Individuality’s always separated the automotive spectrum’s wheat from its chaff. Seldom do you hear about the guy who lays awake at night deliberating just how squarely he can rip off somebody else’s build.
Darron Shubin’s no copycat—something he made perfectly clear before putting a single wrench to his 2013 Jeep JK. “We talked about some ideas that would differentiate [our] Jeep from all of the other Jeeps out there,” he says about initial conversations between himself and his brother, Travis Larrarte, who came up with the idea to do all of this. “What could we do differently that hasn’t already been done?”
Design, partners, purpose, loud. By themselves, none of those word mean a whole lot. But together, and with Shubin and Larrarte’s strategy, they’re the criteria that would turn an ordinary JK into what the brothers call Project Rain Forest Frog.
The Jeep’s forename is a testimony to its Gecko Green paint job, which clearly ticks the loud box, but the diversity that defines the brothers’ JK transcends the body shop’s deeds. “We aligned ourselves with incredible aftermarket partners that either manufacture high-quality products or provide industry-leading service,” Shubin says about the whole partnership part of his criteria. “[They] were the backbone of the build.” Shubin’s role as national sales director for veteran exhaust system manufacturer MagnaFlow did its part in bolstering those sort of collaborations but, just as importantly, it arranged for the Jeep’s unique exhaust system that cleverly spans its 2.5-inch stainless-steel tubing over the frame and through the rear bumper, sheltering it from contact upon suspension travel and from trail obstacles. For this, Shubin teamed up with the company’s R&D technicians who made use of the facility’s dynamometers, flow bench, and sound-testing equipment to make sure that his JK system doesn’t just fit, but also makes more power and sounds good while doing it.
That’s right—trail obstacles. There’s no denying Shubin’s Jeep’s show-worthiness—it premiered at 2014’s Las Vegas SEMA show—but it’s every bit as capable on the trails as it is good-looking. Which is exactly what he and Larrarte had in mind from the beginning. To that end, the chassis was prepared with Rubicon Express’ Extreme Duty four-link long-arm suspension that increases ride height by 4.5 inches and features adjustable, chromoly upper and lower control arms. “ I expected the suspension to rattle my teeth out going down the road but, boy, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong,” he admits, summing up the system.
The brothers complemented the luminous hue with body pieces from Smittybilt and a horde of accessories that Shubin says transform the conservative look into something that commands a more “capable and monstrous introduction.” Like Smittybilt’s requisite XRC front fenders, bumpers, and tubular doors, and the 17-inch, Gecko-green-matching Ultra Wheels 103 Xtreme True Bead-Locks that are surrounded by Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 radials. The dual-purpose tires are proof that Shubin’s JK was meant for so much more than being flaunted about trade show halls. Even the JK’s familiar front grille has been updated with Smittybilt’s unique wire-mesh M1 piece that adds to the Jeep’s character and further satisfies the brothers’ pursuit of individuality.
Shubin’s been building cars and trucks for the likes of industry events like SEMA since he was 16. The JK build-up presented the opportunity for him to once again hook-up with colleagues who’d done their part with projects past. Like Unique Customs’ Adam Carpenter, the once rival car club member who fabricated the JK’s dual-purpose rear harness bar that complements the Smittybilt XRC seats and Memphis car audio system. “Adam built the amp rack and roll cage on my third SEMA project in 2004, [so] I knew he had the skills required of this beast,” Shubin says. That same sort of ingenuity can be found around back where Camburg Racing fashioned the dual-spare-tire carrier designed to hold a pair of 37-inch wheels and tires, a high-lift jack, Daystar Cam Cans, a Smittybilt air tank, and yet allow the top to bolt on without giving up ride height. In other words, they designed something very smart indeed.
Shubin was looking for a build-up that he and Larrarte, who’s 10 years his junior, could call their own. “This was also a chance for me to work with my brother on a high-profile project,” he says, “to increase his interest in the aftermarket community, which directly relates to SEMA’s initiative of bringing young individuals into the industry.” It also resulted in one serious JK, and ticked every single one of those boxes the brothers asked for.
Words by Aaron Bonk