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Jeep Grand Cherokee - Project Ain't It Grander

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 1, 2008
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Yes our Project Ain't it Grand-er looks a lot different than a stock Grand does. The difference is quite apparent when a stocker is parked next to it.

Is our Grand Cherokee finished yet? I doubt it. We're still contemplating a few more things to do in the future, like perhaps some wide custom fender flares, a rollcage, going up to 35-inch tires, going down to deeper gears, and perhaps some minor suspension and steering changes. For now, though, it's time to enjoy what we have and run it like we stole it (well, not quite that bad).

The MasterCraft seats were the first modification we made to the Grand; we just wanted to see how we liked them before reporting back. We definitely do. We have used MasterCraft and other manufacturers' seats on projects in the past, and can unequivocally say MasterCraft seats are quality above the others. We opted for the Baja RS model. That's the one with the reclining backs. We also went for the option of a taller back, seat heaters, and a headrest moved a bit more forward. The reclining back allows easier access to the rear seats or storage area of two-door vehicles; however, we wanted them for the multi-position back angle. On long drives, it's nice to be able to change the back position. We had to fabricate a new cross bracket, but we were able to make use of the original power seat's forward and back adjustment as well as seat angle. A simple aluminum plate mounted the controls in front of the lower seat cushion. This was necessary because the seat's wider design prevented access along the side.

Our rear Tomken bumper and tire carrier had some changes done to it. The first came from Tomken in the form of a new latching mechanism that's easier to operate and prevents rattles, unlike the original mount. We also moved the entire assembly over so the tire is now centered with the back of the Jeep. This made room for the mount we built to hold our Power Tank.

These hood louvers from Gen-Right were the perfect way to eliminate excessive heat from the engine compartment.

The second change to the Tomken bumper was each corner got cut at a 45-degree angle and replated. Partially we did this for looks, and partially because we'd caught our leg on the sharp corner several times. The factory exhaust is designed to exit below the bumper. After smashing the tip a couple of times, we finally figured we could cut a hole through the side of the bumper, sleeve it with a piece of tubing, and run the exhaust pipe through it. No more smashed tailpipes. Oh yeah, we had to relocate the license plate to the left side of the bumper and add a license-plate light.

I am not sure how we have gotten along without our Power Tank up to now. The big problem was that we just couldn't figure the right location to mount it inside the vehicle without taking up valuable inside storage space. The outside mount we constructed on the tire carrier works perfectly. It does invite the notion that someone else might want it more than us, so we've added a padlock and a heavy-duty steel cable for better security and found a weatherproof bag to cover the regulator. We keep the hose inside until needed, and it will reach all four corners with the tank in place.

Another accessory we're really pleased with is the "mountaineer rack" from Olympic 4x4 Accessories. This lightweight rack is held to the Grand's floor with some trick hold-down retainers, making it a one-minute job should you want to take it out. We found it so useful that ours stays in all the time. Heavy stuff like toolboxes and ice chests go onto the floor, and light stuff like jackets and such go on top. The factory cargo net that came with the Jeep is close to a perfect fit to secure our gear in place.

While we were at it, we also ordered up a roof rack from Olympic that was designed for a Cherokee XJ. Now, Grands don't have gutters like XJs do, which is the standard for mounting most roof racks, so we made up some special brackets that fit the factory roof-rack rails and modified the XJ rack to fit these. Most likely by the time you read this, Olympic will have it in production.

PhotosView Slideshow

On hot days, our Grand's cooling is close to marginal, so to help it out we cut some holes in the hood and installed some Gen-Right louvers. Yes, they helped by letting that much more hot air out. We had to make a cut-out pattern that fit between the hood-stiffening braces on the underside and then transfer it to the top of the hood. We were then able to mark the outline with tape and cut the hole with a saber saw. The supplied colored pop rivets hold it in place.

We're still playing with shocks, alternating between some larger-bodied Rancho 9000s and some Bilstein 5100s. We will let you know what we like best for our application in the future.

From some scrap aircraft Lexan we had laying around, we fabricated some mud flaps for the rear tires. Otherwise, with our 31/2 inches of backspacing on our 8-inch Mickeys, the tires hang out of the fenderwells just enough to interest local law enforcement.

Because of the frame stiffeners we used from T & T Customs, we had to ditch our rocker guards. Bob at T & T made us a set of trick heavy-duty ones that offered improved ground clearance and better body protection. However, the drawback was that they made one of our height-challenged drivers have a difficult time getting in. Plus, getting out made for a dirty pant leg. We solved the problem with a compromise design that we built ourselves, which also served as a step.

Our battery had been on its last legs, so it was time for a new one to replace the generic auto-parts-store brand we had been using. We went with an Odyssey PC1500. It's a dry-cell sealed battery that uses thin-plate pure lead technology. It works especially good in cold-weather climates, retaining 70 percent more starting power at -4 degrees than a wet cell battery. (This project lives in Montana where, as I type, the temperature is just above zero.) It's also a deep-cycle battery, meaning heavy discharges such as winching don't kill it.

To keep our carpets clean, we again went with the Catch All Mats. We used them in the original Ain't it Grand project, and they worked great at catching and holding all the snow, slush, cow manure, dirt, and trash we carry in on our boots. They clean up nicely with a garden hose. Our only complaint with them is that they don't stay in the exact same molded position that follows the floor contour. The first set lasted about five years, and we expect the same good service.

Almost forgot about the switches-yes, switches. The seat-heater switches we mounted in the shift quadrant on the center console, and the relay for them under the dash to the right of the steering column. For the ARB lockers, we found room on the dash for the two switches just left of the instrument cluster. We mounted the pushbutton for the rear electric locker on the front side of the center console.

Finished yet? No, not really, but it's a great driver like it is and maybe-no, for sure-next year we will have some more things to show you.

PhotosView Slideshow


K&N Engineering
Riverside, CA 92507
Poway, CA 92064
JKS Manufacturing
Alliance, NE 69301
West Chester, PA 19380
Motive Gear
Chicago, IL 60609
Reading, PA 19605
Superior Axle
PSC Motorsports
Azle, TX 76020
Alloy USA
Suwanee, GA 30024
Rusty's Off Road
Olympic 4x4 Products
City of Commerce, CA 90040
Power Tank
Elk Grove, CA 95758
Renton, WA 98057
Eaton/Detroit Locker
J.E. Reel Drive Line Specialists
Gen-Right Off Road
Lake Forest, IL 60045
Buena Vista, CO 81211
Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels
Corona, CA 92881
Stainless Steel Brakes
Clarence, NY
Crown Automotive
MasterCraft Racing Products
T & T Customs

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