Crawling in Comfort: The Modern SUV
For the past 15 years, Mike Palmer has been involved in the off-road industry at one level or another. In 1997, he picked up this '96 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the intention of creating a vehicle that would allow him accommodations for his entire family while traversing any terrain. It is quite possible you've seen Mike's Jeep at one of many automotive events such as the SEMA show in Las Vegas, Off-Road Expo in Pomona, Off-Road Impact in Las Vegas, and Tierra Del Sol in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Mike is also the owner of Jeep Toys in Irvine, California, an off-road mail-order and web-based business specializing in late-model Jeep vehicles. Recently, Mike guided us through some trails in Big Bear, California, and showed us just what his rig is capable of doing in the name of crawling in comfort.
The first thing we noticed upon looking underneath Mike's Jeep was that the entire unibody has been boxed from front to rear with a custom subframe. This offers much needed additional strength to the vehicle, considering the amount of hard-core terrain-mashing it endures.
The front axle setup is a Dana 30 using Superior 30-spline axleshafts, 4.56-ratio gears, and an ARB locker with a Crane differential cover for added protection. The suspension is a custom radius arm coil-spring setup providing 7.5 inches of lift using Rock Krawler Suspension components all installed by Jeep Toys. The track bar and sway bar are made by JKS Manufacturing. Controlling the damping abilities is a set of Rancho RS9000X Pro Series remote-reservoir shocks that provide 12 inches of wheel travel and a 32-inch extended length. Steering this bad boy is a KevinsOffroad.com steering box.
Before checking out the rear of the rig, we noticed that a TrailReady front bumper had been installed for ultimate trail protection. Sooner or later, if you wheel enough, you will need a good winch system. Mike added a T-Max winch with synthetic winch rope provided by Winchline.com and a set of KC Rally 800 Series off-road lights. Mike is no dummy when it comes to being prepared on the trail: Years of experience have taught him to overprepare. Besides the front lights, an extra four KC Titanium Finish Daylighter lights were added to the Off Road Unlimited Defender roof rack and make spotting that mountain drop-off or rogue grizzly bear no problem.
At the back of the Jeep we noticed an enormous amount of trail goodies. The first thing that stands out is the Skid Row Offroad 3/16-inch-thick gas-tank skidplate. Just in front of that is a custom transfer-case skidplate made and installed by Jeep Toys. The rear suspension runs the same Rancho RS9000X Pro Series remote-reservoir shocks and coils as the front, with the same 32-inch extended-length measurement. The rear geometry, however, is a Rock Krawler four-link suspension setup which provides massive amounts of articulation over boulder after boulder.
Just so we didn't have to tear open the rearend, Mike informed us that his rear axle is a Dana 44 running 4.56-ratio gears and an Aussie Locker with 30-spline Yukon Alloy axleshafts. For increased resistance to trail-induced failure, Jeep Toys custom-fabricated an over-axle gusset to give Mike plenty of peace of mind.