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The Gorn

Old 01-26-2016, 09:39 PM
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Year: 1996
Model: Cherokee
Engine: 4.0
Default The Gorn

When I bought this Jeep (my second XJ) I had big plans for the build and every intention of posting a build thread to document progress along the way. But work, relocation, a heart attack, and life in general kept getting in the way. Over the three years since I bought ‘The Gorn’ I have made significant progress on the build, but with long spans between each period of progress. At one point I was discouraged enough to even put her up for sale for a while. But I’ve recently got back into it in a big way and with a renewed determination to finish my original vision.

I’m also determined to complete the build thread. Not just from this point forward, but catching everyone up on the whole journey. Fortunately I kept a detailed log of all the work done over the years, and taken a few pictures, so I won’t have to rely on memory alone.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting updates that begin with my original plans for the build, and then continuing from the purchase back in February 2013 on through the major accomplishments over the last three years. And as quickly as possible getting to the more exciting developments that have happened in just the last few months. From there I plan to keep this updated in something closer to real time.

Note: My profile picture is what the Jeep looked like when I first bought it. Today it has already gone through enough transformation that it is no longer recognizable as the Jeep in that photo. But I want to get the build thread updated to that point before ‘revealing’ what she looks like today.
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Old 01-26-2016, 09:43 PM
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Default What’s in a Name?

So before I get into the build I should probably explain why I call my XJ ‘The Gorn’. It certainly didn’t start out with that name and even when my wife first came up with it, I didn’t warm to it right away. For those of you who are Star Trek fans you’ll now that the Gorn was a big green creature that appeared in an episode of the original series. It was a huge, hissing, stubborn, slow-moving beast that seemed impossible for Kirk to defeat.

Well because everything I do on the Jeep seems to be way more difficult than it should be and often results in bruises, bloody knuckles, and sore muscles; when working on the Jeep my wife would often say “he’s fighting with the Gorn again”. And since it is a big green thing that regularly kicks my @$$, after a while the name finally stuck.


Last edited by TXDESSI; 02-03-2016 at 11:54 AM.
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Old 02-03-2016, 12:13 PM
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Year: 1996
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Default How it Began & Plans for the Build

Let me start by saying that I have wanted an XJ since they first came out in 1984 and from the beginning it always had to be a 2-door. But I was 13 at the time, and not from a family with money, so I knew I would have to wait a while. I just wasn’t expecting to wait 28 years. Although I did buy a new Grand Cherokee in 2004 (only because they quit making the XJ three years earlier), it never really counted to me. While the GC was a great vehicle it was never going to be the Cherokee I had wanted for so long. Finally at the age of 40 I found myself with just enough extra money and garage space that I could afford an inexpensive project vehicle (yes, go ahead and laugh – I was naive enough at the time to think this would be a relatively inexpensive hobby). So I naturally began looking for a 2 door XJ. It was more difficult than I expected as most 2-doors (the few I could find for sale anyway) were either 2WD/4 cylinders, or the owners were asking way too much for them.

It took several months but I finally found one for sale just south of Austin, TX (a 3 hour drive from where I was living at the time outside of Dallas). It was a rust-free, bone stock ’94 2-door in need of a paint job and some repairs. We settled on a price of $850 and I drove it home the next day. I had to replace the transmission flex plate and a cracked windshield, but aside from a bit of other minor maintenance that was all it took to get it into reliable, daily-driver condition. During the months that followed, my oldest son got involved with working on the ’94 and we began dreaming about what the ultimate build would look like. Needless to say he caught the XJ bug and was soon looking for one of his own. At about the same time I came to discover that what I really wanted (for reasons I’ll explain later) was a ’96 XJ. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone; gave the ’94 to Jimmy and began my search for a ‘96 to base my build on.

Having now owned and wrenched on an XJ for a while, as well as having spent a great deal of time researching what others have done and what is possible to do with an XJ, I set out with a real vision of what I wanted and what I hoped to accomplish with the build. As I mentioned, for me it would have to begin with a ’96 2-door. Though the differences are relatively minor, I have always preferred the pre-’97 XJs. In my opinion the square mirrors, square tail lights, older-style dash and other elements of the earlier XJ’s give it a more industrial/military look that I really like. But of those earlier models only the ’96 has the benefits of the now standard OBD-II diagnostic port. And the ’96 has the added benefit of being the only pre-’97 that is compatible with the later model seat bases, giving more options for seat upgrades. So a ’96 2-door it would have to be.

On that ‘base’ my goal would be to build a military-inspired rig. I know, I know… ‘not another green XJ’. But in my defense this had been my idea of a dream Cherokee since my teenage years, long before I knew it had already been done multiple times. I’ve always thought the XJ is the military vehicle that never-was, meaning that to me it just looks like it was meant to be an Army Jeep. And even once I learned it had been done before, I still believed that my plans were unique enough to make it worthwhile to build. I should also point out that even though I had an overall vision for the Jeep, from the beginning I have stayed open-minded about many of the specifics that would go into it. Allowing me to continue to research and discover new, best options for each mod or upgrade. Below is the basic outline and few specifics I began with for the build:

A military-inspired look, not something trying to look like it’s an actual military vehicle (i.e. no camo, no stars, no stenciling, no unit stickers, etc.) – Not that I don’t think that’s cool, it is. it’s just not the direction I wanted to go. Achieving the military look would include:
  • Removing all badges and emblems
  • Flat paint in as close to a real military service OD green as possible
  • No-frills wheels, painted to match body
  • Wagoneer quad-headlight front end, with all chrome painted to match body
  • Vinyl flooring out of a SSV (police package) XJ

A solid, capable Jeep for overland and general off-road use (not mudding or rock crawling) – still want to be able to drive to work on occasion and not get rattled to death at high speeds. This would include:
  • 3’-4’ inch lift
  • 31’ AT tires
  • Bumpers with recovery points, winch mount (front), & tire carrier (rear)
  • Cut-out fender flares
  • Skid plates and maybe other armor
  • Some off-road lights, but nothing too ‘showy’
  • CB radio

A few ‘upgrades’ from later-model XJ’s:
  • Headliner panel with integrated speakers
  • Limited seats
  • Overhead console

And some modern tech:
  • Back-up camera
  • GPS
  • Satellite Radio

As this thread progresses you will see that I did go bigger on the lift and tires, and the list of mods and upgrades has grown incredibly over the last three years, but I have not strayed far from the overall plan.

Last edited by TXDESSI; 02-23-2016 at 08:08 PM.
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Old 02-03-2016, 01:08 PM
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Enjoying the backstory...but we need pics!!!!
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Old 02-03-2016, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by jay_sco View Post
Enjoying the backstory...but we need pics!!!!
I agree completely!


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Old 02-03-2016, 02:52 PM
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Sub'd and waiting for pics!
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Old 02-03-2016, 03:28 PM
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Not to burst your bubble. I don't think later model overhead console would work on a 96. In fact 97-01 have 4 different wiring harnesses! 97, 98, 99, and 00-01 had their own respective harness.

I may be wrong on this part but I think the computer in the OHC is different.

I also don't know for certain but you may be able to use some ZJ overhead console or something.

As for seats. I highly recommend ZJ seats.
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Old 02-03-2016, 10:13 PM
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Originally Posted by jay_sco View Post
Enjoying the backstory...but we need pics!!!!
Pics are coming
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Old 02-03-2016, 10:16 PM
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Originally Posted by XJwonders View Post
Not to burst your bubble. I don't think later model overhead console would work on a 96. In fact 97-01 have 4 different wiring harnesses! 97, 98, 99, and 00-01 had their own respective harness. I may be wrong on this part but I think the computer in the OHC is different. I also don't know for certain but you may be able to use some ZJ overhead console or something. As for seats. I highly recommend ZJ seats.
I knew the internals of the later model OHC won't work with a '96 computer. Original plan was just to use the shell of the newer OHC with some kind of custom or mod internals. Still may go that route, but leaning another way at the moment. More to come.
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Old 02-04-2016, 06:05 AM
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Originally Posted by TXDESSI View Post
I knew the internals of the later model OHC won't work with a '96 computer. Original plan was just to use the shell of the newer OHC with some kind of custom or mod internals. Still may go that route, but leaning another way at the moment. More to come.
that ll be awesome
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Old 02-23-2016, 08:08 PM
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Default The Beast Arrives - Feb-Mar 2013

My specific search for a ’96 2 door (see previous post for explanation) went on for a few months with no local candidates panning out. This finally led me to look on eBay, which is something I never thought I would do to find a car (and probably never will again). But almost immediately I stumbled on the Jeep I ultimately purchased. For $2,500 I was getting the year and model I wanted, 163k miles on the odometer, and with what I roughly estimated to be about $3,500 worth of upgrades already installed:
  • Bushwhacker Fender Flares
  • Roof Rack
  • 6" Rough Country lift
  • 33" tires
  • American Racing wheels
  • Kevin's Off Road Steering setup with upgraded drag link and tie rod ends
  • ARB front Bumper
  • Rusty's Offroad steering brace
  • Hayden Transmission cooler
  • JKS Quicker Disconnects
On the negative side it had a brew snorkel and a home brew rear tube bumper, mismatched seats, and a few other things that would have to go. And from numerous emails with the seller I understood that it was in need of minor repairs. But for the price and the ‘goodies’ included it seemed like a pretty good deal for a rig that would give me a leg up on many of the mods I was planning. So I dropped the cash and began what turned out to be an unreasonably difficult task of scheduling the Jeep to be shipped from Pennsylvania to Texas.

5 weeks and $850 later, the Jeep was finally delivered. And right off the bat I began noticing a number of things wrong that the seller had either conveniently ‘forgot’ to tell me, or had outright lied about. For example I specifically asked how the steering was at highway speeds. Seller responded ‘I drive it back and forth to work on the freeway a few times a week with no issues’. In fact the power steering gearbox and all 4 shocks were so shot that it was completely un-drivable over 25 miles per hour. In addition to that none of the front lights worked (headlights, turn signals, etc.), both horns were actually missing, and a number of other mostly irritating discoveries. And of course the buyer never returned another email once the Jeep was delivered. The funny thing is, if the seller had disclosed all of these issues I would still have purchased it and for the same price. The larger issues were parts I would have upgraded anyway, and the other items were low-cost, no-hassle repairs that I was able to do myself pretty quickly. But there’s no way the seller could have known that, and these things could have been devastating to a different buyer. So while I ultimately came away happy with what I got for my money, I wanted to share my experience for anyone who may be considering a long distance eBay vehicle purchase. My biggest recommendation there would be; spend the money to have an independent 3rd party inspect the vehicle for you before making the purchase.

Anyway with all the good and bad above, here’s what I had to start with….









And here’s what she came with from the factory:



[Next Update: “Power Steering Upgrades"]
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