Project Master 'Kee: '89 Jeep Cherokee Build, Part 3

Aug. 29, 2011 By Jim Brightly
After months resting on jackstands, Master ‘Kee is back to being a rolling chassis. And it looks awesome on its Goodyear MT/R tires.

As we mentioned in the second step of our build, Master ‘Kee is a play on the words “Cherokee” and “master” of the Arizona trails. Our theme and final goal of the project is building the ultimate camera car—a four wheeler that can cover any off-road event, ease over any trail this side of the Hammers, and comfortably prerun any off-road race.

Master ‘Kee 89 XJ Cherokee Build:

Part 2

Part 1

Before mounting the tire, make sure the beadlock ring matches the wheel.

Even though the Raceline polished aluminum Desert Monster one-piece Beadlock Wheel is a 17-in x 9.5-in wheel, we ordered it with a 5-on-5.5-inch lug pattern so that it’ll fit more Jeep models.

The massive Goodyear Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar 12.50x35 tire has extra lugs molded along the sidewall to increase traction off-road.

This is an outline of what we’re planning. We’re using a 1989 Cherokee XJ model because it’s an extremely capable vehicle right out of the Jeep box. The XJ we’re using is equipped with the 4.0-liter in-line EFI six-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. It has a Dana 30 front differential and an AMC Model 35 rear differential. Plus, because XJ prices are coming down they’re becoming very popular with first-time four-wheelers. How do I know this? My Jeep Creep question-and-answer column receives more Cherokee technical questions each month than questions about any other models.

While the Wrangler MT/R tires are not unidirectional, they designed for the sidewall with the lettering to always be mounted on the outside.

Although tires can be mounted on beadlock wheels much easier than the usual wheels, the inside sidewalls still must be in place before bolting on the beadlock rings.

The tire and wheel are mated correctly and are ready for the beadlock ring. We found that with the Goodyear MT/R tire’s thick sidewall, we needed longer grade 8 bolts for the ring.

Start the bolts all around the rim in every fifth hole to align all surfaces before adding all the bolts. Install the bolts with washers semi-tight before the final tightening.

Once all the bolts are installed and partially tightened, go around the entire circumference with a torque wrench.

All bolts are torqued, air pressure is correct, and the tire/wheel assembly is ready for Master ‘Kee.

This is a multi-part series of articles, which are all aimed at first-timers—folks who haven’t rebuilt a four wheeler before—to show them what can be accomplished on a used Jeep. I want to mention here that similar products to those being used in this series can also be installed on any other type of Jeep—or any other four wheeler—only the specific installation instructions may differ slightly.

Always support your Jeep safely. The rear differential is removed, and the rear leaf springs are partially removed.

Using the Skyjacker instructions, begin removing the front differential and suspension components.

All the suspension components are removed from both ends. This Cherokee has already been stripped of door handles, mirrors, grille, etc. in preparation for its new paint.

I’m also taking this time to thank all our sponsors. I’ll be listing all their websites at the end of each segment—even if their products don’t happen to appear in that segment. While I’ll be listing all the individual company’s websites, virtually all the products used on Master ‘Kee are available from 4-Wheel Hardware (, which worked quite closely with us on this project. 4WD has one of the most extensive catalogs of four-wheel-drive products in the industry.

This is how the Dana 30 looked before it was rebuilt, see Part 2 of the build.

The AMC Model 35 differential didn’t look much better. Both housings will receive trusses before hitting the trails to strengthen the axle tubes.

This multi-article series will continue next month in Segment #4 with the building and installation of the roll cage. Attached to the roll cage are the Bestop seats and the Garvin Wilderness roof rack. However, this month we’ll install the 6-inch Skyjacker lift kit, mount the 12.50x35 Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar tires on the Raceline beadlock wheels, and end up with a rolling chassis. All of the work is being done by the Rock Lizard Shop of Kingman, Arizona.

Project Master ‘Kee Sponsors:
4-Wheel Hardware (
ARB Air Lockers (
Bestop Products (
Cobra Electronics (
DJ Safety (
G2 Performance (
Garmin nuvi 1450 (
Garvin Wilderness Products (
Goodyear Tires (
Hella (
Raceline Wheels (
Ramsey Winches (
Skyjacker Products (
Sylvania (
Viair (

Skyjacker’s new, stronger rear leaf spring is ready for installation. New springs and shock absorbers are all that are needed to lift the Cherokee’s rear.

Quite a few more components are needed to lift the front of the Cherokee. Everything needed is included in the Skyjacker kit no. JC60.

Nearly half again taller than the OEM spring, Skyjacker’s coil springs are also made from stronger steel.

Fasten the sub-frame to the original lower arm mount, and then install the upper and lower control arms.

Install the included extended Pitman arm to the steering gearbox.

Another view showing how the control arms are attached to the sub-frame, and how the assembly mates to the existing Cherokee hardware.

We’re also installing a Skyjacker short shaft fixed yoke kit into the rear of the transfer case to reduce driveshaft angle. The kit includes a 1310 series constant velocity U-joint, a cast tailhousing, main output shaft, rear seal, bearing, and speedometer gear.

The coil springs are in place and the differential housing is attached to the control arms.

A new extended braded steel brake line has been installed, as are the front shocks.

Rebuilt, cleaned up, and painted, with new brake shoes in place, the AMC 35 is ready for Master ‘Kee.

Now we move up to the front of the Cherokee. Here are two examples of the OEM Dana 30 axles and the new G2 axle.

As you slide the axle into the housing, support the shaft at inside to avoid damaging the seal.

Use anti-seize compound around the housing before beginning the assembly.

Also use the anti-seize compound on the assembly bolts.

Carefully assemble the disc brake and axle hub components. For just a lift kit installation, you don’t have to assemble the differential—simply attach the suspension pieces.

Since we rebuilt the entire differential, we also added new brake components—including new discs—to start everything fresh.

We also included new caliper assemblies, which are slightly more beefy.

Follow a Jeep shop manual’s instructions and attach the new caliper.

Once the brake lines are attached—front and rear—you can bleed the brake lines.

We used adapters to change the Cherokee’s lug pattern to match the 5 x 5.5 lug pattern of the wheels, and the adapter bolts must be torqued.

The MT/Rs are on and we’re ready to remove the jackstands!

Even with the 6-inch lift, we’re going to need to trim away some body metal to allow free movement of both the front and the rear tires.

Just a bit too much toe-out. The steering assembly must be completed and then a complete alignment is needed.

Master ‘Kee 89 XJ Cherokee Build Stories:

Part 2

Part 1 Newsletter
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