Words: Kristie Real
Photos: Jason Mosely
When it comes to customizing, you can’t be afraid of your vision. You can’t care about what the haters will say. After all, you can’t build the rig of your dreams based on other people’s perceptions. You have to do you and do it well! You can’t please everyone, right?! Christopher Varner of Varnbilt Motorsports knows this all too well. As a seasoned builder, he’s always customized his rides to his own liking or that of his customers wishes. Life’s too short to want to please everyone, so when it came time to create a custom Jeep like no other, he went with his gut and transformed a 2010 Jeep Wrangler into Papasmurf, which his nine-year-old daughter absolutely adores. “You either love it or hate it,” he mentions. “Most hardcore Jeep guys tend to hate it,” he explains. “That’s because it’s not your normal 3” spring lift on 35s. We don’t follow the basic trends, we like to set them!”
Since his oldest daughter loves Jeeps, Christopher wanted a ride they both could work on together. “My daughter kept telling me she wanted to build a blue Jeep and I had to jump at the opportunity to make her dreams come true.” Since he works for a large car dealer in New Jersey, he was able to get his hands on a mint condition JK with a blown engine to use as the base. “I knew this was the Jeep for the frame-off project we’d be able to work on together, adding an awesome LS3.”
After getting a few renderings from Truck Guru Designs, Christopher and his daughter went right to work to create Papasmurf! Having maintained and solidified relationships with brands thanks to his previous builds, he was able to work with all the companies he initially wanted, acquiring parts and accessories that would work well for a show Jeep that was actually driven. “Since I live by the beach, I make sure all my customs feature materials (heim joints, bolts, etc.) that will hold up to the sea salt and humidity we see here on the East Coast.”
For the exterior, Papasmurf needed to be able to stand out at the beach or at a show. “We sprayed it with Raptor Liner. It’s a mixed Grabber Blue, which is a factory color from the 2018 Ford Mustangs.”
But before any of the exterior, interior or suspension could be done, the motor needed some fine tuning so that he’d be able to work the suspension around the powerful V8. Christopher built a 6.2-liter LS3 that gives 525 horsepower to power Papasmurf. With the engine complete, he moved on to the custom 16” 4-link lift built by Exit74 Fab, which also includes a custom cradle/axle truss, 2016 Ford F-350 Dana 60 front differential and a F-350 Sterling 10.5” rear differential, Fabtech Dirtlogic 2.4 Resi 14” travel coilovers, PSC hydro assist steering and Drivelines Plus front and rear driveshafts. A set of 24×14 Dropstars Forged F60BM wheels wrapped in massive 19.5/44-24 Super Swamper TSL Boggers complete the stance.
Christopher also teamed up with BodyGuard to add their front and rear bumpers, fender flares, rock sliders and inner fenders. The American Fastbacks hard top and hood gives it a distinct look, while the DBCustom “Varnbilt” grille, Cliffride LED hoodcowl and JCR rear corner guards with 4” LED tails, Royal Hooks billet handles and shackles and Infinterule security locking pins round out exterior accessories. The Ace slanted tire carrier, Rhino adjustable drop hitch and Warn wireless winch with synthetic rope all add to the JK’s capabilities, while the BAMF LED Offroad Lighting provides the light needed for night cruises by the beach. The interior is adorned with Roadwire black leather that’s double-diamond stitched with blue suede inserts. A 2017 JK dash swap and blue suede personalized steering wheel completes the interior mods. “This build stands up pretty tall to my past builds given every part was custom-made and the only thing we reused was the body and the stock frame,” he admits.
Getting everything perfect took a “whole lot of dollars” and about six months, which paid off since it won LFTDxLVLD’s Best Jeep presented by Amsoil at the 2018 SEMA Show. Now the Jeep enjoys being gawked at while showcased at shows, in addition to being his daughter’s favorite rig given she lent a hand whenever possible! “I hope my daughter really appreciates the time that went into the build!”