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Fullsize 1979 Jeep Cherokee Chief S Power and Patina

Posted in Features on November 30, 2018
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Photographers: Rick Péwé

When a buddy showed Ken Farley Jr. photos of an old vehicle parked behind a shop for several years, Ken was intrigued. The guy thought it was an International Scout, but Ken knew exactly what he was looking at, and he wanted it. The Farleys left their home in Fowler, Michigan, and drove two hours to talk to the old fella that owned it, but it took three trips and a lot of talking to come home with their prize—a 1979 Jeep Cherokee Chief S. The Jeep had been outfitted from the factory with a snowplow, and it had been sitting for 15 years after the transfer case went bad. It had relatively low mileage on it, but they were hard work miles.

Ken wanted to build a rig specifically for the trails in Moab—one of his bucket list places to wheel. He knew if he didn’t build it right, he would never make it out to tackle the slickrock and ledges of the West. A mechanic by trade, Ken knew how he wanted this Jeep to perform on the trails as well as the pavement. He knew the transfer case was toast when he bought it, so that was his number-one priority, as he had a target to wheel it in Moab during Easter Jeep Safari 2018. With some minor modifications to the original leaf-spring–style suspension, a new upgraded transfer case, original power plant, and tired transmission, the Farleys left for Moab. After an exhausting week of parking lot wrenching into the wee hours of the morning just to keep it going for daily trail runs, Ken knew he needed to make some major changes.

Under the hood is a 2005 Cadillac 6.0L V-8. Ken added a Novak radiator and a custom exhaust and fuel delivery system. The wiring harness is from the Harness Swap Shop and the master cylinder is from a Chevy 2500. We really like the attention paid to the custom engine cover.

Fast-forward six months, and he has his dream wheeler and family camping rig. The addition of the 6.0L Cadillac V-8 and 4L65-E automatic transmission give him the power to cruise the highway and get decent fuel economy for a vehicle this size. The custom three-link front suspension with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers gives the Jeep plenty of front flex. The 40-inch Baja MTZ tires on the SOTA Offroad SSD8 rims with the color-matched beadlock ring help to tie the whole look together. The nine round KC Daylighters take us back in time and keep with the whole vintage feel of this Jeep.

We happened upon this sweet Jeep at the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. It wasn’t glossed up with ten gallons of tire shine, and it wasn’t waxed to within an inch of its life; it was just sitting there, saying take me as I am. We had the opportunity to hit the red rocks of Logandale, Nevada, with Ken and his wife, Amanda, and can honestly say that this Jeep is everything he built it to be.

Why This Jeep?

This FSJ has it all—a modern drivetrain upgrade, plenty of power under the hood, and the patina of a vintage Jeep all make it a winner. It’s built right, designed to tackle trails, and to take on any overlanding adventure its owners can imagine, with plenty of room for the family and all their gear.

The Dodge kingpin Dana 60 front axle is outfitted with chromoly axleshafts, 5.13 gears, and a Yukon Zip Locker. With the help of the guys at Steer Smarts, a 1.5-ton YETI hydro-assist steering system that incorporated a few JK parts and chromoly adjusters was fabbed up for this fullsize Jeep. Ken also plated the front of the frame.
Ken used a 2004 Chevy 2500 14-bolt rear axle and disc brake setup. He upgraded to chromoly ’shafts, 5.13 gears, and a Yukon Grizzly Locker. The Chevy 1500 rear leaf springs are outboarded, and Fox 2.0 shocks help with the ride. A Chevy S10 fuel tank replaced the original.
The interior is all original and in amazing condition. We dig the retro “big-foot” gas pedal, and this model came from the factory with a CB radio. He also added a cool console over the transmission hump to mount a plethora of light switches, three power outlets, beverage holders, and a couple of speakers.
Ken upgraded the stereo system and speakers for those weekend parties at the lake. The addition of the MTX Audio subwoofers and tower speakers in the rear really makes a statement.
Some external body mods were made to clear the 40-inch Mickey Thompson Baja MTZs. Ken cut and folded the wheelwells a little and shaved the rear quarter-panels. The paint is the original weathered and mossy-looking orange with black accents. The rooftop tent is a Free Spirit Recreation 55-inch High Country Tri-Layer multi-season tent with enough room for the family of four.
Collaborating with JcrOffroad, Ken took a stubby front XJ bumper and added some tapered extensions to make it a full-width bumper. A 12,000-pound synthetic-rope Quadratec winch tucks in to the bumper nicely, and the addition of several round KC Daylighters keep that retro vibe going strong.
The rear bumper is stock with the addition of tow points to the frame, and some trimming was done for additional clearance. All the original body trim, molding, and badging is still intact. There are a few minor rust spots here and there—subtle beauty marks— but the Jeep has survived the elements well.
Ken upgraded to the GM 4L65-E automatic transmission and an NP241C transfer case. The custom-made driveshafts were beefed up with 1350 and 1450 U-joints. Not pictured is the transmission and transfer case skidplate; it was removed for the SEMA Show to highlight this conversion.
The 40x13.50R17LT Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ tires are meaty off-road rubber with nice highway manners. These are mounted on the SOTA Offroad SSD8 wheels. Ken had the beadlock ring powdercoated to match the body color of the Jeep, and he upgraded to the HD Yukon lockout hubs.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: 1979 Jeep Cherokee Chief S
Engine: 2005 Cadillac 6.0L V-8
Transmission: GM 4L65-E Automatic
Transfer Case: NP241C with SYE kit
Suspension: 3-inch, 3-link custom with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers (front); 63-inch-long Chevy 1500 leaf springs outboarded with Fox 2.0 shocks (rear)
Axles: 1992 Dodge kingpin Dana 60, 5.13 gears, Yukon Zip Locker, chromoly axleshafts, disc brakes, Yukon HD Lockout hubs (front); 2004 Chevrolet 2500 14-bolt, 5.13 gears, Yukon Grizzly Locker, chromoly axleshafts, disc brakes (rear)
Wheels: SOTA Offroad SSD8 17-inch wheels.
Tires: 40x13.50R17LT Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ P3

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