Birth of a (Jeep) Monster
Words Gerhard Horn, Pics Maniac Manufacturing
It all started with a debate between Mark Esterhuizen, owner of Maniac 4x4, and “Bugs” van Heerden, a retired businessman and well-known member of the off-road fraternity.
Bugs, a good friend and loyal Maniac 4x4 customer, had a JK Jeep Wrangler up for sale. Mark asked about the price and Bugs, intrigued by the question, asked what Mark wanted to do with the car. “Build a bakkie,” Mark responded.
After a final round of debating, Bugs realised that Mark was onto something. A Wrangler bakkie would indeed be much more suitable for removing garden refuse than a new Amarok single cab!
The seed was planted and the red monster you see below is the result.
Not that you’d expect anything less from Maniac 4x4. Mark alone has more than ten years' experience in the 4x4 industry and the company uses only the latest techniques and high quality materials to build its project vehicles.
This particular Jeep started life as a 2,8-litre diesel JK Wrangler. In standard format it was already a formidable 4x4, but for some people formidable simply isn’t good enough. Why settle for an ordinary Wrangler when you can have something as imposing and phenomenal as this?
The initial plan was to fit a six-inch lift, 37-inch rubber, upgraded axles, snorkel, front and rear stubby bumpers with rock sliders, steel flat fender flares, front diff brace and a rear diff guard. And the number plate would be relocated to a less intrusive position.
The most impressive upgrade has to be the bakkie conversion, complete with cattle rails to give it an agricultural feel.
It’s the first time these two concepts have come together in one car on local soil. We found a few examples on the internet, mostly in the US. But none was as impressive, or looked as natural, as this “maniacal” Jeep.
To make the bakkie conversion possible, Maniac 4x4 had to remove the hardtop, rear seats and carpeting. The roll bar was cut and doorplates were welded in place.
Then the hard part started. The load bin was bent and placed on the rear, after which the cattle rails were fitted. The remarkable aspect of this part of the job is that everything had to be made from scratch. The entire load bin and its accessories were hand built by professionals. If it didn't sound ludicrous, you could almost compare the Wrangler’s load bin to the hand-crafted grille of a pre-1990s Rolls Royce.
After everything had been checked, the Frankenbakkie was deemed ready for some TLC, so off it went to the painters.
No modifications to the engine were necessary as it was performing well and had enough power to cope with the extra weight added to the car. For the record, the 2,8-litre CRD produced 130kW and a whopping 410Nm of torque.
Final assembly took some time, but it was worth it in the end. This is an absolute stunner to look at, and we’re told it is a fantastic machine to live and play with.
In the end, Bugs decided not to let go of the Wrangler after all. He still owns it and uses it every day. He says he loves driving his monster and that people constantly stare at it, or take pictures.
As with any project, this one is not quite finished. Maniac has mentioned an extra 64-litre fuel tank, LED light bar and crawler lights as possible additions.
The cost of the modifications works out at roughly R180 000. That sounds like a lot, but consider the intricacy of the build and the exclusivity factor. There’s just nothing else like it out there, and when you love off-roaders, that's what matters.
Contact Maniac Manufacturing on 021 552 4477, www.maniac4x4.co.za
Jeep bakkies with a difference
As mentioned in the article on the Maniac 4x4 Jeep bakkie, there are other examples of Wrangler bakkies available internationally. Three stood out for us and, as you would expect, they were all from the US.
The Chrysler Group’s own Mopar division offers a popular kit that transforms the JK Wrangler into something called the JK-8 Independence. As with the Maniac 4x4 Wrangler, everything is removed behind the rear seats and replaced with a load bin. This is pretty small, however, measuring 127cm long and 111cm wide.
The JK-8 kit includes a Mopar ProRock 44 front axle, but the rear axle remains standard.
The vehicle has impressive ground clearance, thanks to an 11cm suspension lift and a set of 37-inch BFGoodrich mud tyres.
This kit is available in DIY format so you can tinker with it at home, but you can also have it professionally put together by Mopar. The estimated cost of the conversion is the equivalent of about R70 000.
We also encountered an interesting and completely different approach to the concept of a Wrangler bakkie, done by Jeep itself. It is called the J-12 Concept and it’s a Wrangler in every way -- except design.
The team started with a Wrangler Sahara. They removed the body panels and stretched the chassis by 45cm. Then they used the body panels from two of the JK-8 kits to create a monster, Wrangler-based pick-up.
Style wise, Jeep decided to create a 60s J-series “homage”. So it looks like an old-school Jeep pick-up but underneath lies a modified Wrangler chassis, powered by a stock 3,6-litre V6 petrol. It’s the perfect blend of traditional Jeep values and current technology.
Our favourite, however, has to be American Expedition Vehicle’s Brute double cab. It’s an aftermarket conversion that turns a standard Wrangler Unlimited into a fully-fledged double cab bakkie.
American Expedition makes no secret of the fact that it had the Land Rover Defender 130 in its sights when designing the Brute. It wanted to build the ultimate overland vehicle and in many ways it succeeded.
The company starts with a stock standard 3,6-litre V6 petrol Unlimited, to which it not only adds a decent sized load bin but a number of accessories needed for overlanding. It’s a serious machine, for hardcore enthusiasts. The fact that it looks so well built – almost as if done by Jeep itself – also helps.
The price of a top-of-the-range Brute is around R350 000, not including the price of the donor car.
These Wrangler-based pick-up truck conversions are so popular that Jeep will include a pick-up in the all-new Wrangler range, due in 2016.
We suspect that it will be a huge hit in SA, considering how bakkie crazy this country is.
Source: Leisure Wheels