2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited - Grand Score: Part 2Posted in Project Vehicles on October 20, 2014
Ever sat staring at a trailhead with an 80-90 percent confidence level in your rig’s ability to make it from Point A to Point B without incident, but with a 100 percent “you’re pretty screwed” rate if you didn’t? Sure, there’s always a little bit of a thrill in rolling the dice, but in our opinion, venturing into the backcountry without the required protective and extraction gear is akin to hunting a brown bear with a subcompact pistol—it’s just not a good idea.
Last issue, we covered the install of an Iron Rock Offroad 4-inch Critical Path long-arm suspension system, which opened the door to measurably improved off-road performance, better on-road comfort, and paved the way for larger tires. With a mindset of backcountry self-sufficiency continuing to steer our direction, we set out to prep the rest of our ’04 Grand Cherokee for the work-and-play adventures we knew we’d be tasking it with. Stay tuned for Part 3 where we’ll be putting all of the following efforts to the test.
If funds were limited and we had to start somewhere, a winch would be priority numero uno. For this project, we wanted to try out one of the new Gen 2 X2O wireless-control winches from Smittybilt. These completely sealed and fully waterproof winches are available in line-pull capacities of 10,000 to 17,500 pounds, feature an “amphibious” 6.6 hp motor, rugged construction, and multiple solenoid mounting and motor/gearcase clocking positions. And best of all, they’re priced affordably. Mud and water are part of the game on the eastern side of the U.S., so a winch that doesn’t mind being repeatedly dunked is a huge benefit.
The X2O model that made the most sense for our build was the 10,000-pound unit, which should prove to have plenty of grunt to get our Grand out of trouble. If you’re looking to shave a little weight, Smittybilt also offers the X2O Comp, which comes equipped with synthetic line and an aluminum hawse fairlead.
Since this was a pretty cherry Jeep to start with—only 30k miles on the ticker—we wanted to take measures to ensure it stayed that way for the foreseeable future. Two of the most susceptible areas to trail damage on most any vehicle are the front end and rocker panels, and accordingly, these are the areas we focused our attention on.
Due to an outstanding track record of giving us a warm ‘n fuzzy feeling, there are certain go-to products we gravitate toward for certain vehicles; the ARB Deluxe Bull Bar is one of ‘em. We’ve run these winch-ready bumpers on everything from Land Rovers to Wranglers and later-model Chevy pickups, and ARB’s front-end protection flat works. Not only does it fulfill our winch mounting requirement, but since this is a daily driver—with a kiddo frequently riding shotgun—the fact that the mounting brackets of the Bull Bar are engineered to be airbag-compatible was a huge plus in the safety department.
Speaking of safety, nighttime escapades with crappy lighting can get downright dangerous in moose country. So in order to make sure we had the upper hand after dark, we mounted a pair of ARB’s Intensity 8,200-lumen LED lights. These things are outrageously bright (no, seriously, like nuclear-explosion bright), and thanks to their LEDs, finned cast-aluminum bodies, and polycarbonate lens covers, they’re also virtually indestructible.
To address our naked rocker panels and save them from getting mashed, we went back to the WJ experts at Iron Rock Offroad to get our hands on a set of its WJ Premium Rock Sliders. These sliders get our vote for the best-looking rocker protection available for the WJ; they don’t hang down or stick out cartoonishly far, and they have clean, simple lines that match the contours of the body. With three frame spars making the connection to the Unitbody and seven mounting points on each rocker pinch-seam, they should take a pretty good beatin’ too. We’ll find out and report back in Part 3.
Like most coil-sprung Jeeps, the WJ platform is not immune to death wobble or bumpsteer when you go messing with the front suspension. Diagnosing the problems can sometimes make you feel like a monkey trying to solve a calculus equation, but being armed with the knowledge of their root causes will go a long way in helping you make it go away. When it comes to pairing steering solutions with their suspension systems, however, Iron Rock Offroad (IRO) has the component list pretty well dialed in.
The ace up IRO’s sleeve with this is its WJ Steering Equalizer, which is essentially a two-in-one track-bar mount/frame brace. The Steering Equalizer is a bolt-on proposition (two holes need to be drilled) and spans the width of the Unitbody channels to reinforce the Unitbody structure, and lower the track-bar mounting location to compensate for added lift-height. It’s simple, easy to install, and with the included drop pitman arm we installed in Part 1, steering angles are now in check. So far there’s been no bumpsteer and no death wobble. Also, to make sure the larger tires were matched with the proper amount of damping, we replaced the OEM 11⁄4-inch-diameter stabilizer with Teneco’s 17⁄8-inch Heavy Duty Steering Stabilizer, also sourced through IRO.
Tires ‘n Wheels
You can drive yourself nuts looking for the “perfect” wheel for a later-model Grand Cherokee. With the factory wheels having an extremely positive 6.25-inch offset, finding the perfect combination of diameter, width, and offset (not to mention style, color, and strength) in an aftermarket wheel is nearly impossible. We say “nearly” because one company had exactly what we were looking for—American Expedition Vehicles (AEV).
AEV offers three different style wheels: the Pintler, Pintler-Beadlock, and the Savegre. You’re looking at the latter. While marketed for the JK Wrangler, these cast-aluminum 17x8.5 wheels, with 5.20-inch backspacing are also a spot-on-perfect fit for WJ and WK Grand Cherokees. We dig the simplistic styling, low-bling finish options (ours are matte-black), and recessed valve stem holes that ensure trail junk isn’t swiping our valve stems when we’re not looking.
For tires, we went in a little different direction than we normally do and slapped on a set of LT265/70R17 General Grabber AT2s. Mud terrains are par for the course around here for serious off-roading, but to our thinking, what we’d sacrifice in mud traction will be made up for in spades with better on-road characteristics and better traction on snow-covered roads in the winter. So far, we’re pretty impressed with the Grabbers, but you’ll have to wait until Part 3 to see if that still holds true after we get some trail miles under our belts.
In an attempt to gain back a little of the power we lost from the larger tires and a notable weight gain, we bolted up a stainless steel Gibson performance exhaust system. Where uncoated steel exhaust can start to look ratty after one winter, the Gibson’s stainless construction means that this should be the last muffler and tailpipe we ever buy for this WJ. The Gibson system is touted as increasing low to midrange power for off-roading and towing, but we slapped the system on just before press-time, and without enough seat time on the butt-dyno to substantiate those claims, it’s too early to tell. You can look for a full report in Part 3 next month, but until then, we’ll definitely be enjoying the killer new exhaust note.