy mod I made early on was to ditch the tall factory antenna for something shorter. The intention here was to keep the antenna low, so that it did not get caught on low hanging foliage and "whip" back into the windshield.

The antenna I initially selected was made by AntennaX, as seen in the picture below. File this under "Mods I Regret."

The reason I was not happy with this mod is threefold. First, the antenna was perfectly round top to bottom, so there was not really a good place to get a small wrench on the thing and really tighten it down. Second, the antenna was completely rigid, and because it couldn't be tightened properly or flex with the vibrations of the Jeep while driving, which resulted in it constantly working itself loose. Super annoying. Lastly, I just thought it was ugly (wasn't really sure what to expect when I ordered it, as the product pictures weren't great).

I quickly replaced the AntennaX brand antenna with an "AntennaMastRus" spring steel antenna off of Amazon. It was cheaper and higher quality than the AntennaX brand. It was also spring steel, like the factory antenna, so it had a little flex to help deal with vibration. Here's a few pictures.

Side-by-side comparison of the Antenna X vs AntennaMastRus

Much cleaner aesthetic.

Spring steel FTW!

Also, a couple of purely "fun" cosmetic mods that I did the first time I did a full wash, wax and detail after buying the Jeep...

Removed all trace of the horrible dealership I purchased from. Man they were TERRIBLE... Side note: It's a pet peeve when dealers put decals on vehicles - use a cheap plastic license plate frame, so we can rid our vehicles of your name / information fast!

(And yes, I used to live in Atlanta, before moving to Denver)

Replaced the "Wrangler Unlimited" decal on the sides with a custom "Hard Rock" decal (5 HP gain). Blue masking tape was used as a height guide.

Added a Green Bay Packers "G" (Green & Gold 'til I'm dead & cold!)

Gotta make the vehicle yours, ya know?

Okay, next post goes back to "real" mods...
The next mod is also one that I file under "Mods I Regret," but unlike the AntennaX where I just didn't like it at all from an aesthetic or design standpoint, this upcoming mod just ended up not meeting my needs. It's a GREAT product, and I was really happy with it, but it just did not function the way I needed it to out here in Colorado.

The mod? The TeraFlex HD Hinged Carrier with Adjustable Spare Mounting Kit and Third Brake Light Extension Mount Kit for HD Hinged Carrier... Hey, TeraFlex... maybe have a less technical guy name your products? That's a mouthful!

So, with this mod, you must remove the factory hinges, as the HD Hinged Carrier portion replaces them with a beefy forged aluminum piece that is powder coated for corrosion resistance. Speaking of corrosion and resistance thereto, Jeep doesn't paint under the factory hinges... so I did!

Step 1: Shim passenger side of the tailgate, remove factory hinges, clean up tailgate.

Step 2: Start masking off the area to be painted

Step 3: Mask some more!

Step 4: Primer! In this case, we used an epoxy primer to really seal things up but actually got the primer base color wrong - should have gone with something a little darker, but since the area was masked so well, I'm not really concerned as there was no overspray to speak of and everything painted would be covered by the TF carrier and by the stock hinges if I ever put them back on the Jeep (*dum, dum dum* foreshadowing)

Step 5: Lay down the color (forgot to take pictures of that :eek:, so moving right along...)
Step 6: Install your TF HD Hinged Carrier!

Looks great! A couple of things. I ran the HD Hinged Carrier portion of the super long and extremely detailed technical product name listed above with the stock carrier for a while (this is possible with the TF carrier). I installed the adjustable portion of the kit and the 3rd brake light extension after my lift and tires were on (shuddup, you're giving everything away).

This mod will be revisited soon... Something more functional takes its place...
The next mod was in preparation for the lift and tires, and off-road driving.

Synergy upper and lower inner C gussets and front lower control arm skids, and a Magnaflow y-pipe (without loop delete, to keep the exhaust coming back from the cats close to the same length until they reach the "Y." Better in my opinion).

The JK Dana "44" is more like a Dana 44 pumpkin with Dana 30-esque tubes and 44 axle shafts and Dana 30 Cs... Not cool Jeep! Supposedly they are beefing up the 44s on the new Rubicon Recon for 2017. Also, whoever routed the exhaust around the driveshaft was drunk the day he was working on the design, and thus the driveshaft will make contact with the exhaust if a lift is put on the Jeep... So, where Jeep falls short, we make it right...

Rube on the operating table.

Fast forward a few hours, and... #WeldPorn

Look at all the clearance the brand new, but still rusty (Jeep... grrr...) driveshaft has now that we've routed the exhaust the way it should have been done in the first place!!!
A few more mods and we'll be all set for lift and tires!
One other minor modification I made was the Factor 55 HitchLink 2.0 (in red, to match the yellow with red and black highlights theme). I secured it through the hitch receiver with the Bolt receiver lock that could be keyed to the ignition.

This adds a convenient, and safer recovery point (since it allows for a closed system) to the rear of the Jeep

Great looking and functional!

So, the major modifications I've made this far have all been focused on preparing for a lift and larger tires. By this point I had selected my lift and tires, after months of research, and much deliberation.

After considering options from Mopar, TeraFlex, AEV, MetalCloak, and a few others, I narrowed the lifts down to AEV's 3.5" DualSport RS and the MetalCloak 3.5" Game-Changer RockSport Edition.

I liked that AEV and MetalCloak used dual rate coil springs, and had former Jeep engineers on staff that took into consideration the necessary geometry corrections needed when lifting the vehicle to maintain a quality ride. I was sure that either way I went, I would be happy with the product and the result, and the two options were within spitting distance of one another from a price perspective.

Ultimately, you get more in the MetalCloak kit for about the same amount of money, and what I mean by that is, it replaces the factory control arms and track bars with the fully adjustable control arms and track bars, provides extended brake lines and Adjustable bump stops as well, whereas the AEV lift addresses the geometry corrections through bolt on brackets and a custom bent OE rear track bar. They also include the AEV high steer kit as well, but I wasn't sure I wanted to go with a high steer kit yet, or whether I'd even necessarily need it; also there were other options for high steer kits entering the market that looked interesting.

Since the purchase and install, I've gotten the Jeep out with a few folks that have the Game-Changer suspension, and they all love it; so do I. Since moving to Colorado, I mainly get the Jeep out with folks running various AEV lifts (mostly the 3.5" DualSport SC, but some with the RS as well), and they all love their suspensions as well.

The tires were also a long, arduous research process. I considered Goodyears, Nittos, Generals, BFGs, and Toyos. Ultimately I wanted a heavy duty all terrain tire, that had great road manners and wouldn't let me down on the trail. Tire discussions are full of fan boys (hell, I've become one) and a lot of "the only type of tire worth running is <insert mud terrain / all terrain / etc> here" type discussions.

For me, mud terrains look cool (sometimes), but in all practicality they do not match my priorities like an all terrain does. Oh, and I HATE MUD. Won't go near the stuff unless I have absolutely no choice. And, if that is the case, I have a winch, Maxtrax and a whole lot of recovery gear. In the majority of places I plan on taking the Jeep, an all terrain just makes more sense.

Ultimately I decided on the KO2 because I liked the beefy sidewalls, the triple snowflake rating since I was planning a move to Denver, and the road manners. Quiet on the road, meet my needs off of it. Win, win.

Over two years later through 24,000+ miles, multiple trips between Atlanta and Denver, and quite a bit of time off the pavement all over Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and I've been happy with the lift and tire combo (we'll get to those mods soon, I promise).
Keeping with the theme of preparing for lift and tires, these next mods addressed a few things...

First, the MetalCloak lifts are engineered with a fully loaded Jeep in mind... bumpers, armor, winch, larger spare tire, cargo area filled with gear, hard top, roof rack, etc.

So, in order to ensure I got an accurate lift height, I was aiming to try to get as much weight on the Jeep as possible before the lift went on.

One thing that would serve a dual purpose to add weight and provide security for long trips was a hardtop, and I found a heck of a deal on one when I was still in Atlanta for sale from a guy in Alabama. He had a basically brand new hardtop on his recently purchased 2015 JKU and wanted to trade for a particular soft top for his Jeep and so I bought the top new, and drove to him in Huntsville where we installed the soft top on his Jeep and put the hardtop on mine. EZPZ lemon squeezy. Good deal, too.

The next mod to get ready for lift and tires was something to assist with climbing in the Jeep once it was at its soon-to-be lifted ride height. I'm 6'2" so no vertical challenge for me, BUT I will say, the next mod made the task of getting in more fluid, and less awkward.

So. What's the mod? GraBars! 3 of 4 of them installed very easily. The other one holds the Guinness world record for biggest pain in the ass install ever. But, these things are great! Well made, simple design, sturdy as hell!

Alright, now we're at the last mod before the lift and tires!

Like I said before, I wanted to get weight on the Jeep prior to the lift, so I got an accurate amount of lift, and I had heard from folks that had installed the lift I bought that did not have weight on their Jeeps that they were getting 4.5" or more of lift!

So, what better way to get weight on than to add a 50 lb winch kit and a 66 lb winch?!

Since I have the Hard Rock edition, I already had steel bumpers from the factory, and the front bumper was modular (converts between full width and stubby), and was winch "ready" or "capable" or whatever the market material said... it should have said "ready for you to spend a bunch more money" or "capable of costing you what an aftermarket bumper would."

For the winch, I chose the Warn 9.5CTI-S, as it was compatible with the winch kit and sat a bit higher up so I would be able to see the winch line during operation. It was also tried and true.

At any rate, AEV had a heavy hand in the design of the Hard Rock hood and bumpers. As such, the Mopar winch kit just so happened to have the same beautiful powder coat that the AEV bumper winch kit does; oh, and it had a part number stamped on the box starting with "AEV," so, yeah.

And so, I began the install of the winch. One thing that was done for me at the time I had the C gussets and control arm skids installed was I had the shop cut the factory vacuum pump bracket off the frame, as it would need to be relocated to accommodate the winch.

Heavy S.O.B.

Getting the bumper off (and on) is a real finger f***.

However, the grille comes off easy.

That's one beefy winch mounting kit!

All buttoned up (for now).

The rest of the install (fairlead, winch line) would have to wait, as I had a custom trim piece that would fit behind the fairlead to clean up some of the unused holes in the front of the bumper hat came pre-drilled. That's a mod for another post...

Next up, lift and tires!