Off Road Evolution RESQ1 Field Service Vehicle
Trail Worker: This Jeep helps fix busted-up trail runners
In addition, RESQ1 is a fully capable vehicle both on- and off-road. Built by Mel Wade of Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, California, RESQ1 is more than a branded show vehicle -- it delivers the service and capability people have come to expect at any one of Discount Tire’s 850 stores nationwide. In collaboration with the staff of sister publication Jp magazine and the entire Source Interlink Media off-road truck group brands, RESQ1 offers those in need solutions to get back on the road or trail.
Sometimes when big companies embark on an off-road vehicle build, it’s solely for marketing purposes. You know, toss some dazzling paint and gaudy graphics on a regular old Jeep or 4x4, then add some high-dollar shocks and maybe a racy engine in hopes that people walking by it at some auto show will take notice. That’s not the case here. When Discount Tire approached Jp magazine to collaborate on a rolling representation of its company to participate in off-road events and trail rides around the country, we knew it’d be high on function and short on fluff.
If you’ve never bought wheels and tires from Discount Tire, then you’re missing out. Whether online or through one of its many storefronts, Discount Tire offers a level of service, support, and value that’s practically unrivaled. From fast, courteous, in-house installation to one of the best repair and replacement programs in existence to the lowest prices around, Discount Tire really goes the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. You’ll be in and out fast and friendly with no sleazy sales guy trying to upsell you on new brakes you don’t need or an exhaust system that’s unnecessary ’cause Discount Tire only focuses on wheels and tires.
Discount Tire has a long history of supporting motorsports. In fact, several of the company’s executives are hardcore off-road enthusiasts who wheel their own Jeeps on the weekends. So it’s no surprise Discount Tire chose to build a Jeep Wrangler that was capable enough to extend the same level of service and support enjoyed by its customers at the stores to the off-roaders sharing the trail with RESQ1. But unlike its storefronts -- which only deal in wheels and tires -- Discount Tire wanted to be prepared to offer help to its fellow off-roaders no matter what the need or calamity.
After a couple of meetings and a little back and forth bench racing, the team at Discount Tire and Jp magazine came up with the concept: a fully stocked field support vehicle that could handle just about any malady an off-road enthusiast may encounter in the field. It’d have the ability to dismount, repair, and remount tires in the field; would have enough air supply to simultaneously air up several tires at once; and would have all the welding, cutting, and wrenching tools necessary to help ensure anybody suffering trail breakage or damage would be able to make it back to civilization.
However, unlike most chase trucks or support vehicles, this one wouldn’t be sitting back at camp or at the trailhead. It’d be out tackling the hardcore trails along with everybody else.
The Build Plan
When we realized we were looking to transform a JK Wrangler Unlimited into what is essentially a nimble, off-road-capable version of a 1-ton crew cab pickup, only one shop came to mind to make our vision a reality. Mel Wade and his crew at Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, California, are the hardcore JK go-to guys. With extraordinarily talented fabricators and an encyclopedic knowledge of how to make a JK survive and thrive on the trail gained through firsthand experience, Wade and his team at Off Road Evolution eagerly came on board and helped flesh out the remainder of the build plan.
We started with a bare-bones four-door 2007 JK in less-than-perfect condition that we picked up at fair market value. The first plan of action was to bring the vehicle to Turn Key Powertrain in Oceanside, California, for a 50-state-legal GM 5.3L V-8 and a six-speed 6L80E transmission swap using components from MoTech. MoTech is one of the few places to successfully crack the complicated Chrysler programming and manufactures engine mounts to place a Gen III/IV GM V-8 in the JK frame as well as accessory brackets that allow you to retain your 3.8L accessories on the new engine. The result is a GM engine in your Chrysler vehicle with all the factory gauges and electronic gizmos remaining functional. Turn Key Powertrain has been at the forefront of GM engine swaps since the LS1 was but a baby and was one of the first places to successfully figure out how to get the GM engine swap past California smog referees.
Using a rendering as a guide, we planned to cut the vehicle in half right behind the rear doors and build an enclosed bulkhead and custom hardtop to create a crew cab JK. Off Road Evolution lengthened the factory JK frame roughly 20 inches to accommodate the service bed that was packed with a high-power air compressor, tire mounting tools, cutting and welding gear, a fuel delivery station, and all the other stuff you’d utilize as a fully functional field support vehicle.
Naturally, while we tried to keep it as lightweight as possible, it’s still pretty heavy (about 8,500 pounds), so a Dynatrac ProRock 60 front axle with bombproof RCV shafts and a ProRock 80 rear were needed to keep things together with the 40-inch Nitto tires. The factory NVG241 T-case got the heave-ho in favor of a four-speed Atlas for the ultimate in strength and the right low-range gear for any occasion. An EVO suspension and one-piece hood keep the vehicle lowdown, stable, and capable no matter what the terrain. And we built it to tackle any terrain -- period.
We initially envisioned an all-aluminum 6.2L LS3 or even L92 with a mild performance cam, but despite our big-time build plans, this is still something of a budget-conscious build. And although a 500hp 6.2L brute sounds great, in reality the money we could save by using a more common, more affordable 5.3L engine would go a long way in helping to offset the cost of the conversion. For 5.3L engines, we narrowed our choice down to two factory-spec GM engines offered through Turn Key Powertrain: the iron-block LMG and the aluminum-block LC9. Both engines feature cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing (although Turn Key disables this feature for improved driveability in the JK platform), both are rated at 315 hp/335 lb-ft, and both feature an electronic throttle. Turn Key improves the power rating of both via a little tuning finesse to roughly 340 hp/340 lb-ft. The only real difference is the iron-block LMG is about 140 pounds heavier and about $500 less expensive. We chose a new iron-block LMG for RESQ1 since we figured the $500 would buy a lot of tools to fill the service bed.
We’re fans of GM’s line of four- and six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmissions. While any four-speed 4L60E or 4L70E can be built to easily handle the power of a V-8 in a heavy Jeep, a stock 4L80E can be plucked from just about anywhere and is easily mated to the JK’s NVG241 T-case with only an adapter and T-case input shaft. But for RESQ1, we opted to go one step further and obtained a new 6L80E six-speed auto from Turn Key Powertrain. The 6L80E is standard in high-horsepower muscle cars and heavy-duty pickups. With a 4.04:1 First gear, dual overdrives (0.852 and 0.667), six speeds, and an 800-lb-ft rating, it’s well suited to getting our heavy RESQ1 moving and will help keep the 5.3L engine in its powerband.
With the new motor mounts burned in, the Turn Key crew pressure-washed the chassis to remove 80,000 miles of accumulated dirt and grime and then gave everything a nice, fresh coat of black chassis paint. We plumbed the fuel system, hooked up all the EVAP equipment to keep the smog police off our backs, and prepped the cooling and electrical systems.
So, the bottom line is that our iron-block/aluminum-head Gen IV engine pumps out roughly 100 more horsepower than an ’80s-era 454 truck engine with almost as much torque and way better durability. We now have a 340hp, 340-lb-ft engine that will survive long, grueling uphill slogs on the highway, can sing at redline for extended periods of time in the dunes, and will sling gooey gobs of torque at the drivetrain while rockcrawling or mud whomping.
Turn Key Powertrain did a phenomenal job with the conversion. Every bolt was torqued, every weld bead was perfect, and every detail was double-checked. With gains of 147 hp and 124 lb-ft at the tires, we called this drivetrain conversion a success -- so we turned the key and hightailed it to Off Road Evolution so the real work could begin.
Off Road Evolution Owner and Proprietor Mel Wade is the go-to guy when it comes to building JKs that work on the trail. High survivability, durability, performance, and dependability are the hallmarks of Off Road Evolution’s work. And with an extremely dedicated and talented crew of fabricators, if anybody had a chance of pulling off our impossible build schedule, it was Off Road Evolution.
We drove RESQ1 straight into the work bay, and before the exhaust had cooled, Wade and his guys were stripping the top, cage, and interior in preparation for cutting the rear of the body tub. Less than an hour later, out came the plasma cutter and reciprocating saw, which Discount Tire Vice President Mark MacGuinness wielded himself.
The body was chopped, the frame was stretched, and then it was time for the Off Road Evolution crew to do what it does best: build a bombproof, long-travel suspension system that’ll soak up high-speed bumps with ease and allow RESQ1 to crawl with the best of them. After tossing the factory axles, control arms, and other suspension components in the discard pile, the stock coil buckets and control arm mounts were lopped off and the frame was prepped to receive the whizbang EVO Double ThrowDown front and rear suspension with EVO long-arm links and King coilover and bypass shocks.
Stated simply, it’s one of the finest suspension systems you can put under a JK. And the beauty is it uses all readily available, off-the-shelf parts you can get through EVO Manufacturing. We’re not doing anything to the suspension of RESQ1 that you can’t do to your own JK, providing you’ve got the ducats. The only slight change we made was to go with EVO’s standard lower control arm mounts rather than the company’s Extreme High Clearance mounts. That’s because, due to the increased breakover angle of our 145-inch wheelbase, we’ll have to run slightly more suspension lift than we would on a standard 115-inch Wrangler Unlimited. The non-high-clearance lower control arm mounts will keep the proper geometry with our taller lift height and will prevent an overabundance of antisquat under power and when climbing.
With the EVO Double Throwdown suspension hung, it was time to set RESQ1 on the ground. Since we’re running a 340hp, 340-lb-ft V-8; a four-speed Atlas T-case sporting low ranges of 2.72:1, 3.8:1, or 10.3:1; and a 6L80E automatic transmission with a 4.03:1 First gear; we really had to step up the game to ensure axle breakage wouldn’t be an issue. Many factory-spec axle assemblies can easily survive 340 lb-ft. The issue arises when you factor in the torque multiplication of the gears and torque converter.
For starters, a torque converter is essentially a viscous coupler. For the sake of illustration, assume when the vehicle gets going from a stop that at an engine speed or 3,000 rpm, the torque converter is spinning the input shaft at 1,500 rpm. That essentially translates to a 2:1 reduction until the vehicle is underway until the stator is overridden (the point at which the torque converter impeller and turbine speeds come into sync), which is why automatics can successfully rockcrawl with less overall low-range gearing than a manual transmission. After a little simple math to multiply the torque multiplication factor of the converter with the First gear ratio, T-case compound low, and engine torque (2.00 x 4.03 x 10.30 x 340), you can see that with the T-case in compound low, the axle pinions will be dealing with 28,226 lb-ft. Add in the 5.38 axle gears, and our axleshafts will have to contend with a staggering 151,856 lb-ft. Factor in the estimated 10,000-pound weight of RESQ1, and it quickly becomes apparent that if we don’t want to be swapping axleshafts at every small climb, we would be well served to order up the highest quality, strongest axle assemblies available.
And with that, welcome to our Dynatrac ProRock 60 front and ProRock 80 rear axles. There just isn’t any argument when it comes to Dynatrac’s quality. Simply stated, the company makes the finest components of its kind. Owner Jim McGean relies on multiple, redundant checks during the manufacturing process to ensure quality control and accuracy with every order. And as a patriotic businessman, McGean insists on the highest quality American-made parts—not overseas junk.
In order to keep the build progressing at Off Road Evolution, we outsourced the service bed construction with a local company. While that was underway, Mel Wade and his crew got the cab closeout and top chop all wrapped up and then sent the body off for paint. The plan was to receive and install the service bed while the cab and front clip were out getting painted. Then, when the paintjob was all done, we’d lay the body back on the frame, do our final odds and ends, and then send the whole rig out so the bed and other new bits could be painted. But that’s not really what happened.
In short, we wound up needing to build the service bed twice. That’s just the gamble you take when you’re on this tight of a deadline and you relinquish elements of your build to outsiders. Ultimately, it was fixed, but it provided plenty of drama for the cameras and no shortage of excess stomach acid.
The second bed we commissioned was correct, and it was sent along with the body to Santini Paint to get a bunch of touchups, fixes, and color sanding. As soon as the new service bed arrived, we dug in for the sprint to the finish.
It was a long road to getting the photos you see here. The Discount Tire RESQ1 project has been a unique venture on all fronts. First and foremost, to our knowledge it’s the first JK-based off-road service vehicle to be built like this. And it’s certainly the coolest. We didn’t leave any off-road function on the table. If it’ll physically fit, there’s no trail RESQ1 won’t tackle. Likewise, we attempted to equip and provision RESQ1 to have repair capabilities no matter what the instance. With a Miller Trailblazer 302 Air Pak welder/generator/compressor, an arsenal of Eastwood power tools and handtools, a genuine Coats tire machine, and every tire repair or changing tool you’d find in a Discount Tire store, RESQ1 is pretty well set up to handle any calamity short of reflashing an ECU. It’s the ultimate field service vehicle that’s perfectly adept at carrying out the Discount Tire mission of helping people anywhere, anytime, and in any terrain.