Greg Gavel spent a number of years 'wheeling Southwestern trails in a well-built Scrambler. But as his 'wheeling priorities changed and his family grew, he became convinced that he needed a new vehicle to suit his four-wheeling needs. He needed a vehicle that could comfortably seat four, carry weekend gear, protect it from the weather, and provide an acceptable level of go-anywhere capability.
Greg decided to go with an '85 Jeep Cherokee, but it would only serve as a foundation. Greg proceeded to remove the entire drivetrain, axles, and suspension; only the unibody chassis remained. The plan was to construct a comfortable, yet very capable 'wheeler that could tackle some of the rougher rock trails.
Greg wanted to run 38.5x14.5R15 Super Swamper SXs on a set of American Racing Rock Crawler wheels. From there, he proceeded to design the rest of the vehicle to handle the rubber. He spent some considerable time planning how he would build the new rig and ultimately drew all the key elements in AutoCAD to check layout and clearances. Greg started by designing and constructing a custom ladder frame using 2x4-inch rectangular tubing from the firewall forward and 2x2-inch square tubing from the firewall back.
The new suspension was then designed to mount to the subframe. Greg built the front suspension around five links, including a Panhard rod. The front axle is a Dynatrac Dana 60 with 5.13 gears, an ARB air locker, 35-spline shafts, Warn premium hubs, and disc brakes. Ride height is obtained via reversible-sleeve airbags and Rancho RS9000 shocks. Out back, articulation and travel were well thought out, as well.
The rear suspension consists of a custom three-link wishbone with airbags over detached quarter-elliptic leaf springs. Spring motion is controlled by Rancho RSX shocks. A Ford 9-inch axle is outfitted with 5.13 gears, a full spool, a Strange nodular iron center section, 40-spline shafts, a billet steel 1350 yoke, and TSM discs. The airbags can each be controlled individually to force articulation at each corner.
Front ride height can be adjusted by as much as 10 inches, and rear ride height can be adjusted by 6 inches. The front 'bags are a reversible sleeve-over-piston style, and the rear units are a double-convolute style. Each corner can be adjusted independently through a series of four three-position toggle switches located on the center console. Each switch controls a dual solenoid valve to either fill or vent each 'bag. The solenoids are located on a manifold under the rear seat.
With a stout set of axles and a competent suspension in place, it was time to provide some motivation to the package. A reliable Chevy small-block was borrowed from a wrecked '86 Corvette. The 5.7L tuned port-injected engine was rebuilt with 10.5:1 pistons and was mildly tweaked for plenty of low-end torque. Behind the engine lives a 700-R4 tranny complete with a Towmaster low-rpm torque converter in a K-style case. For those hot Arizona summers, a Be Cool aluminum radiator and dual auxiliary electric fans keep the engine temps down and the air conditioning blowing cold.
For times when the going gets slow, a quick pull of a lever or two can engage an Atlas II transfer case running a 3.83:1 Low range. Beefy 32-spline output shafts front and rear, combined with 1350 yokes and custom driveshafts, match the case to the heavy-duty axles. If the drivetrain and Swampers should fail to provide the needed forward motivation, a Warn XD9000I can be called into service.
To protect the bright-red body, Greg fabricated a complete external cage and integrated a swing-away spare tire carrier on the rear. The cage also functions as a roof rack when the Cherokee is used for camping trips. Other details include a custom 29-gallon gas tank tucked between the framerails, a custom skidplate, a Quick Air II and CO2 tank, a Premier Power welder, and dual Optima batteries mounted in the rear cargo area.
Greg wanted a vehicle that could take him and his family on a wide variety of trails. From hard-core rocks to weekend camping trips, this rig was built to be multipurpose. It has the power, clearance, and strength to tackle some tough terrain, but it still offers good amenities for around town driving.