Family Fortress

Originally Published: December 2017 Words: George Dove Pictures: Vic Peel
first featured in 4x4 magazine, december 2017


Traditionally, people bought  Jeeps as off-road playthings but wouldn’t trust them for long-distance expedition work. The arrival of the five-door Wrangler Unlimited changed all that however – and Mat Burrows’ tidily modified example demonstrated how well you can turn one into sorted adventure truck that’s also very much at home on the school run.

he Jeep Wrangler is more than capable off-road straight out of the factory. However, of all the options out there, Jeep’s hero vehicle is one of the most popular 4x4s to modify. With the extensive accessory aftermarket, especially from across the Atlantic, owners are spoilt for choice when it comes to making their Jeep their own. 

What’s rarer is to see a Wrangler adapted for overland use, a form of off-roading for which Jeeps have traditionally been overlooked. However, that was the vision of Mat Burrows when he got hold of his Wrangler JK Unlimited a little over a year ago. 

When Mat purchased the JK, it came to him almost completely standard. All that had been added was a 2” lift kit and an aftermarket roof rack. So for a serial modder like him it was the perfect find. 

Having grown up in the countryside, Mat got
a taste of mud at a young age, rounding up cattle in farmers’ fields in a trusty Land Rover Defender. Not necessarily off-roading as you and I would know it, but it was all he needed. From that point on, Mat has owned a breadth of 4x4s including multiple Land Rovers and Suzukis, a Nissan Terrano, a Daihatsu Sportrak and a Vauxhall Frontera before he came to own this, his first Jeep. 

Like most petrolheads, Mat has been misled by the allure of power in the past – most notably, an ill-fated project involving an innocent Suzuki SJ and the engine from a Toyota Celica. Add a steep hill into the mix and lessons were there to be learned; mid-climb, a propshaft snapped and gravity took over, leaving Mat feeling very thankful for the vehicle’s roll hoop.

Given all this history, it’s no surprise that under Mat’s stewardship the Wrangler has had a fair amount of work done. 

The first thing you notice is how it looks. The nod to the Jeep’s military origins is cool, and pulled off really smartly in the black-on-white colourway – though depending on which parts of the world Mat decides to travel to, rocking up in something that looks like Uncle Sam’s Tonka toy might not always prove too popular. 

The 17” all-black Rockstar rims and 35” Radar Renegade mid-terrain tyres fit seamlessly with the look too. As do a number of the performance enhancing mods Mat has fitted, such as a 4.5” Old Man Emu suspension lift – which, of course, is there to add ground clearance and allow for the massive tyres, not just to add to the rugged image. That’s just a bonus…

Another, more subtle case of this is found under the hood. The Optima Yellow-Top battery is obviously in place to improve starting reliability and power the winch, but there’s a reason why that plastic cover is a nice bright colour. Oh, and did you notice our use of the word ‘hood’ there? Seems we’re already being swept up by the galloping Americana. Ahem.

Having been members of the Wormhough 4x4 club, Mat and his wife regularly trialled for years – before taking some time off when they were expecting their son. Nowadays, their son is part of the off-roading team – which is why their journeys away from tarmac have taken on a new direction, meaning they needed more than outright performance off-road.

Up until the release of a long-wheelbase model eleven years ago it was nigh on unheard of that a Wrangler would be adapted for overlanding. This, and the introduction of diesel power at the same time, meant the JK model was a more versatile off-roader than the earlier YJ and TJ – and in the last decade, the vehicle’s popularity has soared.

With the family’s JK Unlimited now fully kitted out, it can take on everything from off-road play to overland camping adventures. A proper second row of seats means it’s even comfortable with the daily commute and school run, too, in every sense of the word.

Fully fortifying the Jeep and preparing it for anything was a task that Mat threw himself into. If you need any convincing – just look at it. Features adapting the Wrangler for long-haul excursions are everywhere. 

Up top, the four-man tent is obvious. But the custom-built roof rack, which stabilises the family when the Jeep is on uneven ground, is not. The 52” LED light bar across the roof is very, very obvious, on the other hand, certainly when it’s switched on – when it helps when pitching the 2.5-metre Tuff Trek awning after dark.

The rear bumper, a Smittybilt Atlas job, serves dual purposes. Plainly it protects the bodywork, but it also holds a swing-away carrier for not only the spare wheel but also a jerry can and a water butt. 

Staying round the back, the boot has had an exquisite custom fit-out, so Mat can fill it with anything and everything he could require for a trip of any length. Slow-close drawers provide stowage for camping equipment and luggage, not forgetting the fridge and gas hob. 

Since owning the Wrangler, improving it has never been far from Mat’s mind. So much so that while holidaying in Florida, he bought it a present. Those high-lift mounts on the bonnet came from Jeepers Den, a Jeep and truck parts shop in Orlando, and were shipped back to the UK in Mat’s luggage. That’s what we call a souvenir.

Aside from some of the more swivel-eyed Land Rover fetishists, you won’t find many people who fail to recognise that the Wrangler is an exceptional vehicle for serious off-roading. There are still many who wouldn’t think of prepping a Jeep for overland travel, however – but Mat’s JKU surely proves that they should think about. This dashing and dependable number is truly part of the family – making it the very definition of what owning an Unlimited is all about. 

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