By Hayden Layman
Over the last 18 months (at the beginning of 2019), I have helped my best friend (brother) build 2 Jeeps. I pushed him into the purchase of his 1st XJ which ended up needing a lot of rust repair. It was a 2001 XJ Sport 4x4 4.0 with 186k miles. We replaced the driver side floor and repaired several baseball and smaller size holes in the body floor. We built that truck in 12 months with mostly new parts and a lot of learning as we went. About 8 months after the purchase of the 1st XJ, I found a mint 73k miles XJ down In San Antonio, Tx. I didn't have the expendable income at the time so I forwarded it to my brother as he was looking for a new daily driver. We headed down to San Antonio and brought it home and built that one into a nice daily! With all of the work we had done in the evenings and on the weekends, I had gained a lot of experience, knowledge and confidence with these vehicles.

Back in January, I was out for a walk with my family in our neighborhood and stumbled upon another XJ for sale in someone's driveway. It raised my eyebrow when I noticed that it was a 2 door, 4x4 with a 4.0 and bone stock. We continued on our walk, but I pondered about what I could build with it all the way home. Later that day, I went back and called the number written on the sale paper, spoke with the owner and bought it that day. As with all older vehicles, it needed some love. The XJ had 345k miles on it, but it ran and drove, but you could tell it was a bit worn out. The roof paint had been eaten away by rust, so the first thing I did was to strip it down and paint it using a high temp wrinkle paint. I couldn't have that ugliness staring at me throughout the entire build.

I've had this burning desire to finally have my own vehicle to go off roading with. I do have a 1980 Land Rover SIII Airportable that was originally purchased for off roading purposes, however, after owning the vehicle for a bit and recognizing its history and heritage, I decided that I couldn't pursue that build as an off road toy, it has too much history to be beaten up for fun.

Once I finished painting the top of the XJ, I began to go through the whole vehilce to see what needed to be done to have it trail ready. I wanted to build this Jeep right and with quality parts, but I wanted to do it as affordably as possible. Armed with plenty of knowledge from the previous builds, I used spare parts we had laying around to begin fixing it up. I have also had good luck finding used parts on the various sale pages available. The previous owner had only owned it for the past 50k miles, over 8 yrs. He admitted he hadn't done much in the way of maintenance, and didnt know anything about its life before. Tearing further into it, I realized that although the previous owner didnt maintain it very well, the owner before him must have done a good job as there was evidence of an engine and transmission rebuild as this engine has only some small leaks and runs strong.

I've named this Jeep 'Gump' because it just keeps on running! 'Gump' came with half of a lift in a box of miscellaneous parts that had never been used, but appeard not to be a complete lift. The box contained front springs, rear springs, a trackbar (which ended up not being for this Jeep), lower control arms, extreme duty trackbar bracket, and a set of new front outer axle seals. I figured out that the lift parts were part of an old Rubicon Express 4in kit. In my research, I found that JKU Rubicon shocks would allow about 3.5 inches more travel than stock XJ shocks. I was able to source a practically new set of JKU Rubicon shocks on FB market for $25. That finished out the basics of my lift but I needed to ordered a Rubicon Express extreme duty trackbar to go with the bracket I already had and finished the order off with a steering stabilizer.

Once I got the lift installed, the truck had the dreaded death wobble. Luckily, I still had a full set of brand new ball joints and tierod from the other builds, so put those in. Steering felt better after that, but still wasnt great. After some research, I found that the upper control arm bushings being worn out are a major cause of wobble so I decided to take advantage of this and replace the upper control arms and the bushings. I needed a drop pitman arm and it turns out that a ZJ pitman arm is an inch longer than an XJ pitman arms and is a direct fit, so I managed to pick one up on FB market for $10.

It's very common for the older XJs to crack the exhaust manifold when the engine mounts wear out. Mine was cracked so I purchased a Banks revolver header and felpro gasket on FB market for $150. I also purchased a newer style intake manifold, which allows better airflow on FB market for $25. I purchased a set of injectors from K suspension and also had a set of engine mounts laying around from a previous parts purchase that my brother had made. All of these parts will be replaced at the same time. (as soon as my header gets back from ceramic coating, which I'm doing to try and keep heat down in the engine bay).

I found a set of 5 procomp D-window wheels with 33inch BFGs for $150. I ended up trading the seller a set of factory 5spoke jeep wheels/tires and $50 for all 5. I later found a set of 5 goodyear wrangler MTP tires on FB market for $250. I took the 33s off and put on the 31s, which fit the truck much better.

Digging further into our left over parts, I had a Smittybilt rear bumper laying around and then found a Smittybilt front winch bumper with mini stinger for $100. It was previously modified to fit a different vehicle, but I will be buying a set of Dirtbound Offroad builder brackets and will fabricate new mounts. I have a warn M8k that's currently on my Land Rover that will move over to the XJ when I get the bumper on. To finish it off for now, I found a full length (84x50) roof rack on FB market for $75.

Needles to say, it's a build in progress and still needs a lot of work. To date, with the purchase of the vehicle, the spare parts we had laying around and the parts I have found off the web, I have less than $3k invested in this build. Even though I've sourced a lot of parts online, this really wouldnt have been possible without the generosity of my brother.