PROJECT 4×4: Jeep goes large

Capetonian Sean Hill has driven all kinds of 4×4s: Toyota Land Cruisers, Land Rovers, Ford F250s and everything in between. Specialising in the oil and gas industry, he has worked all over the globe, from Russia to East Africa, getting a taste for different 4×4s in some extreme conditions. But over the years he’s yearned for just one 4×4: a Jeep Wrangler. A yellow one, with 40-inch wheels…

Jeep fanatics are a passionate lot. Many are quite unambiguous about their love affair with their Jeeps, adding bold stickers to their 4×4s to openly proclaim their affinity towards the brand.

A few examples: “I may get lost, but I’ll never get stuck.” “I want someone to look at me the way I look at my Jeep.” Sean Hill understands this perplexing phenomenon. He also suffers from it. Or lives by it, rather. So, when his beloved Jeep Wrangler Rubicon expired in a fire in 2014, he was inconsolable. Fast forward to February 2017. Sean’s wife bought him a new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited 3.6 V6 AT. He was back in the game! And, with more financial freedom than before, he decided to turn this yellow Rubicon into his ultimate dream 4×4.

So he took to Google like our government takes to scandals, and he started researching all the options for his dream Jeep. The United States boasts the biggest Jeep accessory market by far, so this became Sean’s hunting ground. After much reading, research and forum visits and questions, he ordered a TeraFlex six-inch Elite LCG Long Flexarm lift kit with 9550 shock absorbers. This upgrade totals about  R60 000, before any levies or fitment costs are added. Also in his TeraFlex shopping basket were two Dana 60 axles with ARB air lockers and a new 5.38 gear ratio. That added another R200 000 or so to the basket. This is where that old saying about ‘the good things in life don’t come cheap’ hits the bull’s eye. Sean wanted the best, and he got the best.

To make sure he could turn the bigger wheels without effort or reliability issues, an upgraded steering stabiliser was fitted. Adams Driveshafts and Off- Road products were imported to replace the standard shafts and other vital driveline parts. KMC Machete 17-inch bead lock rims were fitted with huge 40-inch Cooper Discoverer STT Pro tyres (40/13.5/17).  A dual compressor system was installed under a seat, and the cylinders provide pressure for the twin ARB air lockers (in the axles), as well as for inflating the tyres after driving off-road. And talking about tyre pressures, the Jeep is fitted with a full tyre pressure-monitoring system so Sean can keep an eye on each tyre’s pressure.

Another mechanical upgrade revolved around the exhaust system: the Jeep had to at least sound as good as it looked. So a high-performance free-flow exhaust was fitted in place of the standard system. Power-wise, Sean was satisfied: with a standard 209kW under the hood, this Jeep has plenty of horses to spare. To ensure the automatic gearbox runs as cool as it should even in extreme operating conditions, a cooler was added for the transmission. A snorkel and a cold air intake system keep the air that the V6 engine breathes cool. A long-range fuel tank also ensures a range of around 700km between refills.

Of course, the Jeep would not have been complete without some cosmetic updates. There is a replacement bonnet, grille, some top-notch JW Speaker LED lights, a stubby bull bar with a Warn winch, a stubby rear bar with a spare wheel carrier, and there’s also an LED light bar. Inside the cabin there’s a dual-battery system linked to solar panels on the roof, a high-end Rockford Fosgate sound system and a sPOD power management system. The cabin has also been colour-coded, with dabs of subtle yellow finishes. Cape Town-based Maniac 4×4 Manufacturing put all the parts together for Sean, and Maniac’s Mark Esterhuizen says it was a heck of a thing to do.

“Sean knew exactly what he wanted, so he imported all the parts himself from the States. Then he dropped  off the parts and his Jeep, with just 12 000km on the clock, and told us to make it all come together. There was a time when it looked as if someone had detonated a hand grenade inside the Jeep’s cabin, it was in so many pieces! But all’s well that ends well,” says Esterhuizen. Sean’s labour of love clearly is not only about looks: it’s extremely capable, too. “At the Atlantis Dunes near Cape Town I can literally take off halfway up a steep dune, and still make it up. It’s just amazing,” he beams. But what is the Jeep to be used for? Sand mainly? Or maybe some overlanding?

“It’s my daily runner. But I also use it for driving over rocks, through rivers, in sand dunes, everything really. I’m planning to take it overlanding to Namibia and Botswana. So it’s not a machine built specifically for this or that type of 4×4 challenge. Instead, it’s my dream 4×4 that can do, well, everything,” he explains. And any more upgrades on the cards for the future? “One day I’ll probably add a supercharger. But it’s not an upgrade it really needs, since there are plenty of horses as it is. It will just be a cool added benefit,” says Sean. And if money was absolutely no object… if he could pick any 4×4 in the world, and do any upgrade to it that his heart desired, what would it be?

“Well…” starts Sean, “I already have my dream 4×4, and it’s parked right there,” he says, pointing at Beast, the Jeep. “That’s it for me, right there…” He is clearly a man possessed with the spirit of Jeep. He has even bought his 10 month-old daughter a remote controlled Jeep Wrangler so she can also live the Jeep life.  We’ll leave the last words to Maniac 4×4’s Mark Esterhuizen, who is also a bit of Jeep fanatic.  “Sean is man of great principle, focus and dedication. While we were building his Jeep, whenever he arrived back in Cape Town after an overseas job, the first thing he did was to catch an Uber from the airport to our workshop, to come and check on the progress of his 4×4. Now that is a man with the right priorities,” says Mark.  Nuff said.

How much? How much? Clearly a lot of money  has been spent on this Jeep… probably somewhere in the region of R500 000 (over and above the asking price). But asking owner Sean Hill exactly how much he’s thrown at the Jeep would be a bit like asking a lady you’ve never met before on the public bus what size bra she’s wearing. Not quite the question to ask, then. In Sean’s case, it’s all about  a love affair. As any true romantic will tell you, there’s no limit on the wallet when it comes to matters of the heart. No limits, whatsoever.

And in other Jeep news…

BIGGEST An eccentric Middle Eastern oil sheik commissioned a selection of giant vehicles, including this Willys replica. The sheik with an interesting take on matters of motoring is also known as the Rainbow Sheik: apparently he bought seven Mercedes-Benz 500 SELs and painted each a different colour for each day of the week.

SMALLEST When a retired Indian mechanic undertook to build himself a ‘Jeep’, he decided to go a bit more practical than the rich oil sheik, reports Smaller and economical is better on the often overcrowded Indian streets, so he created a scooter-powered, miniature Jeep replica for the equivalent of about R11 000. The little Jeep can reach a top speed of 60km/h.

Photography: Kian Eriksen and supplied