Photo by Rick Péwé
Cherokee--it's the other 'wheeled Jeep. XJs are making their mark on the trails and the off-road industry, as more companies are gearing up and realizing that unibody Jeeps make great wheelers/daily drivers. With some proper and thought-out reinforcing, you can prolong the life of your unibody Jeep. We are planning an Ultimate Adventure trip with our budget XJ later this year, but we want to get it ready for the extreme beating it will take.
At the same time, we also want to keep this vehicle in the "budget" range and keep our entire build well under $20,000. Sound like too high a cap? Well, remember that the Ultimate Adventure is no wussy trip, and only the most built vehicles will be chosen to attempt the trip. For us, this means getting good-quality bolt-on parts and adding to our existing XJ rather than ripping it down and spending mucho dinero on high-zoot lifts and custom-fabbed parts. All of these modifications below are fairly easy weekend bolt-ons that you can do yourself with a little time and perhaps a little assistance from a friend.
Skid Row Tank Skid
The back of our Cherokee had a plastic gas-tank guard...and that was it. That's OK though, because Skid Row had this 3/16-inch steel gas-tank skid available to bolt up into the factory tow-hitch nut plates using four M12x1.75x30mm bolts. But guess what? We have the only XJ model we've ever seen without the nut plates for the hitch, so if you're in the same boat as us, the factory parts for these hitch plates are PN 52001174 (right side) and PN 52001175 (left side). Once you've made sure that you have the nut plates, the installation is as easy as getting your buddy to lift the skid into place while you place the four bolts it takes to mount the gas-tank skidplate. It'll also work in conjunction with a tow hitch, if you have one.
Airaid Air Intake
This Airaid Quickfit intake for '84-'01 Cherokees is a brand-new edition to the Airaid line-up. It installs by simply sitting on top of the original cold-air intake box, very similar to the way the original lid attached. The intake box has a rubber strip that seals to the hood of the vehicle, and it filters down to a smaller micron than other comparable air filters. Does this mean more air restriction? No, because Airaid filters have larger pleats, therefore giving a larger surface area to suck through. Installation time was about 15 minutes. It had no problem fitting with the Poweraid throttle-body spacer. If you can only make two power upgrades to your Cherokee, these should be them.
A.C.O.S. stands for adjustable coilover spacer. These bolt-on adjustable spacers for Cherokees or Wranglers fit directly over the original bumpstop, while giving you the adjustability of 1 1/4 or more inches of lift with the turn of the machined adjuster ring. We used these in conjunction with our 4-inch coil-to-net around a 5 1/2-inch lift, with the best part being that we can change our minds and go higher if we want. To install it, all we had to do was pull off the coil and cut off the bottom part of the bumpstop. There is a single hole that you tap inside of the factory bumpstop to run a single Allen-head bolt through the A.C.O.S. to hold it in place. The fitment was perfect and it was one of the easier installs we've done.
Jeepers & Creepers Cables
Wanna talk about overkill? These huge AWG 00 battery cables replace the puny factory cables and come with the correct length and accessories to make this an easy in-your-driveway swap for your Cherokee. Jeepers & Creepers gives all-new red cable to go to your alternator, starter, and main fuse box, while also providing the black cables to run to your engine and unibody. Install time was around an hour, with 20 of those minutes figuring out how we were going to route them. Once on our vehicle, it may have just been our imagination, but our XJ did in fact seem to start a little more quickly.
Rusty's Off Road has a badass replacement crossmember for either a 1-inch or no drop of your transfer case. The 3/16-inch steel crossmember not only can take much more of a beating, but even the 1-inch transfer-case-drop version has more ground clearance than the factory crossmember. We bolted ours up directly into the original four holes on our unibody's rails, and also had no issues getting the transmission mount on.
Nth Degree Slider
Watching Dave Kennedy rack a pinion yoke on a rock in the Super Duty one day, we realized that we don't want to be landing on the 1310 yoke on our Dana 44 in the back of our Cherokee. Nth Degree Mobility has these rock sliders for Dana 35 and Dana 44 rear ends that quickly bolt on using three U-bolts. We put our slider on while we had the rear axle removed for a better visual, but even with the axle on the vehicle, this install should not take you more than 5 to 10 minutes.
DPG Leaf-Spring Plates and Bumpstop
DPG has these new rear bumpstop plates for any axle that you could find in the back of a Cherokee, including applications for a Ford 9-inch or Dana 60. Made from 3/8-inch high-grade steel, these raise the point at which the factory bumpstops contact the axle. Three adjustment plates come in each pack, so you can choose how much you want to limit your compression according to how severe your tire and fender contact is. The DPG bumpstop plates bolt directly in place of the factory spring plates and make a nice safety buffer in case we really stuff the rear tires on our Cherokee.
Raingler Cargo Barrier Net
This might seem a little funny for an enclosed vehicle, but we saw these coincidentally the day after we got in a little fender bender, and some heavy cargo in the rear came flying forward, broke down the back seat, and nailed our driver seat so hard that it ripped holes in it. If that flying crap had been about a foot higher, we might be in a nice relaxing coma about now. These nets take a few minutes to install or take down, and can be very valuable in the event of a rollover or sudden stop--it may just save your life. There are six attachment straps that tie into factory hinges and brackets in Cherokees. To keep yourself a little safer, try picking one of these cargo nets up.
T&J Chassis Stiffeners and Skids
These have got to be one of our all-time favorite bolt-ons for Cherokees. T&J Performance has these chassis stiffeners and skids that not only protect the lower unirail on a Cherokee, but also stiffen up the unibody, giving a better ride and a more responsive vehicle. The stiffeners bolt into your factory lower control-arm mount and the front perch of your rear leaf springs. Once you have them bolted on, you drive down to your local muffler shop to have them spot-welded at each place they touch the unibody (unless you can weld on thin sheetmetal yourself). The skids (being held up for visual effect) are a Stage 2 kit you can add onto the stiffeners anytime you choose. The stiffeners and skids work in conjunction with control-arm drop brackets and any aftermarket or factory crossmember.
Rubicon Express Control-Arm Relocation Brackets
The control-arm relocation brackets by Rubicon Express have got to be one of the greatest bolt-ons for a short-arm lifted Cherokee. These steel relocation brackets bolt into place of the original control arms, and lower where your control arms mount by 4 inches. Bringing the control arms back to a more parallel position with the ground gives a much smoother ride and increases suspension droop, as long as nothing else is a limiting factor--like too short of shocks or brake lines. We also got some of the optional support braces to keep them in place. Though the concept of the installation is very easy, it'll take some time to get these bolted up and move the axle into the correct position to put the control arms back on. It's easiest to do one side at a time, and even easier if you have a vehicle lift rack or a buddy who has one. We went to see our friend Frank Gilliland at South Bay Truck & 4x4. He let us use his rack after hours to slap on the Rubicon Express relocation brackets.
Currie Steering Brace
This steering brace from Currie Enterprises made a noticeable difference in the driveability of our XJ even just around town. The brace bolts on in between the passenger-side sway-bar mount and the unibody rail. A long shaft goes from there across to the driver side, where it clamps onto the steering-box housing around the sector shaft. Installation should have taken us about 15 minutes, but of course, one of the factory nut plates in our Jeep's unirail did not line up very well, and we had to slot one of the holes on the steering brace to fit. Hopefully, your XJ is in better condition than ours, so it'll be easier for you when you bolt on your brace.
DPG Off Road
Jeepers & Creepers
Rusty's Off Road
Nth Degree Mobility