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tjZ06

TJ's 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Build

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To be clear, the Jeep is a 2003 Grand Cherokee Overland model (WJs has Laredo, Limited and Overland models or trim)... so it's not just an "Overland Build" but it's also a "Grand Cherokee Overland, build."  I know the term Overland is way over-used, and often hated.  If you go to Overland forums you'll find dozens of threads with pages and pages of arguing over what Overlanding is.  Well, I don't really care about all of that.  For me, I just want something simple to run out to the woods and spend a night or two.  Obviously I still have the D'max and 5'er (and RZR) for longer trips.  But now that I live in Lincoln I'm ~1hr or so from tons and tons of trailheads in the Tahoe National Forest and just another hour or two from Shasta-Trinity, Mendocino, Lassen, Plumas, Eldorado, Stanislaus, Yosemite etc, etc. National Forests. 

I want to get to enjoy those areas without always loading up a truck and trailer, then getting to an OHV trail (lots of the trails in those Forests are street-plate only) and taking off from there leaving my truck and trailer at some staging area.  Also, my Dad's side of the family also has a property and cabin way, way out into the Payette National Forest in Idaho that I visit semi-regularly.   It's a long drive to get to that area, so making it quicker without a trailer (and towing a trailer on the final 2-3hrs of dirt road can get sketchy in the tight switchbacks as you go from 6k to almost 9k back down to 3k feet) and "simple" will be nice.   Basically, the idea is to not need to take a truck and trailer for all of these types of adventures, just a single rig that will get me there, carry all my camp crap, be usable for exploring, and get me back.   

As I mentioned, everybody has a different definition for Overlanding, and often you'll find folks doing it in an Outback or Rav4 or something that has a mild AWD system and moderate clearance.  That's fine, and to each their own.  However, for me I want to be able to run harder trails and go deeper for the specific purpose of "thinning the heard."  If I go to a campsite anybody with their minivan can get to then I'll be taking the 5'er and living in the lap of luxury.  The whole point of this Jeep is to get out where it takes some real effort, dedication and actually knowing about less-beaten paths to get to.    No, this won't be a "rock crawler", but it does need to be pretty capable.  I live something like an hour from the trailhead of the Rubicon Trail, so something capable of the Rubicon is a requirement for my build. 

That said, the Rubicon isn't THAT crazy.  If you check out the old YouTubes you'll see Jeep takes a bunch of "automotive journalists" (aka blowhard YouTube vloggers - I missed my calling) up to the Rubicon every year and they run bone-stock Rubicon models through it.  The 2-door JL Rubi has no issues at all on the Rubi these days.  The 4-door has a few tighter squeezes, and might drag the belly a tad more hear and there.  The Gladiator (aka JT) drags a lot more, and some have taken a little body damage from vloggers.  All of those rigs are on locked Dana 44s with 4.10s front and back and "just" 33"s.   So: that's my min target: locked D44s, geared properly and at least 33"s.  

 

Okay, so what am I using for this build?  Well, it just-so-happens that we already had a 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland.  We originally bought this for Jake, my girlfriend's younger brother that lives with us, as his DD.  Jake is going to college next year, and we're going to help him buy a slightly more practical car (he's saved up a good amount for a down on a newer used car, and I'll co-sign, my folks did the same thing for me when I was his age and it helped me build credit, learn about being responsible for a payment, etc.).  So that means I get the Jeep back!  Here's how it looked the day we got it: 

WJbefore1.thumb.jpg.a2b2e0787ccacab8da5bb43a472f7ba9.jpg

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As you can see, it was about the cleanest, most fully-loaded WJ (sorry, WJ = 1999-2004 Grand Cherokee) I've ever come across.  Being an Overland it's the top model so it has dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing auto-wipers, blah blah.  Not bad for a Jeep that's what, 17 years old?  

Now, if you don't know about WJs, they were the last Grand Cherokee with real solid axles front and back.  It is, however, a unibody vehicle unlike a Wrangler.  It's also coil-sprung, multi-link front and rear.  Even stock they articulate very well, and they're actually a nice compact size.  For comparison on dimensions, the WJ is:

  • Around 182" long ('99-00 181.5, '01-03 181.6, '04 81.3 - the differences were all in the front bumpers AFAIK)
  • 72.3" wide (just over Turbo S or X3 RS width)
  • about 70" tall (a Turbo S is 75" tall, for comparison) 
  • Has a wheelbase of 105.9" (compare that to 135" wheelbase on a X3 4 seat!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • And is around 4,300 lbs (not bad for a loaded 4-door SUV when you consider a Challenger Hellcat is about 4,500 lbs and about 16" LONGER than a WJ - and yes I mean the 2-door challenger NOT the Charger)
  • 265/330 HP/TQ (4.7L HO Powertech V8)
  • 5 speed 545RFE
  • 2.72:1 L in T-Case
  • Quadra-Drive with progressive "locking" Vari-Lok diffs

Let's compare to the benchmarks I gave before, the 2 and 4 door Jeep JL and the Jeep JT (Gladiator):

  • 2-door JL length: 166.8", 4-door JL length: 188.4", JT length: 218"
  • Width 73.9"
  • ~74"
  • 2-door JL wheelbase: 96.8",  4-door JL wheelbase 118.4", JT wheelbase: 137.3" (finally something with more WB than a 4-seat X3!!!)
  • 2-door JL weight: 4,160 lbs, 4-door JL weight 4,439 lbs, JT weight ~5k lbs
  • 285/260 HP/TQ (3.6L Pentastar V6) 
  • 8 speed 850RE
  • 4:1 L in T-Case
  • Rock-Trac with Tru-Lok diffs

Okay, that's a lot of numbers 'n stuff... but what does it mean?   Well, it gives me all sorts of excuses to justify my silly decision to build a WJ!   But seriously, the WJ has a lot going for it.  It slots between a 2 and 4 door JL on most things, leaning towards the 4 door in most aspects.  Most people agree the 4 door JL is a way more comfortable wheeler, but the 2 door is more nimble getting through tight spots and generally "easier" to wheel - other than very steep climbs/drops where the super-short wheelbase can make it want to do sweet wheelies.  A lot of wheeler types will tell you something like the 103.4" wheelbase from the old Jeep "LJ" (aka the Unlimited version of the TJ-era Wrangler, which was still a 2-door but was stretched) is "ideal."  Well, 105.9 ain't toooooo far off that.  It's also shorter and lighter than the 4 door JL, and way shorter and lighter than a Gladiator.  It has a c-hair less HP,  but a boat-load more torque.  

All sounds pretty good, aye?  Sure, but the WJ has some things going against it too.  First, is tire-fitment.  The WJ has stupid-small wheelwells and fitting much tire takes some major surgery (more on that later).  Second, once you get past about a 32" tire and basic light trail use the Quada-Drive and Vari-Loks are only so-so and don't hold a candle to the true Eaton E-Lockers in all of the Rubicons (aka Tru-Loks).  It's also an old Jeep - so some shit stops working and the 4.7 overall doesn't have the greatest rep ever.  The HO is much better than the non-HO (compared to the non-HO, the HO adds knock sensors, bigger cams, stronger rods with full-floating wrist pins, forged steel crank, better damper, reshaped combustion chamber and ports in the heads, bigger injectors, better intake manifold and air cleaner to help with higher RPM breathing, tri-metal main bearings, domed coated pistons for more compression and less friction, bigger exhaust valves, better valve springs, etc.) but I'm not going to say I didn't wish they had put Hemis in these things.  The "5 speed" (it actually has 6 ratios, it uses a different 2nd gear to upshift into vs. what it downshifts into... so it uses all 6 gears but only comes "up" through 5 speeds) 545RFE is also not as nice of a trans as the new 8 speed 850RE.  That said, the 545RFE got duty in the much heavier and more powerful Hemi Ram 1500s of the same era, we even had one in a '06 that we towed heavy with and it stood up well.  In the lighter WJ that I don't intend to tow with I think it's a solid trans.  

Also, probably the biggest downside on a WJ is the D30 front axle.  It's okay up to say a 31-32" stock, and 33"s maaaaaaaaaaaaybe 35"s if you're gentle if yo build it.  But it's just not a big axle, period. 

All of that said, fact that I already had a super clean WJ obviously played a YYYYyyyuge part in picking it.  I paid something like $7,500 for mine a couple years ago (might have been $8k) which is the top-top-top of the WJ market.  But again, I've never found another one this nice and clean (I look all the time, in fact we just bought an '04 for a business car for my girlfriend).  It was 1-owner traded in at a Subi dealer on a loaded up Outback, so you know they weren't hardcore wheelers. ;)

 

 

Edited by tjZ06

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On to the build!  We actually had already gotten a good start on it for Jake.  A year or two back we did:

WJlift1.thumb.jpg.fbd1b76340fac153c85638606589dc21.jpg

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In this last pic you can see very little trimming was done initially.  It rubbed a tiny bit when backing up at lock on the street, but it was "okay" for Jake's DD. 

 

 

Edited by tjZ06

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Once I decided I'd be wheeling the WJ, I knew I needed to trim more.  The last pic of the post above shows how little was trimmed, but here's another look at it:

WJtrimbefore2.thumb.jpg.b278410c956606978b220aa75aa9032b.jpgWJtrimbefore3.thumb.jpg.81f764c135619f4b16bab1156d541546.jpg

This cut it on the street, sort of, but it was time to get a bit more aggressive.  Here's how it ended up:

WJaftertrim1.thumb.jpg.f046684ec06c79365bd2f5dfd319b186.jpg

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(yes, there is cardboard under the tires... I had to turn the tires back 'n forth a zillion times, I'm weird, what can I say). 

Obviously those pics just show the driver's side, but I matched it on the passengers side, then finally took it out and got to test it.  A small group of buddies/coworkers went out in the Eldorado National Forest, near Silver Lake and Kirkwood ski resort.  The trail we took was slightly technical, and a good chance to flex things and see how clearance was.  I want to point out this pics one more time:

WJaftertrim2.thumb.jpg.05601153055a8a4332db57b244288dc8.jpg

What you're seeing in there are the foglight (lower bracket with wiring going to it) and the windshield washer reservoir and pumps (white thing with lots more wiring).  

I thought they'd be okay with only 31.6" tires... but when I really got flexed out I hit all that stuff.  I only messed up one connector (have a new one on order) but I def need to ditch the foglights and relocate the washer bottle.  Luckily a ZJ (first gen JGC) bottle fits under-hood with some minor mods.  I have the ZJ bottle at home, and hope to have time to work on it this weekend. 

-TJ

 

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Some pics from Eldorado: 

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Our group was the dark green XJ (35"s on locked D44s, lots 'o mods), the 2-door JK Rubicon (bone-stock), my WJ, and my buddy's bone-stock XJ he bought the weekend before.  I convinced him he should tag along. 

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Got to do some flexing here.  If you look close you can see the driver back tire is stuffed up high, while the passenger back is drooped-out, while the front is doing the opposite.  Nothing wild, but this is where I found I still need to ditch the foglights and move the washer resi. 

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Like I said, it wasn't wild and we got the bone-stock XJ through the same part. 

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All was going well, until the stock XJ blew out a sidewall on a sharp root sticking out (isn't it funny how it's never the jagged rocks and stuff, it's always a root or branch that takes out a tire?).  Now, as I said I had talked him into the trip, he wasn't sure about taking it bone-stock and he had just bought it (and never really wheeled).  Things were going well, and he was doing an excellent job getting the XJ through with some spotting.  But one thing I didn't think to ask him was whether or not it had a full-size spare.  I guess it never dawned on me that a Jeep would have a donut... but it did.  So he wheeled the rest of the trip like this:

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Def my bad, but with spotting and a little stacking we got him through everything.  The flat happened just before dusk, so we found a spot close to setup camp after we changed the tire.  It turned out to be pretty bitchin':

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(pulling into camp as the sun dipped) 

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(this was our "bathroom" - the only mistake we made was not turning it around 180 degrees so we could leave the door open and take in the view during our "reflection time")

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-TJ

Edited by tjZ06

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After the wheeling trip I felt like I need to polish her up, since at this point Jake is still DD'in it.  It came out pretty good:

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Something felt wrong in the suspension though.  Just before the trip I had a shop go through the susp.  Now, normally I'd do this myself but I split time between home (Lincoln, CA) and work (Palo Alto, CA) so sometimes I just run out of time.  They said they had gone through everything.  I did find the JKS Quicker Disconnects they put on were on wrong, so I fixed that, and while I was under there I could see the locktite on the various front susp bolts.  I didn't want to re-torque them, because I didn't want to break the locktite free and everything was good and snug (I did put a wrench on everything up front).  Now, here's where I went wrong: I assumed that they had done the rear susp too, since I asked them to go through everything suspension/steering related.  Maybe they checked the control arms and stuff, but they obviously didn't check the bolts where the upper "wishbone" connects to the center pumpkin of the diff.  

It must have been loose, letting it wiggle around, and eventually sheering off all 3 big grade-10.9 bolts in the pumpkin.  Lovely. 

WJbreak1.thumb.jpg.a0d4e73e42b0800c9f33db2966972047.jpg

You're looking at the upper "wishbone" on the rear of the suspension.  The WJ uses a 3-link rear design with 2 trailing arms going from the body to the outer ends of the axle, then an upper "wishbone" that attaches to the axle in ones spot, via this 3-bolt bracket with a ball-joint.  The wishbone looks something like this:

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And here's what the whole deal looks like (you're looking from the "front" of the vehicle):

awww-wjjeeps-com_rearsuspen-jpg.86295

The big spacer you're seeing is part of the rear lift kit, which is NOT a long-arm (the front is on my WJ).  It uses the stock arms and wishbone, longer/heavier rate coil springs, and then this spacer to restore pinion angle and axle alignment.  It's not the ideal system, and I do plan to long-arm the back of this WJ.  However, when I first got this kit a few years back the WJ was only going to be Jake's DD for school and work, and perhaps mild camping, not the crawling I put it through. 

Again, I should have checked this myself before wheeling.  It sucks re-learning lessons I learned 20 years ago, and making mistakes when I "know better" but hey, at least I got lucky and this didn't happen on the trail or with Jake driving at highway speeds (it let go on the on-ramp he uses nearest our house).

Here's about mid-way, before I fully removed the e-brake cables from the wishbone, disconnected the brake-line mount from the body and moved the coil-springs out of the way (basically just wheels-off and lower shock bolts and sway-bar end-links disconnected):

WJbreak2.thumb.jpg.e78a61b8b0397ca8e250109bfd182dd0.jpg

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And the mounting holes with the stub of the bolts still in them:

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Finally some success, one out:

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Here's how it sat when I actually worked on it after I disconnected the sway bar end-links, brake line brackets, shocks, etc:

WJbreak6.thumb.jpg.2b1c631edd805b7c1947805f35ae1a46.jpg(yes that's some rock-rash and a banged up exhaust tip... I'll be replacing this bumper for one with a tire-carrier anyway, but I got a little cocky/lazy on the wheeling trip and wasn't using a spotter in a tight spot and just caught it)

All back together: 

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And back on the road:

WJfixed1.thumb.jpg.588fcfdffc6ecf35e3b508b9fee519e5.jpg

And that's about where we sit now. 

 

-TJ
 

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So, what's next?  Well, I'm not sure.  I'm either going to build the D30/D44A and run 33"s at this height.  Or I'm going to do a front D44, build or swap the rear D44A and move up to a 6" lift and 35"s.  Either way I'm going to do cut-out fender flares to run as much tire while keeping it as low as possible.  Time and budget will be the dictators, but at a min I think the plan for the winter looks like: 

  • Notch Customs W-Max Fender Flares to allow more tire at this same lift height, I do not want a super-tall, high-CG rig
  • 33x12.5s or 35x12.5" tires
  • Sleeve, gusset, chromoly axle shafts with an ARB and re-gear (probably 4.88) the front Dana 30
    • This is a place I've had much internal debate, the old rock-crawler/hardcore wheeler in me says any $ spent on a D30 is money wasted. However, for Overland use and if I don't get ridiculous with the throttle in tight situations a well-built D30 will be more than strong enough while retaining more ground clearance, lower weight, etc.
  • Gusset, chromoly axle shafts with an ARB and re-gear (again, 4.88) the rear D44HD (aka aluminum center section D44, hence wanting a tube-to-tube gusset)
  • Replace my 247 QuadraDrive full-time 4wd T-Case with a Part-Time 242HD (which offers 2WD, 4H full-time, 4H part-time, N, 4L)
    • Slip Yoke Eliminator
    • Full rebuild with all new bearings, bushings, seals and chain
  • Custom Tow Woods double-double cardan driveshafts
  • Front, rear and center frame stiffiners from Iron Rock Offroad and Trail Forged - this WJ was clearly never wheeled before me, and is clean, straight and tight with no rattles, squeaks, leaks etc. As most of you know, the WJ is a unibody so if I want to keep it this way, it needs a little help
  • Fuel Tank "Tuck" - the WJ was the first Jeep SUV that didn't have the spare tire inside the vehicle. As such, there is a spare tire-well in the back, which means the fuel tank has to sit below that. The end result is a really low fuel tank which is susceptible to all sorts of trail damage (see the pics above for how low the stock tank hangs). Since I'll be running a spare outside I can eliminate the spare-tub, patch the Jeep's floor and raise the fuel tank a solid 8"+ while keeping the interior of the Jeep fully sealed and looking exactly the same (look back at the pics where I'm working on the rear susp and see how low the tank is)
  • Aftermarket front bumper w/ winch
  • Aftermarket rear bumper w/ tire-carrier (see lesson #1 above, and I don't want to put a 33" spare inside and lose all of that storage space)
  • Roof-Top-Tent!! Since the WJ's roof is actually pretty small as compared to newer things like JK Unlimiteds, Land Cruisers, or even 4Runners I want something with a small, slim profile. Also, nearly all of my wheeling/camping is in the woods, so I don't want something too obnoxious that will catch every tree branch I even think about going under. Unfortunately, this rules out hard-shell RTTs, which were my first choice for simplicity. On the WJ they look like a mushroom-cap, and while looks aren't everything they would significantly reduce clearance when squeezing through trees etc. Right now I have my eye on a Tepui Low Pro 2 if I buy new, though I miiiiight have a line on a used Ayer 2 which is still relatively compact, and would help my (already hurting) budget a lot.
  • Fridge and second battery
    • Admittedly I'm a bit on the fence on this one. I think an ice chest is generally fine, but I do recognize there is probably a reason that EVERY Overlander eventually goes with a fridge/freezer
  • Finally, I will probably convert the rear suspension to a long-arm. It's not that I'm really hurting for wheel travel or articulation, but this will allow me to move the rear axle back .5-1" (and I will move the front about the same) to help with tire clearance

I already picked up the 242 HD, just need to rebuild it and do the SYE:

242hd.thumb.jpg.4ff445fa6977092145ed9d48ab1359e7.jpg

 

-TJ

 

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I wouldn't drop any money in the D44A.  Better off doing an 8.8 and long arms at the same time.  You've got a V8 and 5 gears, regearing is optional until you go 35s, which will severely test that drivetrain under that pig anyway. :bigrin 

Roof-top tents are cool, but they soak up a lot of otherwise useful roof space (that you can't use for anything else), increase CoG and limit options for actually setting up a place to sleep.  Want to tuck your tent into that pocket in the trees?  TFB.  You also have to take camp with you everywhere you go.  Tight trail with tall rocks?  Watch that tent.  Low branches?  Tent.

Don't get me wrong, they're a cool idea, but having wheeled with friends who have them, you wonder why they spent thousands on something smaller than my $100 Costco tent that results in more headaches than it solves.  

That being said, buddy's wife is afraid of critters on the ground, so it allows him to go camping more.  Decision made. :bigrin 

Edited by Rockwood

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Oh yeah, why 4.88s?  I've got 4 gears and 100hp less with 4.56s, seems fine.  4.88s on a D30 will have less pinion-ring gear mesh than 4.56s and may be a problem with a locker and 35s.  Ford 8.8/D30, 4.56s, chromos up front, 35s and Eaton E-lockers (new version is the same locking mechanism/internals as the JK Rubicon's) should be fine under a rig you care enough about the sheetmetal to polish/wax.  Miiiight need a truss up front if you like to go fast.

Otherwise, JK axle-set F/R. :bigrin 

Edited by Rockwood

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X2 on the 8.8. Its a better axle than a d44 costs way less, just needs a better carrier which will get replaced anyway when you do a locker. IRO has a good wj swap kit for them too. We had a wj and we LOVED that jeep. Should have never sold it. We have a cherokee xj now, but the wj was so comfortable. Awesome build and write up. I want to start doing more fun stuff like that!

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55 minutes ago, Rockwood said:

I wouldn't drop any money in the D44A.  Better off doing an 8.8 and long arms at the same time.  You've got a V8 and 5 gears, regearing is optional until you go 35s, which will severely test that drivetrain under that pig anyway. :bigrin 

Roof-top tents are cool, but they soak up a lot of otherwise useful roof space (that you can't use for anything else), increase CoG and limit options for actually setting up a place to sleep.  Want to tuck your tent into that pocket in the trees?  TFB.  You also have to take camp with you everywhere you go.  Tight trail with tall rocks?  Watch that tent.  Low branches?  Tent.

Don't get me wrong, they're a cool idea, but having wheeled with friends who have them, you wonder why they spent thousands on something smaller than my $100 Costco tent that results in more headaches than it solves.  

That being said, buddy's wife is afraid of critters on the ground, so it allows him to go camping more.  Decision made. :bigrin 

Valid points.  As for the RTT - well I just want simple up 'n down.  No clearing a space and setting up your bedding and all of that.  A lot of our trips will be 1 night, or even if they're 2+ they'll be different camp spots each night.  It's really not the critter thing, I've been sleeping in a ground tent already (and grew up backpacking).  When I'm at the family cabin in Idaho, you don't sleep in the cabin, you sleep on sleeping porches that are 3.5 wall structures with a roof, but totally open to critters, I'm used to that.  It's really just a matter of being able to park, fold the RTT out, and BAM setup for the night.  

As for the D44A, I agree they're not ideal.  The truss I would run for the long arm pretty much takes care of the housing strenght issues.  Why not just 8.8 it?  Well, remember the WJ is link/coils in the back.  There's a whole mess of brackets 'n stuff to swap, unlike swapping a 8.8 under a XJ.  If I'm going to do all of that work (or, have it done - I don't have the tools/skill for welding brackets onto a rearend housing) I'd probably just go straight to a D60.  Like you said... I've got a V8 and a (relatively) heavy rig, if I'm doing a full axle swap I'll go big (yes, I'm aware that a D60 isn't ideal for clearance with "just" 35"s but that's the problem I'd rather have vs. stressing a weak axle).  

Why 4.88s?  Well, because I'm an idiot and I see myself going 37"s down the road. 😄

 

51 minutes ago, Rockwood said:

Oh yeah, why 4.88s?  I've got 4 gears and 100hp less with 4.56s, seems fine.  4.88s on a D30 will have less pinion-ring gear mesh than 4.56s and may be a problem with a locker and 35s.  Ford 8.8/D30, 4.56s, chromos up front, 35s and Eaton E-lockers (new version is the same locking mechanism/internals as the JK Rubicon's) should be fine under a rig you care enough about the sheetmetal to polish/wax.  Miiiight need a truss up front if you like to go fast.

Otherwise, JK axle-set F/R. :bigrin 

Agree on the 4.88s for a D30.  After thinking about it more the ONLY way I'm staying D30 is if I stay 33" or under, so 4.88s make no sense and are weaker, like you said.  And yes, I don't plan to use the loud-pedal to get out of everything (as you said, I care about sheetmetal enough to wax it) so even on 35"s a D30 "could" live.  I just have trouble investing $3500 into a D30 (it really adds up by the time you buy a locker for $1k, gears and install kit for $500, chromo axles for $1k, all the sleeves and gussets for $500, and pay install/labor at least $500).  On top of that, after spending $3500+ on a D30, I'd still be thinking/worrying about it all the time.  Maybe I would't need to... but I would anyway. ;) I'm kinda crazy. 

I'd like JK axles front and rear, but the math just doesn't work out.  I can get ECGS D44/60 combo with E-lockers, chromo shafts, already gusseted, thicker-than-stock WJ brackets installed, thicker axle tubes, 1-ton front brakes, etc. etc. etc. for about $9k.  Those are 100% bolt-in, retain ABS and new everything.  The ECGS "D489" as they all it runs the JK 8.89" ring vs. the "usual" 8.5" in a 44.  People want GOLD for their JK Rubi 44s, so you're talking about $5k for a pair (I've looked around, I'm not kidding).  By the time you cut everything off and put WJ brackets on (again, linked rear, and unlike a XJ the front shares nothing with Wranglers as far as brackets), gusset them, chromo them ($1k+ in the front RCVs alone), and do all that you're an easy $7k into them.  Call it $8k if you re-gear instead of using the 4.10s.  So, for $8k to have JK 44s with all the hassle of finding somebody to do the bracket work and build them vs. $9k for way better/stronger/new-tip-to-tip ECGS 44/60s built exactly to my spec/gearing etc. it seems like a no-brainer. 

The wildcard would be a '76-77 F150 D44/9" or '78-79 F250 D44/60 combo.  Obviously tons of work involved since all the brackets need changed (the 250 is at least leaf front and rear so less to cut off), rear needs disc conversion, re-gear, lockers, chromo, etc. but I've added parts and it "could" be done for $5-6k.  A $3-4k savings is nothing to sneeze at, and pays for my rear long-arm swap, the taller springs, and a bunch of other crap.  It's just a matter of finding somebody I can trust to do the work, and time.  

 

39 minutes ago, sausage450r said:

X2 on the 8.8. Its a better axle than a d44 costs way less, just needs a better carrier which will get replaced anyway when you do a locker. IRO has a good wj swap kit for them too. We had a wj and we LOVED that jeep. Should have never sold it. We have a cherokee xj now, but the wj was so comfortable. Awesome build and write up. I want to start doing more fun stuff like that!

Thanks, and yeah I've seen the IRO 8.8 kit.  It's a good option, but like I said above if I'm going "that far" I'd just do the f3rd axles and go either 44/9" or 44/60.  At least the later 8.8s get you disc brakes off the bat though... but you can adapt the stock WJ rear discs to a 60 without too much trouble.  

 

-TJ
 

Edited by tjZ06

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If you're going big dog axles (which seems counter to this build), hard to beat the Super Duty D60/Sterling combo from the newer trucks from  cost:strength:clearance standpoint.  That, or like you said: just get bolt-in jobs ready to roll.  

But, that's a slippery slope man.  Tons will make it ride worse, the "frame" will need to be beefed, and any trail that needs those axles will mean you'll want a cage, and more armor, and...

Honestly, a quick re-gear and lockers will get you through the Rubicon on 33s no problem.  No need for Chromos (which are $500-ish unless you go nuts with RCVs, which are stronger than just about any D30 R&P set, so not the best idea anyway), just get new Spicer joints and tack weld the caps (what I've been rocking for 3 years now, no problems) and carry a spare set on tough trails.  

I don't think I'd burn the money on a truss for the D44A.  I keep forgetting those ZJs/WJs had a wonky rear axle setup that nothing can swap with easily.  My condolences, tough decision.

Edited by Rockwood

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nice build, just in time for me as I just picked up one of these to use as

my next RV toad. after two trips to KOH in buggies and sxs I decided to

get something I could roll up the windows in. this one has a rustys 4.0 kit

on 32s. Question, did you use a drop pitman arm?

006.JPG

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9 minutes ago, Rockwood said:

If you're going big dog axles (which seems counter to this build), hard to beat the Super Duty D60/Sterling combo from the newer trucks from  cost:strength:clearance standpoint.  That, or like you said: just get bolt-in jobs ready to roll.  

But, that's a slippery slope man.  Tons will make it ride worse, the "frame" will need to be beefed, and any trail that needs those axles will mean you'll want a cage, and more armor, and...

Honestly, a quick re-gear and lockers will get you through the Rubicon on 33s no problem.  No need for Chromos (which are $500-ish unless you go nuts with RCVs, which are stronger than just about any D30 R&P set, so not the best idea anyway), just get new Spicer joints and tack weld the caps (what I've been rocking for 3 years now, no problems) and carry a spare set on tough trails.  

I don't think I'd burn the money on a truss for the D44A.  I keep forgetting those ZJs/WJs had a wonky rear axle setup that nothing can swap with easily.  My condolences, tough decision.

I'm already planning front, rear and center section frame stiffeners, as mentioned above.  Yes, the SD60/Sterling combo is a nice combo, but way wide for a WJ and also super-duper-extra-overkill for 35"s.  In fact, if I order the bolt-in axles I'd even be tempted to just do ECGS D44/44 vs. D44/60.  Agree also, any trail that needs tons (and 40"s... cuz tons 'n 40"s all the things) this isn't the rig/build for.  I like Overkill, but not THAT much Overkill.  

I agree, 33"s are plenty for the Rubicon (again, there are a zillion videos of stock Rubis on 33"s making it).  I disagree on the chromo standpoint.  The D30 needs every bit of help it can get if you're going to lock it, even "just" on 33"s.  Also, the only ARB option for my D30 is 35 spline, the only 35 spine axle option is RCV, so you're sort of stuck there.  

The D44A rear truss is pretty cheap: https://www.vividracing.com/-p-151782764.html?gclid=Cj0KCQjwoqDtBRD-ARIsAL4pviB-8VMkd-fhAWlKeNQ8r5vkSlt4UEwGrsrJK2ftS3i96oGkdCpF1bMaAtCIEALw_wcB (that'd be if I go with the Clayton rear long arm, obviously) or https://www.ironrockoffroad.com/product/wj-44a-rear-axle-truss.html and they are something I know a few people that would burn in for some free beer (vs. a full axle build where I'd need to actually find a shop to do it).  I've seen lots of 44As running 35"+ with a good truss like that and zero issues.  

 

 

 

All-in-all you are probably right: this is not the rig for tons and Yuge tires.  Beefing up the 30 and 44A and sticking to 33"s at my current height (with the Notch fender flares) is probably the way to go - especially for my use case.  I'd still be able to do the Rubicon... and that's about as hardcore as I want to get (which isn't that hardcore at all in the crawling world).   I'd avoid a lot of extra weight, reduced ground clearance etc. going this way... and it's cheaper.  Still, as an ex-crawler I would feel like I was kicking my dog putting $ into the D30, but I guess I'll get over it.  I'll still do the frame stiffeners even with this combo, and do them ASAP so I can keep this thing straight 'n tight. 

 

-TJ

 

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I had a Dana 30 with 4.88 a locker and 35s🤭. Took it to Moab and beat on it hard as hell with all the extra traction. It didn’t skip a beat. 

63967C77-BE91-4759-9032-2559C2618345.jpeg

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10 minutes ago, jeeperdino said:

nice build, just in time for me as I just picked up one of these to use as

my next RV toad. after two trips to KOH in buggies and sxs I decided to

get something I could roll up the windows in. this one has a rustys 4.0 kit

on 32s. Question, did you use a drop pitman arm?

006.JPG

 

Awesome rig!  No, I don't have a dropped pitman arm yet.  If I go a little taller I'll probably do something like this: https://kevinsoffroad.com/collections/jeep-grand-cherokee-wj-1999-2004/products/wj-steering-equalizer-plus-drop-pitman-arm

 

-TJ
 

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11 minutes ago, jtmoney714 said:

I had a Dana 30 with 4.88 a locker and 35s🤭. Took it to Moab and beat on it hard as hell with all the extra traction. It didn’t skip a beat. 

63967C77-BE91-4759-9032-2559C2618345.jpeg

Posts like this inspire me to give the D30 a chance, especially for pansy-ass Overlanding. ;)😛

 

-TJ

 

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On a side-note, when it comes to 33"s vs. 35"s for my WJ, I sort of was just responding to the same question on another forum about 35"s vs. 37"s for a JL guy.  I just suck at taking my own advice.  Anyway, the point I was making to the guy was that there's only about 1" difference in actual ground clearance between a tire 2" taller overall (in his case 37" vs. 35", but it applies in my case when talking 35" vs. 33").  How often are I going to find that obstacle that is perfectly wrong to where I just can't get over it with a 33" (even winching) but a 35" and that 1" extra ground clearance would have made it?  Probably never.  Yes, the 35" has other advantages (contact patch when aired down, height helps it roll-over obstacles more easily) but if it's going to basically mean $10k of extra sheeeet and having the WJ taller than I want, are 35"s worth it? 

 

-TJ
 

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19 minutes ago, tjZ06 said:

On a side-note, when it comes to 33"s vs. 35"s for my WJ, I sort of was just responding to the same question on another forum about 35"s vs. 37"s for a JL guy.  I just suck at taking my own advice.  Anyway, the point I was making to the guy was that there's only about 1" difference in actual ground clearance between a tire 2" taller overall (in his case 37" vs. 35", but it applies in my case when talking 35" vs. 33").  How often are I going to find that obstacle that is perfectly wrong to where I just can't get over it with a 33" (even winching) but a 35" and that 1" extra ground clearance would have made it?  Probably never.  Yes, the 35" has other advantages (contact patch when aired down, height helps it roll-over obstacles more easily) but if it's going to basically mean $10k of extra sheeeet and having the WJ taller than I want, are 35"s worth it? 

 

-TJ
 

Yes 35s are worth it. Especially the way you want to use it. 

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2 minutes ago, jtmoney714 said:

Yes 35s are worth it. Especially the way you want to use it. 

Maybe I'll have to see if the D30 will live on 35"s... 

 

-TJ
 

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2 minutes ago, tjZ06 said:

Maybe I'll have to see if the D30 will live on 35"s... 

 

-TJ
 

I’ve got a friend with a coil over zj on 35’s v8 thats is his prerunner for the hammers and his 30 has held up fine. Still on the stock axles and lunchbox

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Y'all are making me feel better about just using the D30 for now...

 

-TJ

 

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So much for simple .....

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4 minutes ago, hondajimz said:

So much for simple .....

I mean, the simplest thing would be to just go write the big check for a brand-new diesel JLUR once they're released.  But it's hard to imagine beating a brand new $60k rig up offroad, and only driving it probably 1-2 times per month.   If I stay with the D30/44A it's all pretty simple.  Basically some lockers, gears, some gussets and some fender flares then the bigger tires.  When I "type that out loud" it does seem like the way to go...

 

-TJ

 

Edited by tjZ06

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You're not overlanding until you have a RTT bro. Haven't you been on #Instagram.

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31 minutes ago, CMBAMF said:

You're not overlanding until you have a RTT bro. Haven't you been on #Instagram.

I mean, you're not wrong. 

4890658.jpg

FoTiK9HGVxmIYImavX8kyKh4NbiUdglrh3CVvMHa

66JHcWf.jpg

8jCLZ9H.jpg

vaph9ysio1j11.jpg

 

There are just sooooooooooooooo many good ones.  I was actually looking for the one that just says "Overlanding is just camping with an InstaGram account" or something like that.  Then there are these guys:

1cqswq.jpg

They go "overlanding" in a State Park where girlscout troops camp but "kit up" like they're going deep into Syria after ISIS.  

 

 

 

Anyway, that's why I want the WJ a bit more capable than what "most" overland-types are after.  Hopefully I can find an obstacle on each trip that is just a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle too hard for a over-loaded IFS Tacoma to make.  ;)

 

-TJ
 

 

 

 

 

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