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1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Grand Master Flex

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 18, 2006
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It's not every day you run across an extreme Grand Cherokee that's also as well-built as Kevin Guthrie's '94. We saw Kevin in Moab during this year's Easter Jeep Safari and hounded him all week until he agreed to meet up with us for this shoot.

It wasn't the actual photo shoot that got him, it was taking time out of his wheeling schedule that he wasn't too keen on, so we gave him the 23-page form for homework and a promise to catch up with him later for pictures. As it happens, we caught him on Kane Creek while we were wheeling and shot the photos on the spot.

At first glance, it looks like a prerunner ZJ that was crashed into a rock buggy. From the front bumper to the rear trussed Ford 9-inch, it just looks like it should be in the desert. But then you take into account the stance, the Dana 60 front, and the full internal 'cage stuffed around a stock interior (not a stripped-out racer's interior), and you start to understand there's more here than first meets the eye.

PhotosView Slideshow

Chassis and Driveline
On the surface, a Dana 60 high-pinion front Rockcrusher axle with obvious aftermarket axleshafts (35-spline chromoly shafts) shouldn't be in the same Jeep with a Ford 9-inch rear. And, really, the seemingly malapropos axles are what started us talking to Kevin in the first place.

OK, the front axle is a high-pinion Dana 60 with chromoly shafts, 3/4-ton Chevy calipers, 4.88 gears, and a Detroit Locker. With a Rockcrusher differential cover on it, full hydraulic steering with a double-ended ram on a custom tube/plate mount, the last thing we expected out back was a dirty, once-painted-red Ford 9-inch. Of course, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and this Summers Brothers-built unit has 40-spline chromoly shafts, custom thicker tubes, internal gusseting, a Currie high-pinion centersection, wildwood six-piston calipers, 4.88 gears, and a Detroit Locker. That ratty red paint sure is good camouflage for a really built axle.

The engine is largely stock internally with a 3-inch exhaust, Spintech muffler, and a turndown in front of the rear axle, roughly under the passenger seat. It also has a K&N air filter, a three-core all-metal radiator, a 160-degree-F thermostat, and a Barry Grant electric fuel pump to feed it. The automatic transmission still hangs under the Jeep just like the day it left the factory, but it's now feeding power into a 4.1:1 Klune-V underdrive and a 3.8:1 Atlas II. From there, it goes through the 1350 series yokes through a long-spline rear driveshaft and two-piece front shaft all done by JE Reel.

The front axle is moved forward about 6 inches with custom five-link suspension (think TJ long-arm kit) and Race Runner dual-rate spring coilovers while the rear axle went back about 8 inches with a custom three-link setup and another pair of Race Runner coilovers. The lower links of the suspension started as 0.120-wall tube, which then got sleeved with 0.250-wall chromoly tube. The body side of the shocks and links tie in at or near the 'cage or 'cage-mounting points for strength and rigidity.

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With all this high-end race tech, seeing a set of 37-inch Super Swamper Boggers on Allied bead locks putting power to the ground is yet another idiosyncratic thing that just flat-out works.

Body and Interior
The rear quarters got cut in a rock-avoidance technique. A fuel cell was mounted through the rear cargo floor area and tubing bent up to protect what was left of the rear quarters and the custom 22-gallon aluminum fuel cell. That tubing also serves duty as a rear bumper, with plate added and a couple of shackle mounts poking through. The rear wheelwells were modified for clearance so the coilovers could poke through.

Inside, a full rollcage was bent up around the factory seats and tied into the body and uniframe through the use of large weight-distributing plates. Underneath, most of the uniframe was plated over with 1/4-inch steel for rigidity and to facilitate 'cage mounting points. The floor under the driver seat and the mount were cut and modified to clock the Atlas II up as high as possible.

PhotosView Slideshow

The rear sports two child-safety seats for Kevin's kids while the front leather-covered power buckets have five-point harnesses added for stability during extreme off-road maneuvers. The CB was mounted into the center console, upside-down for ease of use and visibility from the driver seat.

Tubular rock rail/nerf bars protect the rocker panels and keep the doors opening and closing the way they were meant to. The rockers were cut a little so the bars would tuck up nice and tight. Out front, the bumper is something right off a Trophy Truck. Triangulation and frame bracing were tied through the grille back to the shocks and integrated into the 'cage. This is one slick setup.

Good, Bad, & What's it For
This Jeep combines race tech with good ol' Jeep tech for a package that works very well together. There is something about picking up a Jeep with a V-8, auto, and just adding what is needed to get it out there. Kevin is a machinist by trade, and the meticulous and clean nature of the work he's done with this Jeep shows through.

We would like to see the Jeep a little lower to the ground, as would Kevin, but as he says, "It works like this, so why go through all the work to change it?"

Why I Featured It
I've been looking more and more at building a Grand Cherokee, and there are a lot of cues in this '94 that I've been wanting to use. The full 'cage inside the Jeep, with the factory power seats in the front, and stock seats in the rear are good examples. Most of the guys I see building these get rid of the rear seats or make it so hard to get to through the jungle gym of tubes that they might as well be gone. Not so here. The front and rear bumpers and rock rails tied back into the frame, suspension, and 'cage are another one.

All in all, it is a Jeep that's capable of hitting some serious trails, but keeps a lot of the everyday comfort and driveability it left the showroom with.
-Pete Trasborg

PhotosView Slideshow

Hard Facts:
'94 Grand Cherokee

5.2L V-8

46RH automatic

Transfer Case:
4.0:1 Atlas II

Custom link setup with coilovers

Rockcrusher high-pinion Dana 60 (front), Summers Brothers Ford 9-inch (rear)

17x9.5 Allied Chrome Steel Rock 8s

13/37-17 Super Swamper Boggers

Built For:
Carrying the kids and wheeling anything Kevin wants to wheel

Estimated Cost:

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