Our ’01 Grand Cherokee Laredo with the 4.7L V-8 is without a doubt the Jp version of the Griswold family Truckster. All it lacks is fake vinyl wood on the sides. It has many jobs and gets used for everything from running to the store for milk to towing a trailer. And just for good measure, we like to toss in a little desert adventuring with a mix of high-speed assaults in dry washes and slow crawling on rocky twisty trails with the A/C blowing and the Jeep fully loaded. Add to that our general lack of maintenance and refusal to make repairs unless absolutely necessary, and the truth is that our poor Grand Cherokee lives a hard life, but somehow keeps on trucking.
So far we have modified the Jeep with a 6-inch Clayton Off Road long-arm suspension with Bilstein 5160-series shocks, a passel of JKS front end components including swaybar disconnects, a tie rod, and an adjustable track bar. We also added an NP242J out of an XJ Cherokee and later modified it with a custom driveshaft and slip-yoke eliminator. The fiberglass winch bumper with an old yet reliable Ramsey winch haven’t been given any quarter. Overall, we’ve been pretty happy with the WJ and all the modifications we’ve made, but honestly, it sits a bit high for our tastes. More than one family member has complained about it being too tall when climbing in or falling out, and that’s not good since it’s not a single seater. We like low-lift Jeeps and are of the opinion that an overly tall suspension lift is a quick and dirty way to fit larger tires on a Jeep that could sit lower with a little bit of planned trimming and suspension tuning.
We have always wanted to run Clayton Off Road’s 4.5-inch long-arm suspension on our WJ, but when we lifted the Jeep for 33s over a year ago, we were not quite ready to cut up the rear wheelwells of our still-shiny and new (to us) WJ. Running 33s and 4.5 inches of lift is possible, but you have to make some room for the tires so that they can have uptravel. Since then, we have driven the Jeep enough to knock the new off of it and have added some Arizona pinstriping and maybe even a small dent or two. This, along with the consistent commentary from our family as they hopped aboard our desert adventure vehicle, and we decided to get to cutting and lowering our WJ. We also wanted to tune the suspension by playing around with a set of Daystar Stinger bumpstops to see if we could make the WJ even smoother in the bumps. We also knew that we needed to address one fairly major problem—the front coil springs had fallen out of their perches more than once in flexy areas of the trails when the swaybar was disconnected. Follow along as we trim, tuck, and graft new parts to our Grand Cherokee for better performance on- and off-road.
Step By Step
1. We decided to attack the rear of the WJ first because trimming would be a touch more involved than the front. In the end, we wound up welding some super-thin sheetmetal and delved into unknown territory, actually using body filler on one of our Jeeps. Why would we do this when we were getting by with the 6-inch suspension? The truth is the tires were rubbing both the front and rear of the rear wheelwells, even with the 6-inch lift and lowered bumpstops. This rubbing in the back had gotten to the point that one trim retention screw had been removed by the tire while on the trail. We needed more space.
2. After looking at the rear wheelwells, we noticed that with some work and a bit of cutting and folding we could easily trim 11⁄4-inches from the lip of the wheelwell. The bad news is some of it would require sheetmetal welding. Other parts are easier and only require relief cuts with the air saw and a good talking to with a ball peen hammer to get sharp pinch welds safely away from tires. To help us make clean cuts, we made this little tool to draw our cut lines on the body. We made it out of some scrap aluminum that we bent and drilled a hole to fit a permanent marker.
3. At the back of the WJ’s rear wheelwell there is a large pinch weld that we wanted to get out of the way. It helps hold the front of the rear bumper cover in place. We are gonna trim that off later, so this part is no longer necessary.
4. Here we used the very tip of the air saw to cut through just the outer layer of sheetmetal that makes up the rear wheelwell. This will allow us to trim the wheelwell to our cut line and then fold the inner piece of sheetmetal up where it can be welded to the new outer lip.
5. Once the outer cut was made, we trimmed down what was left of the inner layer of sheetmetal and made relief cuts to make bending up the inner edge easier. Here you can see the trimmed outer and inner pieces of sheetmetal with relief cuts before we bent them together for welding.
6. Here you can see the progression as the inner piece of sheetmetal is bent in to place, trimmed with tin snips, the air saw, and a 41⁄2-inch grinder with a flap wheel, and then tack-welded in place. If we just cut this lip off, we’d be losing a pinch weld and also opening up our wheelwell to the elements. Welding these two pieces of sheetmetal ain’t easy. It’s really thin, and it’s easy to burn holes through it.
7. Once all welded up we filled pinholes and what was left of the relief cuts with a little tiny bit of body filler. Then we sanded it, hit it with primer, and topcoated it with Rustoleum Hammered spray paint. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for us.
8. Once we were all done cutting and welding on the back of our WJ, we tossed on a wheel and tire and cycled the rear suspension. Now the tire tucks up nice and tight. We noticed that the bumpstops that we made for the rear of the Jeep (“Grand Stance,” April ’12) were not quite wide enough for the factory rubber bumpstops. To remedy this, we fabbed up these bolt-on landing pads out of 1⁄4-inch steel.
9. Once done, we added a pair of 4.5-inch rear coils from Clayton Off Road (PN 1505501, $159/pair). This dropped the back of the Jeep down an inch and a half or more. That makes the wife happy, so we are happy, too. Also on the plus side, we were able to keep the longer shocks intended for the 6-inch lift because of our lower bumpstops. That means more downtravel and more flex.
10. We then pulled the front 6-inch Clayton Off Road coils in preparation for a set of Long Daystar Stingers (PN KU71090BK, $210). When welded to the upper spring mount using Daystar’s weld-on ends (PN KU71092, $30), these parts will act like the stem found on XJs, MJs, TJs, and ZJs to help retain the front coils when the Jeep is all crossed up on the trail. Also, the stingers with their moving piston and EVS foam inserts allow smoother hit on hard bottoms when the Jeep is at speed in the bumps. Killing two birds with one stone is a nice bonus.
11. Up front we dropped the frame ends of the control arms and backed the Johnny Joint-loaded ends out about 3⁄8-inch. We hoped to push the axle out 1-inch, but we ran out of threads on the adjustable arms. Oh well, 3⁄8-inch may not sound like much, but any extra clearance we can get is good. Maybe we can somehow figure out another way to weasel some more stretch out of this thing.
12. We tack-welded the weld-on ends to the front coil mount, then pulled the can and fully burned the end to the Jeep. We then loaded the Stinger with one 20lb EVS (black) foam and two 15lb EVS (blue) foams. We can switch out one or both of the 15lb foams for 20s if the Jeep needs more cushion on bottoming.
13. We then tossed a tire and wheel on the Jeep and cycled the suspension without a coil inserted to see where the tire would rub. We decided it would be easy to trim a little bit more off the front of the front wheelwell and front bumper cover. We snuck the Stinger into the 4.5-inch Clayton Off Road front coils (PN 1506450, $159) and installed both on the front of the Jeep. We then weaseled the stingers up to the top of the coil and threaded them on the welded on threaded ends.
14. We then trimmed a little more sheetmetal from the front of the front wheelwell. We also pulled the windshield wiper fluid reservoir from the Jeep. We barely use our windshield wipers, let alone our windshield wiper fluid, and this one takes up lots of space. If you need windshield washer fluid, you can apparently swap a ZJ windshield washer fluid reservoir in a WJs engine compartment relatively easily. On the passenger side (shown) there is nothing in the way of lots of trimming, except maybe the horns.
15. The last step in our evil plan was to trim the front and rear bumper covers. The rear cover is the factory plastic unit. We cut the plastic with our air saw following our cut line and then cleaned up the cut with a 41⁄2-inch grinder wearing a flap wheel. To reattach the front of the rear bumper cover we used a self-tapping sheetmetal screw.
16. After a little testing we are pretty darn happy with the new, lower WJ. The wife is happier because it’s easier to get in and out of, and the Jeep feels more stable on the trail. On the downside, the front end sat a bit low so we pulled the front springs, removed the factory upper coil spring isolator, and added a set of Daystar spring spacers (PN KJ09111BK, $130). This lifted the front of the Jeep about 1⁄2-inch. So we now have a WJ on 33s with about 5 inches of lift up front and 4.5 inches of lift out back. Notice the slightly bent front axle? How about the lack of rocker guards? Hey, where is the spare tire? Guess what? We have more in store for this Jeep, so keep your eyes peeled for more Grand tuning in future issues of Jp.