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BIG RED: 2020 JEEP GLADIATOR

Photos: ROMAN RACELA

AN OG JEEPER

Since I can remember, Jeeps have always been my favorite type of vehicle. Since I was a kid, I’ve been a Jeep enthusiast, watching my older brother and father with their own Jeep CJs. My first off-road vehicle was a 1974 CJ5 that I built in my garage. I made many mistakes and really learned how to work on Jeeps with that CJ5. My favorite upgrade on it was when I did an engine swap to a small block Chevy 350, which really brought that old Jeep to life.

Fast forward to many years later, and I now own an off-road shop called Offroad Customz. It started out as a small thing about five years ago and has now grown into an actual shop in Glendale, CA. I just liked to build trucks, Jeeps, and other off-road vehicles, which led to a full-time job.

THE RISE OF BIG RED

As a shop owner, I’ve worked with different types of Jeeps and trucks and have come to realize which ones look and work best on Jeeps. No other vehicle can flex like a Jeep, and I loved how unique the Gladiator was when it first came out. I knew I needed one as soon as I heard the news about a Jeep pickup. Thus, the evolution of my Jeep Gladiator began, which I call Big Red. I have always loved the word “extreme,” and it’s now part of my personality and everyday lifestyle. Because of this, I decided to go big or go home with my 800-hp LS3 engine swap.

When we started building the Gladiator, it was still so new to the Jeep world that no one really had made any parts for it yet. That left me little choice, so I had to build a lot of it from scratch – even the longarm for the rear suspension. Plus, all of the custom brackets, too. The fabrication took a few weeks to get it all right, but it worked out amazingly. I love how it’s a one-off suspension.

Another reason why I chose a Jeep Gladiator was that I had always had the vision to be able to own a crawler with massive power and, at the same time, be able to take the kids out camping with an overlanding vehicle.

THE DO-IT-ALL OVERLANDER

I use my Jeep to do everything at an expert level—everything from rock crawling, overlanding trips, road trips, and lots of daily driving. I really wanted the ability to do it all with just one vehicle. There are tons of mods, but my favorites have to be the Whipple supercharger, my EVO Mfg ThrowDown long arm setup, Dynatrac 680 axles, the Bruiser conversions engine swap, and all my GenRight Off-Road body armor. The next mod I’m going to add is a PSC ram assist steering upgrade.

MAKING MEMORIES

One of my most memorable trips in my Gladiator was heading out to the Rubicon Trail, going through Old Sluice, arguably one of the hardest sections of the trail. The Gladiator did very well, actually. But the problem I did encounter was that it was actually wider than the trail itself. And because the Gladiator was wider, I ended up smashing the quarter panel. Old Sluice was really the most challenging trail for a rig of this size, and there were a few battle scars for sure. One positive out of it was that it helped me get used to driving in tight areas!

My favorite local trail is John Bull in Big Bear, CA. I love going up there with my family to explore the San Bernardino mountains. I also love Johnson Valley, which is another local trail and famous for King of the Hammers. There are tons of big boulders for some awesome rock crawling, and it’s definitely for the more experienced driver. But there are trails for sure that newbie drivers can gain experience on quickly. My next big trip is Moab, Utah, which I am more than excited about.

PLAN TO FAIL

When preparing for every trip that we do, I make sure to do a full inspection and torque down everything. I also carry on-board common parts that are usually needed after a full excursion to be safe and ready to throw them on at a moment’s notice. Things like U-joints, fluid axle shafts, drive shafts, and the like. Also, I suggest to everyone to never travel alone and always have a radio on hand. Some of these places are beautiful but very remote, and if you aren’t prepared, a nice day out on the trail could quickly turn into a disaster.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

WHEELS/TIRES:
15/43-17LT Mickey Thompson Baja Pro XS, 17” Black Rhino Rift Beadlocks
SUSPENSION:
EVO Mfg longarm with Rock Jock aluminium control arms with KING 2.5 coilovers, KING bypasses upfront
LIGHTING:
Baja Designs S2 Pro on the bed rack, LP6 bumper and pillar lights are XL80, sPod
8 switch to control lighting
RECOVERY:
ARB recovery gear
ACCESSORIES:
Tepui roof top tent
PERFORMANCE:
LS3 with a Whipple supercharger, JE Reel 1350 drive shafts, Dynatrac Pro Grip brakes, Dynatrac 60/80 axles, 72.5 width arb lockers and 513 gears
EXTERIOR:
GenRight bumpers and fender flares, Rockslide Engineer rock sliders with skid protectors, EVO Mfg bed rack