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Jeep Grand Cherokee Parts - Project Ain't It Grander

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2008
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We just could not resist the temptation to get an idea of what Ain't it Grand-er was going to look like, so we set it on jackstands and rolled the Mickeys under it.

Where does one start when planning a major makeover of a 10-year-old ex-project vehicle? By making a list or an outline of some of the parameters we wanted to use to make our Grand Cherokee even "Grand-er."

1. We wanted just enough lift to be able to clear 33-inch tires without limiting wheel travel and, most of all, without major fender surgery. Yes, 35s would be nice but we wanted to keep a Dana 30 up front due to cost measures and simplicity, and didn't think that it would be up to hard usage with 35s. Because this Jeep is a daily driver, we also didn't want to have height issues when getting in and out. However, having both done and said this, we did find some really cool fender flares from Iceland Off-Road that we may consider at a later date that will allow 35s at our present ride height.

2. Stronger driveline components with locking differentials, but not to the extreme of an expensive Dana 44/60 combination.

3. A long-arm suspension system for improved suspension geometry, which will in turn enhance the ride quality.

4. More positive steering than the Jeep Y-link setup offered.

5. Better seating.

The first item on our list was tires and, naturally, new wheels. Once we had our tires, we would have a better idea of just how much lift and minor fender trimming were going to be necessary.

Our friends at Mickey Thompson came up with not only tires, but matching wheels. These 33x12.50-15 MTZs are the latest in tire technology, with three full polyester sidewall plies, three more in the tread, two steel belts, and a rim guard, plus a great looking tread design. These will make a great all-around tire for our usage. Our choice of rims was the 8.5-inch-wide Classic Lock with 3.5 inches of backspacing. Yep, a full 1.5 inches less than the factory backspacing. This was to provide us with more clearance for a couple of crucial items that we will go into with more detail as we progress. Why the fake bead locks? Because they give some added protection from rock damage to the bead flange, and they really do look like true bead locks ... cool!

Our first step was to put the Grand up on the end lift jacks and start stripping out everything we were going to replace. The pile kept getting bigger and bigger, and this doesn't include the rearend components.

With tires and wheels set, we now need axles. OK, aftermarket Dana 60s would be cool, but way overkill. But we do need something a bit stronger than the CV-shafted Dana 30 front and the ill-fated bastard aluminum Dana 44 rear. We considered axles from Scouts and Jeep Wagoneers, and finally settled on a high-pinion Dana 30 from a very early Jeep XJ. Why this housing? Mostly because it was free, a discard from a Washington Jeepin' buddy. Besides, the proper mounts were already in place from the factory-well, most of them.

While smallish, the Dana 30s have a reputation for being quite strong, especially with the upgrades we had planned. The gears in a "high pinion" mesh in proper contact when used up front instead of on the backside of the ring gear, as in a low-pinion version. This makes the high-pinion 30 almost as strong as a low-pinion 44 would be running on the back side of the ring gear, plus it offers much better clearance under the differential housing due to its smaller size.

Our research led us to Motive Gear for a 4.11:1 gearset and installation kit. Motive has long been a supplier of quality gears to both OE manufacturers and the aftermarket, and past experience gave us confidence in their strength. We could have kept the present 30 and, most likely, it would have worked just fine in stock form. But in the end we wanted something just a bit better.

PhotosView Slideshow

We had decided "for now anyway" to keep the full-time 4x4 system, so this meant some type of a disengaging locker. The new 30-spline ARB Air Locker fit the bill perfectly. No longer do you have to cut a notch in the main bearing cap for air line clearance, and there are some new internals that we will detail. Yes, there are a lot of extras that are needed to make it work, such as two switches, a relay, an air line, and the compressor. We spent extra time in routing and mounting these items to ensure problem-free service. In Cherokees, underhood mounting space is quite restrictive, and even more so since our Grand has the V-8 engine. Luckily, we found space next to the K&N filter/intake system that we had previously installed some 10 years ago.

With the ARB and Motive Gears in place, we went shopping for 30-spline axleshafts and found some great chromoly units from Superior Axle & Gear. These 44-size axleshafts took a while to arrive due to some production difficulties, but when we got them, we weren't disappointed in their quality. We thought about some strong aftermarket axle U-joints, but finally settled on some Spicer OEM-quality joints. These will be our "fuseable links" in the system. The downside to these stronger axles is that there is no way to mount the tone wheel for the ABS signal, so for now, anyway, we've lost our ABS brakes.

Here you can really see the difference between the stock Grand steering knuckle and the new Teraflex unit we will be using along with the other steering components.

Needing unibearing hubs and ball joints, we turned to Crown Automotive. Since Crown is a Jeep parts-only wholesaler since 1963, chances are many of the hard parts like those you purchase from your local 4x4 shop come from them. We got ours from Quadratec. These aren't some offshore, cheap knockoffs, but come from the same manufacturer that Jeep uses.

New brakes were on our list and we felt that while adequate, the stock brakes could be improved. Stainless Steel Brake Corporation provided the answer with new slotted rotors and some high-performance pads. The slots help to disburse dust particles and gases off the rotors.

For a rearend, we salvaged an 8.8 from a Ford Explorer. Yes, it has the C-clip axle, but the overall design and strength has been proven, with it being a common Jeep TJ, YJ, and XJ swap. The downside is it's about 1 1/2 inches narrower, but we got that handled with some wheel spacers. Again, we went to Motive Gear for the installation kit as well as the ring-and-pinion.

For a locker, we picked Eaton's E-Locker electronic differential. It will be new to us, so we're anxious to check out just how well it works and holds up. For the rear axleshafts, we originally used the factory shafts and then later stepped up to some from Alloy USA that are at least 60 percent stronger for added insurance.

Our discount auto-parts-store battery was on the way out, though it had lived the three years that it was guaranteed for. We have been running an Odyssey battery in our other Jeep for, like, five years now, and wanted another one. Just happens that they recently came out with the size we needed for the Grand, so we ordered up a Model PC1500/34 that fit the original box perfectly.

With the suspension, we had a wide-open choice, as there are now several companies building a "long-arm" system for Grands. After much review, we finally settled on a fairly new company called T&T Customs out of Cheyenne, Wyoming. We picked T&T for a couple of reasons. First, we had seen some of its previous work and were favorably impressed with the quality of workmanship and detail. Second, the company was willing to work around our time schedule. Co-owner and chief designer Bob Levenhagen drove over from Wyoming to spend a week working on our Grand at our location.

PhotosView Slideshow

Later on, we traveled to Cheyenne for an update and some modifications. As it ended up, T&T made quite a few changes to its original design that are now an incorporated part of its kit. It wasn't as easy as we first imagined, as we eventually made up several different arms and mounts, but in the end we are more than pleased with our semi-parallel four-link up front and our triangulated four-link in the rear. This is, by far, not a bolt-on kit. It's going to be for either the really serious hard-core wheeler who wants to travel in Grand luxury, or for the guy who wants the ultimate kit for bragging rights. We will spend a considerable amount of time going over its installation in a future issue.

We figured in the amount of lift needed to clear the tires, and then contacted Rusty Megois of Rusty's Off Road for some coils. Rusty felt that he knew exactly what we needed up front to handle the ARB bumper and the Warn winch. The first set of rears we used were a bit too soft but a perfect ride height. He shipped us another set with a slightly higher spring rate that worked perfectly. We have been trying several different shocks and we will give you the final findings on them in the near future. ADDCO supplied the heavy-duty sway bars that made a world of difference in the overall handling.

The Odyssey battery fit the Grand's battery box perfectly.

We spent a lot of time on the steering geometry, as we wanted the drag link to perfectly match the arc of travel of the track bar. This meant an entirely new axle mount for the track bar. We started to make up our own tie rod and drag link, but then discovered that a Teraflex high-steer kit for a TJ would also work on our Grand. We especially liked the offset tie-rod ends, but we will get into that later.

Last on our list was better seats. We were so pleased with the seats that we had put in our flatfender project, we went back to Mastercraft and ordered up a set of the Baja R/S seats. The reclining feature is great, plus we were able to special-order them with a 3-inch-higher back. Not only that, we had them fitted with seat heaters and a lumbar support. We were able to make some slight modifications to our original Grand Cherokee seat frames, and used the electric motor features for adjustability.

OK, that's a good start. We'll get into more detail in the months to come with details of how we went about making all these components work together, and some of the frustrations we had.


Superior Axle & Gear
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
Cleveland, OH 44114
West Chester, PA 19380
Motive Gear
Chicago, IL 60609
Alloy USA
Suwanee, GA 30024
Renton, WA 98057
Tera Mfg.
Stainless Steel Brakes
Clarence, NY
Crown Automotive

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