Mall Crawler No Longer
For years, the XJ Cherokee was shunned by its short-wheelbase, ladder-framed brethren. Eventually the Cherokee earned its street cred, leaving the XJ's rich uncle, the Grand Cherokee, to languish in relative obscurity. Considering that there are more upgrades available for the JK than for the three generations of Grand Cherokees produced in the last 15 years, it speaks volumes that Chris Stoner did not let the lack of aftermarket products dissuade him from building a '99 WJ.
Talking about a "chassis" on a Grand Cherokee is a bit of a misnomer, but Chris has done plenty of work to ensure that the Unitbody on his WJ withstands the rigors of hard trail use. The framerails were reinforced with 0.250-wall box tubing tied into 3/16-inch-thick steel boatsides to provide strength and act as a foundation for the custom coilover suspension. Chris started with an off-the-shelf suspension for his Grand Cherokee, but the drive for more articulation led him to entirely redesign the suspension with a custom 61/2-inch lift.
All four corners use 14-inch-travel, 2-inch-diameter Fox coilovers with 250lb/in-over-300lb/in QA1 coils, but Chris plans to swap out all of the current springs for Eibachs in the near future. The coilovers work in conjunction with a front three-link and track bar that push the axle forward 2 inches. Out back a triangulated four-link locates the rear axle and adds another 2 inches to the wheelbase. The upper links are constructed from 1.5-inch, 0.250-wall DOM tubing while the lowers use 1.5-inch, 0.250-wall DOM sleeved with 2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM to support the Grand Cherokee's 6,000 lb curb weight. Midwest Controls 7/8- x 3/4-inch rod-ends are used with high-misalignment spacers on the axle end, while 7/8-inch Ballistic Joints from Ballistic Fabrication insulate the Unitbody at the other end of the links.
"One of the reasons I chose the WJ was the excellent 4.7L V-8," Chris explains. This meant that he did not need to worry about an expensive, time-consuming engine swap and gamble with emissions issues. Chris did add an electric fan from a Ford Taurus to keep the engine cool regardless of conditions. Behind the engine, the factory 45RFE four-speed automatic was retained, but the NVG247 transfer case was replaced with a more-common NVG231 equipped with a slip-yoke eliminator and a 4:1 low range planetary gearset.
Downstream from the transfer case the Jeep components come to an end. The WJ comes with a funky Dana 30 front axle that uses CV joints instead of standard U-joints (for smoother running with the full-time T-case) and an aluminum Dana 44 rear with virtually no aftermarket gearing or locker options. Chris liberated a Dana 60 and a Sterling 10.5 from a Super Duty to provide stability and strength to his Grand Cherokee.
The front ball joint axle uses an Off Road Unlimited steering knuckle for an improved drag link angle, 5.38 Motive gears, and a welded differential. Steering with the Lincoln Locker is made easier by a driver-operated switch that Chris wired to a vacuum pump to control the automatic Ford hubs, essentially turning the welded diff into a selectable locker. A PSC hydraulic ram used with a tapped factory steering box takes care of any other steering issues. Out back, the Sterling axle benefits from a Detroit Locker, 5.38 Motive gears, and a custom differential cover.