JEEP’S reborn Gladiator pick-up has just been launched in the USA, but the new JT is based on the Wrangler and not the full-size trucks Jeep made back in the 1960s through to the 1980s. The J-Series trucks were pick-ups built on the Wagoneer full-size wagon’s ladder-frame platform and were the first to wear the Gladiator nameplate.
The owner of this rig, Riley Hodson, wasn’t waiting around for Jeep to bring out its new mid-size truck, as he had plans for his J10 that would make it truly unique and able to leave any factory offering in its dusty wake.
“This truck kills it in the desert,” exclaimed Riley, a Las Vegas resident. “It lights up those big tyres easily and cruises comfortably at 75mph all day while staying cool.”
Those tyres are massive 37-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers wrapped around 20-inch XD Series alloy wheels, on the end of heavy-duty one-ton axles front and rear. Providing the mumbo to turn them is nothing short of a V10 engine, yanked from a 2004 SRT Viper sports car and wedged in between the truck’s modified chassis.
“We originally left the inline-six in it, but it wasn’t powerful enough to push the one-ton axles and the huge tyres,” recalled Riley.
That’s right; when Riley and his father Derrick bought this truck it was an all-original six-cylinder-powered 1983 J10. That was four years ago and the plan was always to build it with the desert-racer style, while sacrificing a few creature comforts and driveability.
Swapping in the Viper engine was Derrick’s idea and Riley wasn’t going to argue with his dad. They sourced the aluminium V10 from restomod and engine transplant specialists Cleveland Power and Performance and wedged it into the Jeep, and then they enlisted the help of Cameron Chin at Nefarious Kustoms. If you recall Cameron’s wild ‘Trophy FJ’ Land Cruiser we featured in the January 2019 issue of 4X4 Australia you’ll see a certain style that both the FJ and this Jeep have taken.
To give the Jeep its desert-killing capability Nefarious fabricated a 4-link rear suspension with Radflo 14-inch bypass coilovers, a setup that supports the massive Ford Sterling 10.25-inch rear axle. The front axle was also yanked from a Ford truck – in this case a Dana 60 – and a pair of 12-inch-travel Radflo triple-bypass coilovers suspend it on a fabricated radius arm arrangement.
Currie Antirock swaybars are used at both ends, while a PSC steering box with hydro assist helps direct the front Nittos. It’s a bulletproof setup that soaks up bumps and allows Riley to open up that V10 on the dry desert tracks.
The V10 Viper engine originally made close to 400hp/300kW, but this one probably pulls better than that these days thanks to the long-tube headers fabricated by Nefarious and the massive Magnaflow-equipped exhaust system. The transmission used is a Dodge 48RE four-speed auto, which feeds grunt back to a NV273 transfer case pulled from a HD Ford truck.
Full-size Jeep nuts will be quick to point out that the 1980s J10 had square headlights and was never actually a Gladiator. Riley’s truck gets the traditional look, with the earlier Gladiator front-end transplanted onto the J10 like it was always meant to be there. The old-school front-end has been modernised a bit with the use of LED lights, and the Nefarious-built front bar has an LED light bar neatly tucked into it.
4x4 history: Jeep Gladiator
Cameron at Nefarious made the bed rack and roll bar that sit in the step-side tray, with the rack incorporating the rear bumper and mounting the spare 37-inch tyre; the engine’s radiator and cooling fans are mounted front of the tray. The rear-wheel wells had to be widened to accommodate the Nittos at full suspension compression, when the Jeep lands hard after dune jumps.
The V10 J10 might tackle the tracks like a race truck, but it doesn’t ride like one thanks to the leather-trimmed interior fit-out. The power-adjustable seats, gauge panel and steering wheel have all been taken from a late-model SRT, and there’s a custom console, air-conditioning, custom head liner and full carpets to add some luxury to the launch.
The Viper-powered Jeep is the complete package; it looks the goods and goes even better, and Riley couldn’t be happier.
“The truck runs amazing now that it is all finished,” he said with a smile.
We’re looking forward to seeing the tsunami of modified Jeep JT Gladiators over the coming years, but we reckon it will be a while before we see anything to match this one.