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1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Project Ain't It Grander

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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Photographers: The Four Wheeler Archives

Some seven years ago, we brought you project "Ain't It Grand" where we made some modifications to our '96 Grand Cherokee. Now, after 76,000 miles have been added, it's time for a makeover. And indeed, it will be a major makeover. But let's first review what we did to it back in 2000 and how things held up.

First on the list was a 3-inch Teraflex suspension lift. This has allowed us to try a wide variety of different tires and wheels, the latest being some excellent (especially in ice and snow) 31x10.50 Cooper Discoverers mounted on Pro Comp Street Loc wheels. The outer imitation bead-lock flange offers extra protection to both the tire and rim, but that lip catches water, dirt, and mud, so cleaning them is kind of a pain. Not only are the wheels seemingly always dirty, but have needed repainting several times. In a less harsh climate than Montana, we're sure they would do fine.

Up front we installed ARB's front bumper and a Warn 8,000-pound winch, both of which have served us admirably. The winch in particular, along with Warn's bag of extraction equipment, has saved us a long walkout on several occasions as we often travel by ourselves in places we most likely shouldn't.

With its ARB bumper, Warn winch, and Teraflex suspension, the Grand became a great trail vehicle.

One of our gripes involves access to the winch's control lever. It's kind of hidden inside the bumper. After all these years, you'd think we would've figured out a way-with a bit of parts swapping and a hole saw-to remedy the situation. Maybe we will this time around.

The powdercoating on the ARB bumper has held up remarkably well, considering the amount of gravel and salt put on the roads during the long Montana winters and then blasted against it. While it still looks good from 10 feet away, it definitely could use repainting.

We felt that the lower radiator support was vulnerable to damage on steep frontal approaches, so we built a steel skidplate that angles down towards the axle and is attached to the bumper. It's similar to a factory-offered piece, but doesn't act as a scoop when reversing.

While we repainted the Tomken bumper many a time, and later made a couple of modifications, it has served us well.

Back to the Teraflex suspension. The added weight of the ARB bumper and Warn winch set the front at least 1 inch lower, so we supplemented it with Air Lift Company's front airbags within the coils, and all was great-at least they were great for about 30,000 miles, when we finally pinched one of the bags. Now we live with a lower front-to-rear aspect ratio.

The Teraflex suspension has served us well, offering a good compromise in ride quality, handling, and lift height. However, over the last 10,000 or so miles, we've developed some suspension noise that seems to be coming from the front upper control-arm bushing. It would be time to replace these if we weren't making the changes we have planned.

We've got the same set of Rancho RS 9000 shocks, and other than rust on the shock body, they're still seemingly working like new. However, always after long high-speed dirt-road running, some damping is lost. JKS had supplied us with its pin-bar eliminators for the bottom and new eye mounts up top. The top mount for the driver side that goes right under the ABS pump was almost impossible to install due to clearance.

At the rear, we ditched the Mopar Accessories spare-tire carrier as it really wasn't up to handling the 31-inch spare. On went a Tomken Machine bumper and tire carrier. It's been repainted numerous times, and we finally ditched the hard-to-use, inconvenient, and wobbly spare-tire mount. We found that a 31-inch spare would just fit in the factory inside location.

We are still using the same K&N filter element, but have had to replace the air tube twice now.

The Borla stainless steel headers have loosened their bolts numerous times, resulting in two blown gaskets. They're not fun to replace, so we're more conscious of putting a wrench on the bolts at each oil change. As to oil changes, it's a major chore to sneak the oil filter in, out, and around the headers, even with a shorter-than-OEM type filter. This is such a problem, we're not sure if we would put them on a V-8 Grand again, but the performance gain from the headers is really remarkable.

The only other engine modification we've made was a K&N air filter. Performance was enhanced by this addition that equaled the Borla exhaust. The plastic air tube, where it attaches to the throttle body, had warped and thus didn't seal properly. K&N has subsequently solved it with an embedded steel ring which we have changed to. Between the exhaust and filter change, we dropped over a full second on our 0-to-60 time.

The IPF rectangular lights still reach out for distant viewing on those long winter nights, and we're surprised their lenses have held up to flying rocks. They are definitely tougher than the windshield, which we have replaced several times. (It's well known that you can count the winters you've lived in Montana by the number of windshields you've replaced.)

The Wet Okole Hawaii seat covers have surprised us in how well they have held up. In fact, they still look like new, and so do the factory seats under them. The Nifty Products' Catch-All floor mats also have done their job well. They're at the point of replacement now, but we hate to think what the factory carpet would have looked like had they not been there.

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Exteriorwise, we had added EGR fender trim; we hesitate to call them fender extensions as they stick out less than an inch. They have sacrificed themselves to several rocks and trees, protecting the body while absorbing the impact and still holding up. However, the rear air deflector doesn't do squat for keeping the liftgate's glass clean. The front deflector at least keeps the rock chips off the leading edge of the hood. The side window pieces are nice, in that a window can be lowered an inch or so for parked ventilation without the worry of rain getting in.

For rocker guards, we finally settled on pieces from Off Road General Store, which is now part of JKS. Without them, we would have spent several times their initial cost in bodywork to fix the damage we would have imposed. They're a real necessity.

Yep, we're going to make our Grand Cherokee even grander-in a big way. These changes are going to allow us to go places that we've always wanted to but didn't feel that the vehicle was up to. Besides that, now that it is done, it looks really cool.

First, there is the all-new unique prototype long-arm suspension and 5 to 6 inches worth of lift that we've been working on with the folks at T&T customs in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It's not been easy working out all the bugs on this, especially since it also includes a front and rear axle swap, ARB Air Locker up front, and an Eaton electric locker in the rear. The suspension lift allowed us to upgrade to some 33x12.50s on aluminum rims, with the potential of 35s perhaps in the future. These changes, as you can imagine, greatly enhanced the off-highway travel ability of the Grand and improved ride quality. Because of the subframe modifications, we also had to have TNT Customs build us some new rocker guards/nerf bars for the sides. These are future production models with a modification just for us. Tomken even updated the spare-tire holder so that it no longer rattles.

These aren't the end of the modifications that will happen as we progress on this project. Next month, we'll commence with the buildup.

Sources

Rancho Suspension
Monroe, MI 48161
734-384-7804
www.gorancho.com
K&N Engineering
Riverside, CA 92507
800-858-3333
www.knfilters.com
Warn Industries
Clackamas, OR 97015
800-543-9276
www.warn.com
Tomken Machine
Buena Vista, CO 81211
719-395-2526
www.tomken.com
Pro Comp Tire & Wheel
www.procomptires.com
Tera Mfg.
801-288-2585
www.teraflex.biz
Borla Performance Industries
Oxnard, CA 93033
877-462-6752
www.borla.com
ARB U.S.A.
www.arbusa.com
Cooper Tires
www.coopertire.com
JKS Mfg.
www.jksmftg.com
Nifty Products
www.niftyproducts.com
Wet Okole Hawaii
www.wetokole.com

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