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Custom Bruiser Conversions Jeep JL Wrangler V8 dual-cab ute review

By Justin Walker | Photos: Cristian Brunelli, 18 Mar 2019 Custom 4x4s

Bruiser Conversions Jeep JL Wrangler feature

A serious chop-job and grunt-infused heart transplant has transformed this JL Wrangler into a desert-conquering goliath.

THERE’S always someone who thinks they can improve on what is ‘the standard’. Some fail while others such as Jarret Crawford of Bruiser Conversions (BC), the team behind this off-road monster Wrangler, more than succeed.

The JL Wrangler is new and, in standard form, already a formidable off-road vehicle, but Bruiser Conversions’ ability to reinvent this 4x4 icon in a seriously awesome way makes it nigh unstoppable. The company has been converting Wranglers of the past few eras (starting with the TJ, then the JK) for years now, transforming them into the ultimate expression of a desert-ready rig.

This JL Crew is the latest version of a long line of previous Bruiser Conversions (err … Bruisers), with the previous-gen JK Wrangler copping the conversion treatment and reborn as a dual cab ute, a super cab (single), or an open-roof, four-door wagon version appropriately dubbed Overlander. This has continued with the JL Wrangler.

The Bruiser Conversions’ success story revolves around both wheelbase extensions and engine conversions, with the new JL Wrangler having the option of being fitted with the full turnkey installation of a juicy LS3 V8 donk, which is exactly what Jarret and the team did with this cracker example of Jeep’s finest.

Sliced & Diced 

JARRET took delivery of this JL Wrangler Sahara in July last year, soon after its official launch. No sooner had it arrived in the Bruiser Conversions workshop it was stripped down to allow for the wheelbase extension process, which meant cutting into the body directly behind the rear seats.

“We quickly modified it by stripping it down to the bones and then whipped out the cutting tools,” Jarret says. “There’s no turning back once you get to that point!”

He’s right, and, yeah, it’s enough to make a hardcore Jeeper cry. However, there was a definite method in the team’s madness, and they soon got stuck into creating a new bulkhead that would enable what was left of the body to be transformed into the truck cab you see here.

The team’s dedication to quality is evident in the prebuilt jig used to ensure all panel gaps matched the standard vehicle when it came time to put the Wrangler back together.

Along with panel cutting, the ladder-frame chassis also receives the cut-and-stretch treatment; the JL Crew boasts a 3530mm wheelbase, up from the original Wrangler four-door’s 3010mm. This stretched wheelbase is achieved via extensive fabrication work, including fabricating a triple clamshell that is strengthened then welded in. An additional six bolts are added to ensure it is as strong, or stronger, than standard.

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The Chaser 

THIS tough-as dual cab Wrangler is modelled on a chaser truck, vehicles designed to tow desert racing rigs to events and be able to ‘chase’ the team’s race vehicle while carrying plenty of spares and tools – in other words, they’re the workhorses of the desert-racing scene.

“Once the frame stretch was completed, the fab shop started on a custom, high-departure angle utility bed to serve all of the potential needs as a chase truck,” Jarret says.

To this end, BC fitted a customised ute tray out back and attached two Power Tank PT-10 CO2 tanks for tyre inflation, an auxiliary fuel tank, water tank, a portable arc-welding system, power inverter, compressed air bulkhead (powered by a twin ARB compressor), loads of schmick Snap-on tools, and two spare 37-inch KOH Ultra 4 Beadlock wheels shod with BFGoodrich Baja T/A KR2 42x13.50R20LT rubber.

The tyres signal their intended purpose via the stamped lettering on the sidewall: “For racing purpose only”. To keep those big hoops rolling – and to minimise any chance of failure – a set of Dana 60 axles were fitted, with Eaton E-Lockers shoehorned in. There’s also a set of Warn manual-locking hubs at the front end.

The Wrangler already has a super-short front overhang, and the tray’s profile follows suit. Ensuring all that gear stays in the tray and the driver can chase at speed, Bruiser Conversions fitted a BDS Long Arm kit (six-inch), with a JKS coil-over conversion up front and Fox 2.5-inch dampers at the rear. This thing is heavier than standard, so a set of six-inch BDS JK coils and Air Lift suspension airbags were fitted.

You’d think such a cumbersome-looking rig would be hard to steer, but Jarret and his team took care of that via a mix of Steer Smarts Yeti steering components and a modified JK Wrangler steering box.

There’s nothing quite like the sound and performance of a sweet LS3 V8. Bruiser Conversions have been fitting this popular donk into converted Wranglers for years now, and this one is no exception. With 335kW/610Nm matched to a ZF eight-speed transmission, the drivetrain is pretty much bombproof.

The team use the factory radiator and ensure all the signals and software tied up with the engine management system work as per factory spec for these conversions. The only other tweak to the drivetrain is a set of JE Reel 1350 driveshafts. Tough enough for ya?

Those Extra Touches

THIS rig is no show pony; it has been built for serious off-road driving and includes all the expected additional features needed for optimum reliability and maximum fun.

There’s a Genesis dual-battery setup that uses two AGM batteries, all of which fits snugly inside the engine bay (note the cool custom Bruiser Conversions logos on the engine cover). Clean air is accessed via a factory Mopar snorkel which can be ‘switched off’ courtesy of a neat custom airbox that houses a K&N air filter; the airbox has a removable plate designed to keep air-intake temperatures low and thus not use the snorkel if not necessary. Another neat feature is the second bulkhead that houses the JL Crew’s air compressor setup.

The ute tray includes a reverse-mount Warn winch, LED lights combined with Max-Bilt Trail LED rear lights, and a quick-disconnect setup for fitment of more LED strips. The impressive roll bar houses more lighting – three Rigid Industries chase lights – and the provision for a radio antenna.

The cabin is a mix of standard Jeep (it’s all refitted once the body, chassis and electricals are sorted), with the seats copping custom leather covered with embroidered Bruiser Conversions logos. The dashboard is covered in goodies including custom grab handles and a SPOD Bantam touchscreen, which takes care of myriad functions including lighting and fuel transfer from the auxiliary tank.

Even the Warn Zeon 12-S winch hanging off the front can be remotely controlled from the cab, in this instance via a Warn Platinum remote housed in a 67 Designs mount (beside a mobile phone mount from the same company).

Another impressive addition is the Brandmotion JK camera system, designed to give an all-wheels view for the driver. This system had to be adapted to the JL Wrangler and mods include a fairlead mount for the camera up front, fitment of factory fender tabs for the angled cameras up front, and a trick rejigging of the factory JL reversing camera that now sees a custom reversing camera mount (housing a rear camera) sitting beside it. A Magellan TRX7-CS GPS, complete with all the US comp tracks (think: KOH and Baja), ensures any chase undertaken by the team in this beast will be short and direct.

The Bruiser Conversions work is bloody impressive; a combo of custom panel work (fenders, that cool rear tray and the JCR half-doors), excellent and well-proved engineering (that sweet LS3 looking like a factory-fit), and the ability to tweak numerous aspects of a vehicle, shows this type of high-end customisation of a 4x4 is achievable and highly desirable. I wonder if they’d be up for creating an Aussie outback variant?