Follow along as Michael Finch, a Suspension Specialist at 4Wheel Drive Hardware, builds this Cheap Cherokee project with all the preventive maintenance required and a number of choice, but economical, upgrades. Once complete, his teenage daughter will be able to drive to school and dance practice in something reliable, inexpensive and safe — and Michael can teach her off-roading.
You have a hankering to get dirt under your tires. An econobox daily driver isn’t going to do it and a full-size truck is too big for tight trails and uses too much gas. You‘ve been drooling over built four-door Jeeps, but the budget and the spouse say you’re not going to spend $20-30k. So what’s the cure for this itch? A cheap Cherokee.
The XJ Cherokee was Lee Iacocca’s ace in the hole to save the flagging Jeep nameplate and it worked. The family friendly, fun and capable Cherokee was a huge hit. With four doors, the kids have plenty of room and there’s storage behind them for the dog, tent, and firewood. The last of the XJs rolled off the Toledo production line in ’01, so many with 150K miles or less can be had cheap. While deals can definitely be found, you generally get what you pay for. With research, some hunting, and a keen eye, you can score a smoking deal on a fun ride that can be the perfect do-it-all family wheeler.
The Cherokee is a great platform for getting into off-roading, with its low-cost, durable design, and huge aftermarket. Starting off on the right foot, I found the perfect ’92 Cherokee to fit the bill — for $300. I definitely got what I paid for: some front end damage, a wrinkled fender, some missing plastic and a tired motor. Most of the suspension’s rubber parts were rotted out as well, but the interior was in good shape aside from the driver seat not being installed.
The Engine Swap
Step one was to swap the motor with a motor I put together a while back. The 4.0L was bored and stroked to 4.3 by Russ Pottenger at Bishop and Buell; this guy has been building 4.0 Jeep stroker kits for a long time. We went with de-shrouded valve pockets, beehive valve springs and 258 heavy crank. He has a line on a custom comp cam that really wakes up the engine.
The 4.0 is one of the easiest engines to build, just use your torque wrench and assembly lube and take your time. The engine kit runs about $600 if you do the breakdown and assembly. Machine work (including hot tanking to get everything paint-ready) will run roughly $1,000-1,200 depending on how crazy you get with it.
With the engine taken care of, look for the next installment: Suspension
Be sure to check out 4WD Hardware for XJ parts.