Click for Coverage
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler
Subscribe to the Free

1986 Jeep Cherokee XJ - Family Truckster

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2010
Share this

When we first saw pictures of this yellow XJ a couple of years ago, we went gaga over it. It is an awesome looking Jeep, but it wasn't until we saw it in person and had the chance to crawl around it that we knew we needed to show it to all our faithful readers.

One of the big issues with all the unitbody Jeeps is that you can't fit decent-sized tires without lifting them sky-high or hacking out the wheelwells. The problem is the day you start cutting is the day the Jeep just starts looking like crap. Well, Randy Reeves of Wright, Wyoming, figured out a way to cut inner and outer wheelwells both front and rear and have the Jeep look good when he was done. But that wasn't enough for him, so he then cut more metal away to clear room for a big-block V-8.

The stock and rare '86 black upholstered seats were kept up front and still look great. The stock gauges still keep tabs on engine vitals and the factory controls are all hooked back up to the new drivetrain, even the swapped-in B&M shifter looks like it belongs. Under the back seat are two Odyssey batteries. A swapped-in Alpine head unit keeps the tunes coming. Once all the fender mods were done, the whole Jeep was hosed down in a Jeep-sourced Sunburst Yellow.

Randy says he built it for family outings, but any resemblance to the Griswold's wagon they drove to Wally World ends at the four-doors and having space in the back seat for two kids.

The stock unitbody was plated the entire length of the Jeep with a combination of 1/4- and 3/16-inch plate steel to stiffen it up. The wheelbase was stretched out to 112 inches through use of an owner-built rear triangulated four-link and a custom five-link setup to locate the front axle. Currie Anti-Rock sway bars front and rear help to keep the 16-inch Bilstein coilovers with Eibach springs under control.

An owner-built belly skid/transmission mount setup ties the plated framerails together for added strength. Out back, a 40-gallon home-built fuel cell keeps the big-block in fuel for just about the same range as a stock XJ would be able to claim.

Randy jokes that the big-block was a bolt-in swap. After changing only the unitbody framerails, firewall, inner fenders, and radiator core support to get it to bolt in. The engine is an '02 vintage 502ci V-8 and the stock internals were left alone for reliability. It got some bolt-on power mods in the form of an Edlebrock fuel injection setup and Sanderson headers. An aluminum Ron Davis Racing radiator with dual electric fans and an Edlebrock water pump conspire to keep the engine cool. Randy was also able to keep A/C in the Jeep. He managed to squeeze a Premier Power Welder under the hood as well.

A TH475 out of a 36-foot RV is bolted to the engine and stuffed with an Art Carr shift improver kit and internals and topped off with a B&M shifter. From there, a 4.3 Atlas II hands the power off to the front ARB-stuffed Dana 60 with 4.10 gears and the similarly-geared rear Corporate 14-bolt with a Detroit Locker. The front axle still runs the discs it was born with, but the huge top-hat drums from the rear were tossed in favor of some 3/4-ton rotors and calipers. A Corvette master cylinder provides the pressure to the rotors, and a pair of Mico Locks can allow locking up either end at a whim.

The 40-inch Goodyear tires combined with the estimated 21/2 inches of lift really give this thing a great stance and look. Pushing those big tires around are a bevy of AGR steering components, including a Super Box and Rock Ram.

Body and Interior
There is a ton of work done to fit these tires and basically none of the stock fenders are left. Using a combination of tube, sheet metal, and patience, Randy rebuilt the front fenders to clear the tires. He did a heck of a balancing act between tire space and engine compartment space. Out back, the rear doors were trimmed to clear the huge new fender flares. Inside the cargo area the stock inner fenders were tossed in favor of something that cleared the tires and shocks. Sure, the cans end up in the Jeep, but the rest of the shock is in the wheelwell where it should be. Part of the huge big-block-nursing fuel cell pokes through the floor to increase ground clearance, but doesn't poke through all the way. Randy is still able to fit tools or groceries in the back.

PhotosView Slideshow
PhotosView Slideshow

Good, Bad, and What's It For
A V-8 in a Cherokee is always a good time. Forty inch tires under a Jeep are always fun too. All in all, this Jeep is a blast and very capable both at wheeling and at navigating the occasional paved road too. As shot, it was 49 inches to the bottom of the door handle - compare that to the next XJ you see. One thing that we'd like to see would be a full cage. With all that drivetrain hanging under a unitbody, a roll-over would likely crumple the sheetmetal over the driver's head like an old Coke can.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: '86 Jeep Cherokee
Engine: '02 502ci Chevy V-8
Transmission: '86 Turbo 475
Transfer Case: 4.3:1 Atlas II
Suspension: five-link (front), four-link (rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front), GM Corporate 14-Bolt(rear)
Wheels: Champion wheels with TrailReady beadlocks
Tires: 40x13.50R17 Goodyear MT/R
Built For: Family Outings

Why I Wrote This Feature This
Jeep fixes many of the issues I have with the XJ platform in one fell swoop. Randy proved that a V-8 is not only possible, but can be reliable in an XJ. He also shows how to fit big rubber without having to lift the XJ to the moon. We parked his Jeep next to another XJ that had 33's and about 41/2 inches of lift, and his was about an inch shorter overall. Most of all, this isn't a Jeep with compromises. The thing is short, but it still flexes great with the tires fitting perfectly up in those monster wheelwells; it rides great, and from inside the cab, you'd never know that was a big-block under the hood until Randy stabs the go-pedal. -Pete Trasborg

PhotosView Slideshow

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results