There’s no real debate that the Jeep Wrangler is the most popular Jeep of all time, but the Grand Cherokee can make a very solid case for the runner-up spot. The Grand Cherokee these days is more geared toward the luxury-minded outdoor lover or suburban family in love with the idea of getting away, but when it was first unveiled 25 years ago this SUV still offered features that even the Jeep purists could get behind in spite of its utility focus.
To celebrate that first 1993 Grand Cherokee ZJ unveiled 25 years ago, the Jeep team built the Grand One concept for this year’s Easter Jeep Safari, and this homage to the past comes with a pretty cool story.
Much like any of us Average Joes, the Jeep crew hunted around on the Internet and bought this ZJ anonymously off Craigslist from a private party. The rig had a little more than 100,000 miles on the original 5.2-liter V8 engine, and it still was mated to the original four-speed trans.
Jeep kept much of ZJ intact for the Grand One build but expanded its off-road capability by adding high-clearance fender flares, actually moved the axle placement front and rear a few inches to extend the wheelbase 3 inches overall to accommodate lager tires and trimmed the fascias a little bit as well. A 2-inch suspension lift was added and 33-inch BFGoodrich KM2 mud-terrain tires were stuffed on ZJ-era wheels. Jeep then made the unibody SUV even more trail savvy by adding selectable front and rear lockers for grip on the trail.
At a quick glance, other than the fresh blue paint job, the ZJ doesn’t look horribly different from a stocker. Inside, though, the team built an interior that featured redone blue leather seats, woodgrain cues, and a plaid headliner than even reminiscent of the grunge era, and the original tape deck remains along with vintage car phone. The team also used textured bedliner paint on the floorboards for easy cleanup.
Aside from the fresh paint and modern-retro styling updates, there are also a number of hidden Easter eggs on the Grand One, like the refreshed grill having small numbers on each of the eight slots, a David Hasslehoff sticker noting that the Hoff approves, a custom 5.2L badge and a few other clever cues.
Driving the Grand One is a hoot. The modified Dana 44 axles and 4.88 gearing complement the ugprades and provide added trail durability, but the low center of gravity from the small lift keeps the ZJ’s handling not horribly far off from stock – in fact, this is the ideal type of build that enhances the ZJ’s abilities without completely removing its soul. Sure, there’s a few creaks and from the unibody when flex a certain way, but the 5.2 engine has a deep growl that comes to life when the throttle is punched.
We began a WJ project a few years back that sported 33s, but we needed a four-inch lift from BDS Suspension and some trimming for Bushwacker fender flares to make it all fit, so we can appreciate the nuances the Jeep team put in play to make its 33s work with only a 2-inch lift.
The Grand One may not be the flashiest concept Jeep has ever produced, but it’s a reminder that the Jeep design team has an honest connection to what makes the brand so cool and unique. The ZJ isn’t the most capable Jeep for the trails, but it also was a great rig in its day, and with a few tweaks here and there it’s still pretty capable as an all-around off-roader. The Odd One is so clean on the outside that it would look like right at home in a driveway, but once it gets on the trails there’s no doubt it would turn heads.
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Watch: This is What Easter Jeep Safari is All About!