Also known as: Project Self Deception, and here’s why…
So this past summer we decided we needed a nice, comfortable, roomy get-around-town/hauler vehicle as the family XJ was quickly becoming more of a crawler than a hauler. Enter our current project, a 2002 Grand Cherokee (WJ) Overland Edition with all the bells, whistles, and niceties you could get in this model.
Anyhow, I recall vividly a conversation I had shortly after the purchase in which I honestly stated this was going to be a family get-around and I wasn’t going to tinker with it and modify it as I had with just about EVERY vehicle I’d ever owned up to this point. The other party had a good laugh, I inwardly assured myself that I was serious, and I went home to buy some parts for it straight away. But to be fair, we’re talking spark plugs, fluids, filters, and only ONE modification, a larger rear sway bar to resolve the issue that birthed the unfortunate nickname these WJ jeeps are sometimes known by: “Wobbly Jeep.” Totally for pure preventative maintenance and comfort I assured myself.
Some months later, and right around the same time this whole Trail Forged venture switched from a “that’d be cool to do someday” to “someday looks to be approaching awfully fast,” everything changed. It was clear from my past experiences in the aftermarket world that there was a ton of options, and none of them met my exacting standards for design and quality. And due to this dilemma, and the fact that the WJ was perfectly suited to be a company test bed/product showcase, it was clear we were going to have to, against all previous beliefs, modify the hell out of it, and do so with our very own line of products. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t complaining about the shift in the winds, but with a new business draining every available penny we had and then some, my pocketbook sure was.
But enough of the novel and down to the meat and potatoes (my favorite part, just ask the wife). Let’s talk mods, parts, and long term goals for this Overland:
- Overland edition has the more powerful 4.7HO, perfect for bigger tires and heavier loads
- Comes with factory Varilock axles F&R, which should be perfect for moderate trail use and 32″ tires
- All the comforts, heated seats, sunroof, dual climate control, lumbar, etc.
- Lots of room
- And best of all, the dog loves the back seat and the wind in her face
The Not So Good
- Fugly chrome rims and tiny tires
- Low and rides a bit stiff
- In the world of solid axle unibody Jeeps, TINY wheel openings making fitting larger tires a real challenge without taking the easy and subpar way out….huge lifts
So we sat down and quickly formulated a plan to turn this street queen into a full blown Overlanding Overland, perfect not only as a test bed for some awesome products we have in the works, but also a perfect family adventure rig. You all know it, there’s nothing better than miles and miles of empty dirt roads and tracks, not a city light in sight, starry nights and wildlife, and let’s not forget….those sunrise wakeups for some out of this world outdoors breakfasts (I’m convinced it’s the bacon grease and butter mixed with dust, and dirt, and some automotive fumes).
- 32″ All Terrain Tires, not too big, not too small
- Just enough lift to be functional and work well with the above tires
- REALLY good ride on and off road, especially at speed
- Rock solid reliability and longevity out of anything we put on this rig
The first steps:
- 3″ Spring lift, all new spring isolators
- Fox/BDS Shocks tuned specifically for the WJ
- Longer, adjustable track bar up front
- Longer rear sway links
The moment the mailman showed up with a pile of boxes we wasted no time jacking up our WJ and ripping out old components. Good thing too, the old spring isolators were shot, the trackbar bushing had seen better days, and we really got a good look underneath and at the scope of the projects yet to come. In went the new 3″ lift springs, Fox shocks, and adjustable track bar. While we were at it we did some fluid changes, transfer case, auto transmission service, and front differential fluid along with a new HD diff cover and LubeLocker gasket. We assembled the front cover with all new grade 8 flange hardware and Nordlock washers (tech article to come about these).
Due to the increased mechanical leverage the larger tires would put onto the varilock diffs, we opted to run a heavy duty Redline fluid with zero limited slip compound in it, and not add any Mopar LSD additive as is recommended either. Initial testing has indicated this was a very good move and should maximize the effectiveness of the limited slip off road (another tech article on its way).
After we reassembled everything, we bolted up a set of JK Rubicon wheels and tires we had recent sourced with some practically new 255/75r17 BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2’s, a tire we had come to love on several previous rigs. The new rubber, measuring in at just over 32″ tall, was a full 4″ larger than the worn out stock tires we had just removed. Coupled with the new Fox shocks, the ride went from a bit stiff to WOW instantly. We chose the Fox option due to experiences with Bilstein riding way too soft for our taste and driving style.
All in all, part 1 went pretty smooth, the large tires are rubbing but that will be addressed very soon in part 2…..
What’s to Come in Part Deux:
- WJ has a date with a cutoff wheel
- Bushwacker fender flares
- Superchips tuner
- Very first Trail Forged WJ parts revealed