As Seen On Television: A Jeep Gladiator Rebuilt For Any Situation
Have you ever seen a vehicle on TV or in a movie and wondered if it was really as cool in real life as it seemed on the big screen? Maybe it was the General Lee or the Supra from The Fast and The Furious. Well, Nick DeLuca would probably advise you against meeting your heroes. During the pandemic, Nick strayed from his Toyota roots and bought a Jeep Gladiator that had been on the TV show LA’s Finest. “It was built in three days,” Nick confessed. “Half the wiring wasn’t done, the electric sway bar didn’t work… but hey, it looked cool!” Nick got a good deal on the JT and knows how to spin wrenches so he put in the effort to turn the show truck (in the most literal sense) into a functional wheeling rig that he and his wife Lisa could use to explore the trails around Lake Tahoe.
The Gladiator still has the original 3.6L V6 Pentastar engine, 8-speed ZF automatic transmission, and Rubicon-specific 4:1 NP241 transfer case. In fact, the Rubicon transfer case is the last drivetrain component that distinguishes this Gladiator from a Sport model. “I do like the Rubicon seats,” Nick claimed with a wry grin. The Jeep came with plenty of high end parts, including coilovers and Ultimate Dana 60 crate axles, but the it was clear that the installation had been rushed. Nick wired the Eaton E-Lockers in the axles to have functioning lockers and keep all four 40-inch Nitto Trail Grappler tires and KMC Machete beadlock wheels turning in unison on the trail. The Ultimate Dana 60 axles offer a host of upgrades over the factory axles, including being wider with larger diameter, thicker axle tubes. The full-floating axles have front locking hubs and 35 spline axle chromoly axle shafts with giant brakes to help stop the heavy Jeep. The front axle has a 10-inch ring gear and the rear axle has a 9.75-inch ring gear, and both use 1350 u-joints.
Another area in need of work was the steering. While the truck had hydraulic assist steering on it when Nick bought it, the ram only had a 6-inch stroke ram, which made for an abysmal turning radius. He added the appropriate ram from PSC with 8 inches of stroke that dramatically improved the maneuverability on the trail.
The suspension required some revisions as well to maximize its potential. “The pinion angle changes were so extreme that the driveline bound when the shocks still had four inches of travel remaining,” Nick explained. He had Driveline Service of Santa Rosa make a high angle driveline and redesigned the suspension with an Artec truss and a triangulated four-link configuration. The triangulated four-link uses angled upper control arms that not only control axle housing rotation but also locate the axle from side-to-side, making a track bar unnecessary.
The suspension uses 12-inch travel King coilover shocks in the front and 14-inch travel King coilovers in the rear, with Antirock sway bars at each end to provide stability. Timbren bump stops were also added in the rear to account for the gear that Nick added to the bed. He picked up a used Go Fast Campers wedge camper with integrated roof top tent and built out the back of the Gladiator with a Snowmaster freezer/fridge, two batteries, and Front Runner Wolf Boxes to hold spare parts, recovery gear, and tools. On top of the camper, 200 watts worth of solar panels keep the batteries charged and the fridge cold.
We mentioned Nick’s Toyota roots earlier, he has a well-built Toyota Tacoma and his wife Lisa drove a GX470 before they bought the Gladiator. All were equipped with armor from Relentless Fabrication, so it is no surprise that the Gladiator got the same treatment. “I have a reputation for being tough on equipment,” Nick confessed, “and Relentless products have never let me down.” While Relentless mainly focuses on Toyota platforms, owners Eric and Brittony Nettgen also have a Gladiator, so Nick was in luck. He added their front bumper along with a Warn winch, Relentless frame-mounted rock sliders, and the company’s rear bumper. The rear bumper has a swing-out that holds a spare 40-inch Nitto Trail Grappler. Even with 150 pounds on the tire carrier, it is impressively rattle-free.
Nick’s hard work has produced a Gladiator that works just as well on the trail as it looks on the screen. Last summer he ran the Rubicon five times along with several other Sierra Nevada trails without issue. “It’s my wife’s daily driver,” Nick noted. “Sure, it has 40-inch Nittos but the Jeep is still civil enough to drop the kids off at school and take the grocery store.”