Off the Beach in a ’14 Rubicon Unlimited
Picture, if you will, a beach in Miami (yes, that Miami)—what are the things that spring to mind? Glittering white sand, blameless blue skies, the rolling of warm surf, sun-kissed girls in teeny-tiny bikinis—possibly a hand-rolled cigar bought on the sly from a street vendor on Washington Avenue.
That’s what we’d think of, anyway. So it would seem a beach in Miami, even metropolitan Miami itself, would be about as far away from wheeling and crawling as you can get. In the traditional sense, you’d be right. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t resident Miamians who don’t also dream of those very things—the call of the trail, the dust on your hood, the crush and crunch of rocks beneath 13 inches of meaty tread.
Andres Lafont is one of those Miamians. He lives not five minutes from the water by foot, but most hours of the day, his mind wanders far away from sun-drenched beaches, and the placid Eastern Seaboard. He got into the hobby with his first Jeep, a mildly modded FK, but inevitably found his mind wandering toward the notion of obtaining some new fresh metal for the trail. And, as the mind goes, so follows the body.
Andres’ starting point was a spanking-new 2014 Rubicon Unlimited, in Firecracker Red, with all relevant options placed on the table. After a brief break-in period, which the owner completed in all of a week, the siren song of modification became too strong to ignore and Andres began outlining a plan to take the truck from bone-stock to bone-crushing. After all, a fully outfitted Rubicon cruising the boulevards of South Beach seems about as out of place as a stripper pole at a bingo tournament. The balance of the modifications was carried out through a collaboration between CarX Depot in Miami and KEG Media in Fort Smith, Ark.
He Saw Red
To help ward against stationary obstacles and flying debris, and to imbue the Rubicon with looks that stare down—if not outright kill—innocent bystanders, Andres opted to augment the body with bits from Fab Fours and JcrOffroad. The latter supplied the fender system that now juts out from all four quarters; the fenders were color-matched to the body. A closer inspection of the fenders reveal they are not plastic like the factory units, but are actually CNC-cut and formed from a combination of 3/16-inch and 1/8-inch steel, which are hand-finished for a perfect fit.
Fab Fours furnished a set of JK Rock Sliders, not rocker panels per se, but in effect “side bumpers,” as the company calls them. A far cry from those ubiquitous floating-tube side steps, these things feature beefy 3/16-inch formed construction and tie into the body mounts and 12 positions per side. Also, set against the sliders’ factory matte-black finish, the rivets look damn cool. FF also contributed to the Rubicon’s newly-freshened, yet still very businesslike, face with their signature Full Metal Jacket “Stubby” bumper, complete with recessed light ports and winch slot.
Speaking of the winch, you can just make out the Warn Factor 55 unit peeking out from behind the FF iron mask—for when Andres meets an unassailable bump in the road. Truck Lite lamps and LED lighting were also mounted at key points to torch especially dark nights.
The Rubicon’s interior also received a once-over courtesy of Roadwire, where the factory seat fabric was stripped out and replaced with smooth, black, top-grain leather. Hand-sewn red stitching echoes the Jeep’s red exterior, placed along all seams and in quilted-pattern inserts on the seats and seat backs.
The Hard Stuff
While attention was being paid to making the Rubicon look the part, Andres was laying plans to enhance the Jeep’s mechanical performance, as well. The suspension has been enhanced with Fox 2.0 Factory Series bypass piggyback shocks, which allow this Rubicon to absorb more punishment than its stock configuration ever could.
On the drivetrain end of things, the flow of torque is now mediated by G2 Core Locker differentials, front and rear. The Core Locker units feature one-piece nodular iron cases to provide support for serious loads, heat-treated, forged bearing journals and spider gears, and locking side gears to prevent gears from jumping out while under those loads.
Under the hood, the 3.6 exhales through a Magnaflow, full stainless exhaust system, from the catalyst back. The dual-split rear exhaust features 2.5-inch tubing made of 409 stainless-steel construction, and featuring a protective high-temp, satin-black coating. What results is a smooth deep sound and increased performance.
An Optima Yellowtop battery provides extra juice on the trail, and ensures Andres is never left walking. This high-performance, absorbed glass mat-type battery features additional cranking power and impressive cycling capability, which is perfect for accessory-loaded vehicles like this one. Its low internal resistance provides more consistent power output, along with faster recharges. Because it is virtually spill-proof, it is mountable in almost any direction.
One of this Jeep’s most noticeable features has to be the beefy Nitto rubber hanging out underneath the flared fenders. The tires are Nitto Trail Grapplers in a 37-inch profile. Technically speaking, these tires are probably the most versatile material in the Nitto off-road arsenal, engineered to be quiet enough to be effectively invisible on the road, aggressive and durable enough for repeated off-road beatings, and even build in a healthy capacity for mud and water evacuation right into the tread pattern. The big Nittos are strung across ATX 757 Chamber Pro II wheels in a 17-inch format with red, anodized bead locks.
In Practice, Not Theory
This Rubicon’s owner hails from a land of sunshine, citrus fruit and the gaze-impaling Brazilian-cut bikini bottom—so what gives with the photo location? We managed to snap Andres Lafont’s FK crusher in perhaps not its native land, but definitely an environment to which it is well adapted: the dusty deserts of southern Nevada on a recent trip out west. After our shoot, Andres indulged our baser instincts and proceeded to plow out into the desert to promptly blast the glossy photogenic sheen from the Rubicon’s body panels.
Contrary to what some might think—although, admittedly, if you live in the state and hold paved roads in as much contempt as the rest of us, you wouldn’t think it—Florida is not all that far from the off-roading realm, it’s just a little different there than elsewhere in the country. With its new, aggressive stance and those big mud-slinging Nittos, Andres Lafont’s Rubicon is actually well outfitted for swamp bugging—the South Florida equivalent of wheeling.
But as is the case with most projects like these, “well enough” is essentially the equivalent of “not quite enough,” and it’s a near certainty that this Rubicon will reappear on its next trip West with an even greater arsenal to throw at the trail. And in the meantime, the Florida swamps are beckoning. Andres Lafont and his screaming red Rubicon are positive proof that, regardless of geographical location, we ground-pounders are everywhere.
2014 Jeep JK
- 3.6L Pentastar
- Magnaflow exhaust
- Fox 2.0 Factory Series bypass piggyback shocks
WHEELS & TIRES:
- Front: ATX Series AX757 Chamber Pro II 17 x 9-inch
- Rear: Nitto Trail Grappler M/T Tires 37×12.50R17LT
- Fab Fours FMJ Stubby bumper
- FF JK Rock Sliders
- G2 Core Locker diffs
- JcrOffroad fender system
- Optima Yellowtop battery
- Truck Lite lamps
- Warn winch
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Tread Magazine.