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2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee: Only Has Eyes For Jeeps

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2012
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WJ fortified with JK axles
You would expect a kid from Bangkok to drive a Honda Civic with a giant exhaust tip and an even bigger wing on the back, but Kanin Prucksakorn only has eyes for Jeeps. His current rides include a well-built YJ Wrangler and the WJ Grand Cherokee featured on these pages. Kanin picked up his current WJ as a replacement for his previous Grand Cherokee after it was totaled by a drunk-driver who T-boned Kanin and his girlfriend Erica three years ago. Since bringing home the new WJ, he has performed a host of modifications to make it his own.

Kanin’s Grand Cherokee already had a 6-inch Clayton’s Off Road long-arm suspension when he bought it, which saved him a considerable amount of money in building his WJ. Even with that much lift though, the Jeep was only running 33-inch-tall tires at the time. Larger tires could fit, but first the Jeep had to be fortified for bigger, heavier meats. The WJ Unitbody is already far stiffer than its XJ and ZJ predecessors, but Kanin’s was made even more so with the addition of Unitbody stiffeners that double as suspension mounting points for the Clayton’s suspension kit. JKS Super Nerfs from Kevin’s Off Road tie into the rails and body protection while reinforcing the chassis.

Despite being smaller and lighter than a JK Unlimited, the brain trust at Jeep was smart enough to equip the WJ with a V-8 from the factory. The 4.7L mill in Kanin’s Grand has been enhanced with a K&N intake and Thrush muffler, but otherwise remains stock after 130,000 miles. Power is then routed through the factory 45RFE five-speed automatic transmission and NV247 transfer case. The NV247 “Quadra-Trac II” T-case is a solid unit when in good condition and offers full-time 4WD operation via a gerotor limited-slip that allows nearly 100-percent lock up. It works, so it’s staying—for now.

Kanin locked the factory Dana 30 and Dana 44A axles soon after buying the Jeep, but he found something better before dumping too much money into them. Dana 44s from a JK Rubicon were sourced when a local JK owner upgraded to Dana 60s, but there was a catch—the front axle was already bent. Hardline Metal Works cut the knuckles off of the housing before straightening it and reinforcing the tubes with inner sleeves from Poly Performance. The heavy-duty tie rod and drag link were also sourced from Poly Performance, along with the Superior chromoly front axleshafts. The JK axles also received 5.13 gears wrapped around the factory locking differentials.

The front JK axle bolted right in the WJ with minimal complications, and hydraulic ram-assist cylinder was added at the same time to ease steering effort. Kanin sourced the correct ABS and speedometer plugs from Lithia Jeep of Reno, Nevada, and all systems were a go. In the rear, Chris Stoner of Off Road Innovations in Reno added a Clayton truss for the rear suspension. Factory WJ upper suspension links are triangulated from the factory as opposed to the four link and track bar found on the back of Wranglers. Kanin cites Stoner as being instrumental in building his Grand Cherokee, and many of the details were based on Stoner’s own WJ, which we featured in our March ’11 issue.

Body and Interior
There is a lot of sheetmetal on a Grand Cherokee, so up-armoring the WJ was a priority. Chris Stoner built the front and rear bumpers to maximize ground clearance, match the lines of the vehicle, and be strong enough to withstand rock hits. The front bumper holds a Smittybilt winch, protects the radiator, and has an improved approach angle when compared to the stock plastic piece. The rear bumper wraps around to protect the sides of the vehicle and holds a full-size spare tire with a Trasharoo bag to keep smelly trash out of the cab.

One of the reasons the Jeep only had 33-inch tires on it with a 6-inch lift is the dinky WJ wheelwells. Kanin opened up the fenders 3 inches and added roll-on bedliner to provide some contrast. No additional lift was necessary to fit the 35-inch Goodyear MT/Rs, but the LJ Rubicon wheels did require adapters to change the bolt pattern from 5-on-5 to 5-on-41⁄2.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee is filled with leather and power everything. Rocker switches control the front and rear lockers through factory harnesses, although if he had to do it over again, Kanin would have skipped purchasing the harnesses and just wired the lockers from scratch. When the spare tire was moved to the tire carrier, Chris Stoner moved the fuel tank up 6 inches into the space previously occupied by the spare. The back of the Jeep now securely holds recovery gear, tools, and an air compressor from Iron Rock Off Road.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Kanin’s Jeep is civil enough to drive from his home in Reno out to Moab, as he has done the past few years for the annual Grand Slam West event. And with lockers front and rear and 35s, he can run most of the trails in Moab once he gets there. The downside is the sheer volume of exterior surface area on a WJ, so Kanin’s has a few battle scars on the doors to show for it. However, he is building his YJ Wrangler to be his hardcore wheeler and plans to use the Grand Cherokee more for camping, road trips, and winter driving.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 2001 Jeep WJ Grand Cherokee
Engine: 4.7L V-8
Transmission: 45RFE five-speed automatic
Transfer Case: NV247
Suspension: Clayton long-arm
Axles: JK Rubicon Dana 44 (front and rear)
Wheels: Factory LJ Rubicon
Tires: 315/75R16 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R
Built For: Everything from road trips to rockcrawling

Why I Wrote This Feature
The most appealing aspect of Kanin’s Grand Cherokee is the addition of the JK axles. I think that they are well matched to the vehicle in terms of width and strength, are reasonably priced, and retain the ABS functionality and 5-on-5 bolt pattern of the WJ. Although it may not be as trendy as a JK Unlimited, Kanin’s Jeep cost less to build and came from the factory with a V-8. It makes for a well-rounded package that offers a lot of bang for the buck.

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