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1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee - The ZJ Rubicon

1997 Zj Jeep Grand Cherokee Cover Photo
Kevin Blumer | Writer
Posted July 30, 2013

JK Axles are Just the Beginning

When building a trail rig, creativity usually picks up where a fat wallet leaves off. For those whose wallets are continually lean and mean, creativity is required from the get-go. Ronald Dunkleberger's 1997 ZJ Grand Cherokee is a perfect illustration of creativity combined with carefully planned purchases.

Ronald, of Lakeside, California, picked up the ZJ at a wallet-friendly price. The low buy-in left some wiggle room when it came to building the rig. There was already a 5.9L V-8 under the hood, so there was no need for a spendy, time-consuming engine swap. The V-8 was treated to a set of Edelbrock headers, a K&N FIPK intake system, and a FlowKooler water pump. Downstream, the 45RFE transmission was treated to a rebuild, and the NP231 was sent to M.I.T. Drivetrain Specialists in El Cajon, California, for a slip-yoke eliminator.

With powertrain needs seen to, Ronald then concentrated on the axles and suspension. For a time, Jeep was offering brand-new JK Rubicon Dana 44 front and rear axles at pinch-me-is-this-real prices. An order was placed posthaste. Once in hand, the axle brackets had to be modified to work with the ZJ chassis and suspension. The JK Rubicon axles offer several tasty features. They're wider than factory ZJ axles, so cornering as well as off-camber stability is increased. Factory gears are 4.10s, which work well in concert with 33-inch tires. Most importantly, factory JK Rubicon axles are equipped with e-lockers, providing locked-up traction at the touch of a button.

There's a lot more to this rig than a pair of JK axles and a V-8. Ronald has filled in the blanks by modifying virtually every remaining square inch to equip the ZJ Rubicon for the trail, for comfort, and for the unexpected. As you'll see, JK axles are just the beginning.

SPECIFICATIONS
Vehicle: 1997 Jeep ZJ Grand Cherokee
Owner/Hometown: Ronald Dunkleberger/ Lakeside, California
Engine: Chrysler 5.9L V-8
Induction: Stock EFI, K&N FIPK intake system
Transmission: Rebuilt 45RFE automatic
Transfer Case/Low Range Ratio: NP231/factory 2.72:1
Frontend: JK Rubicon Dana 44
Rearend: JK Rubicon Dana 44
Ring and Pinion: Factory 4.10
Front Differential: Factory e-locker
Rear Differential: Factory e-locker
Suspension: Rubicon Express 4.5-inch lift system with Super-Flex joints
Tires/Wheels: 285/75R16 Remington Mud Brute/American Eagle 16x8
Notable Quote: “To start with, this was cheap. I got started and could not stop myself.”
Build Time: On-and-off for seven years
Favorite Places: TDS/Truckhaven/Ocotillo Wells, Death Valley, Moab

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