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Ultimate Jeep! How to Build It: Grand Cherokee

Posted in How To on September 1, 2001
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Photographers: Jp Archives
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This may be the one ultimate buildup we’ll catch the most flack for. That’s OK though because for us, it just so happens that the ultimate Grand Cherokee doesn’t really need to go off-road. It’s for street racing and towing. Yeah, yeah—it’s won all kinds of awards for being the best 4x4 of the millennium or, better yet, the sport utility most likely to whoop-ass on a cute ute. But when you take a relatively light-weight V-8-equipped all-wheel-drive vehicle and put it into some corners you’ve got yourself a four-wheel-drive Corvette and a real rice burner if it’s set up properly. You might think any V-8 Grand is a good candidate, which for the most part is true, but for real tire spinning and canyon carving we’d start with a ’98 Grand Cherokee Limited 5.9L.

Chassis & Driveline

It’s gonna be a hunt to find the ’98 but once we get our hands on it we’d set to wrenchin’. We’d stiffen the chassis and protect ourselves from stupidity with a light interior rollcage. We’d be careful though because we wouldn’t want to mar up our nice leather seats and carpeted interior; it’s gotta impress the lady folk, too, ya know. We’d drop the suspension about an inch and possibly swap in stiffer coils and most certainly some real performance road shocks. Some air bags out back would keep our Grand level when we’re towing our trail rig. We can deflate the bags when we aren’t towing so we’d always have a smooth ride. Sway in the corners would be combated with thicker aftermarket sway bars front and rear. With the suspension setup to carve like O.J. with a steak knife, we’d set into the drivetrain. The 245hp 5.9L is already a souped-up version of the Dodge 5.9L. But we wouldn’t let that stop us from going even further with the power output. We’d shoehorn in a supercharger designed for the Dodge 5.9L and combine it with a nitrous system. That’ll keep the street gnats behind us and we’ll laugh all the way to the finish line. For gratuitous tire spinning launches we’d dump the NV249 full-time case in favor of the NV242 Selec-Trac with all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and two-by. The front axle would be relieved of its CV-style steering joints and we’d replace them with Spicer-style U-jointed shafts for strength. We’d do the same for the front driveshaft by rebuilding it with U-joint-style yokes instead of the CVs. Out back we’d ditch the aluminum Dana 44 ’cause there are no real lockers or good limited-slips available for it. In its place a Ford 9-inch would fall complete with an ARB Air Locker for straight-line launches and dune patrol.

Body & Interior

Ever heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Nah, us neither. But in this case it seems fitting. Leather seats, electric windows, and carpet are fine as is. Except we’d build an interior cage to combat body flex. Less flex means better stability and handling. We’d use 1 ¾-inch .095-wall chrome moly to keep it light and rigid. Since there is no real frame we’d use large plates welded to the body under the carpet as mounting points. The exterior of the ’98 body would surely still be in good shape and would probably only need a coat of wax.

Wheels & Tires

Here’s where we’ll get the real chastising so we’ll make it quick and painless. We’d run the stock 16x7 aluminum wheels. The 225/70R16s would be swapped out for some smaller 255/60R16 Pirelli Scorpions. These will grip better in the corners and off the line but probably be worthless in any off-road situation other than sand. OK, now you can send hate mail.

Good, Bad, & What It's For

Well, the ultimate Grand Cherokee certainly isn’t for trail duty, although it might be fun to ’wheel in the dunes. But imagine opening some eyes at the local dragstrip or street races. With all this power on tap and with the transfer case shifted into all-wheel-drive, it could easily tow our trail rig and pass 1-ton trucks in the process. The all-wheel-drive feature would provide added stability with the relatively short Grand Cherokee wheelbase. If you’ve ever towed with a V-8 Grand you’d know what we mean. They’re real stable, even when the trailer is dancing around due to insufficient tongue weight. Many aren’t aware that some V-8 Grand Cherokees are rated to tow 7,000 pounds in stock form.

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