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1999 Jeep Cherokee XJ: An XJ Built For Backcountry Exploration

Posted in Jp Dirt N Drive: 2017 on September 19, 2017
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The 2017 Jp Dirt ’N Drive presented by Jeep brought out Jeeps of all types from all over the United States and Canada. People showed up with rigs ranging from practically stock to mind-bogglingly built, with plenty of others somewhere in the middle. Jon Wilder of Round Rock, Texas, drove out in his 1999 Jeep XJ Cherokee to partake in the 2nd annual Jp Dirt ’N Drive, and we were certainly glad he did.

Jon is a recent convert. His life in the automotive world started out wrenching and welding on Ford Mustangs, but he joined the Jeep community just a few years ago. “The Jeep has been by far a more fun build than anything else I’ve done,” he explained. His goal with the Jeep was to build a solid and reliable vehicle he and his family could use to go camping and exploring in an overlanding style.

Motivating the Jeep is the stock 4.0L straight-six workhorse we all know and love. The engine has been well maintained, but with the exception of an Accel coil and wire kit, left in stock form. Jon dreams about making further upgrades in the future, but he’s pretty happy with it as it sits. The AW4 transmission remains untouched, but the NP231J T-case features an Advance Adapters SYE and a Novak cable shifter.

The front and rear axles (Dana 35 front and Chrysler 8.25 rear) are also stock, and still carry the 3.55 factory gears. Jon says there’s no need at this time to re-gear because the 31-inch BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrains are all he needs for now, and “coming out of Texas to the Four Corners area, I need long-haul comfort.” The XJ has also received a 3.5-inch Rubicon Express Super-Ride Short Arm suspension lift and twin-tube shocks.

The exterior of “Rusty the TeXJ,” as Jon calls his 1999 Jeep Cherokee, also received a few upgrades. The stock front bumper was retained but carries a 12-inch LED lightbar, and a front skidplate from Up Country XJ was bolted in to protect the steering system. Modified skidplates from a Grand Cherokee (WJ) protect the transfer case and fuel tank. To give the 31-inch BFGs a little more room to move, Jon installed a set of Bushwacker Flat Style Flares. The rear end features a JCROffroad DIY bumper kit that was reinforced to support a custom swing-away, 5-gallon jerrycan, and hi-lift jack. A custom foldout table was also built into the backside of the tire carrier, making for a great workspace to prepare meals or hold drinks. To illuminate the work surface at night, custom-wired LED lights mounted into the interior panel of the rear can be turned on when the hatch is open.

“Most of my modifications are geared around camping and exploring as the goal,” Jon explained. “Not to say I don’t enjoy obstacles, they just aren’t something I go looking for.” Since being built, the XJ had carried Jon and his family over more than 15,000 miles of road and trail throughout the United States. Their travels have taken them to Telluride and Ouray, the forests of northern Arizona, Big Bend, and some of backcountry New Mexico.

Why This Jeep
We chose “Rusty the TeXJ” because of its simplicity. In a field of Jeeps heading to Moab on the Jp Dirt ’N Drive with massive tires, huge axles, and intricate bodywork, Jon’s Jeep was refreshing. It wasn’t overbuilt or gaudy, and it perfectly serves his backcountry exploration needs. We also liked that he moved from Mustangs to the much more fun world of Jeeps.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1999 Jeep Cherokee XJ
Engine: 4.0L inline-six
Transmission: Aisin AW-4 Automatic
Transfer Case: NP231J
Suspension: 3.5-inch Rubicon Express Super-Ride Short Arm with twin-tube shocks
Axles: Stock Dana 30 front and Chrysler 8.25 rear, 3.55 gears
Wheels: 15-inch steelies
Tires: 31x10.50x15 BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2

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