Ranch Truck to Race Truck: A '69 Jeep Wagoneer's Journey to the Rebelle Rally
Most expos and trade shows feature the latest, never-before-seen, advanced products and services an industry has to offer. But what makes the Off Road Expo in Pomona, California so unique is the presence of a few classic gems, re-engineered by the hands of a true enthusiast, with a new purpose. It’s one thing to find a classic Bronco on 22’s, on a lime-green powder coated frame, with some ridiculously loud sound system in it. But once in a while, you come across a true resto-mod from a forgotten, but once-celebrated platform. One such relic, the full-size Jeep of the 60s and 70s, is especially sentimental to many Jeep owners. But a classic 4x4’s dirt days are numbered. That is, unless you strip it down to its bones, break out the drawing board and bring steel and sweat together to breathe new life into a once-forgotten lawn ornament.
And a lawn ornament it was. When Courtney Latter drove by this '69 Jeep Wagoneer, buried in the weeds on a ranch, she knew she had to have it. Courtney is the co-owner of Trail Tested Manufacturing, an off-road fabrication shop along the Central Coast of California, and enjoys spending her free time behind the wheel in popular rock crawling destinations like Johnson Valley. Shortly after bringing the Wagoneer home, Courtney knew she wanted to build this rig to compete in the 2017 Rebelle Rally. She’s partnering up with Martha Tansy, an accomplished off-road enthusiast who holds a degree in automotive and diesel technology. Martha also brings experience as a member of the military’s vehicle recovery team, and has attended off-road events all around the world. The duo is confident in their skills and experience to take on the challenges presented by this year’s Rebelle Rally.
Since being hauled to the shop, the Wagoneer has gone under the knife for a full makeover. This years model came with a factory Buick 350 V8, which has long since been removed from the Jeep. In its place now sits a 6.0L L96 engine from a 2010 Suburban, mated to a 6L90E transmission. The modern, LS-based powerplant should provide plenty of power and reliability for the Rebelle Rally. Behind the transmission sits an Atlas 2-speed transfer case from Advanced Adapters, built to keep the slip low and the revs high. The old frame was rolled out and replaced with one that was custom built for this build. The stock Dana 44 and Dana 30 axles were scrapped and replaced with reinforced one-ton axles for plenty of strength.
In '69, leaf springs were standard protocol on everything from station wagons to performance cars. The same was true for most 4x4s, including the Jeep Wagoneer. While durable and relatively simple, they leave much room for improvement in handling and ride quality. With all new axles and frame, the logical thing to do is ditch the leaf idea and build a custom linked setup. That’s exactly what Trail Tested did with this Wagoneer, with a 4-link rear and a 3-link front suspension. The front features a traditional style Fox coilover, mounted from the axle housing to a tower off the frame.
The rear suspension is a bit more ingenious. Because the Wagoneer is a full-sized SUV, building rear upper coilover mounts would require cutting into the tub and mounting them inside the cab. This means the inside of the cab is exposed to the elements, not exactly ideal for a several-day trek across the desert. The solution is to utilize a custom built “cantilever” system to retain the ride and performance of coilovers, all the while making everything fit nice and snug under the Jeep’s body. The cantilever arms connected to the axle are on a pivot which allows the shock to sit horizontally and work as intended. Kudos for a unique and well-executed workaround!
The Rebelle Rally spans from Lake Tahoe to San Diego, covering several different climate zones and deserts, each with its own set of challenges. From the jagged rocks and sharp ledges of the mountains, to the narrow canyons and loose gravel of the high desert, and down through the washes and soft sands of the Glamis Dunes, any vehicle embarking on this journey requires a tire that will perform in all these areas. Courtney and Martha chose a set of 35x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers on Raceline Beadlock wheels to get their Wagoneer through anything the Rebelle can throw at them.
The interior of this Wagoneer is mostly untouched—with the stock dashboard remaining as well as the old rear bench seat. For added safety measures, a custom roll cage was installed and tucked nicely against the cab, almost as if it always belonged there.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this revived relic is the patina body. Trail Tested purposely left the body as they received it, adding to the character and presence of this classic.
Courtney and Martha are preparing for the Rebelle Rally, beginning in Lake Tahoe on October 12th. Stay tuned for more stories from the Rebelle Rally, as we wait for these ladies to cross the finish line in San Diego. We wish them the best of luck on their first rally in this Wagoneer, and we can only say we’re entirely jealous of this awesome trip with an even more awesome 4x4.