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billzcat1 05-15-2011 11:17 PM

The Billzcat1 Build Thread
I guess it's time for a build thread...

I bought a ZJ 3 years ago just as a "get me around in the winter" and "get me up to the pass" rig. Before that, I was not into Jeeps at all. The ZJ worked out so well, that when I was getting REALLY tired of my DD (a horribly expensive-to-maintain BMW) I said "What if my ZJ was a little nicer? What if the A/C worked? What if it had more power?" So, the WJ came to mind!

I like the Grand Cherokees. Yeah, a wagon driver! I like that you can fit a ton of stuff inside, that you stay dry, its not so easy to break in as a Wrangler, and they are pretty darn comfortable. The WJs were the last Grand Cherokee to have solid axles front and rear, so obvious choice there! I opted for the Overland model, which not only has all the luxury goodies but also all the off-road goodies too. I picked up a 2003 specifically because it has the most-common front end (they facelifted in 04) so replacement parts are easier to come by if there's some damage. Also, 2003 has the LATCH system which is really important for me for the car well as having a few extra strong places to strap gear down to! :P

This WJ was kind of a spur-of-the-moment deal. I was originally looking at an almost-identical WJ only with Upcountry, Hammerhead wheels, and no RB1. That deal fell through because they wouldn't work with me on my trade-in. After that deal fell through I came home discouraged because I had missed out on a couple great WJs that were sold out from under me as well. But I had a crazy idea and searched the local Jeep dealer and they had this one. I bought it not 4 hours after leaving the other dealer who wouldn't make a deal. It had the Rogue Chrome wheels added by the first owner as Mopar Accessories as well as the RB1. I never got the RB1 to work correctly for navigation, but I don't think I'm missing much in a 9 year old nav system.

I transferred over some of my accessories from the ZJ, such as the Midland CB radio, MV-50 air compressor, 400W inverter. I started with a Garmin Nuvi 205 nav but I found it lacking off-road. I have since upgraded to a Nuvi 500 nav which is a little better and does have TOPO built in, but it's really a multi-purpose Nav, not a dedicated off-road nav like the 60CSX. I also ditched the home-made rear D-ring and added a Smittybilt D-ring receiver in the hitch which is a really nice unit. I like that the base is cast, not welded tube. It's heavy with tons of material there.

Some early/stock pics:

Just brought 'er home last August

New tires and bedlined rock rails

One of my favorite pics when stock. This was loaded down for wheeling + camping plus sagging. It looks lowered! Definitely station-wagon-esque.

Another favorite when stock

billzcat1 05-15-2011 11:18 PM

I took my ZJ wheeling a few times stock in 2010, so I knew a bit of what I was getting into. My ZJ wound up with a bent tie rod, munched front bumper, a few rocker dents, and a leaking differential cover. I was wheeling it totally stock with good ATs and doing mild/medium trails. I also knew it was very prone to dragging the transfer case and hitch. Before I did anything serious, I decided the WJ needed a lift.

In January, I decided to do a 2" lift and made a big thread about it in the WJ Tech forum to clear up some questions about the 2" spring lift. You can find that thread here:

One major determination I made was that the OE spring isolators were completely shot and this was the cause of the saggy WJ appearance. I recommend to EVERYONE that they replace spring isolators with a lift. There's no sense in installing a lift over stock broken parts.

The lift I went with is the 2" BDS spring set from Fat Bob's Garage and Bilstein 5100 shocks from Kolak. I eventually decided to add a 3/4" spacer up front to help level things out and I am glad I did because I later installed a front hitch and multi-mount winch and the suspension squishes down a little with the added weight. When I added the spacers, I also added JKS Quicker Disconnects because when I wheeled at The Slab (an ORV "area"), I couldn't get one of the OE sway bar links off without really crawling around in the dirt. No problem in the garage, not as fun in the dirt.

Adding to the suspension, I recently added in a JKS track bar since usually around 3" is where the track bar is needed to re-center the axle. I also added a JKS tie rod and Riddler differential cover for added front end protection. I got a new camera for some of these pictures and it really sucked, so I apologize for the slight fuzziness. I took it back today and got a much better camera, so no more blurry pics going forward.

Some pics!

Stock height:

2" Lift + Bilsteins

Adding 3/4" spacers and JKS QDs

Riddler Differential Cover (although I used a Lubelocker, not the RTV)

Painted and installed

Clearance on OEM tie rod

JKS Tie Rod installed

JKS Track Bar installed

Flexing in my driveway with the new parts installed.

billzcat1 05-15-2011 11:18 PM

So with the summer coming up and my preference for small-group wheeling, I decided I should get a winch. We also go camping and hit FS roads and I wanted a little insurance in case I get stuck and there's no easy recovery to be had.

Problem: All the winch bumpers for the WJ are expensive, huge, and heavy. There's only a few I like and I just couldn't shell out a G to get a steel bumper PLUS buy a winch and wiring. Those Wrangler guys sure have the advantage on this one! Oddly enough, the cheapest way to mount a winch on the WJ is to make it a portable/multi-mount winch. I had originally planned on picking up a junkyard hitch and having a buddy customize it to fit the WJ. With the way work was going for the both of us, it wasn't going to happen any time soon so I picked up the Warn front hitch, Harbor Freight mount, and a Smittybilt XRC8. To make connection quick and easy, I added quick connects and wired it up with 2ga wiring from a local marine/auto wiring supplier.

Again, sorry for the crappy pics, this was with that terrible camera I got rid of.

Convert battery to marine terminals to make connection easier/better.

Wiring harness on rig:

Warn hitch installed. Unfortunately you have to remove the front skid to make the Warn hitch fit.

Trimming is required! For one, there is no way to insert/remove the hitch pin and for two the bumper won't go on all the way.

Wiring harness wrapped in friction tape to prevent abrasion.

Side profile

billzcat1 05-15-2011 11:19 PM

Unfortunately since I purchased in August, I wasn't "ready to wheel" (maintenance done, good tires) until November and most everything was closed for the winter.

Some road into nowhere in Entiat-Chelan

Airing down at The Slab

Mirror shot

The next day - an overland journey... too bad there were only two of us, no one really taking pics of the action.

My buddy's Disco 1

Melty ice is no fun on the downhill.

A snowy camping trip. Too snowy, actually.

billzcat1 05-15-2011 11:20 PM

Placeholder 4: ???

compcrasher86 05-16-2011 10:35 PM

Very nice I like the progress your Jeep has made. Its basically the model for me to build mine off of right now lol. That pic with your WJ coming to the crest of the hill is awesome too btw

billzcat1 05-16-2011 10:43 PM

It's not perfect, not "done" but it is getting pretty close. I would like to be on 31s but I'm stuck with the 30s for now.

SnowLeopard 05-16-2011 10:45 PM

That's just beautiful. I love what you've done with your Jeep. Just the subtle touches. Is the front fascia something you did yourself, the black paint to off-set that area? I like that a lot. That silver is an awesome color, also. I like the slight lift while maintaining road-handling and comfort. How do you like the Goodyear Silent Armor? I almost got some, but the Hankooks were quite a bit cheaper at the time. So far so good with them. They're tough and haven't had an issue in the 1 year + I've had them.

compcrasher86 05-16-2011 10:48 PM


Originally Posted by billzcat1 (Post 11554211)
It's not perfect, not "done" but it is getting pretty close. I would like to be on 31s but I'm stuck with the 30s for now.

How much do your tires stuff? I was told 265x65x17s would fit with very minor trimming, trying to figure out what I can run without messin with the bumper noticeably

narnwv 05-16-2011 11:00 PM


billzcat1 05-16-2011 11:17 PM

I can stuff them pretty far into the fenders. I was thinking wider but I'm one of those types that wants to keep their spare in the spare tire well so when the time comes, I'll be getting 245/70-17.

As for the Silent Armors, I like them. They aren't as silent as their name would imply, but they have treated me pretty well in every condition. I ran aired down on heavy snow on the street and climbed some crazy unplowed hills. Off-road I haven't had any issues with chunking, flats, popped beads, anything. Of course they aren't phenomenal in mud, but I'm not a big mud guy.

The fascia is just the stock Overland piece trimmed to fit the Warn front hitch. They are stock with grey textured plastic in the center so that it doesn't scratch as easily when you run over really light stuff like grass, sage brush, etc. I wanted to bedline black it to match the rock rails but the masking was going to be a real PITA so I put off that project.

WillMcD 05-17-2011 05:53 PM

Looks nice man. Still waiting on the funds for those shafts. I will be getting with you soon about them.

billzcat1 05-17-2011 06:15 PM

Funds for the shafts? I'm afraid I don't follow.

WillMcD 05-17-2011 06:19 PM

Aw eff. Wrong cat haha. I was thinking planetcat not billzcat. Sorry about that.

billzcat1 05-17-2011 08:02 PM

LOL no prob.

The time now is 08:27 PM.

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