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El Jefe: The Epic Transformation of a Classic YJ Wrangler

Lindsey Fisher May 13, 2024 Feature Stories MotoBilt

Meet the Classic YJ Turned TREAD Cover Model 

You can tell a lot about a person by what they put into a build. Take, for example, our cover model—a Jeep YJ Wrangler dubbed “El Jefe” built by MotoBilt’s owner and CEO Dan DuBose. Just one look at this masterpiece and you’ll quickly discern that Dan knows what he’s doing when it comes to building badass off-road machines. You’ll also see that his attention to detail, along with the custom components he has and continues to develop for other enthusiasts looking to build custom Jeeps, are second to none!

“The build took Dan about two years to complete, not to mention the countless hours that went into developing all of the MotoBilt components he included in the Jeep build.”

Dan is what you’d call an OG of the off-road world. With over 35 years of wheeling under his belt, Dan has made a name for himself building highly capable off-road machines, particularly Jeeps, as far back as the early ’90s. He’s also created platforms to help other off-road enthusiasts more easily build their own custom rigs, first with Blue Torch in 2001, and then MotoBilt in 2014. To this day, Dan and his team at MotoBilt continue to develop top-notch components for many Jeep and truck platforms, so it should come as no surprise that a rig like El Jefe here was built by the master himself.

“Dan and his team at MotoBilt continue to develop top-notch components for many Jeep and truck platforms, so it should come as no surprise that a rig like El Jefe here was built by the master himself.”

One Sick YJ

Built from a 1987 YJ, El Jefe is far from a regular Jeep. This bad boy is built from tip to tail, starting with a full tube chassis, all the way to a fully built engine from Golen Engine Services, and finished off with a totally custom interior and shiny Cadillac red paint.

“I made a name for myself building YJs in the early to mid ’90s,” Dan told us when asked about the reason behind the build. “I wanted to get back to where I started.”

The build took Dan about two years to complete, not to mention the countless hours that went into developing all of the MotoBilt components he included in the Jeep build. The finished product, as you can see, is one for the books!

Off-Road Equals Suspension Upgrades

Building off of a full tube chassis, Dan started his Jeep build with the MotoBilt Front Half Frame Kit as well as the 15-inch Stretch Back Half Kit, stretching the YJ’s chassis and body considerably. To this he mated the MotoBilt Double-Triangulated 4-link system with 2.5-inch lower and 2-inch upper aluminum links from Summit Machine, as well as 1.25-inch Heim joints. Fourteen-inch front and 16-inch rear Fox 2.5-inch piggyback coilover shocks with DSC adjusters were used to take the YJ’s suspension to a higher level, adding in Locked Offroad adjustable air bumps with MotoBilt bump stop pads for added ride quality. PRP limit straps give the suspension added support in extreme flex situations.

The steering for the rig also got a considerable upgrade with PSC Motorsports’ double-ended 2.75-inch Ram full-hydraulic steering system.

Preparing for heavy-duty axles on the rig, Dan also outfitted his Jeep with MotoBilt’s 14-bolt front and rear axle trusses for 4-inch diameter tubes. The front truss features a Ram mount and is in its late stages of development through the company, so keep your eye out for that product hitting the catalog soon!

A Monster Under the Hood

While Dan went with top-notch components for El Jefe’s chassis and suspension, he also went big when it came to the heart of the build. Under the hood of the YJ, you’ll find a fully custom 454ci LSX engine from Golen Engine Service, featuring a Dart SHP Pro cast iron block that has been zero-decked, honed, and bored to 4.185 inches, as well as outfitted with ARP main studs. The Golen LS3 CNC ported three-angle performance valve job in the engine offers a 70cc, stainless steel 2.165-inch intake, 380 CFM at 0.650-inch lift, a stainless 1.6-inch exhaust valve with PAC double valve spring, and ARP head bolts.

The engine also features GM Factory 1.6 ratio rocker arms with upgraded trunnions, Brian Tooley Racing 0.83-inch wall hardened pushrods, a FAST LSXR LS3 Intake with102mm drive-by-wire throttle body, Bosch 52-pound USCAR fuel injectors paired with a Holley Terminator X fuel injection system and FAST billet fuel rails, and a Callies Compstar 4340 forged 4.125-inch stroke steel crank, which has been internally balanced front and rear and fitted with a 58x reluctor wheel. Additional components include Callies Compstar 4340 forged H-beam 6.125-inch rods, ARP 2000 Rod Bolts, Wiseco forged pistons with anti-friction coating and GFX rings, and a Comp Cams hydraulic roller lifter cam featuring a 0.627/0.632-inch lift and 243/251 duration rating at a 0.050-inch lift, and a 114 lobe separation angle.

“The Golen LS3 CNC ported three-angle performance valve job in the engine offers a 70cc, stainless steel 2.165-inch intake, 380 CFM at 0.650-inch lift, a stainless 1.6-inch exhaust valve with PAC double valve spring, and ARP head bolts.”

It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but boy does it make for one impressive powerplant!

Fueling the Jeep is a MotoBilt underbody fuel cell with skid plate for the 15-inch Stretch Back Half Kit, which will also be available soon through MotoBilt. A Holley LS swap oil pan was also mated to the engine for added oil capacity, while a GM timing cover, rear cover, and lifter valley cover give the engine a cleaner finish as well as added dirt and debris protection. Exhaust from the engine is expelled via 1 7/8-inch headers dumping into a fully custom 3.5-inch exhaust system.

Backing the Golen-built engine is a Maximum Transmission-built Turbo 400 transmission with a custom Reid housing and a 3,500 rpm stall converter, shifted using an Art Carr-Winters gated transmission shifter. Behind the Turbo 400 you’ll find an Atlas 2 Pro 3.0 32-spline transfer case with 300m gears and driver drop with cable shifters, leading to an Adams 4×4 1350 two-piece front drive shaft with carrier bearing, and an Adams 4×4 1350 CV heavy-wall rear drive shaft.

Axles on the Jeep are Fusion shaved 14-bolts both front and rear, featuring 73.5-inch wheel mounting surfaces and 8-lug x 6.5-inch bolt patterns, and 4340 40-spline chromoly axle shafts with 1550 U-joints and 40-spline drive flanges. The Jeep is also outfitted with 5.38 Yukon Gears front and rear, with 40-spline ARB air lockers, as well as Reid Racing high-steer knuckles.

Planting the Jeep to the pavement, or dirt and rocks rather, are 17×9-inch Dirty Life wheels with a -38 offset, wrapped in 15/43-17 Mickey Thompson Baja XS competition rubber.

Now if all that doesn’t tell you a lot about Dan’s prowess for building impressive off-road machines, we don’t know what will!

If Looks Could Kill

Dan didn’t stop with just the performance upgrades to his Jeep, either. Rather, he went all-out on aesthetic upgrades as well, fitting El Jefe with MotoBilt Cut-In fender flares and their hood vent kit, in addition to the 15-inch Stretch Back Half Kit we mentioned before. The YJ is also outfitted with countless lighting upgrades in addition to the LED headlights, including Baja Designs Squadron XL A-pillar lights, an 8 XL Linkable traditional light bar, OnX6 10-inch light bar mounted to the winch, two Squadron Pro LED wide cornering back up lights, and an LED rock light kit. Recovery gear on the Jeep is also top-notch, including a Warn Zeon 12 winch with synthetic rope, Factor 55 Ultra Hook and a Factor 55 fairlead mount.

“The YJ is also outfitted with countless lighting upgrades in addition to the LED headlights, including Baja Designs Squadron XL A-pillar lights, an 8 XL Linkable traditional light bar, OnX6 10-inch light bar mounted to the winch, two Squadron Pro LED wide cornering back up lights, and an LED rock light kit.”

El Jefe is finished off in 2023 Cadillac Radiant Red paint, which was laid by Ozark Collision Center.

The custom interior of the Jeep follows suit with PRP seats and harnesses, a custom dash and center console, handmade grab bar, and laser etching with custom “El Jefe” engravings throughout. A key fob push-button start, Holley EFI Pro Dash instrumentation, Switch-Pros panels, and a JOES Racing 12-inch drag racing steering wheel are just a few of the extras featured inside. Of course, it wouldn’t be an off-road-ready rig if it weren’t for the custom rollcage, Rugged Radios 696 Plus communication system, and MotoBilt mounting panel for a Milwaukee PACKOUT system.

Dan may have made a name for himself building YJs in the 90s, but here in 2024, he continues to impress even the most discerning of off-road enthusiasts. Thus El Jefe is certainly deserving of its TREAD Magazine cover model status!


UPGRADES

1987 Jeep YJ Wrangler “El Jefe”

OWNER:
Dan DuBose
Ozark, AL 

Engine & Drivetrain: 

Full tube chassis; MotoBilt Double-Triangulated 4-link system with 2.5-inch lower and 2-inch upper aluminum links from; Summit Machine; 1.25-inch Heim joints; Fox 2.5-inch piggyback coilovers with DSC adjusters; 14-inch front and 16-inch rear; Locked Offroad adjustable air bumps with MotoBilt bump stop pads; MotoBilt upper coilover shock mounts for Highline Fenders in the rear; MotoBilt Front Half Frame Kit; MotoBilt 15-inch Stretch Back Half Kit; MotoBilt 14 bolt front and rear axle trusses for 4-inch diameter tubes; Ram mount in front (front setup available soon!); MotoBilt axle upper control arm mounts for truss in the rear; MotoBilt universal fuel access hatch; PRP limit straps; PSC Motorsports double-ended 2.75-inch ram full hydraulic steering

Wheels & Tires: 

17×9-inch Dirty Life wheels with -38 offset; 8-lug on 6.5-inch bolt pattern; 15/43-17 Mickey Thompson Baja XS competition tires

Engine & Drivetrain: 

454ci LSX from Golen Engine Service featuring a Dart SHP Pro cast iron block; zero-decked, honed, and bored to 4.185 inches; ARP main studs; Golen LS3 CNC ported three-angle performance valve job with 70cc, stainless steel 2.165-inch intake, 380 CFM at .650-inch lift, stainless 1.6-inch exhaust valve with PAC double valve spring, and ARP head bolts; GM Factory 1.6 ratio rocker arms with upgraded trunnions; Brian Tooley Racing 0.83-inch wall hardened pushrods; FAST LSXR LS3 intake; 102mm drive-by-wire throttle body; Bosch 52lb USCAR fuel injectors; FAST billet fuel rails; Callies Compstar 4340 forged steel crank with 4.125-inch stroke, internally balanced front and rear with a 58x reluctor wheel; Callies Compstar 4340 forged H-beam 6.125-inch rods; ARP 2000 rod bolts; Wiseco forged pistons with anti-friction coating and GFX rings; Comp Cams hydraulic roller lifter cam; 0.627/0.632-inch lift and 243/251 duration at at 0.050-inch lift; 114 lobe separation angle; Holley LS swap oil pan; GM timing cover, rear cover, and lifter valley cover; MotoBilt underbody fuel cell with skid plate for the 15-inch stretch back half kit (available soon!); Holley Terminator X fuel injection system; 1 7/8-inch headers dumping into a fully custom 3.5-inch exhaust system; Maximum Transmission Turbo 400 transmission with custom Reid housing; 3500 RPM stall converter; Art Carr-Winters gated transmission shifter; Atlas 2 Pro 3.0 32-spline transfer case with 300m gears; driver drop with cable shifters; Fusion shaved 14-bolt front and rear axles with 73.5 wheel mounting surfaces and 8-lug x 6.5-inch bolt pattern; 5.38 Yukon Gears with 40-spline ARB air lockers; 4340 40-spline chromoly axle shafts with 1550 U-Joints and 40-spline drive flanges; Reid Racing high-steer knuckles; Adams 4×4 1350 CV heavy-wall rear drive shaft; Adams 4×4 1350 2-piece front drive shaft with carrier bearing

Body & Paint: 

Body was cut and stretched with MotoBilt 15-inch Stretch Back Half Kit; MotoBilt Cut-In fender flares; MotoBilt hood vent kit; LED tractor headlights; Two Baja Designs Squadron XL lights mounted on the A Pillar; Baja Designs 8 XL Linkable light bar; Baja Designs OnX6 10-inch light bar mounted to the winch; Two Baja Designs Squadron Pro LED wide cornering back up lights; Baja Designs LED rock light kit; Warn Zeon 12 winch with synthetic rope and 12,000lb pulling capacity; Factor 55 Ultra Hook; Factor 55 fairlead mount; 2023 Cadillac Radiant Red paint laid by Ozark Collision Center

Interior & Sound: 

Custom interior featuring PRP seats and harnesses; Custom dash; Custom center console; Handmade grab bar; Laser etched accents and unique El Jefe engravings Custom rollcage; Two sets of Switch Pros 12-panel units; Holley Pro Dash instrumentation; Joes Racing 12-inch drag racing steering wheel with MotoBilt center cap and Sweet Mfg. quick release mount; Key Fob push-button start; Rugged Radios 696 Plus communication system; MotoBilt small mounting panel for Milwaukee PACKOUT


Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in TREAD May/June 2024.

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