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1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Rock Limo

Posted in Features on November 28, 2006
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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 right suspension components can make all the difference.

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 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 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.

It's a four-wheeler's Christmas list under this rig.

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.

So what else did we find underneath this Grand that allows it to crawl so easily, you ask? How about an NP242 transfer case running a 4.1 ratio with a Currie HD slip-yoke eliminator kit setup and custom 1310 drivelines installed by Drivelines Incorporated of Lake Forest, California. Not all Grand Cherokees would have made their way so easily through the rock quarry we found for this photo shoot, but we were quickly learning why Mike's had little trouble.

The parts list for under-the-hood modifications could take up an entire article in itself. This 5.2L V-8 engine is pushing 300 hp and over 325 lb-ft of torque. Making that happen are aluminum heads, a stroker crank, KRC Performance pistons, KRC H-Beam rods, an F&B billet throttle body, a plenum pan, and a Mopar ECU upgrade system. For exhaust, Mike chose a Car Sound catalytic converter and a custom MagnaFlow muffler setup installed by Welding Works. Keeping things cool are a high-flow aluminum FlowKooler water pump and a B&M SuperCooler transmission cooler. Odyssey PC 1200 batteries combined with Magnecor spark plug wires keep a lively spark throughout.

All that performance needs to make its way to the tires somehow, right? The stock transmission has been upgraded with an APS Performance submariner modification. This modification includes relocating the breather tubes and replacing the factory seals with watertight seals on all linkages - very handy for water crossings.

It took a lot of work to get enough clearance for the 35x12.50R16 Maxxis Creepy Crawler tires: Jeep Toys contoured and trimmed all four fender openings and wheelwells extensively to make sure they would fit. This also included relocating the vacuum canister into the engine bay. Four Moto Metal 951 black and chrome 16x9 wheels were chosen to add just a touch of bling to this project vehicle. Stopping power was increased using Power Slot rotors and Rock Krawler stainless steel brake lines.

The rear bumper and tire carrier are also TrailReady products, as are the rocker covers. Knowing the amount of scrapes and scratches that can accrue on the trail, Mike had both lower sides of his vehicle sprayed with TNT bedliner to provide plenty of protection and an aggressive off-road look.

Earlier we suggested that overpreparation can be a good thing. Open up the rear hatch of this Jeep and you will find an ARB air compressor, a CO2 tank, spare parts, plenty of tools, an ice chest, a tent, chairs, and first-aid supplies all safely tucked behind a Raingler safety net in case of a rollover.

Last, but definitely not least, we climbed into the cab and into a pair of APC racing seats and powered up the Kenwood Ez500 head unit that shoots tunes through Diamond Audio HEX speakers. Additionally, communication is provided by a Midland CB unit, and navigation duties are handled with a Garmin eTrex mobile handheld GPS unit.

Protection, safety, and peace of mind are all found on this Grand Cherokee's front end.

Mike is a true wheeler with synthetic oil running through his veins and a mind stuffed with its own set of gears and lockers, and only a mind like that could conceive of a Jeep like the one he's created. Keep an eye out for him on a trail or at an automotive extravaganza near you, and don't be surprised if his Jeep stops you dead in your tracks.

PhotosView Slideshow
Year/Make/Model: '96 {{{Jeep Grand Cherokee}}}
Owner/Hometown: Mike Palmer/Irvine, CA
Engine: 5.2L V-8
Transmission: {{{Chrysler}}} 42 RE
Transfer Case: NP242
Frontend: Dana 44
Rearend: Dana 44
Ring-and-pinion: 4.56
Suspension: Rock Krawler components, Rancho RS9000X Pro
  Series shocks and coils, rear four-link setup
Tires/Wheels: 35x12.50R16 Maxxis Creepy Crawlers
  16x9 Moto Metal 951s
PhotosView Slideshow

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