A well planned XJ
There is no doubt the somewhat boxy Jeep Cherokee is an awesome platform for building a stout off-road vehicle. Hence, the cult-like XJ following. When built correctly, these little SUVs can be wheeled hard for years on end. Still it’s not every day that we bump into a rig that is done almost exactly as we would build one if given the chance. Well, Charles de Bock of Fullerton, California, did a great job of doing just that. The end result is a strongly built and well thought out XJ built for a little trail riding and a little go fast in the bumps with plenty of features that would make it perfect for long wheeling trips and mild rock trails. We ran into Charles, a heavy equipment mechanic, out in Johnson Valley and were able to snap a few shots of his clean and just barely finished ’00 Silverstone Metallic Cherokee just before the sun set. Charles does lots of welding at work, and you can tell he enjoys liquefying steel on his own vehicle. The attention to little details is amazing, and we can tell that lots of time and thought went into this two-and-a-half year build.
The silver Cherokee’s Unitbody was fortified with RuffStuff Specialties XJ Chassis Channel Reinforcements and front Frame Strengtheners from Temper-Mental Racing. Add in a stout weld-in eight-point rollcage from T&J Performance and you have one Unitbody prepared to stand the tests of time and hard wheeling. Add to this some effective home-built rocker guards for body protection and even more strength and you begin to see the attention to detail put into this Cherokee. Up front 51⁄2-inch Iron Rock Off Road coils add boing to a custom Rock Crawler three-link suspension. Out back suspension lift comes from a set of 31⁄2-inch Iron Rock Off Road leaf packs that are bolted to a pair of HD Offroad Engineering shackle relocation brackets. Dampening comes from Bilstein 7100 shocks all the way round with the rear shocks passing cleanly into the passenger compartment to be tied to the rollcage. Daystar Stinger bump stops help soften any jarring hits at speed.
A 4.0L rests under the Cherokee’s hood and breathes a little easier thanks to a K&N FIPK intake. The stock AW4 transmission sends the six’s power to a NP231 transfer case that wears a slip-yoke eliminator. A high-pinion Dana 44 from a ’75 F-150 was narrowed to Wagoneer specifications. This axle was then outfitted with a TnT Customs axle truss, RoughStuff Speciality brackets, Yukon chromoly axles, a Yukon Zip Air Locker, Ford hubs and rotors, Chevy caliper mounting brackets and calipers, 4.56 gears, and Parts Mike high-steer arms. Out back Charles sourced a Dana 44 from an ’89 Cherokee. This axle spins 4.56 gears, a T&T Customs truss, Disc brakes from a Ford 8.8, 35-spline chromoly axles and a 35-spline ARB Air Locker.
Body and Interior
Eye-catching fiberglass front fenders from T&J Performance provide coverage and space for the 35-inch KM2s in the rocks and the bumps. We caught Charles and his XJ just days before a scheduled trip to the paint booth to have those sexy fenders painted to match the rest of the XJ. Because of this Charles claims the Jeep is unfinished…we say that makes it just like every other Jeep project in the world. Up front a discontinued Daystar Four Real Steel tubular bumper holds a Warn M8000 winch with an aluminum Hawse fairlead and synthetic rope. Out back the spare tire and Hi-Lift jack are supported by a home-built rear tubular bumper that matches the mild prerunner feel of the Jeep. Rockers are protected from the trail by rectangular tube rocker guards built by Charles himself. The interior of the XJ is basically as delivered from the factory with the addition of a cleanly installed T&J Performance roll-cage, an aftermarket head unit, tablet stand, and a CB and HAM radios for backwoods communication.
Good Bad and What It’s For
Charles claims to have come at this addictive Jeep hobby from the mini-truck crowd. That’s okay, we’ll let that slide for now, mainly because he obviously has spent lots of time thinking about how to make his XJ way better than it was. The Cherokee has added beef in all the right places and has lots of trick yet subtle parts. To the untrained eye this Jeep looks like any other lifted Cherokee. It is much more than that. With space for the wife and a couple large dogs Charles can use his XJ as a daily driver, weekend escape pod, or long range off-road expedition rig. Just what every Cherokee should be in our opinion.
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Vehicle: 2000 Jeep Cherokee
Transfer Case: NP231J
Suspension: Rock Crawler three-link with 51⁄2-inch Iron Rock Off Road coils (front); 31⁄2 inch Iron Rock Off Road rear springs with HD Offroad Engineering Shackle Relocation brackets
Axles: Ford high-pinion Dana 44 (front); ’89 Cherokee Dana 44 (rear) 4.56 gears
Wheels: 15x8 Mickey Thompson with OMF beadlocks
Tires: 35x12.50R15 BFGoodrich KM2
Built For: Go fast or rockcrawling fun in Johnson Valley and Big Bear, California
Why I Wrote This Feature
I’m not gonna lie, I am an XJ freak. I love how XJ owners are frugal but to the point; modifying used parts, beefing and reusing what’s good and adding spendy components only when necessary. It’s nice to see a really clean, well thought out Cherokee like Charles’ out in the dirt. The welds are clean and strength was added to all the right places. The fact is Cherokees make a great platform for a wheeler capable of going pretty fast in the dirt and making short work of most rock trails. Charles’ Cherokee has lots of little details that I would like to emulate on my WJ or maybe another XJ build someday.