Hardcore Jeep owners who get a kick out of crawling over difficult terrain, are notorious for scouring junk yards to find heavy-duty drivetrain components that can be cut, welded and somehow adapted to beef-up their older model Jeeps. This is done to minimize the tendency to break factory parts that were never intended to be abused while climbing over extreme obstacles.
While in the recent past, it’s been more difficult to find used parts that could be used on some early and later model Jeeps, the growing popularity of 2007 to present model Jeep JK Wrangler owners, are adding a wealth of spare parts for those looking to upgrade their older vehicles.
For guys like Chris Faustmann, the growing number of JK owners who are swapping out their drivetrain components for heavy-duty aftermarket pieces, offered an opportunity for him to inexpensively upgrade his Jeep Cherokee. Faustmann handles research and development for OR-Fab, a Jeep accessories company, and found that many of the original equipment Jeep JK axles, brakes and other components could be easily adapted to the older Cherokee’s like his. The end result was a custom vehicle that has a wider stance, outperforms the most well outfitted Wrangler on the trail, and simply looks pretty impressive just sitting still.
Building this off-road masterpiece, however, was not as easy as it appears. Faustmann had to create several new brackets and use a variety of aftermarket components to make the Cherokee look and perform to his expectations. Incorporating a set of used JK Wrangler 30-spline axles, locking differential and disc brake system into an aftermarket Dynatrac Pro-Rock 44 front housing, gives the Cherokee a much stronger and wider stance, (five-inches). It also gives the vehicle improved agility and stopping power over its original compnents, to better handle large obstacles on the trail.
Faustmann also ditched the Cherokee’s original shock mounts and coil springs for a new coil-over suspension system. This meant welding on new perches and shock mounts to the Dynatrac housing to accommodate the Fox Racing 12-inch reservoir coil-over shocks that utilize dual Eibach springs. New shock mounts and adjustable bump stops were also fabricated to compensate for the greater ride height, which allows the Cherokee to use a set of 37×12.5×17-inch Goodyear MTR tires, mounted on Raceline beadlock wheels. A PSC hydraulic ram assist system gives precise steering control and a Viair Extreme onboard air compressor ensures that it’s easy to quickly air the tires back up when the Cherokee gets back onto the pavement.
Faustmann also adapted a Rock Krawler tri-link front control arm kit and connected them to the frame with some new mounts. At the rear, the Cherokee also uses a stock Jeep JK Wrangler rear axle, that’s been upgraded with Superior Axle’s new Evo Shafts, 5:38 gears, an ARB air-locker and a Dynatrac cast iron cover. The factory transfer case was also upgraded to use a new Atlas II unit, which gives the vehicle a 4.3:1 ratio for superior crawling abilities and added strength.
Because the Cherokee is used on extreme rock crawling trails, it;s outfitted with a variety of OR-Fab Jeep accessories. These include body armor for the rear quarter panels, as well as heavy-duty rock slider rails that protects the vehicle’s rocker panels and chassis. The Cherokee also sports an OR-Fab modular front bumper that features a grille guard, and winch fairlead for a Warn winch. The rear of the Cherokee is also protected with an OR-Fab rear bumper that wraps around to the bottom of the quarter panels to provide added protection. To keep the interior clean and maintain usable space for gear and passengers, Faustmann mounted his Hi-Lift jack and spare tire on top of a Gobi roof rack, along with a set of KC Highlights off-road lights.
The JK drivetrain conversion gives the Cherokee better traction and incredible stability over difficult terrain. The improved stance and footing makes the ride much smoother, eliminating the top-heavy feeling that Cherokees are well known for. The Jeep articulates incredibly well over extremely large obstacles that would normally be a barrier for the average Cherokee, and the factory 4.0 liter engine has more than enough power to pull the Jeep wherever it needs to go.
Faustmann’s Jeep has sparked a renewed interest with other Cherokee owners who want to make these same modifications on their Jeeps. With an abundance of factory Jeep JK Wrangler parts available, you can bet there will be more Cherokee’s using them to improve their rock crawling abilities.