Custom 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee (WJ) Overland Build
Maciej Michalecki’s Jeep WJ was built for overlanding, but it’s a hardcore rockcrawler, too
We see many Jeeps on the trail. Many. Therefore, to stand out in a sea of awesome, modified specimens, a vehicle requires equal parts ingenuity and eye-catch. Maciej Michalecki's '04 Jeep Grand Cherokee was on Four Wheeler's 2019 TireRack.com Overland Adventure East, and our peepers were all over it. Although his WJ was assembled for overlanding and long-distance travels, it also seamlessly handles his favorite type of ground: "Mud-covered rock sections, as they require skill and a properly built rig to get through them."
What you ought to know in advance: 1. Maciej is just 20 years old. 2. He has a twin brother, Darek. 3. He built this Grand himself and paid for everything himself. (For some reason, people seem to have a hard time believing that.)
"I chose the Jeep simply because I'm a die-hard Jeep fan," he said about the purchase of this Laredo. He's only ever owned and built Jeeps, in fact. But when it comes to the Grand, it's "an unappreciated base for an overland build." It's "somehow luxurious, compared to other models, such as the Cherokee or Wrangler. It has a lot of features, and I just really like the look of it." However, "the only downside to this particular Jeep is the lack of aftermarket parts," Maciej explained. "A lot of stuff has to be made custom. That being said, most of the parts are much more expensive than parts for popular vehicles, such as the Jeep Wrangler."
Maciej works as a mechanic and installer at his dad's shop, Goliath Off Road, so he knew exactly how he wanted to set up the suspension and which modifications were necessities. "I learned to wrench myself. I was always interested in working on cars, and it just came naturally over time. I also watch a lot of YouTube; you can learn pretty much how to do everything there." Darek did the fabricating, and Maciej did the installing, but all mods were a group effort between the brothers and their father. "This Jeep was built to be comfortable to drive long distances on the road and be unstoppable off-road." It also has changes you're not likely to see that often, such as a swapped-in Overland model's interior or a fuel tank that's been tucked up a few inches for protection. Or at least you're not likely to find them on another 20-something's trail rig.
"The thing I like the most about overlanding is freedom. I can go really anywhere I want," said Maciej. "The Jeep is like a tool I use to explore places where I wouldn't be able to go in a normal car."
2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Maciej Michalecki's '04 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a daily driver, overlander, and rockcrawler. "Why 2004? Simple. I really like the color—the kind of rare Deep Lava Red Metallic offered only in 2004—and the front grille."
Jeep 4.0L Engine
"I believe that the 4.0L engine that this Jeep has offers plenty of power for everything I need to do with it. I don't really like to add performance mods, as it usually affects the reliability." Therefore, there are only a few performance enhancements, such as Champion spark plugs, Odyssey Extreme deep-cycle battery, B&M SuperCooler, and Derale power-steering cooler. Exhaust is taken care of through a MagnaFlow high-flow cat and DynoMax Race Bullet muffler. P.S. You'll find the hood to be lined in Kevlar.
Dana Axle Swap
Maciej and his twin brother, Darek, did all the axle work themselves. "This Jeep started as a Laredo model, so the axles were not so desirable—open differentials, 3.55 gears, and a Dana 35 on the back weren't exactly what I wanted." Up front, he swapped in a Dana 30 from an Overland model, gaining 3.73 gearing and a limited-slip diff. At the rear is a Dana 44HD from a Limited with 3.73 gears. It was open, but Darek put in an Aussie Locker. Also underneath are 1310 driveshafts from Adams Driveshaft & Off Road and Clayton Off Road midframe stiffeners. "I wish I'd added axle trusses when I built the axles." That's next on his to-do list. "Besides that, the Jeep works perfectly fine, and I don't feel the need to add or change anything."
"I knew I wanted a long-arm suspension front and rear, so that's what we did." Darek fabricated and Maciej installed, which entailed custom long arms using Clayton Off Road brackets, plus heavy-duty 1-ton steering and skidplates.
Fuel Tank Tuck
"The fuel tank on a Jeep Grand Cherokee in the factory location is hanging really low, as there is a spare tire under the trunk area. I knew that I wouldn't really need a stock-size spare tire, so I got rid of that and raised the tank," said Maciej. Darek tucked the tank about 5 or 6 inches, which required loads of cutting and grinding to get it to fit properly. "The main challenge was to plug all the fuel and vent hoses, as the tank now sits much higher than it did before."
BFGoodrich Tires and Jeep Wrangler JL Wheels
You're likely to find this Grand 'wheeling and exploring on the north side of the East Coast. To get around, it runs on 32-inch BFGoodrich KO2s with an aluminum center from the Jeep Wrangler JL.
Goliath Off Road Body Armor
Much of the beef is Goliath Off Road sourced/fabricated, "just like the whole Jeep": rock sliders with step, front winch bumper, rear bumper with tire carrier and RotopaX mounts, and roof rack. All armor as well as the suspension, steering, track bar, and diff cover was powdercoated. The 9,500-pound Smittybilt winch with synthetic rope and Warn Premium fairlead and Epic hook might be the one item Maciej can't live without. "It helped me in a lot of sticky situations where there was no one to help. It just gives me peace of mind when exploring alone."
Custom Roof Rack
Overlanding incorporates a Smittybilt rooftop tent and ARB 2500 awning. "Always the biggest problem is to find a space to put an awning on the side, as awnings usually don't come with brackets, just bolts. Darek and my dad designed a set of offset brackets that are welded to the outside tube on the roof rack," said Maciej. "That was the only way to mount it there. The mounts are low-profile, so the awning is as close to the body as possible." The 10-inch lightbar and side LED lights are from Rigid Industries.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Interior Swap
It's not often that the inside of a vehicle is as interesting as the outside, but this Grand pulled that off as well. Maciej performed an interior swap. When he bought the Jeep, it was "really nasty and smelled horrible." There was a Grand Cherokee Overland in his shop with a rusted body but perfect interior, and since both Jeeps were 2004 models, it was a straightforward swap. "Now, it's a nice, two-tone leather interior." But the all-star conversation starter has been the headliner. "It's dark blue and white plaid fleece."
Vehicle: '04 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo
Owner: Maciej Michalecki
Stomping grounds: Apopka, Florida
Build time: 3 months
Engine: 4.0L Power Tech six-cylinder
Transmission: Chrysler 42RE 4-spd automatic
Transfer case: NP242 Selec-Trac
Low range ratio: 2.72:1
Crawl ratio: 27.79:1
Front axle/differential: Dana 30/Limited slip
Rear axle/differential: Dana 44A HD/Aussie Locker
Front: Clayton Off Road 6-in dual-rate springs and crossmember, Bilstein 5100 shocks, custom radius long arms, Rough Country sway-bar disconnects, Bilstein steering stabilizer, Goliath Off Road 1-ton steering with Heim joints
Rear: Clayton Off Road 6-in springs and four-link brackets, custom four-link long arms
Tires: 285/70R17 BFGoodrich KO2
Wheels: 17x7.5 aluminum Jeep Wrangler JL
Armor: Goliath Off Road rock sliders w/step, roof rack, skidplates, front bumper, and rear bumper; Yukon Gear front differential cover; Chassis Unlimited rear differential cover
Cool stuff: MagnaFlow high-flow catalytic converter, DynoMax muffler, Derale Performance power steering cooler, Odyssey battery, B&M transmission cooler, Adams Driveshaft & Off Road driveshafts, Clayton Off Road midframe stiffeners, RotopaX fuel carriers, Rigid Industries lightbar and lights, Pioneer head unit and speakers, Rugged Radio handheld radios, TomTom navigation/Gaya maps, Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland interior, Hi-Lift jack and recovery equipment, Smittybilt tent and winch w/Warn fairlead/hook, ARB awning