Time is running out on Project Swiss Cheese, my $600 Jeep Cherokee Moab build. I’ve got only a week to go, and there’s still tons to do. But, thanks to some awesome readers from Oppositelock, I’ve made lots of progress since my last update. Here’s where the XJ stands.
Five months ago, I introduced my $600 Jeep Cherokee XJ in a post entitled “I’m Taking This $600 Jeep Cherokee To Moab Next Year Come Hell Or High Water.”
That title seems a lot like a promise, and, since I’m a man of my word, I’m sticking to it.
To be honest, I’m not sure where the phrase “Come Hell Or High Water” comes from, but seeing as the phrase only gives me two choices, and I’ve already taken care of the “high water” path with my other Jeep, I’m left with one choice: hell.
And by “hell,” I mean the famous trail at Moab called “Hell’s Revenge,” because my junker and I are getting there one way or another. We must!
I leave on March 18th, so I’ve got one week to go. Where do I stand? Well, there’s plenty of work to do, but, thanks to lots of help from readers like Santiago has successfully Sno*Drifted, Travis, I like Big Bores and I cannot lie and StndIbnz, Drives a MSRT8, the Jeep is coming along.
A few weeks ago, I showed you my cobbled-together $120 junkyard lift kit. It’s comprised of 3-inch BDS coils up front, modified Chevrolet S10 leaf packs out back and slightly tweaked Jeep Wrangler Sport shocks all the way around. Well known to the Jeep XJ community as a “bastard pack,” the lift promised to get me somewhere around 3.5-inch in the rear.
Despite the fact that this wasn’t a clean, off-the shelf lift, the Bastard Pack was remarkably easy to put together (aside from a few broken shock bolts here and there) and required only modest use of four-letter words.
Installing the new front springs was time consuming, but trivial. Opponaut Santiago and I simply rented a spring compressor from AutoZone, lifted the unibody on jack stands, squeezed the stock springs, and slid them out the bottom. To install the new lift springs, we just compressed the new coils and slide them in, rotating them so they sat correctly in the perches.
That last bit about rotating the springs was the hardest part, as we had to remove the tool and re-compress frequently, because getting between the body or axle and the spring was a chore. In the end, the front springs probably took about four hours, but they could probably have been done in one had we known what we know now. Oh well.
Those BDS springs, which I scored for $20 a piece on Craigslist, got me about 3.25-inches of lift.
Rear Bastard Pack
To make the Bastard Pack for the rear, I started by cutting the eyes off of two Chevrolet S10 leaf-packs:
Here’s how that turned out:
Then Opponaut Travis removed the bottom helper springs, and Santiago and I removed all leaves from both of my XJ’s rear leaf packs sans the main leaf. From there, we just bolted the S10 pack under the XJ’s main, and there we were.
In the end, the Bastard Pack netted about four inches of lift in the back, which is more than enough to clear our 31-inch tires.
While working on the rear leaf pack, we uncovered two broken leaves and a broken sway bar. How I didn’t notice that during my XJ vs KL Cherokee off-road test is beyond me.
The shocks are just stock two-door Jeep Wrangler Sport shocks, but since they’re a little short for a three to four-inch lifted XJ, I decided to press out their bar pins (Opponaut Santiago did this part) and bolt the shocks to a small bracket to get an extra 3/4-inch of shock length.
This also meant that if we had to service the shocks in the future, we we could keep the bracket attached to the car, and simply remove the shock from it. This is a big deal because XJ’s rear upper shock bolts are notorious from breaking into the unibody.
In fact, when we removed the old shocks, that’s exactly what happened. We broke the shock bolts on the passenger’s side unibody, so we had to use an air chisel to bang the weld nut free. Then we fished a bolt in from the top using safety wire, and spun a nut onto it to secure the shock bracket.
Here’s how the finished product looks in the rear:
And in the front:
But since life is never simple, the lift kit introduced some serious driveline vibrations to this old XJ. Because the rear axle pinion stayed at the same height, but the transfer case raised, the rear driveshaft u-joint angle became too steep, and started binding on itself as I drove.
The solution, a well-known one by Jeepers, is called a transfer-case drop. And while they sell kits for this, I ended up just stacking 15 washers and spacing the transfer case cross-member down by about an inch. It looks janky, and it loses me an inch of ground clearance, but it works.
But once again, because life is never that easy and because this is a Michigan Jeep, we ended up breaking one of the bolts holding the crossmember to the unibody.
So we took a dremel tool and a drill, and made a hole all the way through the unibody rail.
Then, so we could drop a bolt from the back side, we had to raise the floorboards. This was remarkably easy, since the previous owner only screwed them into place haphazardly.
Raising the floors revealed a unibody filled with large chunks of heavy rust and rot.
But I’m sure that’s nothing to be worried about, right?
We drilled that bolt out, dropped a new bolt from the top, and were able to get the remaining three bolts out via heavy use of PB Blaster and heat from the top-side.
Once we got the transfer case lowered and the driveshaft u-joint angle lessened, I took the XJ for a drive: it was glorious. No vibrations whatsoever.
A nice suspension is crucial if you want to take on the Jeep-crushing nature in Moab, Utah, but a good set of brakes is even more important.
That’s why I swapped my rusty brake line (which I showed you in my “Here’s How You Can Replace Your Rusty Brake Lines” article), all my brake hoses, brake shoes, front pads and rear drums. Essentially the entire braking system is brand new aside from the front discs.
I’ve run some numbers, and my new brakes reduce my chances of dying by at least 33.33 percent (repeating, of course).
Of course, to keep the Jeep happy, I swapped the fluids and filters. This is standard procedure for anyone going on a long road trip. I’ve got new diff oil, a new air filter, new oil filter, new fuel filter, and I’l drain and fill my trans and transfer-case as well.
Because you’re not off-roading unless you’re breaking something, I’m bringing plenty of spare parts.
I’ve got front and rear driveshafts, a transfer case, u-joints and halfshafts, which were a pain in the ass to remove from my spare axles:
We’ve still got one front axle shaft that we can’t for the life of us remove due to a rusted wheel lug-nut. No matter how much heat or PB Blaster we applied, the thing won’t budge.
The picture above shows the XJ’s current state. It may look in shambles, but we’re just swapping the radiator, thermostat and water pump. We’re not taking any risks on overheating, especially since low-speed off-road driving can be very taxing to a cooling system. I used to be a cooling system engineer; how embarrassing would that be if I overheated? My old coworkers would disown me.
I’ve also got to bolt on my transfer case and gas-tank skid plates, though the latter does have a couple of rust holes, which I’m patching with license plates:
My transfer case chain is also completely shot, so I broke open my case, only to find literally zero fluid inside. The gears looked fine, so I’ll throw in a new chain, some new fluid, and hope it doesn’t leak too much.
I’ll also be doing a basic tune-up: plugs, wires, distributor cap, rotor. This stuff is dirt cheap and easy, but can stop a car in its tracks.
Finally, I just got my packages in the mail filled with ball joints and a wheel hub. Those items, plus axle U-joints, are on the fritz, and need to be swapped badly. Once that’s done, I can get the ol’ girl aligned and throw on the 31s.
So there you go. I’ve got one week, and plenty of work to do. But the good thing is that I’ve got a lifted Jeep that drives down the road smoothly without any vibrations.
Plus, I’ve got an AMC 4.0-liter I6 under the hood. What could possibly go wrong?