1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4 with 5.2 V8
Local Offroad Park: Prairie City SVRA
Rubicon Trail: 5 Times from Loon Lake to Lake Tahoe
Official CTI Score: 1020
The rear is sitting on Iron Rock Offroad (IRO) 4″ XJ coil springs (sits level with 7″ front) with IRO extended upper coil retainers to keep the coils in place during full droop. MetalCraft Innovations built the bolt on rear sub frame and 4 link setup which is double triangulated and fully adjustable. The ability to adjust allows you to dial in the pinion angle and alignment while also controlling the wheelbase. The triangulation keeps the axle centered and allowed the rear track bar to be removed. This allowed much more down travel while still allowing the necessary up travel. Additional travel required bigger shocks, so we went with Doetsch Tech 8000 Prerunner Series part# 8500 which are 35″ extended, 20″ compressed, and have 15″ of travel with integrated bump stops. The rear axle was pushed back a bit to extend the wheelbase. This required a longer Tom Woods drive shaft and MetalCraft adjustable coil plates on the axle side. The coil plates allowed us to keep the coils centered under the upper posts even though the axle had been pushed back. A MetalCraft truss extends over the differential providing additional strength and mounting points for the upper control arms. Heims and bushings are 1.25″ Barnes 4WD. The The factory rear sway bar has been removed.
The front is on IRO 4.5″ ZJ coil springs with JKS ACOS (Adjustable Coil Over System) and Ruff Stuff Specialties coil plates to allow clearance for a straight over the knuckle tie rod. The coil plates raised the base of the coils by 1.5″ and the ACOS (without adjustment ring installed) provided an additional 1″ of lift, for a total of 7″ lift up front. The MetalCraft 3 piece bolt on sub frame allows you to drop the center section while leaving control arms installed for transmission and/or transfer case service. The MetalCraft 3 link kit uses identical lower links on both sides and only has an upper link on the driver’s side. All links are fully adjustable which allows you to dial in the pinion angle and alignment while also controlling the wheelbase. The front axle was pushed forward a bit to extend the wheelbase. This required a longer Tom Woods double double cardan drive shaft. Heims and bushings are 1.25″ Barnes 4WD. The factory upper bushing in the axle has been replaced with an IRO flex joint that uses a 1/2″ bolt instead of the smaller/weaker factory 10mm bolt. Shocks are Doetsch Tech 8000 Prerunner series part# 8421 which are 32″ extended, 18.25″ compressed, 13.75″ of travel. The shocks are mounted to IRO bar pin eliminators which replace the sloppy factory mounts. 22″ extended stainless steel brake lines were installed to support the additional lift and flex. The front uses a custom built track bar with Ruff Stuff 7/8″ heim joints and adjustable axle side mount with a Rusty’s Offroad HD frame mount. The front sway bar has been removed.
The tie rod, drag link, and track bar were all custom made by Metal Craft Offroad Innovation using parts from Ruff Stuff Specialties. The tubing is all Ruff Stuff 1.5″ x .25″ wall DOM. The drag link bolts to a TeraFlex crossover / high steer knuckle which has been sleeved from 7/8″ holes to 3/4″ holes to allow the use of heim joints. KRF Machine provided the custom made hardened and heat treated steel sleeves. The knuckle swap was done to eliminate tie rod roll which causes a dead spot in the steering, and also to provide a higher mounting point which eliminates maxing out of misalignment angles on the drag link heims during flex. The pitman arm and knuckles were drilled to 3/4 to support 7/8 heim joints and grade 8 hardware. The tie rod sits over the knuckle which required trimming of the factory coil brackets and track bar bracket on the front axle. Ruff Stuff lower coil plates and retainers were used for additional clearance which increased the coil base height about 1.5 inches. The steering box brace from Mountain Vista Fabrication has been a great addition to support the 35×12.50 tires and prevent the steering box from being ripped from the uniframe. The steering box and power steering pump were recently replaced. The weak factory plastic power steering pulley broke and was replaced with an earlier ZJ steel pulley. The brittle cast factory power steering bracket that’s prone to cracking was replaced with a heavy duty billet aluminum bracket which is available in the online store. We swapped out the drop pitman arm for one that is about 2″ shorter than the one we had installed previously because it works better with the lift and steering setup. The goal is to always have the drag link and track bar be similar in length and angle.
The front axle is a Dana 30 with IRO inner axle sleeves welded in, IRO Almost Alloy Spicer 760x u-joint axle shafts with welded end caps, Synergy heavy duty ball joints, Solid Axle Industries differential cover, 4.88 gears, and a Detroit TrueTrac installed by Hunters 4×4. Ruff Stuff lower coil plates and retainers were used for additional clearance which increased the coil base height about 1.5 inches. The stock differential yoke has been replaced with a Tom Wood’s yoke to support the custom Tom Wood’s multiple double cardan front drive shaft. The front axle also has heavy duty Rusty’s Offroad lower control arm mounts to replace the bent stock ones.
The rear axle is a Dana 44A (D44A – aluminum center section) with 4.88 gears and freshly rebuilt/shimmed Trac Lok installed by Hunters 4×4. The differential is protected by a Blue Torch Fabrication diff cover and a Mountain Vista Fabrication bolt on skid plate with pinion guard. The The axle shafts are still stock and have not yet broken. All brackets are still stock at this time.
Tires and Wheels:
35×12.50×15 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R Kevlar on 15×8 Method Race Wheels Double Standard with 3.5″ backspacing in matte black with a machined simulated bead lock and zinc bolts. I run the tires between 20-25 PSI on the street and 8-12 PSI on the trail. Lower than normal street pressure is needed when running a narrow wheel with a wide tire in order to make sure a good even contact patch is made with the pavement. Running a narrow wheel with a wider tire also seats the bead firmly so you can run lower pressure on the trails which greatly increases traction.
The spare tire is 35×12.50×16 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R (non-kevlar) with a TJ Rubicon wheel. The wheel has a 1.5″ hub centric wheel spacer to match the 3.5″ backspacing of the Methods.
Rear quarter panel armor was provided by Mountain Vista Fabrication (RIP Neil) and is made from 10 gauge steel. Each panel uses 11 bolts to attach to the unibody. The panels help protect the rear windows and also will spread any impact from trees or rocks across the entire panel rather than a focused point. Mountain Vista Fabrication (MVF) also created my cup holder armor!
The belly skid is made by MetalCraft and bolts to the front and rear MetalCraft sub frames, as well as the uniframe rails. It’s very heavy duty, still allows lots of ground clearance, and does a great job protecting the transfer case while on the trails. It uses countersunk bolts to avoid hanging up on rocks and other obstacles. It was built so you can easily service the transfer case by dropping the center section without removing the side brackets or sub frames.
Solid Axle Industries front differential cover and Blue Torch Fabrication rear differential cover protect the 4.88 gears installed by Hunters 4×4.
The rear differential is also protected by a Mountain Vista Fabrication bolt on skid plate with pinion guard.
The factory plastic fuel tank is protected by a heavy duty IRO fuel tank skid plate. The IRO skid is MUCH beefier than the factory skid and utilizes the same mounting points.
Front Bumper and Winch:
The winch is a Rough Country RS9500 Recovery System with wired and wireless remotes mounted to a Rough Country mounting plate kit with optional D rings. The winch uses a 92′ long 3/8″ thick Tuff Stuff synthetic line with a Factor55 ProLink and 3/4″ TeraFlex D ring on the end. The winch mount is very beefy weighing in at about 87 lbs. Mounting brackets bolt to the inside and outside of the uniframe rails. Installation required some cutting to open the ends of the uniframe rails and also trimming of the stock bumper. The stock bumper was eventually removed and Califabrication modified the winch plate to center the winch and Factor55 Hawse 1.5″ fairlead before building a custom bumper with stinger.
The roof rack seen in several videos (removed and sold to an Instagram follower) is made by Rola and the part number is 59504. It’s normally a shorter two piece rack, but I opted for the 18 3/4 inch extension, part number 59505. The entire rack is now roughly 73×41 inches. It’s made of steel and is powder coated black. A custom rack will eventually be designed/built by Metal Craft Offroad Innovation.
LED Light Bars:
A 50″ curved dual row LED bar from GG-Lighting.net sits at the top of the windshield on their bolt on ZJ pillar mounts. The bar is extremely bright with almost 30,000 lumens. Currently in the process of mounting two 20″ light bars and pods to the front bumper. Make sure to use coupon code ProjectZJ for a discount when you order from their site.
On Board Air System:
Using the IRO on board air compressor with a custom steel mount which is welded to the factory spare tire brackets in the cargo area. The IRO kit is complete and comes with everything you need besides a mount. Circuit breaker, all wiring, connectors, and solenoid are provided. The compressor is used regularly to air up one, two, or even three sets of 35/37 inch tires from 12 psi to road pressure. A long flexible polyurethane air line is used for extended reach to other vehicles.
A new all aluminum radiator with a genuine Ford Taurus 3.8 two speed electric fan and shroud assembly keep the engine cool. The upper radiator hose has a section removed for a 5.9 Limited coolant temp switch mounted in a steel coupler. The temp switch constantly monitors the coolant temp and activates the 5.9 Limited 75 AMP relays at the appropriate temperatures so the fan automatically turns on and off as needed. The B&M Supercooler keeps the transmission cool and completely bypasses the factory radiator cooler. The Jeep can run or idle on trails in 100+ degree weather with the AC on and never get hot, even on the fan’s low setting.
Transfer Case and Drive Shafts:
The Jeep originally came with a 249 transfer case which offers only all time all wheel drive and 4 low. After multiple issues with the case, even after a rebuild, the 249 was swapped out for a 242 which offers two wheel drive, all time all wheel, 4 part time, and 4 low. The 242 was pulled from a 97 ZJ which had a 96 case tag, so the swap was very straight forward. The only modification required was removing a small section of the output shaft to allow for full suspension flex – this will vary from vehicle to vehicle or may not be necessary for all applications. The case bolted to the transmission without any issues because the input shaft was identical to the one in the 249.
Trimming the output shaft of the 242 eventually caused several issues. The main issues were a bent output shaft and a terrible vibration at highway speeds. This was bound to happen when using a slip yoke with 7 inches of lift and 14 inches of suspension travel. The solution was to install a Tom Wood’s 242 HD slip yoke eliminator and custom rear drive shaft. The HD SYE kit completely replaces the factory output shaft with a much beefier u-joint yoke shaft and comes with a new tail cone assembly. There’s a video on the site of the install (search for “Tom”) which was pretty straight forward because you don’t even have to remove the case from the Jeep. The Tom Wood’s SYE and custom rear shaft cured all of the vibrations in the rear.
The front was also experiencing vibrations because the stock front drive shaft couldn’t handle the extreme angles of the lift height and suspension travel. The front shaft was bent and I often crushed stock shafts on rocks which damaged the slip making them unusable. The cure for the front was to install a Tom Wood’s multiple double cardan custom drive shaft. It uses a double cardan on both the axle side and the case side. This allows the shaft to work more efficiently at various speeds, even at extreme angles. The slip section is placed near the case instead of the axle to avoid rock damage. Just like the rear SYE and shaft, the Tom Wood’s multiple double cardan shaft cured all vibrations and any binding any the front.
5.2 V8 Engine Notes:
The motor is leak free and purring like a kitten thanks to Joel Gonzalez!!! The oil pan was dropped and the rear main bearing cap was removed because the two piece rear main seal was leaking. The rear main seal was replaced and a high volume (25% over stock) Melling oil pump was installed. The pan was resealed with a Fel-Pro one piece gasket. The timing chain had some slack in it so it was replaced along with new timing gears on the crankshaft and camshaft. A new timing cover was installed with a new front seal to replace the original timing cover which had a hole in it. The original harmonic balancer was cleaned up and reinstalled along with the original crankshaft pulley. A new water pump was installed with a new bypass hose to the intake manifold. The thermostat housing was replaced along with a new 180 thermostat and Fel-Pro gasket. A new tensioner was installed because the old one was nasty to say the least. The original broken EVAP canister, damaged by the front driver side tire, has been removed and replaced with a new relocated canister. A new power steering pump was also installed.
The motor also has an MSD external coil and had a K&N intake, but I removed the intake and reinstalled the factory air box.
The muffler seen and heard in previous videos was a Flowmaster 40 series cutoff before the rear axle, but the muffler has now been removed. I’m currently running a turn down tip straight off the fresh CA legal catalytic converter. The exhaust setup from catalytic converter to the engine is still stock.
Thanks to all of my sponsors!! Project ZJ wouldn’t be half of what it is without their support!! Thanks to my great friend and mechanic Joel Gonzalez for all of his hard work and dedication to Project ZJ. Thanks to Mario for selling me my first Jeep. Thanks to Nate and Mitch for the daily Jeep related and beer inspired texts, the custom steering, and the custom rock sliders. Thanks to Nate for the 5.9 Limited grill, the 5.9 Limited door panels, and the 5.9 Limited fan relays – that’s why they call him Niner Nate!! Thanks to Cody for the 5.9 Limited coolant switches and couplers. Thanks to Chad for the caster adjuster fix and making fun of my Dana 30. Thanks to Mark and Mike at All Muffler Service for their work on my exhaust and also for removing the stock lower control arm mounts in the front. Thanks to Rob at Les Schwab for all of the great advice and for doing my initial alignment. Thanks to Redline Tire for doing my final alignment and mounting and balancing my new tires. Thanks to all my loyal YouTube and Instagram subscribers/followers for their continued support and comments!! You’re all a part of Project ZJ!!