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Exploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!

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Exploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!

Old 04-25-2018, 09:25 AM
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Year: 1997
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Smile Exploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!

First and foremost, hello CF!

After months of stalking the forum, I have decided to join up. I plan on visiting all contiguous 48 States and possibly Alaska by means of my beloved Jeep Cherokee and therefore, it will be modified and outfitted to go the distance and remain reliable for long and short-term trips. That's why I spend my time zoning out on Expedition Portal (my adventures and any 4x4 trips/treks/meets/adventures are and will be documented in the thread there for anyone interested in seeing where the jeep takes me). The more focused, mechanical build will be posted here without any side adventures and commentary.

Thank you to anyone who decides to subscribe and help along with advice and input.

This is the build, as modified from Expedition Portal (link is on my profile under Social Profiles).

Exploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!-2018-03-15_17.40.06.jpg

Here's the story behind my newfound XJ; it's a 1997 Jeep Cherokee Country, stock baby.

My boyfriend and I were on the hunt for another Jeep after my 97' Sport blew up in the woods. It was a trail-rig to the fullest extent with a 6.5" RC lift, 35s and a hock-pock Monstaliner paint job but she was a beast. The transmission went and the motor was on its way out after my last wheeling trip where she caught fire, so I knew it was the end of Logan, as I had so proudly called it. Nonetheless, that Jeep lives on in my new (and much cleaner) XJ, as they share that same original gunmetal pearl-coat shine. Despite being my first real XJ and a real clunker, that Jeep was strong, hardy and surprisingly easy to maintain and it was these repairs and the faith I had in the brand that brought my 3 best friends and I to Maine/New Hampshire for some mountain climbing and highway hopping, all while camping in the vehicle. Despite the limited space, we had an absolute blast.

So we were scouring Craigslist and little car lots here and there and found nothing that caught our eye. I was not looking for just another trail rig, which was all that seemed to be for sale in our area. I was patiently looking for a clean 97-01 Cherokee with power options and a tan/beige interior with as minimal rust and rot as possible, because the Jeep was going to become something much more epic and patriotic than my dearest Logan. My goals included adventuring state to state in something reliable, something with a great aftermarket and community around it. My every hope and dream came true when I finally saw a CL post featuring a blue 97' with these nostalgic looking factory running boards and I pleaded with my boyfriend to check it out with me. Soon after, I became the owner of a beautiful garage find that I've yet to name.

It was sitting about 50 minutes away from my home city. The Jeep's paint was flawless; it was the first thing that I noticed about the vehicle because of how well taken care of it was. It had a cloth grey interior that needed some deep cleaning and a motor with 90K put into it by it's 65 year old owner after he hit 180K but oh boy, you could never tell. Tow hitch, roof rails, NO RUST AND ROT (save for a little quarter sized surface fuzz on the front wheel-well) and it drove smoothly on our test drive. I took it home that day. There was no way I could walk away. The only thing it lacked was an an aftermarket radio and a freakin' rear view mirror; we didn't notice that until we got halfway home.

Now it sits in my driveway, untouched until a warmer New England day comes around so I can begin detailing it. I can't wait. I'm expecting some surprises as it's a little too good to be true, but I'll remain optimistic for now. Got a new front bumper the same color for free in case this one gives me a hard time - looks like it's a tad dented (currently on the hunt for a head panel, too). Here are some of my ideas (but not the whole 3 page list);

3.5 inch suspension lift
31 all-terrains
Keyless entry
Rooftop lights - the old school round variety
HIDs and a small lightbar for the front
CB Radio/Nav. setup
Possible WJ seat swap
Mountaineer rack
9500lb winch
And so much more.

Follow along, I will need advice and input on the way.

Exploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!-2018-02-03_15.47.37.jpgExploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!-2018-02-03_15.53.12.jpgExploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!-2018-02-03_15.54.52.jpgExploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!-2018-02-04_08.28.16.jpgExploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!-2018-02-03_14.55.44.jpgExploration XJ Build Thread - Clean New Jeep!-2018-02-03_14.53.59.jpg

Last edited by Marques0346; 05-08-2018 at 10:03 AM.
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Old 05-08-2018, 10:05 AM
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The Jeep had a fantastic check-up. I called a good friend of mine (who also happens to be the greatest mechanic I know) and he gave me the A-OK to drive over to his shop a good twenty minutes away. Calvin is a superior dude, and he mentors me when it comes to both basic and advanced repairs. My boyfriend is more of the offroad-mechanic type. I'm pleased to have two great mentors overseeing my project.

Calvin was initially surprised with unnamed jeep, and expressed his amazement that the vehicle looked really well taken care of. He spotted no rust underneath, no real major issues, and after a bumper to bumper checkup, he was still brow-raised impressed with my Cherokee. That, my friends, makes me feel good.






The Cherokee needs only a few things...

U-joints on both sides.
Rear Main Seal
Distributor Cap/Wires/Rotor should be replaced.
Cam Shaft Sensor
Hood Latch Release
Air Filter
New Battery and it's holder.

(as of 4/10/18, everything is replaced except for the main seal!)

So all and all, your basic maintenance. I had codes on for a misfire and an O2 sensor, but Calvin dismissed them. I'll then begin my hunt for a lift, as well as a few cosmetics thrown into the mix. Glad I'm moving forward, even if ever so slowly. I have my heart hooked on a Rubicon Express 3.5 Superflex kit and OME shocks to go with - offer any input or advice if you'd like.

Last edited by Marques0346; 05-08-2018 at 10:10 AM.
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Old 05-08-2018, 10:12 AM
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Plucked some parts from the stock jeep. Grabbed an extra fan, door panels (mine are showing their age and are in rough shape), a brand new radio/hookup that was left untouched, a rear view mirror, hood latch release and a other few goodies here and there. I'm happy.


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Old 05-08-2018, 10:16 AM
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So let me tell y'all about my weekend.

First and foremost, there was a ton of preventative maintenance stuff that I had to deal with. On Saturday, Calvin was a dear and replaced a faulty exhaust donut that he believed was the source of an exhaust leak up front. It worked for a good hour, the exhaust leak was muffled and/or gone, but now a few hours later, it's back - not a happy camper. Could be the donut, but it's most likely a crack on the manifold (there's a distinct "ticking" whenever I accelerate, and that's a dead giveaway to a bad manifold). Guess I'll have to find out soon. The bolts on the top of the manifold were loose too, so automatically I'm assuming the ones on the bottom are going to need some tightening.



Next, the same Saturday, I was hell bent on replacing the distributor cap, rotor and plugs despite the cold. Got to work and the bolt holding down the cap snapped in two. Michael used a hand torch and some serious concentration to get this little bad boy out, and we continued on with the task. Spark plugs... they were awful to take out. And I don't think I've seen plugs so damaged before.

Installed a cam sensor, oil pressure sensor and IAC valve, cleaned the throttle body, swapped out the air filter for a clean one, and threw in a new battery. It was a good day.







Celebratory selfie. Jeep drove fantastic today.



On Sunday, Mike and I replaced the door panels. Out with the cruddy and old, and in with the new. I liked the wood-grain and fabric, but I suppose you can't go wrong with clean two tone panels. I'll live. Door panel swapping wasn't too hard, and the end result looks nice. Having some trouble with my locks now - more tinkering to come as the week progresses. We were going to install the aftermarket radio but it's cold as hell so we will resume Monday. Popped on a phone mount and JEEP seat belt shoulder pads, because why not.



Last edited by Marques0346; 05-08-2018 at 10:19 AM.
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Old 05-08-2018, 10:20 AM
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Installed the radio and the lift support struts for the hatch last night, although I'm not digging the look of this radio as opposed to the factory nostalgic one. It was free, though. So for now, it will do. While I'm up in Maine attending an Overland Meet last minute and tapping some maple trees, a friend will be taking care of the brakes/drums, wheel bearings, U-Joints and a few other things.


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Old 05-08-2018, 10:23 AM
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Finally got to replacing the exhaust manifold, and look at the crack! The Jeep has never sounded so quiet! Haha. I've never driven a Jeep that didn't have an exhaust leak - awesome experience. Speakers next, just quickly going to bang them in - ended up installing 6 1/4" Kickers up front. Next, detailing - in the process of making an appointment for the weekend, weather pending.




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Old 05-08-2018, 10:28 AM
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She sits clean and detailed. Not a huge difference, but the inside smells like strawberries and the outside polished up nicely. Have to replace the multi-function switch this weekend, then we have a lift kit coming in in the next few days. I went with Rubicon Express 3.5" Super-Flex Short Arm kit, with the rear leaf springs and no shocks. I'll end up purchasing either OME or Bilstein 5100's to go with when the lift comes in.







Last edited by Marques0346; 05-08-2018 at 10:35 AM.
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Old 05-08-2018, 10:40 AM
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Just an update - lift kit is in and will be installed this weekend with help from one of my boyfriend's buddies. For $1400, I hope it looks great. Pictures will be provided. Now I'm tire/wheel shopping.

Could use some honest input. What kind of tire does well in snow and rough terrain, rides quietly and wears well for a DD/weekend explorer? So many tires to choose from, and I've yet to narrow down my list.

Replaced rear speakers with some temporary ones. They aren't bad. They'll do for now.

In other news, I left the window partially cracked about an inch and it down-poured overnight (and the seats were STILL damp from the detailer to begin with). So I had to vacuum, shampoo and deodorize the seats again. I will provide pictures of the lift process at the end of the installation.





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Old 05-08-2018, 12:04 PM
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WOW!
That lil jeep sure is pretty and so clean!

I really love all your ideas on what you will be doing to it, and your Overlanding plans.
So when you start your adventure will you be doing a vlog/blog on it over at the Portal?

I have always used the BFG ATKO, and love them on my Jeep's, but they don't seam to wear to well with mileage. They are quiet however.
We live up in the mountains of southern California, so we get rain, and snow. Not to mention we go wheeling, camping on lots of trails up here.
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Old 05-08-2018, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by DustyWagoneer View Post
WOW!
That lil jeep sure is pretty and so clean!

I really love all your ideas on what you will be doing to it, and your Overlanding plans.
So when you start your adventure will you be doing a vlog/blog on it over at the Portal?
Hey, thank you! I was stunned when I bought her. Best $2,000 I've ever spent.

I will be posting on Expedition Portal when it comes to my adventures, but I'll give the forum readers here on CF a heads' up when I travel (I'll showcase my favorite trip photos here). Also, I appreciate your tire input! I am looking at a few, namely BFG KO2's, Goodyear Duratracs and Nitto Terra Grappler G2's, but at the end of the day, I know I have plenty more research ahead of me.
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Old 05-08-2018, 10:51 PM
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Nice Jeep and welcome! Please keep us updated I mean I don't expect a hour by hour minute by minute update of your overland experience but would be cool to read up on it.
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Old 05-15-2018, 10:34 AM
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The lift has been completed! The installation took about 3-4 afternoons, and there were a load of minor problems that delayed the process. This is how she currently sits. Sat at 5.5" in the rear at the beginning (still sits a wee bit higher than the front), shot back down to 3.5" after all was done.







Starting at the back of the truck, Mike and his friend tried removing the sagging leaf springs and the bolts were seized. They were torched off, the guys cut through the bushings and then used an air hammer to peel the sleeves off of the bolts. They managed to bolt the new leaf springs in afterwards with minimal effort!







Tightened down the new U-Bolts, cut them and started to install the rear shocks - and like every XJ, the shocks that were already installed were all kinds of messed up and the bolts were once again seized. Also, one of the front shocks were wrong... they were not for my jeep, and the mounting points were not correct. Had to bring that back to our parts' dealer's shop so he could get us a new one. No big deal, and so we continued. We drilled through the floor above the shocks with a 5/8" uni bit, opened up the hole for a socket, put new bolts down through the floor into the shock bracket with washers and popped in my new shocks. The old shocks were missing washers (we don't know how they were holding in, they were ready to fall out).






The rear shackles were also no good, so guess what we did? Torched em'.





Moving on to the front, we were quite torch-happy at this point and scorched off the springs to make life easier, had to torch off the stock track bar because the bolt was seized in the sleeve (and keep in mind when we say seized, we mean there is honestly no other way). We didn't have a new track bar bracket and the Rubicon track bar was not going to work with the existing crap bracket, so we had to run out and grab one. After, we go to unbolt the front control arms and of course those were seized so we had to torch those off too, had to torch the sleeve open, cut through the bushing, and free the bolt. Took the old arms out, put the new arms on, installed the new springs. Rubicon Express springs are meaty, large and hard to compress - it made for one hell of an afternoon to install those chunky bad boys. Finally installed the new track bar bracket. Before installing the springs, we had to drill and tap the spring perch for the new bump-stop on the front axle. The factory sway bar mounts had to be, you guessed it, torched off as well, and then they were beat with a hammer. We then put in the new quick disconnects, and sway bar links.







After all of that, the lift was mostly done. Some creaks and sounds, the big spring keeps hitting the damn track bar bracket, that darned drive-line vibe that I didn't expect at 3.5" lift persists around 30-40 mph. All is good though. I've got a transfer drop case on the way, everything's' greased, we slapped the little tires back on and she's good to go. We gotta work the bugs out but at-least it's done, for the most part.









Got stickers - +5 horsepower.

Next - little goodies, then tires. Will keep y'all updated.






I have a Jeep Cherokee in a compass too, but my picture won't load up. Eh. Y'all will see it eventually.

Last edited by Marques0346; 05-15-2018 at 10:39 AM.
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Old 05-15-2018, 10:54 AM
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Not a lot of A/T tire experience here, but I do have KOs on my DD/toy and they have done remarkably well in everything. We don't get a lot of snow here in Indy, but the few times we actually got accumulation this year I never bothered putting it in 4 wheel. They work well on the type of trails you're likely to run into in an overland rig. The only two times I've run into mud they did start digging in, but I was able to rock it out.
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Old 05-15-2018, 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by indianaXJones View Post
Not a lot of A/T tire experience here, but I do have KOs on my DD/toy and they have done remarkably well in everything. We don't get a lot of snow here in Indy, but the few times we actually got accumulation this year I never bothered putting it in 4 wheel. They work well on the type of trails you're likely to run into in an overland rig. The only two times I've run into mud they did start digging in, but I was able to rock it out.
Thank you for the suggestion!
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Old 05-15-2018, 01:34 PM
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I've had pretty good luck with these pro-comp A/T Sport. I'm sure some people would disagree.


My xj is a quasi daily driver. Quiet on the highway and decent in the dirt and rock. We only get a few days of snow a year here, but it is very wet and sloppy. They seem to do well in that.
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