The year was 2015, and I’d just left my engineering job to try this whole “writing” thing for Jalopnik. One of my goals was to start a wrenching series for people who share my “cheap bastard” trait, and the first vehicle I chose was a $600 Jeep Cherokee that I later dubbed Project Swiss Cheese for its hole-rich floorboards.
For $600, it was actually not a bad Jeep. It ran and drove well, and I even took it on a 300 mile trip to an off-road course to compare it to the new KL Cherokee.
The build was fairly straightforward. I replaced wear components like the water pump, brakes, ball joints, front u-joints, and wheel bearings, and I swapped a bunch of non-wear items like the transfer case chain and harmonic balancer. Plus I built a junkyard lift kit, and added some skid plates, some Jeep Wrangler JK shocks, and some extended brake hoses. I even bent my own brake line for the first time, and while it looked hideous, it did work!
All of this work culminated in an incredible off-road trip to Moab in which the rusty XJ hung with $40,000 rigs, flexing its suspension to keep all tires on the rock, and climbing steep grades easily thanks to that torquey 4.0 and low-range transfer case.
There were a few issues on the way back to Michigan from Utah, namely my battery blew up and my friend Bobby crashed the Jeep into a guardrail in the Rocky Mountains, but in the end, the Jeep wound up in my driveway ready to serve as my winter beater.
And that’s what it did for the three winters starting in late 2016. But while it served its purpose, its condition quickly started to reach a downright depressing state, leading me to ask in December of 2017: “Is It Time To Send My $600 Jeep Cherokee To The Junkyard?” Roughly a year later in January of 2019, I wrote “My Jeep Stranded Me Again, but This Time It Might Be the End.”
Things had gotten out of hand.
The floors were completely gone, and I was dropping things out of my car onto the street. The heat stopped working. I had either a blown head gasket or a cracked head. The radio didn’t work. The taillights kept flickering. All interior lights were broken. The rear doors wouldn’t open. The interior was covered in spilled gear oil, the windshield was cracked, and a front u-joint made highway driving a shaky affair.
The ignition switch died, so to start the car, I had to pop the hood and jump the starter relay with a wire, every single time. It got to the point where I’d just keep the Jeep idling in the grocery store parking lot while I went shopping so I could avoid starting it back up. I did this for six months, and nobody ever tried to steal this green meachine. That’s how sad this Jeep had become.
So, in an effort to trim my fleet and to focus on the vehicles I truly love, like my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle and my 1991 Jeep Cherokee XJ, I threw my Jeep onto Craigslist for $500, and yesterday, a young man named Tevin picked it up.
Tevin owns the very same year Jeep Cherokee, except his engine blew up a while ago, and since having knee surgery, he hasn’t had time to fix it up. But now he’s got Project Swiss Cheese, whose engine bay contains a beautifully-running 4.0-liter. After swapping a head gasket and hopefully checking the cylinder head, Tevin will transplant that mighty motor into his beloved vehicle.
This is a great outcome for Project Swiss Cheese. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable with anyone driving it, lest they get themselves killed and fingers point back to me, so the fact that its heart will be plucked to serve dutifully in another Jeep is perfect.
I’m still a bit sad about this, but hopefully I’ll get over it once I’m sitting behind a beautifully-purring AMC 360 engine as I drive my Golden Eagle.