Jeep Cherokees are known to be capable rigs with just a few basic mods. When you have the 'crawling aspirations of this owner, though, there's a bit more involved. Theon Wier knew what he had in mind was well beyond adding a simple lift and some bigger tires. He had his sights on traversing many of the hard-core trails around his Phoenix-area home. Low gearing, high clearance, and meaty tires were all on the renovation menu.
The project started a little more than two years ago with a '97 Jeep Cherokee Sport. Theon started with a production suspension kit that offered taller coil springs and reworked suspension arms. Some months later, he decided to remove the purchased suspension to design and build his own linked suspension, front and rear. What he ended up with when all the metal dust cleared and the welder sparks dimmed was a height gain that cleared a set of 39-1/2-inch Interco IROK tires.
The owner installed a custom ladder frame under the Cherokee's unibody. Long-radius front arms were combined with a rear long-arm four-link setup, all sitting atop coil springs. This involved a lot of fabrication to mount the transmission, transfer case, and all-new link mounts on the chassis and axles.
All this fabrication did not happen, however, without upgrades to the axles. Both front and rear stock axles hit the scrap pile, and a load of products from Randy's Ring & Pinion went on in their place. A high-pinion Dana 44 slid in its spot up front. It was stuffed with 5.38:1 gears, a Detroit Electrac Locker, and alloy axleshafts. Out back, a geared and locked Ford 9-inch packed with all the upgrade goodies stopped with Explorer disc brakes.
The stock engine was in fine shape, as was the auto tranny, but the transfer case needed a significant upgrade. A 4.3:1 Atlas was an easy choice to provide the strength and low cogs for rockcrawling. Installation required some floor cutting and custom work with all the chassis and driveline changes. Dick's Driveline in Phoenix supplied the long-travel driveshafts front and rear.
Minor details that seem to take all the time in a project such as this included new brake lines, tranny and engine skidplates, trimmed fenders, and an external 'cage to protect occupants and hopefully prevent major sheetmetal damage. To allow for extended travel, Theon uses a 22-gallon Summit fuel cell coupled with an external pump. Other boulder essentials include the installation of an AGR Rock Ram hydraulic assist for the steering and a Warn XD9000I winch sitting on a Warn XJ bumper.