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1976 Cherokee Chief - Fullsize Fury

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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1976 Cherokee Chief - Fullsize Fury
Photographers: Ron Mendenhall

In case you haven't noticed, we at Jp Magazine like fullsize Jeeps (FSJs). It started in early 2002 with Cappa's Panel Hack wagon and then the J2000 Hot Dog in 2005, plus Hazel's Evil Jeep M-715 and Murderous Overkill Willys truck. Then Trasborg brought his M-715 when he came on-board, and several recently purchased J-trucks have graced the pages as well. Despite our efforts to get the word out, FSJs are still one of the best kept secrets in the four-wheeling world. Brad Williams of Spearfish, South Dakota, is hip to the scene though, and turned his '76 Cherokee Chief into a killer off-road machine for minimal money. The strong components were retained, the few weak components were replaced, and the superfluous sheetmetal was removed.

Chassis And Driveline
The stock drivetrain from the big Cherokee was retained, as it is plenty stout from the factory. This includes the torquey AMC 360 V-8, which feeds through a Motorcraft two-barrel carburetor that runs at angles nearly as good as fuel injection. A bulletproof TH475 was a bolt-in replacement for the legendary stock TH400. The transmissions are visually identical, but the TH475 has stronger straight-cut gears for First and Second. The First gear in the transmission was upgraded to 3.08 to somewhat compensate for the 2.46:1 low range of the small, yet strong Dana 20 transfer case.

Further gearing comes from the 7.17s in the swapped-in Dana 60 axles. A front axle was stolen from a 1-ton Chevy pickup. It still uses the stock 30-spline stub outers. It runs a Detroit Locker and MileMarker hubs, while the offset E-250 Ford van rear axle runs the factory Power-Lok limited-slip differential, 30-spline axle shafts, and disc brakes. The axles sit below the factory leaf springs, which are complemented with rear blocks for additional lift. "It may not have a lot of articulation, "Williams confesses, "but it makes for awesome wheelstand photos!"

Steering is done through the factory steering box, a custom heavy-duty drag link, a high-steer arm, and a heavy-duty tie rod. Both the tie rod and drag link feature rod ends. The tires are hand-me-down 39.5-inch Super Swamper TSLs from Williams' friends at Twisted Customs. The tires have been grooved for more flex and are mounted on 16.5x7 chrome spoke wheels which do not have safety beads. This limits the ability to air down, but the price was right so who's complaining? Williams plans to add weld-on beadlock rings to the wheels in the near future. The bias-ply tires have heavy sidewalls that resist punctures and will likely last several more years.

Body And Interior
The most noticeable aspect of the Jeep is the... uh, "tadpoles" plasma cut in to the hood. Williams made the mistake of inviting some friends over to work on his Jeep and when he returned from a pizza run, the "custom cooling holes" were already in place. "Never let your friends work on your Jeep when you aren't around!" Williams advises. The doors and rear hatch were dumped to save weight. The stock dash, seats, and safety belts were all retained. The stock top was cut off behind the B-pillar and a six-point roll cage was added to retain structural integrity and safety. The fullsize spare tire is mounted on top of the cage. This location raises the center of gravity and makes the spare difficult to reach, but placement options were limited after hacking off so much of the body.

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One round and one square headlight adorn the front along with a coveted Gladiator rhino grill. All of this sits behind a custom front tube bumper fitted with a Warn 8274 winch. A 4x2 rectangular box tube rear bumper and sliders mounted under the heavily-trimmed rocker panels provide some protection. The rear bumper acts as a crossmember for the shortened frame. The clever tailgate was made by grafting two CJ tailgates together to match the width of the cage after the rear of the Cherokee was chopped off at a Jeepster-like angle and dove-tailed for more body clearance on tight trails. The tadpole theme continues all the way back to the taillights, which were cut after the rear of the vehicle was removed. A trick fuel filler routes gasoline to the stock gas tank.

Good, Bad, And What's It For
This Cherokee is perfect for running the numerous rockcrawling trails found in the Black Hills of South Dakota. These trails are notoriously narrow and lined with trees and huge rocks, so why bother trying to save the body? As hard as these trails are though, we think that it would provide peace of mind for Williams to add a full locker and 35-spline axle shafts to the rear Dana 60, along with some beadlocks to allow for lower tire pressures and more traction.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: '76 Cherokee ChiefEngine: AMC 360 V-8Transmission: GM TH475Transfer Case: Dana 20Suspension: Spring-over with stock leaf springsAxles: GM Dana 60 (front), Ford E-250 van Dana 60 (rear)Wheels: 16.5x7 chrome spokesTires: 15/39.5-16.5LT Super Swamper TSLsBuilt For: Grinding through the Black HillsEstimated Cost: $4,500

Why I Featured It
While M-715s are gaining popularity, the rest of the FSJ world continues to be seemingly overlooked. Williams' Cherokee Chief should help change that. I appreciate that it works on the trail and was built with a real-world budget. Add the "unique" body work and you have a vehicle that stands out from the sea of Wranglers I normally see on the trail.- Harry Wagner

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