You ever hear that phrase "No matter where you go, there you are"? Well, in this case, it's more like, "No matter where you go, there Mike is." We've traveled all over the western U.S. covering wheeling events and it has gotten to the point that seeing Mike and his '88 Wagoneer is just kind of expected.
He's worked for Jeep building prototypes, at dealerships, and in various and sundry service positions and knows Jeeps. So when the time came for him to build one, instead of popping out the old credit card, he brought some ingenuity, some patience, and an encyclopedic knowledge of drivetrain components to bear. Mike would much rather spend his money on gas to get to the trail than on trick widget-bobs.
He's been running this Jeep on some of the most famous trails around for about nine years now, and more often than not when we see him, he is the trail leader in his much-abused white woody. So when we once again ran into him at Moab, we decided to stick our head under the hood and see just what a well-built, home-grown XJ needs to be successful through so many trips. We expected to see a lot of well-thought-out modifications using OEM components, and we weren't disappointed.
Many of the things that are on this Jeep have come together over the years of running it. Take for example the front short-arm suspension with Off Road General Store (ORGS) adjustable lower arms, Currie Enterprises adjustable upper arms, and Rubicon Express drop brackets. Elevation comes from Rubicon Express 51/2-inch-lift coil springs and Rusty's Offroad 13/4-inch poly spacers. Doestch Tech 121/2-inch-travel DT-3386 shocks attached to ZJ upper shock mount bushings with custom aluminum bumpstop extensions (3-inch top and 4-inch bottom) keep the tires out of the fenders. The front track bar mount was sourced from Rubicon Express but then modified to accept the custom-built track bar from JKS Manufacturing.
Out back is a another grouping of parts providing elevation such as Rubicon Express 51/2-inch-lift springs, Rusty's 11/2-inch-lift shackles and Rancho RS9000 shocks. ORGS bumpstop extensions are welded to the 1/2-inch-thick spring plates that locate the axle under the springs. They work with 41/2-inch-long MJ bumpstops up to keep the rear tires out of the fenders.
The well-used rock rails are homebuilt by Mike out of 2x6x3/16-inch tube and tie back to the Unitbody with four outriggers and about 4 feet of plate steel held on by 12 bolts per side. The belly skid/transmission mount from JKS mimics the stock unit, but adds a tubular skidplate for the transfer case. In the rear, the stock 20-gallon gas tank is protected by a stock Jeep gas tank skidplate and trailer hitch.
A set of 35x12.50-16 Maxxis Creepy Crawlers are wrapped around 16-inch Jeep Moab wheels from a Rubicon Wrangler and modified by OMF Performance to make them true beadlocks. Even with the 11/4-inch wheel spacers, they do rub the inner fender wells and lower control arms at full droop or compression, and during hard turns.
The stock 4.0L Renix-powered inline-six is still providing locomotion but an open style cooling system from a '91-and-up Cherokee replaced the oft-problematic pressurized bottle with a fully-welded, all-metal heavy duty radiator. An aftermarket coolant reservoir, '96 XJ electronic cooling fan (flows more than stock), HO-style heater hoses, a 180-degree thermostat, and a Turbo City high-flow housing complete the cooling improvements. A Gano coolant filter keeps whatever junk that might get into the system out of the radiator's cores. An Endless Air engine-driven air compressor provides compressed air for whatever might come up.