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Wheeling our 1999 Jeep Cherokee Project Disposable Hero

Posted in Project Vehicles on May 18, 2015
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We’d rather be lucky than good. It’s a saying you’re all probably familiar with. For those wheeling their rigs for the first time post-build, that saying can mean a lot! When we first purchased our ‘99 Jeep Cherokee, it was in rough shape. Having survived a rollover, years of off-road abuse, and its share of general neglect, we knew we weren’t starting with a crown jewel.

Familiar with the XJ platform, we knew that beyond the dents, rust, and scraped sheetmetal, there was plenty of potential. We also knew that when the Unitbody inevitably became a pile of sheetmetal mush, we could peel-off the valuable components and move them to another XJ (hence how we arrived at the Disposable Hero moniker). The idea for the project from the very beginning was to build something simple, reliable, and not overly expensive.

The XJ’s 101-inch wheelbase is one of our favorites for wheeling. It’s not overly long, but long enough to remain stable on hillclimbs. The BDS Suspension rear springs did a great job of keeping the axle in check, and the width of the 65-inch WMS JK axles made for a more stable and planted platform on the trails.

The fact that our G2 Axle & Gear Core 44 JK axles cost more than the XJ isn’t lost on us. For us, that was the area we knew we needed to invest in the most. The stock H.O. 4.0L was fine, so no need for an engine swap. The transmission and transfer case both had clean fluid and were in working order, so there was really nothing to improve there either. Spending a few months at the host build shop Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina, we’ve addressed virtually all of the must-have upgrades to make the XJ a safe and reliable wheeler.

In the end, all the work would be for naught if the Jeep didn’t perform well on the trail. To officially break-in the build, we headed south to one of our favorite East Coast wheeling destinations, Gulches Offroad Vehicle Park. Located in Laurens County, South Carolina, the park has more than 40 trails to satisfy the wheeling needs of rigs from stock to over-the-top. The park was a little wet the weekend we went, which upped both the difficulty and fun factor.

So, how did the XJ fair? Nearly perfect. We say nearly because we were denied on a few obstacles we hoped we could have taken. In this last installment of our Disposable Hero series, we’re breaking down the details of how it all worked and the things we might improve down the line. To check out all of the articles from the beginning, visit fourwheeler.com.

Before we could start playing in the dirt, we dropped the air pressure in our 37x12.50R17 Maxxis Trepador Radials. Since we are running ATX Chamber Pro II beadlocks, we were able to drop the air pressure to a more usable 7 psi in the front and 5 psi in the rear. The clay at Gulches is some of the slickest when it gets wet. Thankfully, the Trepadors didn’t leave us spinning in our tracks. We were amazed at how well they gripped and cleaned out. Look for a more detailed tire and wheel review in a future issue. Before we could start playing in the dirt, we dropped the air pressure in our 37x12.50R17 Maxxis Trepador Radials. Since we are running ATX Chamber Pro II beadlocks, we were able to drop the air pressure to a more usable 7 psi in the front and 5 psi in the rear. The clay at Gulches is some of the slickest when it gets wet. Thankfully, the Trepadors didn’t leave us spinning in our tracks. We were amazed at how well they gripped and cleaned out. Look for a more detailed tire and wheel review in a future issue.
Our XJ’s rockers were rusted and dented from the previous owner. We’d planned on cutting them out and welding in custom high-clearance rocker guards, but we were anxious to hit the trail to get some other testing underway. The result was an even more crunched set of rockers by the end of the weekend! Maybe boat siding is in our future. Our XJ’s rockers were rusted and dented from the previous owner. We’d planned on cutting them out and welding in custom high-clearance rocker guards, but we were anxious to hit the trail to get some other testing underway. The result was an even more crunched set of rockers by the end of the weekend! Maybe boat siding is in our future.
Our rear suspension was the biggest unknown. This was due to the bumpstops and relatively small amount of suspension up travel. At low speeds, it wasn’t a problem. However, when you picked up the pace, you immediately felt the impact of the short travel. We think upping the rear shock valving will be the best place to start to fine tune the suspension. Our rear suspension was the biggest unknown. This was due to the bumpstops and relatively small amount of suspension up travel. At low speeds, it wasn’t a problem. However, when you picked up the pace, you immediately felt the impact of the short travel. We think upping the rear shock valving will be the best place to start to fine tune the suspension.
Gulches trails are short but packed with back-to-back obstacles. This meant we would keep our ARB Air Lockers engaged the majority of the time. The PSC Motorsports hydraulic-assist steering system paid for itself and then some by allowing us to effortlessly navigate with the front diff locked. We managed to smack the Synergy JK tie rod a few times as well but never bent the heavy-duty chromoly steering bar. Gulches trails are short but packed with back-to-back obstacles. This meant we would keep our ARB Air Lockers engaged the majority of the time. The PSC Motorsports hydraulic-assist steering system paid for itself and then some by allowing us to effortlessly navigate with the front diff locked. We managed to smack the Synergy JK tie rod a few times as well but never bent the heavy-duty chromoly steering bar.
We might not be the ramp champ, but we had enough articulation for the trail system we were on. The Daystar bumpstops definitely got a workout, but they did the job just fine. While our winch fairlead did grab a little dirt occasionally, the Or-Fab front bumper provided plenty of clearance and even helped to pull us and some others out. We might not be the ramp champ, but we had enough articulation for the trail system we were on. The Daystar bumpstops definitely got a workout, but they did the job just fine. While our winch fairlead did grab a little dirt occasionally, the Or-Fab front bumper provided plenty of clearance and even helped to pull us and some others out.

Final Thoughts
A Jeep build is never really complete. Overall, we are pleased at how stable the Jeep feels. The Corbeau seats, in combination with the Rock Hard 4x4 internal ’cage, make the cockpit seem a little cramped at times, but it’s something we’ll get used to. Power off-road is great, as the 5.13 gears and stock 2.72:1 T-case gearing offers ample wheelspeed for the longer climbs but enough control in the technical sections. With the exception of the limited rear up-travel, we’re extremely pleased with this setup. For the time, money, and parts invested, we call this build a success.

Sources

Daystar
Phoenix, AZ 85043
800-595-7659
www.daystarweb.com
Maxxis
Suwanee, GA 30024
800-462-9947
http://www.maxxis.com
PSC Motorsports
Azle, TX 76020
817-270-0102
www.pscmotorsports.com
Low Range 4x4
Wilimington, NC 28412
910-392-3204
www.lowrange4x4.com
G2 Axle & Gear
Compton, CA 90220
310-900-2687
www.g2axle.com
OR-Fab
Chino Valley, AZ 86323
928-636-7080
www.orfab.com
ATX Series Wheels
www.atxwheels.com
ARB USA
Renton, WA 98057
866-293-9078
http://www.arbusa.com
Gulches ORV Park
864-449-5698
http://www.gulchesorvpark.com
BDS Suspension
517.279.2135
www.bds-suspension.com

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