Jeep Gladiator Lights Up The Arizona Desert
Sound Up, Lights On: The Shermanator, Karen and Brian Sherman’s 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
When Karen and Brian Sherman’s Firecracker Red Gladiator arrived, fresh from the factory, their work to upgrade the vehicle from stock began in earnest. With custom built-ins, an awesome stereo system, and brilliant lighting, they converted this already capable vehicle into a proficient off roader. When the Shermans roll through Arizona, their bright red Jeep Gladiator lights up the desert.
When Karen and Brian Sherman’s Firecracker Red Gladiator arrived, fresh from the factory, their work to upgrade the vehicle from stock began in earnest.
“This was definitely built primarily for overlanding,” explained Brian. The Shermans wanted a rig that could surmount the everyday use of a suburban family. However, they also needed it to withstand some light trail trekking. “We drive it daily, and the longest trip was a roundtrip between Arizona and Florida for Jeep Beach. We’ve also driven it to Colorado, Moab, and throughout Arizona. We even use it to tow our Kawasaki KRX eS out to remote ride spots,” said Brian.
For some, the key to a long and successful marriage might be vacations to Paris, candle-lit dinners at home, or relaxing on Sunday watching the game. For Karen and Brian Sherman of Queen Creak, Arizona, a bedroom community southeast of Phoenix, the rock-solid foundation for 26 years of marriage is based on car camping and recharging their relationship in Mother Nature. “My wife and I both grew up in rural Pennsylvania,” explains Brian, “so camping was a normal part of life for us. Camping was our connection to recreation, and it was our escape from our crazy friends and family.”
As their relationship grew, so did their ambitions to spend more time camping. Then, the overlanding culture began to take hold. Brian adds: “We’ve owned travel trailers for the past 15 plus years but were always frustrated with the limits on where they could go.” They wanted to attain a certain level of freedom in their travel, but weren’t sure which direction to take.
That all changed on a trip with their Toyota Tacoma and Airstream Nest to Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona. “We had a blast showing off our setup, but we were really fascinated by some of the cool self-contained trucks we saw there. We saw an opportunity to merge the features and luxury of our Airstream with the capability of a built Jeep.” With a plan in mind, they got the ball rolling. First, they sold the Tacoma and Airstream, then they ordered the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon.
Armed for Battle
The first stop for the Gladiator was to Drew Brothers Customs in nearby Chandler, Arizona, and the capable hands of Rob Drew. They’re known for their old-school customs, but Drew didn’t shy away from this modern Jeep project. They started by switching out the stock bumpers for beefier models. The rear end got protection from a Road Armor bumper, while the front sports an Icon Vehicle Dynamics front impact bumper with skid plate, both color matched to the body.
The mud and dirt is contained by two pairs of fender flares and fender liners from Stealth, complete with Switchback LED signal inserts on the fronts. Ease of egress comes in the form of a pair of AMP Research PowerStep Xtreme running boards that automatically deploy and retract with the opening and closing of the Jeep’s doors.
Perched in the front bumper sits a Warn Zeon 12-S winch ready and well able to handle any recovery tasks. With a 12,000-pound capacity, the 12-volt electric Zeon 12-S comes with 80 feet of Spydura synthetic rope and Warn’s Epic Sidewinder linkage in lieu of a hook. To complete the look, a pair of black Warn Epic D-Ring shackles stand at the ready.
Ride and Rubber
One of the most important elements of an overland vehicle is its ability to go over land without the jarring of a road car and the uncertainty of an ill-prepared rig. To obtain the capabilities of a well-heeled Jeep, the Shermans turned the Gladiator over to the skilled hands at G&M Motorsports in Mesa, Arizona. There the original suspension was set by the wayside and a tubular 2.5-inch Stage 8 suspension system from Icon Vehicle Dynamics was installed. It offers an easy-to-adjust compression damping control valve to adjust the suspension to all types of terrain and cargo configurations, as well as an increase in wheel travel by up to 33 percent in the front and 23 percent in the rear.
Since the Shermans planned to spend a great deal of time traversing the Arizona deserts and beyond, off-grid accommodations were necessary to make life in the rig comfortable and convenient.
The 2.5-inch lift from the suspension upgrade allows for 37-inch Yokohama Geolandar M/T G003 tires on all four corners. The Jeep features some aggressive sidewall armor. Then, it’s got pitch variation of the tread lugs and the wide flat profile of the solid trail tires. (Without sacrificing comfort when getting the groceries.) The rubber is wrapped around a set of Icon Alloys Rebound wheels. They neeeded to reduce unsprung weight to keep their rig light while providing the strength needed in an off-road wheel. So, the Shermans backspaced the Jeep Gladiator’s 17 x 8.5-inch bronze wheels by 4.5 inches.
Storage and Sleep
A subtle clue that this Jeep was really built for the backcountry is the Rugged Ridge Amfib Snorkel, painted to match the body and tucked discretely against the A-pillar. Then there’s the color-matched James Baroud Evasion XL pop-up tent perched on the roof, necessary since this rig is going to see a bevy of sunsets and sunrises, as the Shermans are avid outdoorspeople. The Evasion XL is capable of easily accommodating two or three people comfortably. Plus, it’s got nearly 40 inches of headroom when deployed.
Since the Arizona sun can be brutal, especially in the summertime, the Shermans employ a RLD GhostAwn 360, a self-supporting, free-standing awning that swings completely around the vehicle and provides 360 degrees of shade. Mounted to RLD’s newest line of bed caps specifically produced for the Gladiator and color-matched to the Jeep. Its 700-pound capacity is easily enough to support the tent, awning, people and gear mounted on top. Then, a custom-made bed slide allows for easy and smooth gear loading and unloading. Action Van, a van conversion shop in Mesa, Arizona, fabricated the rack from an old RV generator slide.
Lighting Up The Jeep
An experienced overlander knows not to rely on stock headlights to shine the way.
An experienced overlander knows not to rely on stock headlights to shine the way. Instead, the Shermans outfitted their Jeep Gladiator with enough lights to turn any Arizona night into day. The main source of artificial sun comes from a pair of Autotek Offroad ATO5RV1 accessory lights up on the Jeep’s cowling. Rated at 7,200 lumens each, the five-inch cast aluminum alloy LED lights illuminate dark desert nights.
Scattered throughout the Jeep Gladiator are the Autotek ATODlS LED dome lights. The rig has some on the roof rack and a few strategically placed in the wheel wells. The lights on the Jeep Gladiator provide pinpoint illumination where needed—changing a tire, for example. Plus, the 150-lumen lights measure a scant 4 x 3.5 inches. Basically, they mount up virtually anywhere the Shermans need light. A pair of Rigid Industries SR-M series Pro Flood backup lights augment the stock Jeep Gladiator backup lights.
The Shermans planned to spend a great deal of time traversing the Arizona deserts and beyond. The had to make some off-grid accommodations to make life in the rig comfortable and convenient. Unlimited power in the backcountry is sourced via the Obsidian 100-watt solar panel. Power is routed into a Dakota Lithium 100Ah battery and doled out to power outlets configured around the bed compartment via the Cotek SP1500. The heart of the rig is a Truma C69 dual-zone fridge/freezer, keeping food cold in its compact 29x18x22-inch size. When the sun doesn’t cooperate, they can plug in the whole system to shore power.
The brains of the rig’s alternate accessories is the Redarc RedVision total vehicle management system that allows the control and monitoring of multiple on-board devices. It keeps tabs on the Jeep’s original electrical system. The Cotek inverter seamlessly pairs itself to the Dakota Lithium battery. With the combo, the Shermans have two 110-volt plugs as well as four USB and two 12-volt plugs. And, the Shermans can control the entire thing via a phone app.
Interior and Sound
Although the cabin of the Jeep is stock, the Shermans added some major upgrades to the bed. These came thanks in part to Brian’s company, MB Quart, a custom audio fabricator. With that, he caters to the motorsports, RV, and marine crowd. Back at Action Van in Mesa, the crew installed a custom-fitted birch bed enclosure. The setup surrounds the bed and integrates the sliding bed rack.
If you own a custom audio company, why not use your rig to show off some of its fine products? Sound spills from the back of the Jeep. The MB Quart 800-watt, six-speaker STAGE 6 audio system has two 3.5-inch speakers and two 6.5-inch midbass drivers. Plus, two 6×9-inch speaker are also powered by the two 400-watt, Class-D amplifiers. If that wasn’t enough, deep bass comes from a pair of 400-watt under-seat subwoofers.
From bumper to bumper, the build took approximately six months to complete. But once back in the Sherman driveway, the adventures began. “We love northeastern Arizona,” says the Shermans of their new-found freedom to go virtually anywhere. “There are so many places to explore that are off the beaten path and not heavily traveled by other campers.”
To follow along on the Sherman’s overlanding adventures, you can find them on Instagram @bsherman211. To learn more about MB Quart, visit mbquart.com or follow @mbquart, @scarlet.jeep and their new 4xE @who.johnny5 on Instagram.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
Engine: 3.6L V6
Suspension: Icon Vehicle Dynamics Stage 8 Tubular
Wheels & Tires: Icon Rebound size 17” x 8.5” with 4.5” backspacking (front and rear), Yokohama Geolander M/T size 37×12.5R17 (front and rear)
Interior Accessories: Electrical System by Action Van includes Dakota Lithium 100Ah battery, REDARC Manager 30, RedVision with Manager 30, Cotek SP1500 1500W inverter, TRUMA C69 combo fridge/freezer; Zamp Solar input; Obsidian 100W solar panel; MB Quart MBQJ-STG6A-1 plug and play Jeep JL and JT audio upgrade kit, MBQJT-SUBA-1 plug & play Jeep Gladiator subwoofer kit with amp; Voswitch JL300 vehicle spec accessory switch system; Z Automotive Tazer Mini
Exterior Accessories: Autotek Offroad AT05RV1 5” round, AT0DLS accessory light; Rigid Industries backup light; Warn ZEON 12S; RLD Designs canopy, GhostAwn350; custom bed system with bed slide; Road Armor fenders and fender liners, rear bumper; Icon Vehicle Dynamics front bumper; color-matched bumpers, fenders and cap by Rob Drew of Drew Brothers Customs; Amp Research Power Step XL; custom color-matched James Baroud Evasion XL roof top tent; Rugged Ridge Amfib Snorkel