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The concept began with a bed rack. Tim Mills, an expert at the U.S. railways in product development and design, had created innumerable renderings throughout his career. Mills’ designs were practical, detailed and excelled industry standards in innovation.  His latest bed rack rendering, however, was applicable for a utility truck or Jeep; it wasn’t connected to his responsibilities at work. So, Mills folded up the sketch and stuffed it in his back pocket.

“Mills wanted to build the best-looking thing possible, just so he could eventually put some dirt on it”

Custom Motor Concepts

Fortunately, Mills never tossed the sketch, and five years later, his friends opened a custom automotive shop in north Arkansas. A pack of business-savvy mechanics, the crew at Custom Motor Concepts had geared their shop for success but desperately needed Mills’ talent to bring customers’ dream machines to life. Despite his interest and ability to design vehicles, Mills was initially hesitant to join CMC, but he frequented the shop after work to offer suggestions and watch a range of vehicles get built from the ground up. After months of assisting his friends with design plans and witnessing them profit from their craft, Mills eventually decided to switch careers. In August 2015, Mills left the railways and started designing for CMC.

As stunning of a build it may be, the JK8 was designed for dirt.

The Bed Rack Build

As a one year-old business with large overheads and expense costs, it was necessary for CMC to gain a level of publicity. Building a jaw-dropping ride was a no-brainer—what they would create to showcase their capabilities presented the challenge. Equally daunting was fabricating a build to catch the eyes of sponsors: CMC wasn’t intent on leaving a 100k gap in their expense sheets.

So, the crew started with what they had: a sketch. The rest of the team had considered a truck, but when Mills revealed plans to create a fully functional Jeep using his old bed rack idea, the crew supported the vision. Unlike the other concepts Mills had developed for CMC, the Jeep would not be the product of a customer’s dream—it would be Mills’ brainchild, and being an off-road enthusiast, Mills wanted to build the best-looking thing possible, just so he could eventually put some dirt on it.

After he related the drawing to SolidWorks, an engineering software program, CMC felt Mills had a winning design in mind. However, Mills needed a little help envisioning the rest of the Jeep, and the crew needed someone to help them find funds.

Underneath the hood, the durable Pentastar 3.8L V6 is somewhat hidden; however, the Ripp supercharger, clearly visible, generates power from the engine’s crankshaft.

Enter Robbie Bryant

Robbie Bryant had been itching for a change. In 2009, he and his team at KEG Media (originally called Kutting Edge Graphix) had created a digital truck rendering for an advertiser at SEMA and after having it approved, finished the build in 26 days. The truck, nicknamed, Head Hunter, garnered attention from the throngs of advertisers and attendees at the trade show and quickly propelled Bryant into the limelight. Since then, KEG Media has grown into one of the leading design shops within the automotive industry: just last year, KEG created 15 different builds showcased at SEMA.

When Tim Mills and Eric Wright from CMC approached Bryant about the prospect of working together on the bed rack build, Bryant was interested. Since he had founded KEG Media, Bryant had almost exclusively worked on show trucks, and the opportunity to test his design skills on a Jeep would be a new challenge. Another factor making the Jeep concept more appealing—unlike the majority of show vehicles he had made—was that Mills had plans to take the vehicle to Elephant Hill in Moab, fresh from the show rooms of SEMA. In many ways, Mills was creating the ideal vehicle to perform his off-road, expedition-type adventures, and Bryant wanted a taste of it.  The truth was Bryant was starting to phase out of the pure show stuff, and the trail-ready vehicles demanded a different set of skills to build, one that Mills was more apt to create but nonetheless could improve with Bryant’s input.  At CMC, Mills showed Bryant the digital rendering for what would eventually be a pickup JK8. The plan intrigued Bryant, and when he realized the build was the opportunity he had been searching for, he agreed to help out.

Utility, Form and Function

As Mills and Bryant polished off the last touches of the design, they sent off the rendering to potential sponsors. Meanwhile, the CMC crew found, purchased and rolled a recently converted JK8 into the shop. It originally had been a 4-door JKU, but the owner had just removed the body and replaced it with a truck body.  The conversion created room for the highly anticipated bed rack that when finally installed proved Mills’ vision of creating something with “utility, form and function” was possible. The bed rack included: complete DOM tubing, a power-operated rear gate for easy open/close access and integrated Rotopax Mounts; it was equipped with two Rotopax fuel cans, two storage cans, two water cans, and on top, a Smittybuilt Rooftop Tent and two spare 40-inch wheels and tires strapped on the back. Everything one would need when in the outback could be found in the bed, and because of Mills open/close design, it was all easily within reach.

The interesting news is that when Rigid Industries learned Bryant was involved with the build and saw how rugged the JK8 rendering looked, they decided to sponsor the vehicle with more than $20,000 worth of LED lighting. Mills knew the amount of lighting was superfluous, but it was free, and if Bryant and Travis Ball, the head fabricator at CMC, could help intertwine the lighting with the functionality of the Jeep, Mills would let go of his reservations. So, the Jeep was geared with pods in the front bumper (tied into the OEM fog lights), 20-inch dual beam lights in the Rigid replacement grille, six round spot lights mounted above the windshield, four 10-inch scene lights mounted on the sides of the bed rack, dually D2s mounted in the rear bumper (tied into reversing lights) and a host of other lighting gear. In the end, every accessory was given a practical function, yet when completely lit, the rig was almost visible from space.

Beefing Up

To strengthen the JK8 for future off-road adventures, Travis Ball and the CMC crew removed the stock axles and replaced them with G2/Rock Jock Dana 60 axles. ARB Air Lockers were fitted in the front and rear with Warn Premium Lockouts (35 spline shafts) to keep the JK8 in 4-wheel drive when it needed to be locked. A Ripp Stage 2 Supercharger with intercooler was installed to provide an approximate boost of 110 hp to the wheels, along with dual Odyssey PC1350 batteries (dual battery tray under hood) to provide enough juice to sustain the rig during winching and other energy-guzzling tasks. The winch itself was a Warn 9.5 CT-S with a Factor 55 hook replacement embedded into a tucked-and-trimmed ADD Offroad front bumper for added protection on the trails.

Providing the Jeep with gobs of wheel travel was performed via a 3-link (front and rear) Rock Krawler 5.5-inch long arm suspension with 2.625-inch remote reservoir coilovers. Custom dual rate coilover shocks were made in house at CMC due to the added vehicle weight, and all suspension was powdercoated to match accessories. ATX Aluminum Beadlock wheels (six total on the rig) were wrapped in 40×13.5×17 Nitto Trail Grapplers, bringing the whole build together with a brooding stance.

After sundown, the numerous Rigid Industries LED lights on the JK8 give the desert night a run for its money.

After the build was finished, Ball and the CMC crew had crammed about 6,000 man-hours into a three-month period. All the major fabricating and parts welding was performed by Ball in house, all while conducting business as usual and working on a host of other projects. The last design touch, however, didn’t come from Byrant or Mills, but Ball who had bought several different colors and mixed them to make what he called: CMC tan. When slathered on the rig, the unique paintjob made the JK8 come to life with a distinct personality.

When it stood ready to be tested, Ball decided to outfit the JK8 with a host of must-have tools, such as a Viair onboard air system, a Smittybuilt generator, an AEV snorkel and even a Smittybuilt Fridge/Freezer mounted in the rear. With the Rotopax storage cans mounted in the bed rack, whoever would be lucky enough to take the rig on a journey would be equipped to go long distances, provided he knew what he was doing.

“After the build was finished, Ball and the CMC crew had crammed about 6,000 man-hours into a three-month period”

Designed for Dirt

Sure, the edgy JK8 turned heads at the showrooms it was brought to; it stole attention for Mills and helped establish CMC as a serious custom shop—it did its job. But after it was all said and done, the JK8 belonged to CMC, and the only one qualified to take the JK8 and introduce it to Elephant Hill and the White Rim Trail was Mills. He had the experience off roading, and besides Ball, he more than anyone knew the intricacies of the vehicle and how each part and corner of the vehicle was meant to be tested. CMC had just built one of the most costly toys he had ever seen. And Robbie Bryant? He wiped his hands and walked away from the finished build with a great sense of satisfaction: Bryant had crossed into new territory and returned with a huge success, now having a legitimate off-road build among his rack of designs.

 

The JK8 was the brainchild of two of the industry’s leading designers: Bryant, the architect, and Mills, the engineer. However, the build was the product of Travis Ball, the CMC crew and has become an inspiration among Jeep circles and off-road enthusiasts because of its innovative design and perfect blending of utility, form and function. Have a beautiful 4×4? We suggest you follow Mill’s example, and get it dirty.

From concept to crawler, the wow factor of the JK8 is both in its looks and capabilities.

SPECS

PLATFORM:
2011 JK8 CONVERSION

ENGINE:

  • 3.8L PENTASTAR V6
  • Ripp Stage 2 Supercharger with Intercooler
  • PSC Hyrdaulic Assist Steering

SUSPENSION:

  • 3-link Rock Krawler 5.5-inch Long Arm Suspension
  • ATX Aluminum Beadlock Wheels
  • 40×13.5×17 Nitto Trail Grapplers
  • G2/Rock Jock Dana 60 axles
  • Metalcloak Aluminum Fender Flares
  • ADD Offroad Front and Rear Bumpers

ACCESSORIES:

  • Rigid LED Lighting
  • Warn 9.5 CT-S Winch in front
  • Warn 3,000lb winch on bed rack
  • Custom Bed Rack
  • Viair Onboard Air System
  • Smittybilt Generator
  • Custom A-Pillar Light Rack

 

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Spring 2016 print issue of Tread Magazine.

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