1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee - A Grand For A Few Grand
A Grand Cherokee Built on a Not So Grand Budget
Sumptuous leather interior, V-8 power, reliable 4-wheel drive, and linked suspension that irons out the terrain. It’s difficult to find a vehicle under $2,014 that has just one of these features, let alone the whole lot of them. Until, of course, one remembers that in the early ’90s the demise of the minivan began and the onslaught of the SUV craze was under way. One of the frontrunners in this SUV race to the showrooms was the Jeep Grand Cherokee (aka the ZJ). For 1993, Jeep introduced this groundbreaking vehicle, which built upon the Unitbody construction and coil-and-link front suspension of the XJ Cherokee and added luxury features, a bigger engine, and rear coil-and-link suspension to match the front. When new, a top-of-the-line Limited Grand Cherokee cost $31,187. Today they can be had in running condition for less than $2,500.
I was able to pick up my luxurious Cheap Truck for $2,000. It featured a substantial coolant leak from the timing chain cover, a solid oil leak from the rear main, poor brakes, a missing front driveshaft, a couple nice dents, and nonworking A/C. The broken A/C was almost the deal breaker; however, the motor did run good aside from the leaks, the interior was pretty clean, and the Jeep had some fresh 33-inch Falken Wildpeak tires that definitely didn’t fit. I decided it was a solid start to a great do-all vehicle.
The goal for my build was simple: Get the 4WD working, lift the vehicle to fit the Falken tires, and add armor for vital undercarriage components. I wanted a stock driving vehicle that I could easily drive to Cheap Truck Challenge, win with, and drive home. The suspension modifications were easily handled with a set of 13⁄4-inch coil spacers from Daystar.
Next was traction. The Jeep didn’t have a front driveshaft on it when purchased, and there was a good reason for that. The yoke on the front axle was not a standard 1310 yoke but rather a repezza flanged yoke similar to those found on JKs. The front repezza joint blew up and the front shaft had been removed so the Jeep could still be driven. After a quick trip to the junkyard and $100 later, I had a pair of standard front shafts (to get rid of the stock CV-equipped shafts), a 1310 pinion yoke, and a front driveshaft out of a late-model Cherokee that I could use as cores. Since the frontend was apart, I took the opportunity to add a Spartan Locker and beef the Dana 30 housing with gussets from Synergy Manufacturing to prepare for the air time that Cheap Truck Challenge is famous for.
With the frontend complete, I decided now was probably a good time to get a true 4-low sorted out for the Jeep. My ZJ came with an NP249 transfer case, which features a viscous coupler to transfer power between the front and rear driveshafts. This poses a problem for off-road reliability, as most of these viscous couplers tend to start to wear out between 75,000 and 100,000 miles. My Jeep has 160K miles on it and was run without a front driveshaft for an unknown amount of time—also not good for the venerable viscous coupler. I decided a T-case swap was in order. Some searching and patience on Craigslist served me up a nice NP231 out of an LJ for only $150.
With a stockpile of good OEM used parts in hand, it was time for some new goodies. Since my rear driveshaft wasn’t going to bolt right up to the LJ’s 231 case anyway, it made sense to upgrade the transfer case now with a slip yoke eliminator. Advance Adapters makes a great SYE kit for a great price, so it was added to the build.
Drivetrain nearing completion, all that was left to get the Jeep driving was driveshafts. With the SYE and new T-case I really lucked out and ended up with the same length front and rear driveshafts. I scored a well-worn, out-of-balance Tom Wood’s driveshaft from a local XJ enthusiast for $40. Supposedly the splines were frozen, but a little grease and lots of hammering freed it up. At this point the Jeep could drive. Dare I say, it could even wheel. However, I’ve seen Cheap Truck Challenges in the past and I was already growing attached to my Cheap Truck, so I wanted it to survive past the event. I had a sneaking suspicion that skidplates would be needed. Rusty’s Offroad had me covered, literally. I ordered up a gas tank and T-case skid to protect my freshened-up underside. For just $319, the skids would gain me some much-needed undercarriage protection.
At this point the only thing left to do was some basic maintenance to get the Jeep ready for competition. All said and done, after tallying up the little things (a set of Daystar Cam Cans, paint, fluids, and so on) I was into my Cheap Truck for $1,816 in upgrades. Add the purchase price of $2,000 into the mix and you have a very comfortable, capable toy for just $3,816—not bad for a vehicle with an original MSRP of over $30,000. Further evidence as to the comfort and capability is the fact that this was the only vehicle that drove to and from the Cheap Truck Challenge (over 200 miles each way) under its own power. What kid can afford a tow rig and trailer?
Step one in the process was to get the tires to clear and thus regain drivability. So I started off with a Daystar coil-spring spacer lift. The 13⁄4-inch spacer lift gave me the clearance I was looking for without sacrificing the OEM driving feel by altering the suspension geometry too much.
Once into the suspension, I found a lot of dry, rotted-out bushings that were contributing to the clunky, wandering feel of the Jeep. Daystar came to the rescue again with an OEM replacement bushing kit. Daystar makes an affordable polyurethane replacement for every suspension bushing on a ZJ. So while the spacer lift was being installed, every single control arm came out and every factory bushing met its maker with the help of a butane torch.
Note to anyone thinking about doing a 231 swap in a ZJ: Pull the old T-case prior to installing the SYE kit, and measure the input gear! The input gear was about 1 inch too short in the LJ case compared to the stock input gear from the ZJ case. So I had the luxury of rebuilding the new transfer case twice.
The factory 249 case weighed approximately 3,500 metric tons and nearly flattened my hand upon removal. The new 231 case with the Advance Adapters SYE kit is a much lighter, stronger upgrade.
T-case handled, it was on to the front end. With only $833 spent up to this point, I decided I should go buy a gun to bring to the knife fight that is the Cheap Truck Challenge. I got myself a locker. I could only afford a .22-caliber version of a front locker, but a good lunchbox locker will slay an open diff any day, and the part-time transfer case removed any concerns about handling quirks on the pavement.
Out came the front axle and in went some axle sleeves and C-gussets for some peace of mind. I installed the locker and pinion yoke, replaced the CV shafts with good stock units and built myself a pretty stout little Dana 30 front end.
Cheap Truck Challenge is known for airtime, and I didn’t want my front axle smiling at me at the end of the trip. The axle was sleeved and gusseted to prevent bending, and the CV shafts that allow smooth fulltime 4-wheel drive were replaced with stronger axles using U-joints.
The front XJ shaft I picked up from the junkyard had to be lengthened to fit. Luckily, XJ driveshafts are made from 2.0x0.120-wall material. So all I had to do was cut off the ends, get some 2.0x0.120-wall DOM, and press it all together. No machining necessary, just a 41⁄2-inch angle grinder and a press. Easy-ish. I still ended up driving to CTC without this shaft bolted in since it didn’t turn out as straight as I had hoped.
The Rusty’s gas tank skid is an extremely beefy unit and bolts on using the factory tow hitch attachment bolts. It’s an easy install that takes less than an hour with a floor jack, but a second set of hands makes the process even easier.
The Rusty’s transfer case skid is a bolt-on affair. It is constructed from high-strength 3⁄16-inch steel and coated with a nice gloss black powdercoat. Install was a breeze.
|1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee $2,000|
|Daystar 13⁄4-inch spacer lift $160|
|Daystar rear sway bar bushings $23|
|Daystar control arm bushings $160|
|Daystar Cam Can (trail box) $70|
|Daystar Cam Can (water can) $60|
|Junkyard parts (axleshafts, pinion yoke, and XJ front driveshaft) $100|
|NP231 transfer case $150|
|Advance Adapters SYE kit $240|
|Spartan Lunchbox Locker $286|
|Synergy axle sleeves/C-gussets $175|
|Rear driveshaft $40|
|Rusty’s gas tank skid $190|
|Rusty’s T-case skid $129|
|RTV, ATF, paint $33|