Young people that are driven and have a great work ethic are some of my favorite people to meet and talk to. Not only are their stories inspiring, but the things that they accomplish are usually pretty amazing as well. Alex Baciu is one of those people.
As one of the winners of this year’s SEMA Young Guns competition, he has taken a stock 2006 Wrangler Sport and transformed it into a rig worthy of admiration. Even better is the fact that he has done it all on a college student’s budget.
Alex is a professional driver when not in class at Eastern Michigan University, where he is studying to be a mechanical engineer. He initially started the project with the intention of doing an 8.8-inch axle swap in the rear but, as these things go, it snowballed into one-ton axles and stretching the wheelbase to accommodate a coilover suspension. As Alex said, “I figured that if I wanted to go this far, then I wanted to do it right. I’m that kind of person.”
From that point on, the decision was made to take the Wrangler down to the frame and start fresh. The frame was sanded down and all of the stock mounting locations and brackets were removed and sanded smooth. From there, Alex used a Rock Krawler long arm upgrade kit to suspend the front newer style Dana 60 from a Ford super-duty. In the rear, a trussed GM 14-bolt was shaved and stuffed underneath.
Alex also noted, “We used high-clearance control arms and we saw immediately that they were going to hit the frame. So we decided that we would notch the frame for them to tuck into it. That allowed us to get more up-travel and keep the Jeep lower so it doesn’t have to be a monster truck.” The front of the Jeep has been stretched three inches and the rear has had six inches added to accommodate the new axles and give the rig the stance and look that Alex prefers.
Fox shocks with remote reservoirs and fourteen inches of travel up front handle dampening duties while the same brand and diameter shocks with sixteen inches of travel got the nod for the rear. 40-inch Toyo mud terrain tires on beadlocks make sure there is plenty of grip going to the ground. Also, a selectable rear locker was in the works at the time of this article.
A Poison Spyder front cage and a custom DOM tube cage for the rear were also being finished up at the same time. In fact, the night prior to our meeting, Alex had the entire tub off of the Jeep for welding. A rear cargo area for recovery gear and other storage items should be complete by the time this story is published.
The interior of the Jeep received custom-made seats and four-point harnesses for if things get topsy-turvy. On the engine side, the original 4.0-liter motor remains, but with the addition of a full Mishimoto cooling system, full PSC hydro-assist steering system, and a custom air intake. Discussion continues between Alex and his girlfriend Ari regarding what to do with the motor for the Jeep moving forward. Potential ideas have included making the current motor a stroker motor, swapping in a 2.8L Cummins motor, or even doing an LS engine with big power. Alex is currently shying away from a possible LS build as he admitted feeling that “everyone does an LS. I don’t like to be like everyone else”.
You may have noticed by now that Alex describes all progress and decisions with the Jeep as being decided not just by himself, but also with his girlfriend Ari providing input. That’s because the two of them got together when the build started and they have worked on it together every step of the way. Ari explained, “I’ve always had an interest in working on things. Ever since I was little, I would be the one in the garage with my dad handing him tools, and I would always be asking him how one thing worked with another. I wanted to know how it worked, not just what he was doing.” When Alex and Ari first met, Alex was rebuilding the Jeeps’ transfer case and Ari just jumped right in. “It was only like the second time that she had ever come over, and she asked me what I was doing and then was handing me tools and helping and I just thought, ‘Okay, this is pretty awesome,’” Alex said.
I asked what they enjoyed most about the project and both quickly agreed that it was how much they had learned. Ari pointed out that, “The best part is that you learn to do it yourself. I don’t have to feel reliant on someone else. I can do it. No one can ever take that knowledge away from me and that’s an awesome feeling.” Alex agreed and said, “I love the build process and figuring out how things work. A good example is the Currie Antirock sway bar we have. I just love the way it pushes down on the tire, doesn’t need disconnecting, and also acts like a sway bar. I love their products in general, but something like that is just cool from an engineering standpoint.”
Up next for this crew is a trip to the 2018 SEMA show and some additional travels. In addition to creating a cool rig Alex also took third place in the 2018 battle of the builders young guns. He took that third place finish as well as the feedback provided by the judges and made some improvements. He then took first place at the four wheel Jamboree in Indianapolis and that earned them the trip to the SEMA show.
After putting so much work into the Jeep both Alex and Ari agree that it’s time to enjoy it for a while. “I’ve always wanted to travel and this is just another way to do that. I have my own Jeep and we’ll do a build on that too but right now we just want to enjoy this one for a while”, Ari said. Alex added, “this coming year we just want to recoup all that build time and take it places, drive it around, and do fun stuff”. From our perspective they have certainly earned it and it will be awesome to see what great things these two do in the future.