BDS Cherokee Chief Lift Kit: Full-Size Spring SurprisePosted in Project Vehicles on April 1, 2012
This stupid Jeep has become one of the family. It’s the first vehicle Hazel ever owned that his wife actually loves. It’s got enough backseat room for his three boys and their car seats. It’ll swallow a day’s worth of beach gear or accommodate enough bikes, toys, or fishing stuff for five people. It’s a day-trip, family-fun, retro-throwback machine. Get in, unplug, hit the road, and follow the grille wherever it takes you. The only trouble with this Cherokee is that so far every component has had to be replaced. And we do mean every component.
We first introduced this ’78 Cherokee Chief to you in “The Monkey Bus, Parts 1 & 2,” (July and Aug. ’11). After getting enough aftermarket and replacement parts thrown at it to sink a battleship, it was ready for the road. That’s when other ugliness began rearing its head. We won’t delve into everything here and now, but one of the biggest issues was the steering. Or, more specifically, the need to hold the steering wheel at 10 o’clock in order to get the vehicle to drive straight down the road.
When a leaf-sprung, solid-axle vehicle exhibits a severe pull to one side, it normally means a bent front axle, worn ball joints, a sticking brake, a bent spring, worn bushings, a bent frame, or any combination of the above. In our case, a little investigation led to some fun surprises. The first was severe porosity in the factory welds holding the shackle hangers to the frame. The driver-side hanger was partially knocked off and the passenger-side leaf spring looked to have a bend in it. We fixed the shackle hanger, but it had no effect on steering. Surprise number two came when we pulled off the front springs. The bushings were all toast and the passenger-side front spring was bent. That, coupled with the clicking and clacking heard from the rear suspension on every ride, sealed our decision to go with new replacement springs from a reputable company.
When it came time to choose our new springs, we knew BDS Suspension would get the nod. The company prides itself on building a quality product—so much so that it offers a no-questions-asked, free replacement warranty. Essentially, if your BDS component breaks, no matter the reason, the company gives you a new one. That’s it—no fine print or bull-byproduct. The company offers a 4-inch lift for our vehicle, including new front springs with factory-type rubber bushings, U-bolts, shocks, and brake line drop brackets. Rather than using a lift block or add-a-leaf out back, we chose the company’s optional full replacement packs with smooth, quiet rubber bushings. We also checked the option box for a dropped pitman arm and new spring eye bolts.
After we got the new lift on the small 31-inch tires just looked way too runty, so we transferred the 31s to our YJ and placed an order with Mickey Thompson for the company’s new Baja Claw TTC tires in a 33x12.50R15 size. We mounted the tires on some Mickey Thompson 15x8 Sidebiter wheels with a 3.31-inch backspacing. The new suspension isn’t exactly supple, but it doesn’t beat you up either. We’d put the ride quality slightly below the old, worn stock springs. However, with more room under the rockers for off-road clearance and the ability to stuff 33s with no trimming (or 37s if we want to cut the steel flares), we’re now well equipped to put our family wagon to work in the dirt.
Here are some salient points about our new BDS FSJ suspension and Mickey Thompson rolling stock.
• Ride is on par or perhaps ever-so-slightly firmer than stock suspension
• Stock suspension would bottom to bumpstops violently on big potholes and road incongruities
• BDS 4-inch suspension soaks up same bumps without discomfort, but overall suspension feels harsher on smaller bumps
• Steering wheel now straight and vehicle tracks with no left/right pull
• Jeep sits perfectly level with BDS front/rear spring packs; no nose-high or jacked-up stance
• Longer wheel studs may prove necessary with aluminum wheels (not much lug thread engagement with thicker aluminum wheels)
• Despite removal of sway bar, on-road stability and cornering performance not affected
• Springs still breaking in and feeling softer/more comfortable with every ride, but haven’t sagged.
• Baja Claw TTC tires roll very smooth considering how aggressive; road noise on par with other street-friendly mud tires like old-school BFG M-T.
• Rear BDS spring packs employ steel shims to rotate pinion upward—no driveline buzz detected at any speed with factory driveshaft
• Removal of exhaust hanger on passenger-side rear shackle hanger necessary for spring installation