Grander Chero­kee Wheeler

One of our fa­vorite 5.9 mod­els

Jp Magazine - - Table Of Contents - By Jay Kopy­cin­ski jped­i­tor@jp­magazine.com Pho­tog­ra­phy: Jay Kopy­cin­ski

Drew Nor­man has owned a lot of Jeeps, and he builds a lot of Jeeps. As owner of The Jeep

Farm out­side of Phoenix, he’s heav­ily in­volved in Jeep mod­i­fi­ca­tion and the restora­tion of old clas­sics. This Grand Chero­kee is now a ver­sa­tile wheel­ing rig in his per­sonal sta­ble of Jeeps.

Drew knew his way around the ’98 Chero­kee well be­fore he ever owned it. His good friend Parker Ed­wards pur­chased the Dark Slate Pearl Grand in 2000 as a bon­e­stock 4x4. What fol­lowed was an up­grade with a small Old Man Emu lift and some 31-inch tires. Later came more lift and

33s, then as the harder trails called, the lift was again mod­i­fied with Ru­bi­con Ex­press coils to clear the way for 35-inch rub­ber. Com­bined with the growth in tire size, the Jeep saw its share of gear swaps and lock­ing dif­fer­en­tials over those years. And, the mods kept on com­ing as the Chero­kee grew big­ger and bad­der.

Drew, along with friend Steve Hinken, put many hours of hard work into this Jeep. How­ever, it then it sat un­der a tarp for nearly five years, wounded with bro­ken e-lock­ers and shat­tered axle­shafts af­ter an event­ful trip to Moab. The Jeep even­tu­ally ended up in Drew’s hands, but Parker still plays a part in on­go­ing mods plan­ning and has the op­por­tu­nity to wheel it when he vis­its Phoenix from the East Coast where he now lives.

Chas­sis

From the fac­tory, the Grand Chero­kee is a fairly capable rig, sit­ting on straight axles and coil springs. This one now has a sus­pen­sion that soars above the stock con­fig­u­ra­tion. Up front you’ll find a mod­i­fied Ru­bi­con Ex­press TJ long-arm setup adapted to the Grand Chero­kee with cus­tom mounts. The rig now sits on cus­tom coil springs built to Nor­man’s specs. Ride height and up-travel are fine-tuned with a set of ACOS ad­justable ni­tro­gen bumps.

Wan­der around to the back of this

Jeep and you’ll find an­other cus­tom sus­pen­sion. Rob Bon­ney Fab­ri­ca­tion built a four-link setup us­ing cus­tom coils and coil buck­ets. The links hang from a cus­tom skid­plate mount. Lower links are 21⁄4-inch round tube us­ing hefty 3⁄4-inch rod ends, and the up­per links are 11⁄2 -inch round tube. ACOS ad­justable ni­tro­gen bumps are used in the rear as well, and a Cur­rie An­tirock sway bar keeps the lifted SUV from lean­ing too far on off-cam­ber ob­sta­cles and keeps the body move­ment dis­ci­plined on the high­way. Pro Comp MX6 ad­justable shocks damp the coils at each corner.

This Grand runs sub­stan­tial rub­ber in the form of 37-inch Toyo Open

Coun­try M/Ts that are bolted onto Walker Evans bead­locks with pow­der­coated rings. The lift and larger tires give this Grand a note­wor­thy stance.

Driv­e­train

The ’98 5.9L Limited was of­fered for only for one year and was claimed to be the world’s fastest SUV at the time. This Chero­kee re­tains the stock V-8 en­gine and the 46RE four-speed au­to­matic, but the fac­tory trans­fer case has been scut­tled from the rig. Nor­man likes do­ing a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing in his Chero­kee so a mul­ti­speed trans­fer case made a lot of sense af­ter the stock unit failed on more than one oc­ca­sion. He swapped in a re­li­able At­las four-speed with 10.34:1 low range, al­low­ing the Chero­kee to go as slow as Nor­man likes.

To re­li­ably ac­com­mo­date the larger tires, the guys in­stalled a re­verse-ro­ta­tion Dana 44 front axle from a late-’70s F-150 and nar­rowed it to about 59 inches. It was then pop­u­lated with 4.56 Yukon gears, an ARB Air Locker and chro­moly axle­shafts. Like­wise, they swapped in a Ford 8.8-inch disc-brake rear axle scav­enged from an Ex­plorer and also set it up with 4.56 Yukon gears and an ARB Air Locker. Up­graded Su­pe­rior shafts now spin in the trussed rear hous­ing. A pair of cus­tom drive­shafts was needed to hook ev­ery­thing to­gether, and the re­sult­ing wheel­base stands at about 108 inches.

The Chero­kee has a cus­tom-ported vari­able-ra­tio power steer­ing box to ac­tu­ate a PSC hy­dro-as­sist ram. Hy­draulic pres­sure comes from a PSC pump. A Howe fluid reser­voir and ex­ter­nal cooler help keep fluid temps rea­son­able in the hottest of desert climes. Other mi­nor up­grades for per­for­mance in­clude

an Ai­raid in­take and Flow­mas­ter ex­haust, and heavy-duty cool­ers for the trans­mis­sion, steer­ing, and oil f lu­ids.

Body and In­te­rior

The Limited came stock with a set of func­tion­ing heat-ex­tract­ing hood lou­vers to help with V-8 cool­ing, and a set of Ice­landic fender flares were added to help keep the wider tires some­what un­der the body­lines. A mod­i­fied ARB front bumper is equipped with a 12,000pound ca­pac­ity Bull­dog winch spooled with syn­thetic rope, and out back is a Trail Ready bumper with wrap-around cor­ners. Ad­di­tional ar­mor pro­tec­tion is pro­vided by a set of home­brew rock rails, plus cus­tom trans­fer case and gas tank skid­plates.

In­side the lux­ury SUV is an eight­point rollcage to pro­tect the oc­cu­pants, but oth­er­wise, the in­te­rior is mostly stock. Added elec­tron­ics in­clude a high­power stereo sys­tem, CB, and Ken­wood race ra­dio. Up top, a roof rack from Kevin’s Of­froad pro­vides ad­di­tional cargo ca­pac­ity for those longer camp­ing or ad­ven­ture trips.

It’s a joy driv­ing a com­fort­able SUV that’s also capable on the trail. You can hop in the rig, head down the high­way, and then jump onto you fa­vorite dirt trail. How­ever, built as it is, Drew still has a lot of vul­ner­a­ble sheet­metal to watch out for on hard-core trails. Thank­fully, he’s also got a well-built CJ-7 when the big­ger rock chal­lenges call his name.

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