’74-’91 Jeep FSJ
The Fullsize Jeep (FSJ) had been built since 1963. But it wasn’t until 1974 that it really got some better drivetrain components and disc brakes among other things. The ’74-’91 FSJs came in several different flavors including a four-door Wagoneer SUV, a two-door Cherokee SUV, and a J-series standard cab pickup that can be had with a long or a short bed. None of the FSJs are really as big as a real fullsize, but that’s part of their advantage. They are more maneuverable, you can see better, and they fit on more trails. What you get in an FSJ is fullsized drivetrain in a midsized package. The AMC 360 V-8 is very common in all ’74-’91 FSJs but some ’74-’78 Wagoneers can be found with the highly desirable big-cube AMC 401. However, all of these AMC V-8s have a pathetic ignition system that needs help or a complete replacement ignition system.
The automatic transmissions backing these V-8s were essentially bombproof 1-ton trannies for the most part. The ’74-’79 FSJs with Quadra-Trac came with a GM TH400 while the ’80-up FSJs generally got the TorqueFlite 727. The T-18 manual transmission is also a good option and can be identified by its really low First gear. The T-18 is most commonly found in the trucks but sometimes you’ll see them in FSJ Cherokees.
Several different transfer cases were used over the years. The ’74-’79 FSJs with manual transmissions got the cast iron gear-driven Dana 20. Later trucks got the more-modern chain-driven NP208. Both are good T-cases. The real problem-child is the full-time Borg Warner 1339 Quadra-Trac transfer case found in ’71-’79 FSJs. The Borg Warner 1339 can last a long time if maintained properly using the correct fluid. However, most Quadra-Tracs have had the wrong fluid in them sometime during their lives. This causes increased wear and internal damage.
The ’74-’79 FSJs generally came with admirable Dana 44 axles front and rear. In 1980 the big-tubed flanged AMC 20 rearend became the FSJ mainstay while the Dana 44 remained up front. The J-20 trucks received eight-lug hubs and a Dana 60 rear axle. Almost none of the FSJ axles are problematic (’80s disconnect front axles excluded) and they are great for tires up 35-37 inches.
- Relatively heavy-duty drivetrain components
- Smaller than a regular fullsize
- Body rust is common, even in the southwest
- Quadra-Trac T-case will almost always need a rebuild
Be on the lookout for:
Just about any rust-free FSJ with a V-8 is a good buy
’99-’04 Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ
When the Grand Cherokee WJ was introduced it had a similar look and the same wheelbase as its predecessor, the Grand Cherokee ZJ, but it was an all-new vehicle. Increases in it’s overall length and width translated to more interior and cargo room, but even with its larger size the WJ was still incredibly capable right out of the box in stock form. As a matter of fact, it easily won our 1999 and 2002 Four Wheeler of the Year competitions.
The WJ was available through ’01 with two engine choices. One was the familiar 4.0L I-6 and the other was a new overhead-cam 4.7L V-8. WJs equipped with the I-6 were saddled with the weak Dana 35 rear axle while the V-8 WJs got a better Dana 44 rear axle though it used an aluminum centersection. A Dana 30 solid front axle was used on all WJs. Some models, of the ’02-and-up WJ were available with a high-output version of the 4.7L engine that bumped output by 25hp and 35 lb-ft of torque to 260hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. This power was routed through a 45RFE five-speed automatic transmission and a lever-shift NV247 (Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive) or NV242 (Selec-Trac) transfer case.
You may want to consider a six-cylinder WJ if you’re planning to hack it up. They’re less expensive than their V-8 counterparts and you’ll probably be ditching the rear Dana 35 axle anyway. However, if you plan on driving it stock look for an ’02 model with the high-output V-8 and Up Country suspension (it added skidplates, high-pressure gas shocks, tow hoods and special springs). Why an ’02? Well, for one thing, Jeep began de-contenting the Grand in ’02 and the list of standard features got smaller each year until WJ production ceased.
- Widely available
- Great ride and handling
- Outstanding approach and departure angles in stock form
- Only two rows of seating
- A lot of tech on Quadra-Drive-equipped models
Be on the lookout for:
Any V-8 is good, but keep an eye out for an ’02 model with the high-output 4.7L V-8 and Up Country suspension
’94-’02 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500
On ’93-and-earlier Rams it’s often said that that the truck falls apart around a perfectly functioning drivetrain. That all changed in 1994. Along with a much-needed redesign, the ’94-’02 Ram ¾- and 1-ton trucks retained a respected lineup of powertrain options. The Rams feature everything that people generally want to swap into their 4x4s including V-8s, diesels, V-10s, and massive Dana 60, 70, and 80 axles.
These Rams typically came with a healthy fuel-injected 5.9L Magnum V-8 gas engine. But for even more grunt you could get the popular 5.9L Cummins 12-valve (’94-’98), the more-refined Cummins 24-valve (’98-’02), or the massive 8.0L V-10 (’94-’02) which is based on a cast-iron version of the Dodge Viper engine. Behind these engines you’ll find several different transmissions used over the years. Look for the NV4500 five-speed manual. It’s a great transmission. However the gland nut on the Fifth gear can come loose when towing heavy loads with a modified Cummins engine. Later on the NV5600 more than cured that problem. You may want to avoid the light-duty 2500 trucks; some came with the somewhat-smallish (for a ¾-ton truck) NV3500. None of the Ram auto trannies of this era are what we would consider bulletproof, but if maintained properly they will hold up just fine. Make sure you have plenty of cooling. Rebuilds are not cheap and neither is upgrading the internals to stronger billet parts to keep up with overly modified engines (mostly behind the Cummins).
With huge Dana 60, 70, and 80 axles as standard issue what else could you ask for? The only real bummer is the added complexity of the center axle disconnect in the Dana 60 front axles. This was phased out starting in ’02.
These trucks often develop steering issues. Inspect the steering box, tie rods, wheel bearings, ball joints, and track bar for excessive wear and slop.
- Great engine options
- Heavy-duty drivetrain parts
- Long wheelbases
- Steering component issues are common
Be on the lookout for:
A V-10 or Cummins truck with an NV4500 manual