OverLanding: part – 4

What Vehicle he picked and why


Now that you’re educated about the options out there for a Overland setup. We’re going to get into Our personal pick to build. We will cover a lot of things that we thought over too. So lets dive in.

To start I took a long look back at what I’ve owned, how I used(beat) it, places I’ve gone, places I want to go, easy of repair, available parts, ride comfort and build quality when new. So what kind of vehicles have I had that took us on Adventures/Overland?

  • Jeep Cherokee XJs- 87′-97’s (17 of these in total)
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJs – 94′, 98′, & 97′
  • Jeep Wrangler – 94′ YJ, 15’JKU & 16’JKR
  • Suzuki Samurai – 87′
  • Geo Tracker / Suzuki SideKick – ’95
  • Suzuki Grand Vitra XL7 – ’98 (My wife’s)

In looking for the currant build some of the above got considered. Until my wife’ accident in October we would have built the 16’JKR even though not the best choice. (We’ll get into that later). If you’ve been following this Blog long enough. You know that my wife in a wreck that both freed up funds and killed our 2016 2 door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. This was bought when we hadn’t planned for a OverLand build. So it had the roots but not the needs. It wasn’t that great on long drives, lacked space to sleep inside.

So what on that list made our cut when we started shopping? Jeep Cherokee’s, Jeep Grand Cherokee’s and the Suzuki GV XL-7 all made our shopping list. Why? Size was #1 they all have enough space to sleep us both inside comfortable, yet small enough to go about anywhere I point them. They all offer good transfer case options. I wanted/needed a 2WD, 4WD and Low Range Option. Also the vehicle needed to be a quick/simple setup to flat tow in the future. I also looked for something that could fit a 31-33 inch tire with simple lift/modes. Why? Because we love being off the beaten path and seek the “less often traveled paths”. Aftermarket selection of parts for all these rigs is out there. But being a DIYer that wasn’t as important. Price point also came into play as our purchase budget was a mild $1600.

Now the XL-7 was on the list mainly for size. Good space inside, but the IFS was it’s only down side. In the end they are harder to find here in Michigan so I never really hunted for one.

The Jeeps on our list came from previous builds and knowledge. Both Jeep Cherokee XJ’s and Grand Cherokee ZJs have solid front and rear axles, 2wd, 4WD and Lower range T-cases. Are relatively simple and cheap to lift. Are the same width and within a few inches length wise. And it helps that I’ve built more than a few of them. I was also looking for a Jeep with a 4.0L inline 6 with a Auto transmission. The 4.0L won’t win any sped race but when it comes to reliability and easy to work on, it can’t be beat. I also knew looking for either of these 2 that there are “known” issues with rocker panel rot that would need fixed. Both these Jeeps have Dana 30 front axles. XJs High Pinion and Low Pinion. ZJ’s are all Low Pinion. Both Jeeps have Dana 35 rear axles. There are 2 other axles in XJ rears too Dana 44 (rare) and 2 versions of the Chrysler 8.25. ZJ’s if a V8 also got a HD Dana 44 (very limited aftermarket support). What does this all mean/show? I know my vehicle options.

See when looking for a build base. Knowing what the pluses and minuses are helps lots. And that in part was why I stuck to what I know.

I guess we’ll now dive into what we were looking for OUT of our choice. We wanted:

  • Comfort
  • Good Road manners
  • Go anywhere
  • Space
  • Reliability
  • Easy of repair
  • Mid-Size
  • Solid axles (front and rear)
  • Easy to clear a 31-33″ tire
  • Real Transfer Case
  • Simple to Flat tow

Comfort and Good Road manners: I’ll put these 2 together. See Comfort is more of my wife’s need/want. Road manners is both of us. We wanted a do all well, but still drive coast to coast in comfort vehicle. Heat, air conditioning were important too being this will get used daily.

Go anywhere: Well this one is relative to your own ideas. Mine is I love to explore. Be it woods, hills, desert, forest, old roads or just about anywhere. I just want to get out and go.

Space: For us, space ment room for my wife, me, our dog and camp gear. It was also added that room for 2 extra adults incase we want to share our adventures with another couple was important too.

Reliability & Easy of repair: These are another 2 that go hand in hand. I want to know when I hit that key it will start every time. And that when it breaks I can fix it with relative ease.

Mid-Size: This has more to do with where we life to explore. I class the JKU as Full-Size and never really fit our needs. We like narrow trails so a smaller package was a need.

Solid axles (front and rear): Simple, strong, reliable and simple to lift. It really is for us less moving parts to get the job done. This one comes from years of being a wheeler.

Easy to clear a 31-33″ tire: I need ground clearance for those muddy trails and snow days. And didn’t want a monster truck lift to do it.

Real Transfer Case: I wanted a stick in the floor not some button to push. If it fails I can get out and under it and shift the range by hand. They also happen to be stronger in most cases.

Simple to Flat tow: This is Cause we’ll be building a Bus to be a home on wheels. And will be towing the Jeep behind it.

So what did we get and why? We bought a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. It has the 4.0L inline 6 with a Auto trans, backed by a NP242 T-case (2wd, Part time 4WD, Full Time 4WD and Low Range). Dana 30 front and Dana 35 rear axles. It was bought completely stock so for us it’s a blank canvas. I did hit a deer after only having it a month. So that had to be fixed. What’s our plan for it?:

  • Lift it 2-3.5″ with all new suspension parts
  • 265/75R16 tires
  • Steel bumpers with rear tire carrier and 2 jerry cans
  • winch
  • several LED lights for night adventures
  • CB
  • Paint the whole thing
  • RTT
  • Re-gear to 4.10s and Tru-Trax

The details of each item is not yet in stone. As this started with wanting aftermarket wheels but we got a deal on Rubicon take offs. And right now I have a growing pile of parts that are waiting on Spring.

Well until next time stay Blessed and Keep on A.G.Eing!!

Project Redemption – Our 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

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