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1987-2006 Jeep 4.0L Inline Six - Inside The Inline

Muddy Jeep
Jim Allen | Writer
Posted November 1, 2007
Contributors: Courtesy Mopar Performance

Part 1: Stroking Jeep's 4.0L Six

If any engine can give a grizzled Jeeper the warm fuzzies, it's the '87-'06 Jeep 4.0L inline six. Designed by AMC and refined by Chrysler, its basic architecture was based on the '64-and-up AMC 199-, 232-, and 258ci OHV sixes. The fuel-injected 4.0L ruled supreme in Jeeps until forceably dethroned in 2006. We would like to say, "The King is dead, long live the King," but, thus far, nothing has emerged in diehard Jeepers' eyes worthy of wearing the crown. Before the late King's body cools too much, let's walk through tweaking this legendary engine from the inside out.

The old saying goes, "There's no replacement for displacement." Darn few single mods you can make to the 4.0L will give you more than a handful of ponies or pound-feet. One of them is to increase the displacement via an increase in stroke. Several companies sell high-quality stroked Four-O's as complete engines or kits, most notably Hesco, Golen Engine Service, and Custom Design Performance. Engine gurus have commented that, while stroking an engine is not to be taken lightly, it ain't brain surgery on the 4.0L. We wondered if the Average Joe, capable of an engine overhaul on his own, could do the job.To find out, we enlisted the aid of the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNO) and its High Performance Motorsports program to provide the facility and manpower for the job, as well as companies known for providing great products and services to enhance the Jeep 4.0L. In this article, we'll walk you through the job of stroking the engine; we'll cover other performance mods and finish up with dyno tests next month.

Like most modern engines, the 4.0L (bore and stroke: 3.88 x 3.44 inches) is oversquare, meaning the bore dimension is larger than the stroke. The 258ci (4.2L) Jeep six (3.75 x 3.89-inch) used before the 4.0L was undersquare, meaning the bore dimension is smaller than the stroke. Generally speaking, the oversquare engine is decent at low rpm, most efficient in the middle rpm range and has good high-rpm performance. The undersquare, long-stroke engine produces the best low-end torque, has a good midrange, but is so-so on the upper end.

Increasing displacement can also come via a larger bore, but a 0.060-inch maximum overbore on the 4.0L results in an increase of only 8 cubic inches. If you install the long-stroke 258 crank into the big-bore 4.0L block, it gains 32 cubic inches and becomes almost square, with the bore and stroke the same dimension (3.875 x 3.895 inches). The usual overbore, 0.030 inch, makes it slightly oversquare at 3.905 x 3.895 inches, and it gains 34 cubes. An 0.060-inch overbore gives a 41-inch increase.

There are two roads to building the 4.0L stroker. The budget method uses a 258 crank, 258 rods (5.875-inch long), and pistons with the stock 4.0L piston pin height (around 1.60 inches.). This is called the "short-rod" engine. The more expensive "long-rod" method uses the 258 crank, the longer 4.0L rods (6.125-inch) and a shorter piston pin height dimension (slightly variable but around 1.38 inches).

While the differences in a long- and short-rod motor can be huge in a high-revving', mega-power V-8 engine, the performance differences between the long- and short-rod Jeep engines is small. That's partly the inherent design limitations of an inline-six with a long stroke, and partly the way the engines will be used. The long-rod Jeep strokers offer a somewhat broader rpm range and, in theory, the short-rod setup is subject to more wear. Frankly, we doubt the wear differences will amount to much for most of you. The rod ratio (the ratio of rod length and stroke length) of the short-rod engine is identical to the stock 258, and they were known for a long life. Because we wanted to make this an "every man's" budget stroker, offering mainly a big boost in torque in the ranges where most 'wheelers work, we stuck with the short-rod option and off-the shelf parts.

A 4.6L stroker in a TJ makes for a big performance boost, both on the street and the trail. The owner of this Jeep was relatively happy with his 4.0L's stock performance until he added big tires. Even properly geared, street performance deteriorated, and being a red-blooded, power-mad American male, he wanted more. Other than a supercharger, the stroker offers the biggest single boost in torque and power you can buy ... and all the other smaller enhancements out there just build those numbers higher.

We learned the hard way that not all Four-O's are created equal. Our engine was destined for a 2000 Wrangler. The low-mileage original engine was being saved for another purpose, so a used engine from the early '90s was procured. We learned the hard way that there are significant external differences between the '00-and-later engines ('99-and-later for the WJ) and the earlier ones. Eye exams for all were ordered. It was as obvious as a garish Aloha shirt at a funeral. Water pumps, accessory mounting, engine mounts, induction systems, and more-all changed. Installing an older engine into a newer rig, or vice versa, involves adaptation-doable but adding to the financial burden. The best advice is to start with your original engine or a similar year range.

The biggest problems faced by 4.0L strokers is pinging (aka spark-knock or detonation) and it can be deadly to the engine. Stroker conversions end up with a higher compression ratio (CR) than stock, sometimes higher than can be supported on pump fuel. It pays to take heed of your particular combination of camshaft, pistons, head gasket, and deck height.

The static compression ratio (SCR) is simply the ratio of cylinder volume versus combustion chamber volume. Our 4.0L stroker has a total cylinder volume of 855.12 cc (52.16ci) and at top dead center (TDC, with the piston at the top), that air-fuel mixture has been squeezed into 90.59cc (5.5ci). Ergo: 855.14 90.59 = 9.44:1 compression ratio.

The dynamic compression ratio (DCR) is a more useful way to think about this. It factors the cam profile-more precisely, the intake valve closing point-with the SCR to get an operating, or "effective," compression ratio. On virtually all engines, the intake valve stays open after the point where the piston starts up on the compression stroke. Until the intake valve actually closes, compression is not occurring and the true compression stroke does not start until it does. Because the cylinder volume is reduced, so is the dynamic compression ratio. The later valve closing takes advantage of air velocity at higher engine speeds to help fill the cylinder. At low speeds, yes, that reduces the effective compression ratio, but at higher speeds the increased volume of air more than makes up for it.

Step By Step

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  • 1. All cleaned up with somewhere to go. All the subassemblies are ready to go and laid out for inspection. With just a few extra steps, assembling the 4.6L stroker is no different than building a standard 4.0L and a lot like any other inline-six. Unlike some stroked engines, this one offers no substantial internal clearance issues. We test-assembled these parts to check for block clearance and found no issues. Instructor Kevin Frische said, "You could drive a truck through here!"

  • 2. We started with a '91-'95 block (casting No. 503008405) but switched to an '00 block (casting No. 53010449) for the reasons noted in the text. Step one was a thorough cleaning, followed by align-honing the crankshaft saddles, boring the block and honing, after which the block is thoroughly cleaned again. After this, new cam bearings were installed.

  • 3. When we did a trial assembly of the stroker parts in the stock block, our deck clearance was 0.045 inch. We ended up removing 0.020 inch from the deck. Different aftermarket pistons have different pin heights and therefore different deck heights. Installing one piston and measuring your deck clearance to calculate the final compression ratio could save you heartaches later.

  • 4. Decking the block isn't always necessary in a "normal" overhaul but it can be an important step with a stroker. It has to do with quench height. The best idea is to deck the block for a zero deck height and a 0.040-inch quench height, but you must increase the combustion chamber size, either by enlarging the combustion chamber in the head or increasing the piston dish size. Don't do it unless you have calculated the effects and have the right parts. Here, 0.020 inch is being removed from our block.

  • 5. We were shooting for an SCR at or slightly below 9.5:1. We measured the volume of the combustion chambers in the head after porting, and the volume of the Sealed Power hypereutectic piston dish in the cylinder. You can measure the dish separately, but in the cylinder, you also see the ring land volume (generally about 1.1 to 1.3 cc). We used the thinner of the two commonly available head gaskets, and after taking about 0.020 inch off the deck for a clearance of 0.025 inch, we ended up with a 9.44:1 SCR and an 0.068-inch quench height: Less than ideal, but it saved any special machining. Had we used the thicker head gasket, we would have dropped to 9.27:1. With the cam we chose (204-degree intake duration, 26 ABDC) our DCR is calculated at 8.7:1.


Crane Cams
Daytona Beach, FL 32117
West Chester, PA 19380
Sealed Power
Southfield, MI 48034
Golen Engine Service
Hudson, NH 03051
Birmingham, AL 35233
University Of Northwestern Ohio
Custom Design Performance
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