Full-Size Jeeps (Cherokee Chief, Wagoneer) - What To Look Out For?

  • Hi Guest, you may choose a LIGHT or DARK theme that works best for you with the "Style Chooser" button at the bottom left on this page!

ManWithJeep

Rank III
Member

Contributor III

740
New York
Member #

2983

So, I just nabbed this '78 Cherokee (photo below). Been looking for a solid FSJ for a long time, here in the North East it's tough to find. This one looks in great shape, and the price wasn't out of control like some of them are lately. It's across the country so I might actually fly out and drive it back to NY, but if I can't make the time I'll just have it shipped some time over the next couple of weeks.

My questions are -
1. Anything to look out for, as far as common problems with these? Both on-road and common off-road issues. I'll be going on some multi-day trips, so other than the regular spares I'd take for any vehicle, anything I should bring with me specifically for the Cherokee in case it goes?
2. Been looking for some aftermarket parts like a winch bumper, but haven't found much - any good sources for aftermarket parts before I start making my own?
3. For anyone who owns or has driven a Cherokee, how's the ride quality on the road? Highway? Being a leaf-sprung truck on a full frame, is it a rough ride or is it more comfortable like a Wagoneer?

Currently own a 2001 XJ (photo below) which is both my daily driver and my expedition vehicle - but always wanted a full size Cherokee - so I'm making the switch over to the '78 and I'll be selling the XJ. Here's a pic of the '78 it in it's current state:



And here's one of my '01 XJ which I currently daily-drive (and of course off-road):



Thanks!
 
Last edited:

BeardedOverland

Rank VI
Member

Advocate II

2,755
Kingman Az
First Name
JASON
Last Name
SMITH
Member #

1699

I just sold my 83' golden eagle wide body. I loved the ride quality both on and off road, I did have high arch spring 6" lift on it but I was running smallish tires 31" like most older Jeeps check the frame for fatigue or bent. Also check the floor boards both driver and passenger that is usually where you find cancer. As far as aftermarket parts, they are harder to find, which ultimately led to me selling mine.


Sent from my iPhone using OB Talk
 

CJW145

Rank I
Member

Contributor II

241
Alabama
Member #

5009

So, I just nabbed this '78 Cherokee (photo below). Been looking for a solid FSJ for a long time, here in the North East it's tough to find. This one looks in great shape, and the price wasn't out of control like some of them are lately. It's across the country so I might actually fly out and drive it back to NY, but if I can't make the time I'll just have it shipped some time over the next couple of weeks.

My questions are -
1. Anything to look out for, as far as common problems with these? Both on-road and common off-road issues. I'll be going on some multi-day trips, so other than the regular spares I'd take for any vehicle, anything I should bring with me specifically for the Cherokee in case it goes?
2. Been looking for some aftermarket parts like a winch bumper, but haven't found much - any good sources for aftermarket parts before I start making my own?
3. For anyone who owns or has driven a Cherokee, how's the ride quality on the road? Highway? Being a leaf-sprung truck on a full frame, is it a rough ride or is it more comfortable like a Wagoneer?

Currently own a 2001 XJ (photo below) which is both my daily driver and my expedition vehicle - but always wanted a full size Cherokee - so I'm making the switch over to the '78 and I'll be selling the XJ. Here's a pic of the '78 it in it's current state:



And here's one of my '01 XJ which I currently daily-drive (and of course off-road):



Thanks!
Awesome Cherokee! I have a '79 Cherokee Chief and have been doing a partial restoration. Mainly been focused on keeping it road worthy. It has the factory AMC 360 V8 which runs beautifully. If you are looking for aftermarket parts like bumpers and tire carriers check out BJ's Offroad. They fabricate FSJ front and rear bumpers, roof racks, armor and also have factory replacement parts. They have a real nice and easy to navigate website.



Sent from my SM-G900V using OB Talk mobile app
 

renodemona

Rank VI
Member

Enthusiast I

2,669
Sparks, NV, USA
First Name
Glenn
Last Name
Smith
Member #

4913

I've got a 76 Cherokee. Things to look out for? If it has a Quadra-Trac checking to make sure the cones are in good shape or if its been converted to part time operation. All the usual old car stuff, fuel lines, vacuum, electrical, etc. If it hasn't been done upgrade the ignition (HEI, TFI, etc) as the stock is garbage even for the 70s. FSJnetwork is a huge forum resource (I'm on there too!) thats specific to full size Jeeps. BJs Offroad has lots of parts including bumpers. A little pricey depending on what you're looking for but great quality. Ride quality? It depends on what springs you have. I have the Rough Country 3" lift springs and its not bad but not great. Skyjacker is silky smooth by comparison. These rigs are beasts off road. Welcome!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Graeman and CJW145

shad0fx

Rank I
Member

Contributor I

263
Lincoln, NE
Member #

10469

Really nice looking full size. I have a 1984 J10 that I'm in the process of getting running for long road trips like you described.
From all my research, beyond the classic issues of brakes, tires, fuel filters, and fluids, i think you'll do just fine as long as it runs ok. Taking along an extra fuel filter and oil filter might be helpful.
I have heard from some of the local guys doing other truck restorations to run Seafoam Fuel Treatment through the fuel system on long trips. especially on an engine that may have sat for a long time.
Have a good trip! looks like fun!
 

JimBill

Rank IV
Member

Contributor III

1,097
Tres Pinos, CA
First Name
James
Last Name
Madison
Member #

18747

OK I know this is an old thread, but recently joined OB and just found this thread (when I am supposed to be working....). I currently have a 76 Cherokee that I retired and have for sale, and a 78 Cherokee stored out of sight and mind for a future retirement project. After around 15 years or so of owning the FSJ Cherokee, here are a few thoughts (and a garage full of parts):

First things I would do is work around the factory design issues:
The high amp electrical circuit travels from the alternator to the ammeter and into the dash, making way to the headlight switch before heading back into the engine compartment. Bypass the ammeter, they like to short and catch fire. Just add a volt meter to monitor charging health. Also the headlight hi/low foot switch connections sometimes corrode, increasing resistance, eventually overheating and melting insulation, and a major short or fire happens. Luckily I caught it in time, it was dusk, and home was close! I relieved the high amp headlight circuits by adding relays to power the headlights directly from the battery, and the foot switch now is low current and controls the relays. Added bonus, your headlights get a LOT brighter.
As mentioned in an earlier post, upgrading the ignition is a must. An HEI, MSD, or Ford TFI upgrade all work. I happen to run a mix of Ford cap and rotor parts, with MSD ignition box and coil. There is plenty on the internet on the why and many ways to do this, just search "FSJ ignition upgrade". Huge bonus and options if you are not in a smog check state.
Add a steering box brace, to tie the box to the opposite frame rail. Bigger tires and the rock you didn't see have enough force to rip the box right off the frame rail.
Lastly, the oil passage out of the pump chamber is way undersized, and limits oil volume and pressure available to flow to the filter and into the engine. As the pump and bearings wear, it is not uncommon to see zero or near zero oil pressure at hot idle. Sadly, this is "normal" on AMC 304, 360, 401 engines (as well as Buick 350 which use near identical timing cover and oil pump). And the oil system in the AMC is non priority, it flows to top and bottom end at the same time, not through the low end first before heading to the top end like a Chevy small block. So as things wear and bearings open up, what pressure you have will take the path of least resistance, starving the other path. On the Buick I kept loosing the #2 rod bearing. On a 401 I spun the front cam bearing and lost all oil flow to the top end. The easy solution is to keep the oil pump gear clearances to the housing in spec and open up the passage out of the pump cavity. You will see a dramatic increase in idle oil pressure. Again, there is information on the web on how to do this.

Then I would get the fuel system in the best state I could afford:
Of the options, an aftermarket carb that you would put on your hot rod will not work once you start bouncing around in the mountains, including Holley and Edelbrock/Carter. It will flood and starve and generally be a PITA. A quadrajet AKA "Hillbilly Fuel Injection" is said to work pretty dam well. (edit: but good luck adapting it to a manifold).
Of the factory offerings, my least favorite is the Motorcraft 4 barrel. It is overly complicated to work on, and most importantly the huge horse shoe shaped float assembly has so much force on the needle that is likes to stick the needle into the seat, starve, and die. I can induce this with just the right speed over a speedbump (part of that is my horrible front springs, but more on that later). A quick tap and some cranking to refill, and good to go until the next time. Pretty embarrassing on the highway or in town. Also, you need a buddy or an engine hoist to lift the dam manifold if you ever need to R&R it.
The stock 2 barrels are my favorite, and if you are lucky you have one, or can find one, with altitude compensation. They are easy to work on (you can set the float height with engine running if so desired and ignore the safety implications), parts are everywhere, and you could grab one from almost any 60s Ford if you need parts or a carb to get you home. I have one in the garage ready to go for the day I resurrect the 78, but likely it will go on the 76 because I hate that Motorcraft 4 BBL.
Holley made an intake manifold and square bore vacuum secondary carburetor just for the AMC V8s. The manifold was designed by Duntov himself. They are good, I ran one form a long time, just added Holley off road needles and seats, and a stainless "slosh tube" from fuel bowl to fuel bowl. It would still be in service, but Commiefornia smog won't allow externally adjustable floats even though the carb passes the sniffer and has all the needed vacuum ports. The intake is single plane with very small diameter intake runners to keep velocity up. Great low and mid range. Ran it on the 401 and 360. Best used on 304 or 360. It is sitting in the garage waiting for a new out of state owner to come along, and I will miss it.
Lastly for carbs, if legal, an Edelbrock Performer intake and a Holley Off-Road carb works quite well. Ran it on my 78 before major engine issues that sidelined it (long expensive story) , but it ran very well. Again, its taking up space in the garage waiting a new out of state owner.
And the holy grail, just buy a Howell TBI system. Not perfect, but good enough in every way. With all the carb screwing around, I could have easily bought 2 Howells. You live and learn.

Then there are just a few annoyances to overcome:
The smog pump (exhaust air injection pump) cannot handle dust. One good summer weekend on the dry dusty trails and it will likely seize up and cause a bit of a mess. After the second one, I just remove the belt before taking off road so it sits idle and doesn't ingest the dust. Or if in a free state, take it off and e-bay it (someone in Cali needs it).
The front seat frames are terribly week. You will find the steering wheel gets further and further away, as the seat frames crack, break, and slowly let go, reclining the seatbacks. Welding and reinforcing the frames, or swapping with your favorite junkyard seat set is the only way to avoid this. I currently run Ford Ranger 60/40 front seat set.
Rear electric windows can be a pain. The wiring will break or short where it goes from the body to tailgate. Just keep an eye on it as the tailgate slowly droops as the body fatigues over its extended life. Best option, if you can find it, pull a manual regulator system from a junker and ditch the electric system.
Do not go with the 3" Rough Country front springs. Just don't! I have friends that will not ride in the 76, period. They are fearful of kidney damage. I mounted a big high lift on the front bumper just to add weight and removed the sway bar, it helped the ride slightly. There is a stock ride 2" spring kit that I'd recommend, or the Skyjacker soft ride springs mentioned in an earlier post (search FSJ lift or Wagoneer Lift). With the Widetrack flares and axles, there is a lot of tire room and 33s are beautiful with the 2" or 3" lift. The transfer case is so tucked up for incredible break over clearance, you really do not need much lift. The standard Wagoneer style bodies without the fender flares have another story, you NEED 4" to get a decent tire in there. The best is to keep the soft riding stock front springs, do a spring over axle, high steer, and shackle reversal. But I'm not rock crawling so that was way too much work for me and the 95% of us. Don't go cheap, buy good springs is yet another lesson learned .....
The BW 1339 Quadratrac transfer case was ahead of its time. Works very well, but requires open front and rear differentials. Two things to remember, it takes hard to find special fluid (BJs Offroad), and keep a tight chain in there or your case may ventilate. If you hear it skipping on the gears, back off, limp home, and put a new chain in it. Again, lessons learned. If you are lucky, you have the MileMarker conversion kit. They are no longer available and hard to find. The milemarker allows 2WD or true 4WD, but removes the AWD limited slip from the transfer case. But you can run lockers and be traditional locked and loaded 4x4. I've had both, and for all but a hard core I prefer the original AWD capability, maintaining max turning radius, and sure footedness in the rain on pavement, unpaved roads, and trails.
And the only gripe when driving....when pointed up you cannot see anything but hood! Know where it is pointed when climbing and cresting. Then again, same issue with any square body Chevy, Ford, Dodge of the day as well.

But, all said, my 76 Cherokee has been a trustworthy beast of burden and a hell of a lot of fun. I hope you still have the Cherokee and it is being good to you, and this post helps a Full Size Jeep owner in some way.

And PS: Nothing looks better on old white cheap steel "wagon wheels".
 
Last edited:

renodemona

Rank VI
Member

Enthusiast I

2,669
Sparks, NV, USA
First Name
Glenn
Last Name
Smith
Member #

4913

Nice Looking Cherokee! Are you Northern or Southern CA? We have a Northern CA/NV facebook group if you're interested for more FSJ Goodness. All good points about the Full Sizes. I have the Rough Country lift and its not super bad for me, but I also upgraded to much better shocks. The Quadratrac is AWESOME in snow and slippery stuff. Mine is converted to part time which I like for normal driving but I do miss the convenience a little. I was on a run and when I went to lock hubs someone asked what that was...awkward lol

There are lots of FI choices out there now, that I would put Howell near the bottom of my list, though if you are in CA it is CARB certified so there's that. Hamilton FI is basically Howell but you run timing control (this is what is going in my 72 Wagoneer). I have FiTech in my Cherokee, very pleased with it, but I am not running timing control though it is supported. Holley Sniper is another good product, one of the local guys has it on his 73 Wag and its been great. They all work on the same principal, some have separate ECU some do not. the TBI based ones are lower pressure requirements, the Sniper and FiTech need more psi (58 I think? I dunno more than 20ish for TBI).
 

JimBill

Rank IV
Member

Contributor III

1,097
Tres Pinos, CA
First Name
James
Last Name
Madison
Member #

18747

Nice Looking Cherokee! Are you Northern or Southern CA? We have a Northern CA/NV facebook group if you're interested for more FSJ Goodness. All good points about the Full Sizes. I have the Rough Country lift and its not super bad for me, but I also upgraded to much better shocks. The Quadratrac is AWESOME in snow and slippery stuff. Mine is converted to part time which I like for normal driving but I do miss the convenience a little. I was on a run and when I went to lock hubs someone asked what that was...awkward lol

There are lots of FI choices out there now, that I would put Howell near the bottom of my list, though if you are in CA it is CARB certified so there's that. Hamilton FI is basically Howell but you run timing control (this is what is going in my 72 Wagoneer). I have FiTech in my Cherokee, very pleased with it, but I am not running timing control though it is supported. Holley Sniper is another good product, one of the local guys has it on his 73 Wag and its been great. They all work on the same principal, some have separate ECU some do not. the TBI based ones are lower pressure requirements, the Sniper and FiTech need more psi (58 I think? I dunno more than 20ish for TBI).

I am just below the bay area and just inland from the central coast. So not really in either. Know where Hollister Hills offroad park is? I have line of sight to the high country of the park. But semantics aside, I am not on Facebook anymore after I was hacked through it a few years ago. I do appreciate the invite though.
Definitely agree with you on the Howell not being the best, and timing control lets you get everything you can out of the injection system, but in the wold of 76 and up Howell is the only game in town for CARB compliance and "good eough" to beat the carb choices. Well, just barely over the 2 barrel with altitude compensation. What is good with the Howell is you get to junk that unreliable air pump and a few other pesky smog devices, greatly cleaning up the engine bay. Glad the rough country system is working for you. I was told the springs will loosen up, but after 9 years and 3 sets of shocks I am still waiting... so that's my experience for what it's worth. Thanks for weighing in for the '75 and older FSJs.
 

renodemona

Rank VI
Member

Enthusiast I

2,669
Sparks, NV, USA
First Name
Glenn
Last Name
Smith
Member #

4913

Yup that CARB sticker is worth its weight in gold! Know exactly where Hollister Hills park is, nice area!