We find most of our features on the trails wherever we go, and that’s as it should be for an off-road Jeep magazine. But every once in a while when we find a cool Jeep driving down the road, we flip a U-turn and chase it down for a closer look. That’s our least favorite way to secure a feature because then we have to tell the person we just pulled over why we pulled ’em over…assuming they even pull over. After all, would you pull over for a crazy guy screaming and waving his arms at you from a dirty Jeep? But once in a great while we catch a break and find a cool-looking Jeep unattended in a parking lot or on the side of the road and we can check it out thoroughly to determine if it’s feature-worthy before leaving our calling card.
So when we found this ’00 Cherokee parked out behind the Moab Diner during Easter Jeep Safari we were happy that we’d have some time to look it over. However, it took us all of about three seconds to determine it was feature-worthy. From the deleted fenders to the shortened rear of the body to the tube B-pillars it had a lot of neat tech. Then we looked under it saw the massive axles and scars from use and abuse and we knew it got wheeled like it needed to. Sold! We left our card and after Brian Buck got done with his breakfast he gave us a call and we went out to Moab Rim for this feature shoot.
There is a lot of work that has to get done to a Unitbody Jeep to make it live off-road with 40-inch tires and a lot was done here. The wheelbase was stretched out to about 108 inches with a three-link rear and four-link front suspension. The three-link rear uses two long straight lower arms and a single upper that pokes through the floor to a channel under the rear seat and ties into the ‘cage. The lower links attach outboard of the frame to thick pocket mounts which are not only welded to the “frame” but tie through the floor and into the rockers as well. Up front that “four-link” really shares more architecture with the factory front suspension, which used five links. Brian just deleted the driver-side upper control arm. Of course, just like the rear, Brian’s control arms are all heavy-duty and use custom heavy-duty mounts at the Unitbody. All of this was done by Brian and some friends at home.
Out back where the body was bobbed, Brian replaced the factory crossmember that held the gas tank with a heavy-wall square tube that also mounts a suck-up winch for that rear axle. The gas tank was moved inside the Jeep in the form of a fuel cell. Some custom polyurethane mounts were used both front and rear to keep the tires from coming up too far. Elevation comes from front Bilstein coilovers up front while out back a set of Bilstein coils pair with a set of Fox 2.5 air shocks for lift.
Normally we mention the ’cage in the interior section, but we include it here this time for two reasons. One, the upper coils, and air shocks are tied into the ’cage, and two the ’cage extends from the rear of the Jeep all the way up to nose. Those front “fenders” are part of it, as are the B-pillars, and all the upper suspension mounts are tied into it as well. By moving the suspension mounts from the Unitbody to the ’cage, the chassis flex that can cause cracking is minimized. And an 8,000-pound winch is hidden under the front grille and mounted with some tube and plate that, you guessed it, ties into the ’cage. Brian is much less likely to end up with cracks in weird places from flex.
Though much time, effort, and work went into the chassis and body, Brian took the leave-it-alone approach on the drivetrain and only replaced what he had to in order to reliably wheel the Jeep. The factory 4.0L engine is still bolted to the AW4 that Jeep slung in there lo those years ago. The engine breathes easier through an open-element air filter and a short exhaust that features a 40-series Flowmaster muffler. After that, though, his true nature took over and the NP-series T-case was chucked in favor of a four-speed Atlas.
The Atlas hands power off to a unique selection of axles. The front Dana 60 was sourced from a second-gen Dodge and stuffed with 4.88 gears and a Grizzly locker. However, the passenger-side axletube was replaced since the axle was originally a CAD-style. Out back, a Sterling axle was nabbed from an ’86 Ford truck and stuffed with matching gears and a spool and disc brake brackets from Great Lakes Off Road. The front and rear calipers are squeezed by a 1-ton Dodge master cylinder and steering comes thanks to a full hydro PSC system. Those big tires are 40-inch BFG Krawlers on TrailReady beadlocks.
Body and Interior
OK, so we talked about the ’cage already, but you also need to know that it is very cleanly welded to the body in several places, even replacing the B-pillars before the whole thing was shot with factory-spec Burgundy paint.
The factory console has the Atlas shifters poking through it with a transmission temp gauge down in front next to the factory automatic shifter. The factory dash and gauges are still there with an aftermarket Pioneer CD player providing the tunes. The front seats are replacements but the rear seat is the factory part. Under the rear seat are the tubes and upper control arm mounts we spoke of earlier, and somewhat above and behind is a spare air shock, just in case. Behind the rear seat in the 8-inch-shortened cargo area is a fuel cell running the factory pump and sender. Fastened to the cage is a set of handy wipes, a CO2 tank, and a shovel is mounted to the rear liftgate. The factory struts on the liftgate actually are able to hold it up even with the shovel, thanks to having no glass or plastic on it.
The “fenders” are custom formed pieces of aluminum that really give the Jeep its original Jeep looks while still leaving lots of room for those tires.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
This big Cherokee is bad ass and wheels like no one’s business. We aren’t big fans of full hydro steering, but Brian trailers it almost everywhere, so safety driving on-road is kind of a moot point. And with the flex this Jeep has, we’d be surprised if a regular link-style system would work anyway. We really like the integrated cage, but we imagine that being from Wyoming and having no doors would get cold in the winter, despite having the factory HVAC still in place and functional. Brian says he’d like to build a set of half doors for it, but might never get around to it because of other projects.
Vehicle: 2000 Cherokee
Engine: 4.0L inline-six
Transmission: AW4 automatic
Transfer Case: Four-speed Atlas
Suspension: Four-link with coilovers(front); three-link with coils and air shocks(rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front); Sterling (rear)
Wheels: 17x9 TrailReady beadlock
Tires: 40x14.50R17 BFG Krawler
Built For: Maximum articulation and wheeling
Why I Wrote This Feature
I would love it if my Cherokee was this capable and bad-ass looking. But then I’d lose the smoothest-riding Jeep I own to make another wheeling rig. Plus, I wouldn’t be able to sleep in the back of it anymore, and I’d roast to a crisp on those 100-degree commuting days. Basically, it’s a great looking Jeep that gives nothing up in wheeling ability to be driven on the street. And there is a little part of almost every Jeeper who wishes they could build an all-out wheeling rig and damn the torpedoes!