We picked up a '97 model with just over 200,000km on it for CAD$4500. It was a decent price but not a great price. The fact that it was extremely clean inside won us over. It also had a 4" Rough Country lift and 32" BFG AT tires, alarm, and a 2" receiver hitch. It also has the Selec-trac NP242 transfer case. The NP242 is usually a nice-to-have feature, but since the front axle will have a Detroit locker in it, the full-time 4x4 feature of this t-case will be virtually useless to us.
On the downside, it has an oil leak, a non-functioning air conditioning system, and a dent in the lift gate.
The word, "extreme" and "Project XJ" will never be used together. Well, except in just this one instance. But after that, never again! Project XJ is all about embracing the "jack of all trades and master of none" philosophy. We don't see that as a bad thing. Multi-purpose tools, like a Swiss Army knife, can be very useful even if they don't excel in any one area. In fact, were it not for the fact that it doesn't roll off the tongue, and the fear of copyright infringement lawsuits, we would have called this "Project Swiss Army Knife."
Versatility will be a key consideration in every decision we make during this build. Basically, we are going to make it as off-road capable as we can while retaining the ability to carry four people and their camping gear, and to to safely tow a trailer. This means we won't have the luxury of deleting the rear bench seat, mounting huge air tanks in the back, or bolting tool boxes or coolers to the floor. The seats must be available to carry people. The cargo area must be available to carry cargo. Gear that doesn't absolutely have to go inside the vehicle will be stowed on a roof rack or mounted to the front or rear bumpers.
Project XJ could be used to hit some hardcore trails one weekend, and then pull a toy trailer filled with ATVs or Sea-doos the next. It could haul several week's worth of camping gear for two people, or carry a family of four and pull a tent trailer. In other words, it would earn its keep. It won't be an expensive toy that can only be used for rockcrawling.
It would need to be capable enough to tackle any trail we encounter, and reliable enough that we don't break down in the middle of the woods. While we will be making it capable of tackling hardcore trails, we will be drawing the line at trails where body damage is a high risk. That would bring us into the realm of exo cages or internal cages and that would mean more weight placed higher up, which would mean reduced stability. So, just to be clear, we'll be taking it on technically challenging trails, but we won't be smashing the crap out of it. A 4x4 that is obviously beat to hell will draw all sorts of unwanted attention from the types of authorities who enjoy handing out things like vehicle inspection notices. We don't want that. We just want to have fun without getting hassled.
Here's a real-world reference: this XJ will be able to breeze through trail networks like the Rubicon and Moab, but we'll avoid the super narrow and off-camber local trails where we frequently find ourselves pivoting around trees by leaning into them with our roll cages.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I like to believe I've learned a lot from my many years in the fourwheeling game. With Project XJ, I want to avoid that popular mistake known as "buying things twice." A great example of this folly is when your typical newbie fourwheeler buys a 2" lift and and 31" tires, and then a year later decides that he really need 4" of lift and 33" tires. So the original lift and tires gets tossed out and the new lift and tires are bought. Then, the following year, he buys a limited slip for the rear, so that he retains street handling but gets improved off-road traction. One more year later, he realizes that limited slips are a hoax perpetrated by the differential companies, and buys a locking differential, instead. Finally, he's set for life. Except that he would really like some taller tires, so he moves up to 35's. To turn those tires, he has the diffs re-geared. Now he's really setup just right. But then he starts breaking drivetrain parts. Time for bigger axles...that are geared for those bigger tires...and of course he'll also need a locker or two...again. So instead of coughing up the cash for the big axles, locking diffs, diff gears, and 35" tires and the very start of his build, he first spent his money on two sets of tires, one limited slip, a locker, and re-gearing two axles.
I understand why that happens. Newbies generally don't know where they want to end up and they're very concerned about money and retaining street friendly manners when they start out. It's only after you've been 'wheeling for a few years that you have a well-defined area of what kind of 'wheeling you want to do. I've put in my years and now I know what we'll need for the next several years.
The first phase covers the basics that all fourwheelers should have, no matter how mild or wild their vehicle will be.
With Phase 1 complete, we will be able to explore the majority of dirt trails with a comfortable degree of safety. Fourwheelers who want a safe and reliable way to explore the woods should follow our build-up to this point.
This phase is concerned with making our XJ capable of handling hardcore trails.
Once Phase 2 is complete, we'll be able to do all of the trails we've done with Project YJ except for the ones with guaranteed roof damage. These off-road performance mods will also let us explore dirt roads earlier and later in the season, when mud and snow would have stopped us in Phase 1.
Best of all, the XJ will be street legal, or at least look like it is. The wider (width and height) fender flares will properly cover the larger tires and reduce the amount of lift required to fit them. Staun's internal beadlocks will give us the benefits of running super low tire pressures when needed, while being 100% street legal, unlock beadlock rims. The XJ should still be low enough that we can safely tow a trailer at highway speeds.
Ok, so we lied...we might do more. If we end up doing harder trails than we planned, an NP241 Roc-trac 4:1 transfer case from a Rubicon will probably find its way under the XJ. But at this point, we're not sure it's required. Sure, the Teralow 4:1 t-case gears made a strong performance improvement in Project YJ, but it had the TF999 transmission and 4.10 diff gears. Not particularly low transmission/diff gearing combination to begin with. In contrast, Project XJ has the excellent AW-4 transmission with a lower 1st gear and a taller Drive gear, as well as 4.88 diff gears. So it's very likely that the factory transfer case gearing ratio of 2.72:1 will be fine for the XJ.
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