We’re suckers for a good deal, mostly because we are cheap and hard on equipment. So, when we got the call from our local off-road shop, Low Range 4x4, that one of its customers was parting out a modified Cherokee, we had to go take a look. Upon arrival, we saw that the ’99 Jeep XJ was in a pretty sad state of affairs. The interior was gutted, the front end completely dismantled, and suspension parts were clearly bent and blown.
The original owner had rolled the XJ and broken the stock axles on his last outing. Fed up with breaking parts and the ever-creaking Unitbody, he decided to part out the XJ to fund his new Wrangler project. We had been looking for an XJ to build but most later-models were still commanding more money than we wanted to spend on a trail rig. With 160,000 miles on the odometer, the ’99 XJ appeared to have a lot going for it, despite the missing parts and dented exterior. With a little haggling, we got the owner to sell us the Jeep as-is, minus a couple items that were already sold.
Part of the rollover damage was a completely smashed front end. Structurally, everything was still sound, but the grill support was trashed.
This leads us to our new project, which we’ve dubbed the Disposable Hero. The project name says a lot about the XJ platform in general. Look, we are all for building XJs to wheel, daily drive, mall crawl, or whatever you are into. The reality of the ’84-’01 Cherokee is simple: If you consistently wheel the Jeep, it’s going to take its toll on the Unitbody. So much so that it’s not uncommon for the rear hatches to not open, the body seams to peel apart, and the Unitbody to basically fatigue around all of your nice aftermarket parts.
Fortunately, XJs are a dime a dozen, and nearly all the aftermarket parts are interchangeable from one to another. Think of an XJ as a vehicular Mr. Potato Head—So long as you take care of your accessories, you can move them over to the new potato once the old one is mashed.
Our new-to-us XJ might look like it’s ready for the pasture, but we know we can give it a second chance. For our first installment, we are getting right to work putting the pieces of the missing Jeep puzzle back together. We have some cool stuff in store for our well-used SUV and look forward to breathing new life into the Jeep.
Step By Step
Under the hood rests the stock 4.0L inline-six engine. The Optima RedTop battery has some age on it but is holding a charge fine. We noticed that the XJ had an all-too-common exhaust manifold crack, but that will be a problem we will address in another installment.
We got to the shop just in time to stop the remainder of the interior gutting. We were able to land the Rock Hard 4x4 interior ’cage in the deal but were on our own for some of the other interior pieces.
Underneath the Jeep is a mixed bag of good and bad. A five-year-old 4.5-inch Rubicon Express long-arm suspension gives us a good base to work around, but most of the bushings are shot and at least one control arm is bent. H.D. Offroad Engineering frame stiffeners were also present, but the sliders were MIA.
Post rollover, a new (but technically used) window was placed in the back. The drip rails are definitely a little worse for the wear, but all the doors still open and shut without fuss.
The stock high-pinion Dana 30 resides up front, while the original 8.25-inch rear remains out back. We’re simply using the axles, tires, and wheels as rollers for now, as we have plans to give the XJ stronger running gear and a wider stance.
An AJ’s Offroad Armor rear bumper, along with a gas tank skidplate, has us all set with rear protection. We’ll most likely carry the spare tire inside of the Jeep, thereby negating the need for an external tire carrier.
Corbeau offers a few fancy options for the Baja XRS series seats, but we were happy with going with the standard black cloth center with vinyl outers. The memory-foam hidden beneath is designed to make the racing suspension seat comfy on- and off-road and high bolsters add support where you need it.
To start piecing the interior back together, we order a set of front seat brackets from Corbeau. The bolt-in brackets are designed to mount in the XJ’s factory seat bracket locations and have built-in sliders. Corbeau also offers adapters that allow you to reuse your stock seat rails.
The mounting brackets simply bolt to the bottom of the Corbeau seat. In our case, we went with a Corbeau Baja XRS suspension seat. Corbeau uses a set of military-grade cords that attach to the chassis of the seat. This allows you be suspended by the material, which helps absorb the energy of your body moving.
Before we could bolt-in our seats, we needed to get the carpet put back in place. Since this Jeep is based in the Southeast where mud is part of the wheeling experience, we went ahead and dropped some floor liners in from Rugged Ridge. Having a liner that you can easily spray off is well worth the modest investment.
Corbeau’s Baja XRS seats recline, which was a big draw for us. While we knew the seats were a touch larger than the stock seats, we were a little surprised at how snug of a fit they were inside the Jeep. If we didn’t have the Rock Hard 4x4 ’cage, we could have gotten a bit more movement. In the end, we were able to get both seats situated in a comfy position.
After coming up empty at our local junkyard for a stock-replacement XJ grill support, we decided to order one from Omix-ADA. One of the best parts about the Omix-ADA grill support is that it comes with all of the OE mounts. This allows you to easily attach your headlight buckets and wiring harness. Our only complaint about the grill is that unlike the stock grill support, which is comprised of fiberglass, the Omix-ADA grill is made entirely of plastic. We don’t plan on smashing the front end any time soon, but the plastic could be more susceptible to damage over the OE structure.
Again, we were pretty much starting from scratch with our front-end parts. We were able to order our marker lights, headlight bezels, and grill from Omix-ADA. The parts come un-painted, so we spent a little time with Krylon satin black and gave them a few coats with the rattle can.
Our night eyes are not what they used to be. We opted to go ahead and upgrade our headlights with a set of Truck-Lite LED headlights. The Truck-Lite 5x7-inch lights bolt in the stock headlight retainers and plug into the stock harness, no adapters needed. We’ll share more on how well the Truck-Lites work in a later issue.
A convenient aspect about the XJ grill support is that the entire assembly can be taken off in one piece.
By simply unplugging the harness located in front of the air box, you can attach or remove the grill just as you see it here.
We were on the fence with whether or not to try and color match our grill. Ultimately, we decided that matching the 16-year-old gold paint wasn’t worth the hassle. We have some functional black accessories that we will be installing next month, which should off-set the all-black front.