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1979 Jeep Cherokee - Retro Racer

In Air
Pete Trasborg
| Brand Manager, Jp
Posted November 1, 2007

Desert-Prepped Cherokee

If you've been in a coma the last four or five years, let us clue you in on something: In the automotive world, what was old is new again. Another way of saying it is that retro is cool. So it should be no surprise we hunted down this race Cherokee from our coverage of the '05 Trucking Nationals in Phoenix ("Truckin' Nationals," Mar. '06) so we could find out more.

OK, to be honest, after seeing Tim Wiley take off like a shot from a gun and stay in it through some pretty demanding whoops, hills, and unbanked turns, we were halfway to writing this feature. When we found out he had a fire-breathing 401 in it, we were drooling. Once we saw he was racing the rig with the leaf springs still under it, we wanted to know more and figured you would too.

Aside from the race-prepped engine, this is a racing SJ you can duplicate at home for around the same coin your friends are building all those go-slow Jeeps for. The difference is this Jeep is a lot more fun. And if you race it in Jeepspeed like Tim does, you could possibly win some coin back.

It might be a dirty secret, but we'll let that cat out anyway: Right now, in the Currie Enterprises Jeepspeed Cup (aka Jeepspeed 3: The Pinnacle), the key isn't really who is faster or has the ber-unobtanium parts, it's who can keep their race Jeep together until the end of the race. We think Tim and Stephen Moe have the parts combination to go the distance-and they do it in full-on, old-school Jeeper style.

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The chassis itself is largely untouched. Go buy a '79 Cherokee, do some (OK, a bunch of well-thought-out) boxing and plating to the frame and suspension, and race it. This Jeep is really cool for just that reason.

Tim and Stephen really built this, raced it in SCORE, broke it, fixed the problems, and raced it some more. Do that for three or four years, and you'd end up just where they are-with a fullsize Jeep ready to take the Jeepspeed community by storm. Still, it's a Jeep you could build. Build it, beat the snot out of it, break it, and fix it. Do that till it won't break, race it in Jeepspeed, and you'd be a serious contender.

The big problem, as most of you fullsize guys know, is the durability of the Quadratrac. Yes, this Jeep is still running the full-time transfer case behind that fire-breathing 401, but this team swaps the chain out every race or two, and it's sporting a MileMarker part-time conversion kit. Sure, they have a small mint in stock of transfer-case chains, but from watching this thing go, it's well worth it.

Oh, and by fire-breathing, we're talking a 13.25:1 compression ratio with Venolia pistons and Total Seal rings in a balanced and blueprinted AMC 401ci V-8. While we weren't able to pry the cam specification out of either of these guys (regardless of the number of beers we plied them with), we did find out the intake valves are 2.25 inches and the exhaust valves are 1.65 inches, while an Edelbrock Torker II intake passes the mixture into the motor from the Holley 750-cfm 4150 carburetor. The 401 got a set of Hedman Headers with 131/44-inch tubes and a 211/42-inch dual side-exit exhaust wearing Dynomax mufflers.

Spark is fed to the beast with an MSD 6A ignition, and an auxiliary oil line ran from the distributor to a spot in the galley between cylinders number 7 and 8, which mostly solves the famous oil-starvation issue of the otherwise solid AMC V-8 at higher rpm.

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All that power goes through a 2,500-rpm stall speed B&M torque converter with gear selection by a complementary B&M reverse-pattern, ratchet-style shifter controlling the stock-ratio AMC Turbo 400 transmission. Sure, it got heavy-duty clutches and a B&M Super Cooler, but other than that, Sun Transmission of Peoria, Arizona, didn't do anything other than a stock rebuild on this slushbox. And we're happy to report it has held up to years of racing just like it is.

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