How does a full-on desert racing XJ sound? Now add some lockers and a low-geared transfer case and you can go wheeling anywhere. Sounds good to us, but could you make this Cherokee road-worthy as well? If so, then you have a good idea of what our ultimate Cherokee is: an all-around fun-to-drive streetable trophy truck. OK, so maybe this dream Jeep is a little unreasonable, but what if you made it as good as possible at high-speed off-road driving while retaining the ability to drive down a paved road without killing yourself and frightening any nearby traffic. Yeah, thats better, and unlike the JeepSpeed racing class we wont limit our motor modifications or suspension setup. We couldnt race it with them, but it sure would be fun to drive.
One problem the Cherokee has is that the unibody construction is anything but rigid. This is OK for most Cherokees. In fact, this flex can be good for wheeltravel, but if youre talking high-speed off-road driving a rigid frame equals control. So how do you stiffen up the chassis of an XJ? Well, we would start by stripping all stock suspension components for better access since its all going to be junked anyways. Next, we would cut into the pseudo-framerails so we could insert square tubing of a similar size. This not only stiffens up the unibody, but will also give us a solid place to mount custom-length control arms for both the front four-link and rear three-link. To hold the front coilovers we would fab up some hoop-style mounts as high as possible in the wheelwell. We may have to trim out some of the sheetmetal to get the desired height, but hey, shocks sticking out of the hood are cool. For the rear we would have to construct a similar shock hoop, which would protrude into the interior of the Jeep.
To ensure Jeep speed we would start out with a supercharged 4.0L motor which we would port, polish, and blueprint so everything will flow and turn as efficiently as possible. We could also add a stroker kit to gain a little displacement and make this I-6 the pinnacle of 4.0L performance if so desired. Strapped to the back of our 4.0L would be a TH700-R4 that shifts like a train hit you. We would use adapters from Advance Adapters as well as their Atlas II 4.3 transfer case so we could cruise down the highway at speed as well as creep over the rocks. Axle duty would fall to a custom-made Dana 30 with chrome moly .250-wall axletubes, an Ox Locker, and tons of gusseting. This axle would help us save weight and should be strong enough to turn our 35s. On the ends of our rear suspension arms we would stick a Ford 9-inch with a Detroit Locker.
Body & Interior
To further strengthen the unibody and to protect ourselves if we ever wad this thing up into a riverbank at high-speed we would build a multipoint interior rollcage in our XJ. The cage would tie into the newly installed framerails as well as the front and rear shock hoops. This would definitely add rigidity as well as some weight but there is no price for safety. Nothing says blasting down a dry washout better than a set of big gaudy race-like fiberglass front fenders, and if you add a fiberglass hood youve saved 50 pounds or so. To continue this weight-saving theme you could start with a two-door Cherokee, replace the rear glass with Speedglass, and add some fiberglass rear fenders for the tires to tuck into during suspension compression. As for the interior we would strip most of it out , add a set of race buckets up front, and a third two-man seat in the back. Call us crazy but we would keep the A/C and beef up the stereo to drown out the tires road noise.
Tires & Wheels
Tires are like sandwiches: There are many kinds, some are better than others, and you probably have a favorite. For our Cherokee we would pop on a set of 35x12.50x15s from BFGoodrich. These Mud-Terrains may not have the sidewall that bias-ply tires have, but their radial construction allows more high-speed use. In the spirit of a light-truck we would opt for a set of 15x8 forged-aluminum wheels.
Good, Bad, & What It's For
Whether its dirt, rocks, or urban wheeling, this Jeep should be at home blasting down fire roads, dry washes, and highways across the country. The lockers and low gearing should make many a slower trail crumble under the 35-inch tires, and the suspension should prove fun on off-road dips and hills as well as your favorite (sub)urban obstacles like stair-steps, parking blocks, and frontyards.