There is no doubt that currently fantasy football is very popular all over the U.S., and honestly, we have no idea why—although we can see the benefits of a virtual 350lb linebacker tackling us instead of the real deal. Maybe it’s because we are totally obsessed with Jeeps. Yeah, that’s probably it. Still, we are slightly jealous that we can’t waste our time doing what we love in an imaginary way. Oh wait, we do that all the time. We like to call it “bench racing” Jeeps, and that is the focus of this article. It’s basically the Jp equivalent of building your own fantasy football team, only here we build fantasy Jeeps. Hopefully this will help inspire your plans for that new project Jeep you just bought. Please feel free to take our ideas and use them for your own build. We’ll keep working on the computer program that combines all these ideas and parts lists and makes these “bench racing” projects real…OK, we’re probably not gonna do that last part.
There’s nothing like towing your Jeep with another Jeep. The only bummer is that Jeep never made a really good heavy-duty tow rig. I’d love to take a J-truck, saw the back off of it, section in part of a Wagoneer, and make myself a crew-cab J-truck pickup with a Cummins 6BT, NV5600, and NVG271 out of a later-model Dodge. But when I come down off my glue-sniffing euphoria, I realize I’d never have the funds nor the time to make a project like that come to fruition. So, instead I think I’d take a ’70s Wagoneer or Cherokee Chief as my starting point. A diesel is the only proper tow rig engine, but for the sake of easier fitment, I’d nab a 6.2L, 403hp L92 or VVT L9H from a late-model GM pickup and stab a 6L80E transmission behind it with a chain-drive aluminum T-case.
A pair of AAM 1-ton axles from a late-model Dodge pickup would give me massive stopping power, and if I loaded ’em with 4.10s, there’d be enough grunt to haul up any grade. I’d most likely need to add some airbags to the rear suspension to aid in stability and prevent squatting when the trailer was hooked up. In the end, it’s a more realistic build idea than the crew-cab J-truck, although not nearly as cool or impressive. It would probably be safe to haul up to 10,000 pounds and should easily knock down 20 mpg when cruising the open roads unloaded.
Chrysler is about to put a diesel engine in the WKII Grand Cherokee. Sign me up for the idea, but not the monthly payment. But I think if I had to live in a Jeep every day for umpteen-thousand miles a year, it’d have to be a Grand Cherokee. I’ve always loved the WJ platform, and nowadays they’re almost felony-cheap to buy. However, that pesky 4.7L engine isn’t the most reliable thing in the world. I’d prefer a full-blitz ’02 or ’03 Overland model from the final years of the production. That would give all the widgets like sunroof, steering wheel controls, dual climate zones while still retaining solid front-and-rear axles.
But even the Laredo would do for a sleeper. I’d add some massive disc brakes at each corner and would wait about a week or two for the 4.7L to chuck its guts before stabbing in a 390hp Hemi with MDS. I’d back the 5.7L with a 545RFE five-speed auto from a pickup and an NVG241 from a newer JK. Some Katzkin leather seat covers would refresh the interior, and electronic satellite radio gizmos with USB integration for my iPod and video game hook-ups for my kids in the back wouldn’t be all that bad. It wouldn’t have the wow-factor of the same drivetrain slammed in a last-run Wagoneer from the late ’80s or early ’90s, but it’d be way quieter on the highway and more comfy on long hauls.
Sometimes a guy just has to give into his baser instinct and embrace the shag carpeting and faux-wood paneling. Okay, maybe not. But there’s just something about retro that’s killer. For most, when they think of retro Jeeps they think of ’60s- or ’70s-era off-road build with slot mags, period-correct high-mount winches, and stuff like that. I’m going back another decade or so to the ’50s. For me, I’ll take a purple flake paintjob on an early ’50s CJ-5. Toss on a column-shift three-speed T-90 so I can have a front bench seat covered in white tuck ’n’ roll vinyl.
A super-sweet Corvette or Power Pack Chevy 283ci V-8 with Rochester dual-quads would complement an old-school 30/30-grind solid cam, and it’d bark through Ram’s horn manifolds into some mellow glasspacks out the back. Mount up some old-school wide whitewall tires on painted reverse steelies, top it all with a white surrey top, and I’d be rockin’ the roads and scenic trails in ’50s style.
Remember back in the late ’90s when the SCCA Sporttruck used to pit Nissan Hardbodies, against Ford Rangers, Jeep Comanches and the like in road racing competitions? Yeah, so do we. Those low, fast trucks were cool and still are. Now if we could just get our grubby grease-covered hands on one to tinker with. Yeah, it would be cool to have one just like they used to race back in the day, but what about building one that is just a touch more potent? How ’bout a low-slung, all-wheel-drive, road-race-capable Comanche with wide meats and gobs of power?
We’d start with a cheap-tired MJ. We are talking swapping in a healthy 5.7L Hemi crate engine if we can hold out till those are available, or maybe a fire-breathing 6.2L E-Rod. Add a six-speed transmission for banging shifts, maybe a NV242 so we could run all-wheel-drive on the track and snow days and still do some smokey rear-wheel burnouts. Low range would be basically useless. Build up a Ford 9-inch rear axle to handle all that power and abuse and a non-disconnect high-pinion Dana 30 up front. Add in a rollcage for chassis stiffness and safety, and keep it all street legal so we can blow the doors of any and all tools in their douchebagged-out Bavarian manure wagons. The truck could still be daily driven as long as we keep our foot out of the go pedal. And hell, we could use it for towing our other Jeep junk around when necessary.
Yeah, so I’ve been brewing up a crazy idea for a Jeep-inspired, side-by-side fighter/mini crawler. I’d start with a pair of front Dana 30s and four short-side Dana 30 shafts from one of the 45 or so XJs in the local pull-your-part junkyards. I’d get some 30-inch mud tires. I’d then cut down the long side of both of the Dana 30 housings to the same length as the short side, clean up the inner knuckles and weld them on the chopped down tube. This should set the outside of the tire with stock Jeep wheels at darn near 50-inches. That’s about the width to legally and physically fit on 4-wheeler and side-by-side trails back East. I’d then use 11⁄2-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing to build a chassis. I’d have to spend time toying with side-by-side coilovers to figure out what would work with the CJ-5’s weight and front and rear double-triangulated four-link suspensions to allow enough travel. For a powerplant it’s easy to jump right to some high-horsepower street bike engine like a Hayabusa, and while that would be nice, I’d focus on finding something that is relatively inexpensive with some aftermarket support. Probably the hardest part of the build would be figuring out an engine and transmission combo that had dual outputs. You could also use a 3.8L minivan V-6 or 2.4L Compass I-4 with the factory transaxle.
Mounting the engine in the back of the rig tucked under a faux deck cover would be best for weight placement. Setting up the steering would also be a learning experience. I’d probably end up modifying some steering parts from some mass produced side-by-side although a manual Saginaw box could be used too. With the small tires and light weight of this thing steering should be relatively easy despite the terrain and lack of power assist. I’d lock out the steering on the rear axle, build a rollcage and add some miniature Jeepesque sheetmetal and I’d be ready to hit the trails. Sure, the thing probably would not be near as fast as the top-of-the-line Shaver or whatever, but it would break the cookie-cutter mold and probably end up being much less expensive.
Pancake or All Tire
Take a stock-height flatfender and put full-width Rockwells with the rear hubs flipped outwards in the stock axle locations. Then put 54-inch tires on it. The tires would stick way out past the body, and with the windshield off and no cage it would look like you were driving tires. There would end up being just over two feet between the tires, and the thing would be as wide as it was long. Breakover, approach, and departure angles would be out of control, and it would sidehill like a dozer. It would likely need a V-8 to spin the big meats, though.
Start with a tired old ZJ, preferably one with the fake wood-grain trim, and take it from its former life of schlepping booger eaters, soccer balls, and groceries from here to there. Sell off the drivetrain and interior including any small stuffed purple dinosaurs, and get ready for a stout 6- or 8-point rollcage. Next, gather the change from the old back seat and build a high-horsepower 401ci AMC or big-block Chevy, add in a built TH400, and a narrowed Ford 9-inch rear axle.
Set a 2WD beam axle from a ZJ or XJ up front with some skinny tires and tub the rear for some real meats and traction. Yeah, in nine out of ten major cities across the U.S. this thing would in no way be street legal, and it would draw cops like flies to a festering road kill, but it would be a blast to run down the track.
Take a stock or close to stock height Jeep, armor the hell out of it, put 30- or 31-inch Super Swampers on it, lock it front and rear, and skidplate the snot out of the underside. Yeah, it’d be loud to drive to work… use ear plugs. I did it on my Cherokee with 30-inch TSLs for a while, and mileage was better than it became later with the 33s. It’d be awesome to play with off-road, and stock-height Jeeps look way cool with mini-mudders on them.
Take a stock-height TJ or JK, put portals on the factory axles, and slap some big tires on it. Build done. The portals would give elevation and gearing while offering an incredible amount of under-axle clearance. Driveshaft angles are no problem, no raising the tire from tall short-arm lifts, and steering angles should be good to go as well.
The only bummer is that the added leverage from the portals would probably pretzel many stock control arms and mounts, so there would be some trial-and-error until you figured out what needed to be reinforced to keep the thing on the road.