Words: Scott G
When setting out to build a trail worthy rig, so many things go through your mind. What do you expect from the rig? What do you plan to do with it? What budget do you have to work with? These are all extremely important things to consider when selecting the donor vehicle. However, just know that no matter what you plan for, there will be extras needed, to include the expectations, plans, and budget. Building a 4×4 vehicle to go deep into the elements is not an easy task, and like most things in life, you get what you pay for. This means you have to outfit your choice with the best components available within your budget that will allow you to attain your goals.
This is not at all unlike developing the new SCX10, as all of the same parameters are considered, to include performance expectations and budget restraints. Not budget restraints for development, but budget restraints of our fans and customers. We often read the forums and see what people would like to see in the Axial vehicles. We are forced to make some difficult decisions when finalizing the package, as we want to include the world with these rigs, but also don’t want to ask for $699 for an RTR to get in the game. It is like that with all Axial products, so we do our best to aim for the sweet spot, enough features to perform at the top level, with a reasonable price tag. This is not an easy task. We are faced with the same decisions when building a full size rig. Do we want a supercharged V8, 1000 minimum on the RTI ramp, seating for 4, bulletproof axles? Of course we do, but the budget doesn’t allow for all of them, so we settle for what we can and have a blast doing it.
One of the most common things we read is…. “Oh no, not another Jeep vehicle”, well, I am here to tell you that most of us are Jeep people, so get over it. The Jeep brand is synonymous with the art of back country exploration with extreme reliability, exactly what we strive for with our little brand. It is a perfect marriage and we are happy.
When looking into new options for the new SCX10, we did what all outdoor enthusiasts do, we went into the woods to think about it, to do a little research. We were checking out all the rigs out on the trail and noticed that the XJ was a very popular rig for the most hardcore wheeler and for family back road exploration. We saw XJ’s that were exo-caged on 40′s all the way to bone stock 4×4′s loaded with the whole family and dog. This platform was exactly what we were looking for. It is one of the most popular 4×4 vehicles ever built, with millions of them on the road. Some say that Jeep actually invented the SUV with this release. It was not adapted right away for off-road use, as the old guard (Read: Wrangler, CJ5 and CJ7 owners) looked down upon these Jeeps, calling them cars with big tires, and promptly showing their owners the direction toward the nearest shopping mall or soccer field.
Some XJ inspiration we found on YouTube…
I personally had this experience with my 1993 Jeep grand Cherokee, I was given directions to the soccer field, immediately preceding my climbing an extremely nasty Granite rock face on Los Coyotes Indian reservation back in 1996. The CJ owners immediately began to bicker and argue that the other should climb it. Neither one did, nor did they express themselves again to me on the trail. They learned that day that a Unitized chassis wasn’t the end of the world, and that coil springs are like magic. The Cherokee (XJ) shared the same front suspension with the ZJ, though the XJ had leaf springs in the back, something the Jeep guys were used to back then. Any of the XJ’s and ZJ’s on the trail were hand built, as there were very few aftermarket components available with the exception of suspension which was primarily available to fit larger tires. We told some of our JK friends about our XJ desires and they immediately started flowing some memes our way, most of which we cant publish, but here are a few gems that made us laugh…
Thanks for the support guys…sheesh.
Fast forward 20 years, and these old grocery getters, mall crawlers or soccer field shuttlers are now extremely common to find on the trail. The off-road community has more than accepted them and many aftermarket companies now make a decent living supporting them. The hard part, finding a clean one-owner version with no rust and low miles, kind of like finding a Unicorn. One of Axial’s more predominant partners, Currie Enterprises, was at the forefront of developing suspension for these rigs so that they could be raced in a desert series called Jeep Speed back in the day. We consulted the Currie family and were introduced to Matt Chapman, the owner of the Cherokee that we based our SCX10XJ off of. As we have done in the past, we like to build the full size version of our scale rigs (see here…) to go out and experience what they can do, and stay on the forefront with regards to what the community is doing. At this time, Matt’s Cherokee was bone stock, as it had just been purchased and not modified yet. We elected to team with Matt and the Currie’s in effort to help develop the Full size XJ into an awesome trail machine all the while developing and testing our SCX10 II in tandem.
Here is a shot of Matt’s XJ when he got it, no rust with 150K miles…
After a good amount of research, we started to compile a list of necessities. We knew the rig had to be able to go with 4 door JK’s on 37′s, as most of Matt’s friends were rolling newer JK’s. We needed at least 35″ tires. Fitting 35′s under the Cherokee would require some proper fender flares and keeps the cops in Moab at bay. Notch Customs said “35″ tires with a 4″ lift, some welding required”. Currie makes a great suspension system for the XJ as well as their bulletproof Rock Jock 44 axles, and you know we love the performance of Icon Shocks. So, what we really needed was some armor. We looked long and hard at so many companies making XJ parts, and there is some awesome stuff out there. Russ at Notch Customs introduced us to JCR Off-Road, who ended up having one of the most complete armor systems available. Then we needed some lighting, the natural choice was Rigid powered by sPOD. Almost forgot wheels and tires. In effort to make the full size version look more like the RC, we elected to run a 35X12.50X17 BFG KO2 All Terrain wrapped around Method Mesh wheels. The 17″ wheel looks closer to a 1.9 than a 15″ wheel. Of course we needed some nice tone out of the 4.0 straight 6, so the XJ would need a Magnaflow exhaust. We had some details to sort but the main wish list was assembled!
First things first, the rig had to be made as reliable as possible by going through everything mechanical. We changed all the fluids, belts, hoses, pretty much everything we could to ensure reliability.
So, building a full size rig is just like building a scaler, get the base kit, then select all the options you wish to install. Here is our list!
2000 Jeep Cherokee XJ Parts list:
Currie Rock Jock 44 front high pinion axle with 4:56 gears
Currie Rock Jock 44 rear axle with 4:56 gears
Currie Rock Jock 4.5″ suspension system
Currie Antirock Sway bar system
EATON E-Locker rear, Detroit Locker front
JCR Vanguard Front winch bumper – No stinger
JCR Rear Bumper – tire carrier ready
JCR XJ Classic sliders
JCR Transfer case skid plate
JCR Gas tank skid plate
JCR Adventure roof rack
Notch Customs fender flares
Rigid 50″ E-Series LED bar
Rigid Dually x2 (front and rear bumper)
PSC Ram assist kit – steering
ICON Vehicle Dynamics 2.0 Aluminum shocks
sPOD – Source with Bluetooth control
17X9 Method Wheels – Mesh (5)
35X12.50X17 BFGoodrick KO2 All Terrain tires (5)
Before we started the build process, Jamie Seymour, Axial’s R&D Industrial Designer and resident rendering expert whipped up this drawing for us to envision the build…
Stay tuned as we add more of this story in the coming weeks……