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1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Turd Chaser

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 24, 2008
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If someone came up to you and said he built a Grand Cherokee with honkin' tires and Dana 60s to get to a manhole, would you think he'd had one too many sips of the happy juice?

That's what we wondered when we first talked to Greg Goan, a sewer and drain specialist from Portland, Maine. All we could picture was this massively built Jeep sitting proudly on the street next to a manhole cover. Of course, a city street was not what we found when we went to check this thing out.

Greg built his '97 Grand Cherokee to reach manholes in the middle of nowhere in order to inspect sewer lines and storm drains. He has a little robot that he drops into the hole to watch real-time video of blockages. The robot is tied to the Jeep through a 700-foot umbilical cord, and Greg can mark on a map where he sees roots, cracks, or giant alligators that need to be removed, fixed, or fed later.

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Still, doesn't sound so rough, does it? Greg tells us that he has clients in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The lines he inspects often run between two roads. No big deal, right? Well, most of the time the roads through the woods of the northeast are pretty far apart, often a matter of miles from one to the other.

Therefore, the Grand Cherokee needs to travel through anything from rocks, mud, steep drop-offs, off-camber sections, and other kinds of hazards that we go to for fun. But Greg does it as part of his 9-5 job.

"I ain't afraid of no ghost." Yes, that's Slimer from the movie Ghostbusters on the front of the Jeep. Unbeknownst to Greg, Slimer decided to go for a ride on the first trip after the build. That went so well, Greg decided it was a good luck charm and could stay. It's a squeak toy, so before every voyage it gets a little squeeze for luck. Hey, if it's worked so far, why stop now?

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The first thing you notice about this Jeep are the 38.5x14.50-16.5LT Super Swamper TSL SX tires. Sure, 38.5-inch tires might not be that big. But on a Grand Cherokee, we still think they look pretty huge. They're wrapped around16.5x10 steel Rock Crawler wheels with 4 inches of backspacing and are bolted to a pair of swapped-in Dana 60 axles.

The front is a high-pinion Dana 60 pirated from a '79 Ford F-350. The inner knuckles were cut off and rotated 6 degrees, the kingpins were rebuilt, and the high steering setup features 11/4-inch-diameter solid chromoly links that move with the aid of an AGR Rock Ram. The Ford dual-piston calipers provide the whoa, while a set of 5.38 gears and an ARB Air Locker provide the go. The rear axle got similar treatment in the form of another set of 5.38s, coupled with an ARB locker and Cadillac calipers and discs braking the rear. Heavy-duty Crane differential covers cap off both axles.

Power is handed down from a 4:1 Atlas II transfer case with 32-spline front and rear outputs through a pair of thick-walled Tom Woods driveshafts sporting 1350 U-joints. The Atlas is bolted to the stock 42RE overdrive automatic transmission, which in turn still takes marching orders from the 5.2L V-8 that was put between the framerails before the Jeep left the factory. Leaving well enough alone, modifications to the engine are few, only a cold-air intake and exhaust modified to clear the suspension.

Elevating the Jeep for those monster tires fell to front and rear 7-inch Rock Krawler lift coils and JKS ACOS adjustable spacers. The front got a Clayton long-arm kit, with the lower links lengthened to push the front axle forward about 4 inches. Longer custom control arms bump the rearend back about 3 inches, and since the Jeep ended up with so much droop, limiting straps were added at each front corner and to the middle of the rear axle so that the shocks wouldn't overextend or the driveshafts separate.

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Custom front and rear bumpstops keep the fenders from feeling the wrath of the tires, and 7100 series remote-reservoir Bilsteins in the front and a matching set of 7100s out back mounted at an angle for more travel prevent the Jeep from acting like a pogo stick. Steel plate aft of the rear doors to the back of the Jeep was used to provide a 3/16-inch cocoon for the rear unibody.

The Bushwacker flares were intended for a regular Cherokee but were made to fit this Grand, and extra wheelwell real estate was freed up in the process. The front has some heavy beef in the form of an ARB Bull Bar with a Warn XD9000 winch perched atop for recovery chores, plus a quartet of PIAA lights for those winter months, when a lot of work is done in the dark.

Rocker protection comes from a pair of Olympic 4x4 guards. The stock rockers, the Olympic guards, and the stock rear bumper were sprayed with Line-X for coverage from brush and rocks.

Inside, the stock leather seats remain, along with much of the stock trim and accoutrements that this top-of-the-line Jeep had in 1997. A clinometer was added to the dashboard, and the ARB switches were installed right under the factory head unit.

In the cargo area resides the rover-a four-wheel, remote-controlled video camera that allows Greg to survey sewers and other limited-access areas. A 2,500-watt inverter and dedicated battery are required to run it. The rover came from Envirosight and feeds images and locations to the PipeTech software loaded into the center-console-mounted laptop. There's also a GPS system.

For our photo shoot, the Jeep was outfitted for wheeling, with more spare tools riding along and much of the work equipment out of the way. Normally a spool (similar to a hose reel) retracts the umbilical cord and is in the cargo area, along with the padded case for the rover and the battery/inverter setup.

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The power of a V-8, 38.5-inch Super Swampers, and Dana 60s make it possible for this Grand to go just about anywhere. A cage would be a good addition to this well-built Jeep, but Greg already knows-it's on the list as the next modification.

The 16.5-inch rims don't have a safety bead, so he can't air down all that much. Beadlocks or 16-inch rims would be a better choice. We'd be nervous about wheeling a Jeep this tall, but Greg assures us it's as stable as a Grand Cherokee on big Swampers can be.

A ZJ built to film sewers-need I say more? However, what I found when I got there was a well-built Jeep that could likely handle just about anything. Imagine going off-road in something that could pretty much climb walls and drop off small cliffs while you sit in a comfy leather seat, soaking up the sun through the sunroof, checking out the beauty of Maine, and being able to say, "I'm at work." I had to admire that. -Melissa Howard

Vehicle: '97 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Engine: 5.2L V-8
Transmission: 42RE
Transfer Case: Atlas II, 4:1 low
Suspension: Clayton long arms (front), 7-inch Rock Krawler springs, and JKS ACOS spacers (front and rear)
Axles: '79 Ford high-pinion Dana 60 (front), '79 Ford Dana 60 (rear)
Wheels: 16.5x10 steel Rock Crawler
Tires: 38.5x14.50-16.5LT Super Swamper TSL SX
Built For: Getting to remote sewer and storm drain-access points
Estimated Cost: $25,000

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