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Project SkyMiles | Front Bumper | Rocker Guards | 3.5" Lift | Rear Bumper | License Plate | CB Radio | Speakers | H4 Headlamps | Lockers/Gears | Add-a-Leafs | Phase II | Dana 44 | Ox Locker | Brake Hose/Cable | NP231HD T-Case | Klune-V | Gas Tank

By: Berkeley Johnston - 4/2000

Introduction

Project SkyMiles with its new MT/R tires.
The Johnston XJ... yearning for the trail.

I knew I had a project name when my American Express SkyMiles credit card stopped working. I had worn out the magnetic strip. Fortunately, it still works over the phone, and that's where I spend the most money these days... buying parts and upgrades for my 1990 Jeep Cherokee.

The goal is to have an enclosed 5-passenger vehicle that can tame the tough trails, but still retain on-road manners (a typical goal). The Cherokee meets our needs perfectly. We're a family of five and, if we coax him enough, we can even get the Newfoundland dog to jump into the back. We wanted a low cost-of-entry so that we would have plenty of money left for modifications. But we wanted it new enough so that we didn't inherit all the problems that come with any old machine.



From the time we bought the XJ in late 1999, we've spent lots of time and money getting it ready for big trails like we saw at Sierra Trek 2000. Starting with the Custom 4x4 Fabrication Front Winch Bumper, follow along with us as we build this Colorado Red XJ from a stock streeter to... to whatever it takes!

XJ Custom 4x4 Fabrication Bumper
Project SkyMiles starts off with a beefy new bumper from Custom 4x4 Fabrication. The Front Winch Bumper performs great and looks great, too.
XJ Custom 4x4 Rocker Guards
Project SkyMiles, a 1990 Cherokee XJ, gets rocker guard projection. Custom 4x4 Fabrication's Square Rocker Guards are built tough and look great.
XJ 3.5" Old Man Emu & TeraFlex Lift - Rear
Project SkyMiles gets a 3.5" lift using parts from Old Man Emu and TeraFlex. We'll start with the rear installation, then cover the front the following month, and finally add quick disconnects and address any side-effects encountered.
XJ 3.5" Old Man Emu & TeraFlexLift - Front
We started the Project SkyMiles 3.5" lift in the rear using parts from Old Man Emu and TeraFlex. Now we'll continue with part two... lifting the front. The OME/TeraFlex lift creates a well balanced lift that will allow the addition of bigger tires and get the XJ onto some very tough trails. In the following months, we'll add quick disconnects and address any side-effects encountered.
XJ TeraFlex Quick Disconnects
We lifted the Project SkyMiles Cherokee using parts from Old Man Emu and TeraFlex. Now to maximize our efforts, we'll add quick anti-sway bar disconnects. Disabling the anti-sway bar for off-road use will allow the axle to articulate, keeping the tires on the ground so that they can maintain traction.
XJ 3.5" Lift - Dealing with Side Effects
There are always side effects to deal with, even with a small project like our 3.5" Old Man Emu/TeraFlex lift on Project SkyMiles. Explore with us as we solve problems with vibration, fit and interference, breakage, and other issues.
Cherokee XJ Custom 4x4 Fabrication Rear Bumper
Project SkyMiles has bigger tires coming, so we get the tire out of the cabin and net a trail-tough bumper by installing a Custom 4x4 Fabrication Rear Bumper with Tire Carrier and Hi-Lift jack mounts.
Cherokee XJ Rear License Plate Relocation
Now that Project SkyMiles has a rear-mounted spare tire, the license plate is covered up. We improvise a new location for the plate and add a nifty light housing to keep things legal.
Cherokee XJ CB Radio Installation
Keep in touch with your friends on the trail. Project SkyMiles gets a CB radio and reveals some tips and tricks to installing the radio, and the more-important antenna, correctly.
Cherokee XJ Speaker Upgrade
I'm the last person who would spend money on car stereo equipment, but my kids couldn't even hear the books on tape at freeway speeds. To encourage further family 4-wheeling adventures, I needed a better sounding audio system.
IPF H4 Headlight Upgrade
I always wondered why guys would spend so much money on fancy replacement headlights. My long trip through the night to Moab convinced me they knew something I didn't. The IPF H4 headlamps make a huge difference.
ARB Lockers/Gears in a Dana 30/35 Cherokee XJ
How can my sleeper Cherokee with a baby 3.5" lift and tiny 31" tires keep up with the "real" Jeeps? My Secret Weapons are my two ARB differential lockers, front and rear. With two lockers, I go where everyone else goes. I'm dragging and scraping to be sure, but I get there!
OME Add-a-Leafs in the Cherokee XJ rear
About a year after installing the original Old Man Emu lift, the Cherokee is sagging. The rear leafs have settled an inch and the extra weight we're carrying now makes it worse. The solution is to insert lift blocks and/or an OME Add-a-Leaf into my existing spring pack, adding some lift and increasing the spring rate.
Project SkyMiles "Phase II"
Project SkyMiles "Phase II" is a combination of upgrades designed to strengthen the Cherokee XJ, make it more versatile, and position the Jeep for future upgrades. The main pillars of Phase II are the addition of a Klune-V 4:1 planetary underdrive and the switch to a Dana 44 rear axle. The upgrade was far from a simple two-step upgrade, however.
Cherokee XJ Dana 44 Axle Upgrade
Phase II of the Project SkyMiles Cherokee XJ starts with a stronger rear axle. There are many good choices to upgrade from the Dana 35 (almost anything!), and we explore a bunch of them. There are two stand-outs, however. The XJ Dana 44 and the Explorer Ford 8.8" have the right features for a painless upgrade.
Ox Locker Install in a Cherokee XJ Dana 44
Phase II of the Project SkyMiles Cherokee XJ continues with the installation of the new OX Locker in the Dana 44 rear axle. The OX works great, and like a spool it's completely predictable. The OX Locker makes 4-wheeling fun!
X-Line Winch Line Replacement from OffRoadOnly
X-Line winch replacement rope, strong and light, is a totally new kind of synthetic cable substitute from OffRoadOnly. X-Line's superior heat resistance finally eliminates the Achilles' Heel of the new-generation of recovery ropes. Say goodbye to the dangers of steel winch cable!
XJ Cherokee Rear Brake Hose and E-brake Cable Extension
The taller lift was literally stretching the limits of my XJ's rear brake hose and e-brake cables. Not good! Replacing the Cherokee's cables and hose is a must with taller lifts. Fortunately, stock YJ Wrangler parts fit nicely and the upgrade to longer pieces was not difficult. Longer brake pieces give no-break peace.
NP231 Transfer Case Upgrade to NP231HD w/JB SYE
My new NP231HD/DHD is a zero-mile unit manufactured for Dodge trucks. It came from New Venture Gear through JB Conversions who added their short shaft kit (SYE) and converted the shift sector from Dodge to Jeep. The Heavy Duty designation is because of the large syncro hub and wider chain. In addition, JB Conversions replaced the stock 3-gear input pinion to the stronger 6-gear pinion. This new NP231 transfer case is the strongest it will ever be, and makes an easy upgrade for many Jeeps.
Klune-V Extreme Underdrive 4:1 "David" in a Cherokee XJ
Installation of a Klune-V Extreme Underdrive 4:1 "David" planetary crawler in a Cherokee XJ.
NWMP 32-Gallon Replacement Gas Tank in a Cherokee XJ
Five gallon Jerry cans are a common accessory on Jeeps. I don't have the room for an extra can on my Cherokee XJ, but I still want the reserve fuel. With a new Northwest Metal Products 32-gallon replacement gas tank from Rocky Road Outfitters, I can carry three extra cans of gas!
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