1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ - The Adventure Grand Part 2
Part II: Armor Cladding
A strong aftermarket presence generally consists of a variety of suspension, armor, and drivetrain options. One of the reasons we picked our 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ was due in part to the strong aftermarket support. Having tailor-made products readily available not only simplifies the build process, but lowers the cost. Now that we are ready to modify the Adventure Grand project rig, it’s time to step back and try not to get bogged in the aftermarket overload.
Given that our Grand’s stock bumpers and rockers are suited for average city slicker, not an avid off-roader, we knew that replacing and protecting the ZJ’s exterior needed to be done before any serious ’wheeling took place. While we would never say there is such things as too many options, we will say that narrowing your upgrade choices with a field of quality products can be a little tricky. While we always suggest checking parts out in person first, we understand that the luxury of doing so sometimes isn’t an easy option.
Like many of you, we look at price, performance attributes, and quality when it comes to our upgrades. When all of those items are in line with each other, your choice often comes down to style preference and availability. We mentioned in our previous installment that we had owned a modified ZJ years ago. One upgrade that we lived with for years was an ARB front bumper.
Combined with an M8000 Warn winch, the ARB front bumper on our long-gone ZJ project was a great and durable combo. This made the choice of going back with that proven setup an easy one. With the front of the Jeep squared away, we turned our attention to the back. A rear bumper isn’t always a necessity, but when it is fitted with a tire carrier, it can be a tremendous space savor.
As is the case with the front, there are actually quite a few bumper options for the ZJ. We opted for one from Rock Hard 4x4. We found it to be one of the better setups that combined form and function. Another bonus was the ability to opt for the company’s gas tank skidplate. This is a major upgrade as the factory plastic tank is easily susceptible to damage in its stock location.
One item we were very torn over was rocker guards. Some slider options we knew would interfere with our upcoming suspension upgrade. Others robbed the Jeep of ground clearance. Luckily, sometimes, your upgrade comes to you.
With our Jeep being worked on at the one-stop 4x4 shop that is 4Wheel Parts in Raleigh, North Carolina, we got lucky we it came to sliders. 4Wheel Parts actually had a set of Hanson sliders for a ZJ in stock that a customer decided he no longer wanted. Having the ability to hold and examine a product in hand versus online is something we wish we could do all the time. We were impressed with the quality, so we struck a deal and decided to make them part of our build.
ARB’s bumper brackets make use of existing pockets in the Unitbody as well as getting a few new holes for added support. We found them to line up easily, despite signs that our 1998 ZJ had been in a front end collision at some point.
Before we could install our Warn M8000 winch, we had to clock the engagement housing. By simply unbolting the Allen head bolts, we were able to rotate the lever to the bottom side of the winch. This is necessary for access with the ARB bumper.
Now is a good time to attach your winch leads and route your wires. We opted for our M8000 to be wrapped with steel cable for rugged reliability. An S-version of the winch is also available for those looking to run rope.
Since the bumper has slots in the mounting brackets, we were able to fine tune the fitment. Another set of hands to keep the bumper steady makes this process much easier.
For axially lighting, we went with a set of IPF 901 series lights. The hardened-glass lens comes with an additional guard to protect the 65W H9 halogen bulb inside. You may notice that one light is a spot beam and the other a flood. This is a common setup down under. Typically, the spot beam is placed in front of the driver for distance viewing, while the flood provides up-close and side distribution. We will play with this more once we get the Jeep out on the trail.
In addition to being more robust and stylish, the ARB bumper increases the approach angle of the Jeep as well. The two lower D-ring mounts will also make pulling ourselves or others out quickly when we don’t need to use the winch. The fact that the bumper comes already powdercoated was a major bonus.
To install the Hanson sliders, we first had to drill and mount the lower braces to the pinch weld of the Jeep.
After we test fit the rails, we marked the holes for the upper mounts. Once the holes were drilled, we used a nutsert tool to secure the inserts.
As you can probably guess, this isn’t the end of the line for the Adventure Grand. With the new, and albeit, slightly heavy armor, we are turning our attention to the suspension next. Be sure to look for future articles on the Grand in our sister magazines Four Wheeler and JP.
You never know what you’ll find hiding behind the bumpers of a used Jeep. Fortunately, our new rear bumper takes place of the rusty and cracked factory piece. We also ditched the sketchy trailer wiring addition that the previous owner added.
The 3⁄16-inch rolled steel sliders are far from light, but they should be more than capable of carrying the weight of our ZJ. We especially like that the sliders don’t rob the Grand of much ground clearance.
Rock Hard 4x4’s rear bumper and gas tank skid both attached using existing holes in the ZJ’s Unitbody. Steel plates with nuts welded add additional reinforcement to the rear two bolts.
The stock gas tank on the ZJ is extremely exposed out back. The 3⁄16-inch Rock Hard 4x4 steel skidplate forms tightly to the tank’s factory lines. As is the case with the bumper, the gas tank skid comes already fitted with a black powdercoat finish.
The tire carrier is designed to hold up to a 38-inch-tall tire, but we won’t be going nearly that large with it on ours.
The Rock Hard rear bumper is comprised of 2x4-inch 3⁄16-inch steel with ¼-inch plate ends. Each ZJ rear bumper includes an integrated Class II receiver, CB antenna mount, horizontal Hi-Lift Jack mount with padlock provisions, and two D-ring shackle mounts.
A dual-bearing pivot assembly, with quick-release lock, is standard on the tire carrier. Shims are provided to dial in the swing-a-way.
We opted for the license plate relocation kit, which places your tag in the center of the spare tire. There is even a light kit provided so you can be legal in states that require the plate to be illuminated.
Maybe our only complaint about the tire carrier is that it sets the wheel farther away from the vehicle that we would like. Our 33x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tires are mounted on 15x8 M/T Sidebiter II wheels. Given the Sidebiters are setup with a 35⁄8-inch backspacing, it makes the tire gap more noticeable. The plus side to the carrier offset is that you could likely put a factory wheel outback without any troubles.
Our last item of business was to get everything hooked back up. The dry cell battery from Odyssey is designed to withstand the high-draw demands of the winch. This is important to prevent damage to the Jeep’s overly delectate electrical system.