It’s a laugh from the moment it pulls into the paddock. This is a Arizona Motorsports Park, a race track, a land for serious machines. There’s a GR Corolla and a Civic Type R in the pits, looking menacing as F-35s and French Mirages from Luke Air Force Base scream overhead. Then the green, six-wheeled Jeep shows up.
It’s a project of Wesley Kagan, and arguably his origin story. The mild-mannered tinkerer is bound to become an automotive folk hero. At 25, his projects so far included fitting a homebrewed version of Koenigsegg’s Freevalve technology to a Miata beater, turning a used Porsche Boxster into a Sixties-style F1 car, and a do-it-yourself active suspension system. But today he’s driving the bright green Jeep that started it all.
Green, I should say, doesn’t quite cover it. The color is a home-improvement-store paint match of Lamborghini’s Verde Mantis, a fitting choice for something as extroverted as this.
The original idea was to make a Jeep pickup truck. Kagan had the TJ Jeep, the first car he bought after turning 16, and plenty of ambition. He’d learned metal working, wrenching, and improvising skills working under his father, who runs a construction company. He’d come home with some broken tool or project idea, and set Wesley to work. Seeing as his hometown of Westcliffe, Colorado had just 495 residents, there wasn’t much else to do. By his early twenties, he was ready to take on a custom auto body project like a Jeep pickup conversion.
Kagan, however, isn’t one for imitation. And while the Gladiator didn’t exist when he completed this build, the Jeep pickup certainly did. Even ignoring the factory-built Comanche, there were plenty of converted TJs roaming around. Inspired by the Mercedes G63 6×6 and ambitious to his core, Kagan set out to build something unique.
“The six by six part just kind of got added on, because I was like, ‘I’m converting it over anyways, I want to do something completely different,'” Kagan told Roads & Tracks. “It was just a really good platform to work with, everything on it is super simple to work with.”
Kagan bought a second frame and another factory axle for the Jeep. He welded the two frames together, extending the overall frame length by 16 inches, and moved the factory fuel tank back. He topped it with a custom bed, built alongside his dad using a metal brake and some 14-gauge steel walls and fenders for the bed walls. The bed rails are simple steel tubes welded to the walls, and the bed floor is made out of sealed 2x4s. From the back of the cab forward, it’s a standard Wrangler. Simplestuff.
The messy part was getting drive to all six wheels. The Jeep came with factory four-wheel drive, driving what is now the front and middle wheel sets. But it’s not a 6×6 if only four of the wheels are powered. Kagan solved this with an early NP205 divorced transfer case out of a ’68 Dodge, flipped backwards. So the “input shaft” (which is the output shaft in the 205’s stock application) takes power from the Jeep’s transfer case and, depending on whether it’s engaged or not, sends power to either the middle two wheels or all four of the rear wheels .
You control this gear-driven box with a hefty lever shoe horned between the front seats. Whether the front axle receives power is controlled by the stock Jeep transfer case, which is also how you shift the whole thing into low range. The end result is a Jeep that can drive in two-wheel-, six-wheel, or two separate versions of four-wheel-drive (front two sets of wheels or rear two sets.) Low range works with the front two axles or all three axles engaged.
Engaging the rearmost axle takes some work. The lever requires a proper shove, and even then you often need to rock the truck back and forth on the throttle to fully engage or disengage the rearmost axle. Get it in though and you get true six-wheel drive, with LSDs on the outboard axles and an e-locker in the middle. The longer bed and extended wheelbase means it isn’t as nimble as a stock TJ, but it’s got a lot of traction to work with on the slippery stuff.
“It’s been up and over Four Peaks,” Kagan told us, referring to a 38-mile off-road trail outside Phoenix. He hasn’t pushed it to its absolute limit, but he’s comfortable in what it can do.
It’s not hard to see why. From the driver’s seat, the 6×6 feels substantial, capable, and—most of all—silly. On a dirt trail around Arizona Motorsports Park, the Jeep bounds up sandy inclines and crashes through desert scrub brush with a satisfying sense of invulnerability. Kagan couldn’t care less about its paint or bodywork, and told our photographer that he’ll stop backing up when he hits something, so I don’t feel bad clipping a bush as I turn the overstretched Wrangler around.
There are rough edges, of course. I feel scrubbing in tight turns, and some unpleasant drivetrain grumbles as I engage or disengage the rear axle. But there’s a fundamental compatibility here. In something like a G-Wagen, you expect a degree of polish. This, however, is a two-decade-old Wrangler with 112,000 miles. Groaning and shaking are expected. The beauty is, you know it can take it.
And boy, this one can. Wesley converted the Jeep at around 90,000 miles, and then daily drove it for years. Over all that time, nothing related to his modifications has gone wrong. The four-liter still plods away with a satisfying grunt, though Wesley encourages me to shift around 3000 rpm. It’s part mechanical sympathy, part practicality.
“With these four-liters, you don’t get much more above three grands,” he says.
Pulling onto a two-lane highway, I certainly felt the 4.0 strain. The TJ wasn’t fast from the factory, and Kagan estimates that the conversion added about 1000 lbs to the Jeep’s curb weight. It’s good enough, so long as the drivers behind you are a patient bunch.
Get up to speed and you can see where the conversion has compromised the Jeep. Kagan notes that steep driveline angles cause some drivetrain vibration at high speed. The sway bar delete is a more noticeable issue, as the 6×6 is even more ponderous than the stock truck.
“She swims a little bit. It’s a straight-axle jeep with no sway bars,” Kagan says.
Driving it, then, is work. It’s a long, heavy truck with an overworked engine, a large turning circle, and vague controls. None of it makes sense. Perhaps that’s why I can’t help but smile behind the wheel. Driving isn’t supposed to be serious business. It’s supposed to be fun. In a lime green, a six-wheeled Jeep that takes plenty of steering to go straight, it always is.
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