Most Jeep Cherokee owners scoff at the hype over the JK four-door. After all, the XJ’s were four-door Jeeps long before the JK was conceived on the drawing board. But with many JK owners upgrading their axles, gears, and other components with aftermarket parts, guys like Chris Faustmann, in charge of research and development at Performance Automotive Group, saw this surge of JK popularity as a unique opportunity for his personal XJ Jeep.
“Jeep JK’s have great brakes and 30-spline axles,” says Faustmann. “It seemed like a great idea to upgrade the Cherokee with many of these spare OE JK parts that are inexpensive and readily available.” Aside from the JK axle housing that has some potential problems, the Cherokee uses JK axle internals in a new Dynatrac Pro-Rock 44 front housing. The Dynatrac JK axle housing is five inches wider than the stock XJ unit and can be ordered bare so that the new perches and shock mounts can be welded on separately to accommodate the XJ suspension components.
Faustmann could have easily replaced the stock shock mounts and leaf springs onto the new housing, but he opted instead to upgrade the Cherokee with a coil-over suspension that consists of Fox Racing 12-inch reservoir coil-over shocks that use dual Eibach springs. New shock mounts and adjustable bump stops were fabricated for the added ride height, which allowed for the installation of large 37x12.50R17 Goodyear MTR tires mounted on Raceline beadlock wheels. In addition, a PSC hydraulic ram assist system is used to give the Cherokee’s steering precise control over the oversized wheel and tire combination. Because this truck sees both street and trail use, a Viair Extreme onboard air compressor ensures that it’s easy to quickly air the tires back up when the trail ride ends at the pavement.
With the leaf springs and factory coils gone, Faustmann used a Rock Krawler tri-link front kit and adapted the control arms to the Cherokee’s frame with some new mounts. At the rear, the Cherokee uses a factory JK axle that’s been upgraded with Superior Axle’s new Evo Shafts and 5:38 gears, as well as an ARB Air Locker and Dynatrac cast iron cover. The factory transfer case was also dumped for an Atlas II unit, which gives the vehicle a 4.3:1 ratio for superior crawling abilities and added strength.
The Cherokee was also used as a basis for new products Faustmann developed for the company’s OR-Fab line. These include new body armor for the XJ rear quarter panels, as well as a heavy-duty rock slider rail that keeps this Jeep’s sheet metal perfectly straight. The Cherokee also sports an OR-Fab XJ modular front bumper that features a grille guard and winch fairlead for the Warn winch. A modular bumper also protects the XJ’s rear and wraps around to the bottom of the quarter panels to provide added protection.
To keep the interior clean and useable for passengers, items like a Hi-Lift jack and spare tire are mounted on a Gobi roof rack that has a set of KC HiLites off-road lights mounted to it that illuminate the trail once it gets dark.
To say that this Jeep rides smooth would be an understatement. The extra width gives the Cherokee a better stance that takes away the top-heavy feeling that other Jeeps might get with this same ride height. The Jeep articulates incredibly well over any large obstacle and the factory 4.0L engine has more than enough power to pull the Jeep wherever it needs to go.
Faustamnn has had his Cherokee at various events and has unintentionally sparked a renewed interest with other XJ owners who want to make these modifications on their Jeeps. “Now that people know they can easily adapt JK components to the XJ, we’ve seen more people doing it successfully,” says Faustmann. With an abundance of factory JK parts available, you can expect to see more XJ’s back on the trail using some of these components. So, if you know any JK owners who are upgrading their axles with aftermarket components, you’d be wise to offer to remove their old parts from their garage.
|Vehicle:||1996 Jeep Cherokee XJ|
|Owner/Hometown:||Chris Faustmann/Prescott, AZ|
|Engine:||Stock 4.0L inline six-cylinder|
|Transfer case/low range ratio:||Atlas/4.3:1|
|Front end:||JK Dynatrac Pro Rock 44|
|Rear end:||JK Dynatrac 44|
|Ring & Pinion:||5.38 Superior|
|Axle Shafts:||Superior Evo Shafts|
|Front Differential:||Jeep Rubicon Tru-Lok E-locker|
|Rear Differential:||ARB Air Locker|
|Suspension:||Rock Krawler long arm w/rear coil conversion, 12-inch Fox coilovers and 11-inch Fox reservoirs|
|Tires:||37x12.50R17 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar|
|Wheels:||17x9 Raceline Aluminum Beadlocks|