Follow the Wheeler: Dre and Michelle Armeda’s 2012 Jeep® Wrangler Sport

Categories: Customization 

Everything around us is the product of our environment, but no piece of our lives more exudes this than how we modify and reinvent our machines. Jeep® vehicles provide the foundation necessary for an all-encompassing 4×4, but it’s events like the Jeep® Jamboree that define how people like Dre and Michelle Armeda build their ultimate trail rigs.

A woman's reflection in the side view mirror of a Jeep Wrangler.
Dre’s wife, Michelle, churns their 2012 Jeep® Wrangler through the Gatekeeper at Holcomb Creek. While Dre hops rocks to guide Jeep® Jamboree participants, Michelle often wheels their built Wrangler through the crawling obstacles to keep the fleet moving.

They had driven their 2012 Jeep® Wrangler Sport off the dealer’s lot with a scant six miles on the odometer, already equipped with a 2-inch lift and 35-inch tires. While this dealer special was the toe dipped in the water that interested Dre in diving deeper, it was after his first Jeep® Jamboree that he went off the deep end, modifying the Wrangler to be even more durable and more fun to drive. He started with a 3-inch lift on FOX Shocks and Currie Rock Jock axles – a high-pinion Dana 60™ in front with a massive Dana 70™ in rear.

The JK soon began its service as a trail guide for the Jeep® Jamboree when Randy Stockberger (JJUSA Big Bear’s trail coordinator – aka, the trail boss) recruited Dre after his second Jeep® Jamboree as a participant. “I guess they liked the rig and they liked my wheeling; I don’t know what they liked about me, though!” he joked. “I think I was so consumed by that comradery, and I think that’s something that translates well between the guides, the program and the attendees. I couldn’t be more honored; it’s a pleasure to be out here with these guys.”

As a mid-gunner, Dre is something of a shepherd for Jeep® Jamboree participants. A mid-gunner, as the name implies, runs in the middle of the pack as a spotter and recovery expert. They’re vital in relaying information across the entire group as the nose and tail snake through the mountain trails, sometimes without direct radio or visual contact. Leading herds of Jeep® 4x4s across technical trails means that Dre’s rig has to be something of an unstoppable billy goat, able to make quick work of the obstacles without a sweat so that he has more time to spot and instruct.

This is when the evolution really began as they wanted to tailor their Wrangler for tackling tougher trails. They further modified the spring pockets for 14-inch FOX Racing coilover shocks with external reservoirs, which gave them enough travel and clearance to move up from 40-inch tires to gargantuan 42-inch earth-pounders (though it currently rides on 40×13.5-inch Milestar Patagonias). To better control the suspension’s articulation, the rear suspension was also upgraded to Terraflex’s four-link control arms. Lastly, while the drivetrain was extricated, an Atlas two-speed transfer case was added, allowing the front and rear axles to be activated or disabled independently.

The undercarriage of a Jeep Wrangler.
The undercarriage of a Jeep Wrangler.

“We started with the undercarriage first, and then moved upwards,” Dre said. With the ability to crawl everywhere, the Wrangler needed a little extra protection from the terra firma it would be bouncing through — and sometimes against. For that, they installed Genright bumpers, body armor and a roll cage, adding MEK Magnet removable paint protection panels on the doors. KC’s LED bumper lights bring daylight to the trails when wheeling after dark, and their rig sports a WARN ZEON 10S winch to pull fellow off-roaders out of trouble.

The Armedas also took an all-business approach in the interior, installing four Deegan 38 Signature Series seats with five-point harnesses keeping Dre and Michelle planted in front of their command center. A one-off metal half-roof incorporates pockets for the SPOD accessory control system and various radios used for off-road communication, while a Lowrance HDS-7 GPS nav system hangs front-and-center. The last touch was Mopar® half-doors, and according to Dre, “They fit like factory; they lock; they don’t leak; and the uppers are amazing — they’re nice, stiff and rigid” when used with an open roof.

The end result is a Wrangler that can not only quickly shuttle Dre and Michelle through just about any adventure thanks to its V8 power plant and fortified suspension, but also be a foothold for Jeep® Jamboree participants as they branch into new adventures with the same kind of curiosity that led to the Armedas’ build.  

The interior of a Jeep Wrangler.

“I’m a trail guide; I’ve been a mid-gunner and tail-gunner for four years. It’s a testament to the type of event this is, it’s really about the participants, getting people to trust in their abilities and build confidence in their rigs and their ability to go out and explore nature. Watching people go, ‘I can do this, I can take this vehicle and make it do things I never thought it was capable of, and I was the one driving’; that’s an awesome thing to see people experience,” says Dre.

A man and woman stand in front of their Jeep Wrangler.
A silver Jeep Wrangler.

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Thanks for the awesome article. Jeep Jamboree Big Bear is one of the best events every year and it’s my pleasure to help guide attendees through the San Bernardino mountains! ~Dre