Building A '98 Cherokee Daily Driver
The XJ Cherokee may be the perfect all-around vehicle. Its size allows it to fit where larger vehicles can't, yet it can carry five people and their equipment into the backcountry or to school. Its reliable drivetrain has proven itself for decades. The clincher is that since even the newest models have now aged, there are real deals on XJs now. I had searched for a Cherokee to do a project on and found a clean, high-mileage '98 on a used car lot. This white Cherokee SE had 138,000 miles on it, but it had belonged to the city and had a maintenance log showing regular service throughout its life. It had a few dings from its decade of use, but was really very clean overall. It ran well and the 4.0L I-6 was just getting broken in at 138,000 miles. I drove it home. My son, who was in his first year of college, asked if he could drive it to school until the project started. He did, but the Cherokee stayed home when he went to Pennsylvania for two years. Now that our daughter Jennifer is 16, I decided to build the XJ project as a mild daily driver she could use and also take into the backcountry.
Mild doesn't mean a budget lift and some tires. While my goal was to run 31-inch tires, I still wanted the XJ to be competent on the road and trail. Currie Enterprises sells crate 9-inch rear-axle assemblies for a number of applications that are a real value. The XJ is one of them. These bolt-in 9-inch rearends come with disc brakes and your choice of gear ratio and differential. I chose 4.10 gears and an Eaton/Detroit TrueTrac. The TrueTrac is a helical gear limited slip that doesn't wear out and is almost as positive as a locker when preloaded a bit. The Currie 9-inch arrived at Mount Logan Off-Road ready to install.
For the front, the stock reverse Dana 30 was strong enough, but Mount Logan replaced all the axle seals, cleaned up the housing, and installed a set of Sierra 4.10 gears and another Eaton/Detroit TrueTrac. Currie Enterprises offers a beefy steering upgrade for the XJ with a strong tie rod and drag link, so we installed that, too. I wanted to use a Rubicon Express Extreme-Duty long arm front and leaf pack rear suspension that features the innovative RE three-piece belly pan for easy transfer case and transmission access. The kit includes longer front radius arms and Extreme-Duty upper control arms, both of which feature RE Super-Flex spherical ball joints, but they start at 4.5 inches of lift. This was too much, so I ordered 3.5-inch coils and leaf packs along with the rest of the RE Extreme-Duty suspension system. I've stated in an editorial that just because we're not going as high on some of our vehicles these days, we still want our suspension to work well. This will ensure the XJ's does. Four 31x12.50R15LT Interco TrXus MT tires were mounted on OE alloy wheels that came from our TJ Unlimited project.
Behind the transmission, the original NP231 transfer case was working fine. It just needed a slip yoke eliminator kit. Instead of just doing a SYE, we opted to replace the case with a brand new JB Conversions NP231HD transfer case with their Super Short SYE. This heavy-duty 231 is built using every possible strength upgrade and is shorter than any other available 231 with a SYE available today. The OE front driveshaft was retained, while Tom Wood's Custom Driveshafts built a new 1310 CV rear driveshaft for the XJ.
To make the XJ look like a magazine project should, the Jeep made a trip to Wolford Collision Repair in Logan, Utah, for repairs that would bring it back to almost-new condition. Wolford's made the repairs and buffed the paint. They also sent the XJ to Logan Glass so they could remove the old purple window tint and install new gray tint. Mount Logan, Wolford's, and Logan Glass combined to build the XJ into a very nice vehicle. Jen's Jeep is ready to take her on the trail, to school, or to church. We installed an anti-mall device that won't allow the XJ to take her there, though.