When we showed up to cover the Toledo, Ohio-based 2019 Jeep Fest this year, we were expecting to see a lot of Jeep JKs, and we were not disappointed. Everyone knows the JK platform, and it is wildly popular across America. Even the amount of aftermarket support for the model is legendary. However, while having all of that support is amazing, it also leads to a certain level of similarity when it comes to builds.
Almost everyone that owns a JK Jeep does a lift. Most also do bumpers, rocker protection, new wheels and tires, and auxiliary lighting. These kinds of upgrades are certainly a good thing. They increase performance and make the Jeep feel a little more personalized. The drawback is that they all start to look the same after a while. That’s one of the main reasons that the Mango Tango JK stood out to us.
While strolling along lined up Jeeps at the 2019 Jeep Fest, we quickly noticed that Mango Tango didn’t look like the others. We tracked down the owners, Mike Stewart and Tracy Rambo, to get the lowdown. They shared that the builder, Dakota Customs, wasn’t exactly excited to sell it at first.
Mike explained, “We purchased it from Dan McKeag at Dakota Customs. It started as a two-door 2007 JK. It was his personal vehicle that he’d built over the years. I was looking for a four-door Jeep and I had found one online with some work that he had done on it. So, I called him up to ask some questions and while talking, I asked if he had anything for sale. He said he usually doesn’t sell; he just builds for other people. Then we got to talking about some of his personal stuff. I talked him into sending me some pictures. He had just moved facilities so he gave me a number. He was more than fair, even knowing how much I wanted it.”
It took over 300 shop hours to create this awesome build. Mike admitted, “I can’t say enough about Dan. He was fair from beginning to end. I knew that I didn’t want a stock Jeep. Once I found out about some of the work that Dan has done, I figured I would probably be sending whatever I bought to him anyway. It was just kind of downhill from there.” Let’s dig in and talk about what makes this build so special.
What’s The Diff?
The rear axle features a Mopar Performance Jeep JK Dana 60 rear axle assembly. The internals includes a 4.88:1 ring and pinion set. Traction is ensured by an ARB air locker. To top things off, a Currie Enterprises JK rear Antirock sway bar makes sure that Mike can have sway control on the freeway, and enough articulation off of it.
The front axle received a similar treatment to the rear. However, in this case, a Mopar heavy-duty Dana 44 front axle assembly was chosen. It is stuffed with RCV axle shafts. Once again, an ARB air locker was installed to get the driver through those tough situations. A Currie Enterprises JK front Antirock sway bar is also attached. The front axle is beefed up with the Dana 44 axle armor kit from Artec Industries.
Where The Rubber Meets The Road
For wheels and tires, Dakota Customs chose forty-inch Toyo Open Country M/T tires. They are wrapped around 20×10-inch TrailReady beadlock wheels with World Series rings. This combination is as tough as they come and we have no doubt that Mike will put them to good use.
Everything is suspended under the vehicle with Falcon Series 3.3 adjustable shock absorbers. This pairs perfectly with the Teraflex 4.5-inch JK lift kit coils. Control arms, track bars, all brackets, and brake lines were also included in the kit. They were installed by Dakota Customs, and the result is a Jeep that sits very nicely.
The heart of the build is the 5.7-liter V8 crate engine. The NAG1 transmission was built by Southern Hot Rod and is paired with an Atlas two-speed transfer case that includes shifter and wiring kit. A Poison Spyder heavy-duty transmission crossmember was used to mount the transmission and driveline combo. The Tom Wood’s 1350 driveshafts front and rear are top-notch and should provide years of worry-free performance. A sharp eye will also catch the Westin gas tank skid plate.
Every motor has to breathe. While exhaust can be an immediate upgrade for some, other projects overlook this detail. Dakota Customs chose to utilize an SRT exhaust kit. It uses a Magnaflow muffler and tailpipe combination to send the gases out the rear and keep things moving along.
Look At That Body
Probably the most notable thing about the Jeep is the custom JK8 jeep pickup conversion. It stands out in the fact that the wheelbase has been stretched from the original donor 2007 JK to include half doors and a bed. The overall look is unique amongst conversions and caught our eye. In addition to being a pretty amazing conversion, Dakota Customs also has used top-of-the-line parts on the outside.
Poison Spyder extra-wide aluminum tube flares give the stance that planted look. A JCR Mauler deluxe front bumper has been used to mount the WARN 9.0 RC 9,000-pound winch. JCR aluminum front inner fenders protect the engine bay while the Truckmaster Designs heat reduction hood keeps things cool.
The rear of the truck features a Swag Off-road JK drop tailgate kit. This makes cargo entry and exits a breeze, which is important to Mike. ORO led taillights to make sure that anyone behind the Jeep knows what the plan is. Both the rocker guards and fender flares have been lined to ensure long term durability.
Lighting The Night
Anyone that has ever been off-road at night knows the importance of good exterior lighting. Dakota Customs certainly sees value in it. That value is reflected by the use of VisionX LED headlights, as well as an array of additional auxiliary lighting.
Rigid dually flush-mounted backup lights make sure that anything behind the rig stays illuminated. A Rigid 50-inch roof-mounted light bar turns night into day down the trail to the front. As if that wasn’t enough two windshield-mounted Rigid Dually led lights and a 10-inch front-facing led light bar fill in any gaps. The overall set up creates a cool custom look that also performs.
Behind The Curtain
On the interior, one of the first thing to jump out at us was the Rockhard 4×4 front sport cage. It provides an exceptional level of protection for occupants while not being intrusive of the cabin ergonomics. Taking the time to open either of the half doors reveals storage space, as well as a Warn VTC compressor. Stech switch panels make handling the basics a breeze. In case you were wondering, the answer is yes – those are heated leather seats.
Just because you want to have an exceptionally capable ride does not mean that you want to be uncomfortable. The days of comfort limits are over. Mike revealed, “You can run seventy to 75 miles an hour with two fingers on the steering wheel. It goes as straight as can be and we get about 15 miles per gallon.” That kind of quality and performance is pretty exceptional for anything running on 40-inch rubber!
Mike has only had the Mango Tango Jeep for about 50 days at the time of this writing. Moving forward, the plan is not to do any further modifications. Mike explained, “We plan on going down to Tennessee. We’ll go out to Windrock and some other places. Tracy has never been off-road before, and I can just tell already that she’s going to love it. I can’t wait to get her out on the trail.”
We know that this Jeep will get well-used and loved having the chance to get to know Mike, Tracy, and the Mango Tango Jeep. In a sea of fantastic Jeeps, this is one special pickup. It’s definitely one that will catch anyone’s eye on the trail.