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1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee - 3K, 3Day WJ

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 9, 2014
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If you’ve been an avid Jp reader for some time, you are likely familiar with our 3K, 3Day build series. The premise is simple. Take a more-or-less stock Jeep, a three-day weekend, and modify it as much as possible with a max budget of $3,000. To make the budget go further, we choose our home garage as our base for operations. Anytime you have to add installation to the ticket, prices will surely go up.

For this installment, we are working on a ’99 Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ. Our V-8 project Jeep has over 200,000 miles on the clock and was picked up for a great deal. As is the case with many bargains, the Jeep needed a little work here and there. Spanning from ’99 to ’04, the WJ is the last Grand Cherokee fit with a solid front axle. The aftermarket support for these Unitbody SUVs has grown tremendously over the years, and as such, more affordable part options are available.

We knew the suspension on the Grand was in bad shape, but we didn’t realize the full extent of it until we crawled under the rig. Our original plan of an extremely budget-friendly 4-inch short-arm lift quickly began to fall apart after we realized the front upper control-arm mounts were cracked and the stock rear wishbone suspension member was literally coming apart at the axle end. After looking at available suspension upgrades, spending money to repair the factory parts just didn’t seem like a sound investment.

Having to rearrange our budget to accommodate a better suspension made us remove a few wants but still allowed us to spend in an area that was tremendously needed. So, what did $3,000 end up getting us in the end? Plenty! In fact, despite spending nearly half on the Rough Country 4-inch long-arm, we still had enough to purchase a new tire set from Discount Tire Direct, a winch, winch mount, wheel spacers, and enough drill bits and sweet tea to keep the Labor Day weekend project on schedule. Here is how it all came together.

We started by installing the Rough Country long-arm suspension. The kit uses a 1⁄4-inch-thick replacement crossmember, which bolts directly to the four stock attachment points on each side of the Unitbody. To provide additional support, two extra bolts are secured above the control arm mounting location. Creating the opening for the flag nuts (nuts with tabs welded to them) will require either a 11⁄4-inch hole saw or a large unibit. We started by installing the Rough Country long-arm suspension. The kit uses a 1⁄4-inch-thick replacement crossmember, which bolts directly to the four stock attachment points on each side of the Unitbody. To provide additional support, two extra bolts are secured above the control arm mounting location. Creating the opening for the flag nuts (nuts with tabs welded to them) will require either a 11⁄4-inch hole saw or a large unibit.
Rough Country uses a radius-style control arm set for the front of the WJ. These control arms are roughly double the length of the stock arms and come with rebuildable flex joints at the body end and Clevite-brand rubber bushings at the axle-end. Before you can install the new arms, you’ll need to cut off the OE lower control-arm mounts. We used a Sawzall to quickly slice through the sheetmetal bracket. Rough Country uses a radius-style control arm set for the front of the WJ. These control arms are roughly double the length of the stock arms and come with rebuildable flex joints at the body end and Clevite-brand rubber bushings at the axle-end. Before you can install the new arms, you’ll need to cut off the OE lower control-arm mounts. We used a Sawzall to quickly slice through the sheetmetal bracket.
The provided adjustable track bar is used to locate the front axle left to right. Given the type of crossover steering the WJ is equipped with from the factory, no additional track bar or steering modifications were needed. The provided adjustable track bar is used to locate the front axle left to right. Given the type of crossover steering the WJ is equipped with from the factory, no additional track bar or steering modifications were needed.
Included with the front components are a set of sway bar disconnects, four-inch springs, and 2.2-series Rough Country shocks. We set the Unitbody on jack stands and were able to use a floor jack to install the coils by letting the front axle droop far enough down. Included with the front components are a set of sway bar disconnects, four-inch springs, and 2.2-series Rough Country shocks. We set the Unitbody on jack stands and were able to use a floor jack to install the coils by letting the front axle droop far enough down.
Out back, more drilling is required to attach the new lower control-arm brackets. A total of four bolts (two on the bottom and two on the side per bracket) secure the long-arm mount to the Unitbody. If your WJ is a high-mileage one like ours, be prepared for the possibility that the brake line may be fragile. Ours cracked while moving it out of the way to drill, which resulted in an hour-long detour of getting a new line to splice in. Out back, more drilling is required to attach the new lower control-arm brackets. A total of four bolts (two on the bottom and two on the side per bracket) secure the long-arm mount to the Unitbody. If your WJ is a high-mileage one like ours, be prepared for the possibility that the brake line may be fragile. Ours cracked while moving it out of the way to drill, which resulted in an hour-long detour of getting a new line to splice in.
If your rear suspension has a clunk that you just can’t seem to put your finger on, we suggest taking a peak at the upper wishbone. A common point of failure is the rear pivot joint. Ours was no exception. The stock rubber bushings had also deteriorated after 200,000 miles of service. If your rear suspension has a clunk that you just can’t seem to put your finger on, we suggest taking a peak at the upper wishbone. A common point of failure is the rear pivot joint. Ours was no exception. The stock rubber bushings had also deteriorated after 200,000 miles of service.
Rough Country replaces the stock wishbone setup with an adjustable Y-link upper. The setup bolts in the stock mounts at the Unitbody but changes from a horizontal to a vertical joint mount at the axle. This allows the axle to cycle with less restriction compared to stock, while keeping the axle from moving side to side. Rough Country replaces the stock wishbone setup with an adjustable Y-link upper. The setup bolts in the stock mounts at the Unitbody but changes from a horizontal to a vertical joint mount at the axle. This allows the axle to cycle with less restriction compared to stock, while keeping the axle from moving side to side.
To make sure the tires would not contact the rear shocks during articulation, Rough Country relocates the lower portion of the shock mount. For those WJs equipped with heavy-duty bumpers, you can also add 3⁄4-inch steel coil isolators for extra lift. To make sure the tires would not contact the rear shocks during articulation, Rough Country relocates the lower portion of the shock mount. For those WJs equipped with heavy-duty bumpers, you can also add 3⁄4-inch steel coil isolators for extra lift.
Since our WJ is still running open diffs, we figured a winch would be a sound recovery option. Aftermarket winch bumpers are not cheap, but Rough Country’s winch bumper mount is a pretty inexpensive option. To install the mounts, you’ll need to remove the front bumper, discard the stock tow hooks (if equipped), and enlarge the forward openings in the Unitbody. Since our WJ is still running open diffs, we figured a winch would be a sound recovery option. Aftermarket winch bumpers are not cheap, but Rough Country’s winch bumper mount is a pretty inexpensive option. To install the mounts, you’ll need to remove the front bumper, discard the stock tow hooks (if equipped), and enlarge the forward openings in the Unitbody.
Following the dimensions and instructions provided, we used an air saw to make the openings in the stock front bumper cover. The plastic bumper shell is extremely easy to buzz through, so be careful and take your time. Following the dimensions and instructions provided, we used an air saw to make the openings in the stock front bumper cover. The plastic bumper shell is extremely easy to buzz through, so be careful and take your time.
Following the dimensions and instructions provided, we used an air saw to make the openings in the stock front bumper cover. The plastic bumper shell is extremely easy to buzz through, so be careful and take your time. Following the dimensions and instructions provided, we used an air saw to make the openings in the stock front bumper cover. The plastic bumper shell is extremely easy to buzz through, so be careful and take your time.
The winch tray simply bolts to the bumper arms. Be sure to attach your fairlead before setting the winch in place. The winch tray simply bolts to the bumper arms. Be sure to attach your fairlead before setting the winch in place.
Our budget-friendly recovery tool of choice was a Rough Country 9,500-pound winch. We’ve used the RC9500 in the past with solid results. The only complaint we’ve ever had is that the winch is a little slower than we would like, but it always gets the job done. We went with steel cable for sheer strength, durability, and the fact that it was a little less expensive. Our budget-friendly recovery tool of choice was a Rough Country 9,500-pound winch. We’ve used the RC9500 in the past with solid results. The only complaint we’ve ever had is that the winch is a little slower than we would like, but it always gets the job done. We went with steel cable for sheer strength, durability, and the fact that it was a little less expensive.
Since we didn’t have a spot to attach the hook, we picked up a Daystar winch isolator. This gives the hook a safe place to ride and also works as a cable weight. Since we didn’t have a spot to attach the hook, we picked up a Daystar winch isolator. This gives the hook a safe place to ride and also works as a cable weight.
Since the long-arm suspension set us back more than we originally budgeted for, something had to go. In our case, it was aftermarket wheels. To allow us to re-use our factory 16-inch WJ wheels; we added at set of 1.5-inch wheel spacers to our Rough Country order. After dousing the studs in Loctite, we torqued the hub-centric spacers down. Since the long-arm suspension set us back more than we originally budgeted for, something had to go. In our case, it was aftermarket wheels. To allow us to re-use our factory 16-inch WJ wheels; we added at set of 1.5-inch wheel spacers to our Rough Country order. After dousing the studs in Loctite, we torqued the hub-centric spacers down.
Tires can eat up a budget pretty quickly. This WJ sees just as much road time as it does time in the dirt. This meant we needed something more in the all-terrain variety. We decided on a 265/75R16 Cooper Discoverer ATP. These are a Discount Tire exclusive, and at $136-per tire (at time of print) was one of the most inexpensive all-terrain tires in that size and category. We figured the tires would be quiet on-road (which they are), but were unsure at how well they would dig in the southeast soil. Obviously, a mud-terrain they are not, but for most everything else, we are very pleased with the grip. Tires can eat up a budget pretty quickly. This WJ sees just as much road time as it does time in the dirt. This meant we needed something more in the all-terrain variety. We decided on a 265/75R16 Cooper Discoverer ATP. These are a Discount Tire exclusive, and at $136-per tire (at time of print) was one of the most inexpensive all-terrain tires in that size and category. We figured the tires would be quiet on-road (which they are), but were unsure at how well they would dig in the southeast soil. Obviously, a mud-terrain they are not, but for most everything else, we are very pleased with the grip.

Dirt Notes
We learned a few things along the way with this kit that we figured we would pass along. For starters, Rough Country states that this kit does not work with all-wheel-drive models. Well, our V-8 is in fact an “all-wheel-drive” model and everything bolted up without a hitch. However, despite not having a Rezeppa-style driveshaft, we are experiencing a subtle vibration from the rear driveshaft. We will most likely need a longer driveline that’s equipped with a constant-velocity joint before long. Overall, we are pleased with how well the Jeep rides and drives. We did have to trim a little from the front bumper and around the wheelwell to run the 265/75R16 tires, but there wasn’t any major hacking involved.

Price Breakdown
Rough Country 4-inch long-arm $1,499.95
Rough Country RC9500 winch $299.95
Rough Country winch mount $229.95
Rough Country wheel spacers ($59.95 x 2) $119.90
Cooper Discoverer ATP tires ($136 x 4) $544.00
Daystar winch isolator $29.95
Shipping, drill bits, brake line $251.68
Total $2,975.38

Sources

Daystar
Phoenix, AZ 85043
800-595-7659
www.daystarweb.com
Rough Country Suspension Systems
Dyersburg, TN 38024
800-222-7023
www.roughcountry.com
Discount Tire
855-869-7914
http://www.discounttire.com

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