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1990 Cherokee XJ Build


Red Skull Member
Mar 6, 2024
Member Number
Bay Area, CA
I guess I will start a build thread. Preface: I am an idiot and I don't know shit about Jeeps, but, in the last 8 months of owning this Jeep, I have learned a ton, learned how to weld, basically turned a whole garage into a fab shop, and wasted a fuck ton of money and time. Please feel free to tell me what I'm doing wrong.

Jeep IG: @

Dear diary....

In September '23 I hit what I am calling the "I should buy a lifted 4x4!" phase of my entering-mid-life-crisis. After a pretty nasty breakup, and needing to find something new to dump time and money into, that wouldn't fuck me over in the end, I was looking at Ford Rangers, thinking I'd lift one and put some big tires on it and take it to Hollister Hills and beat the shit out of it. (I live like 15 minutes from Hollister Hills, so, hit me up if anyone ever wants to meet up or needs any help!) But, people out here are batshit insane as far as truck pricing goes, and it would have cost me over 10 grand to build what I was looking for.

So, knowing absolutely fuck all about Jeeps, I ended up getting a 1990 XJ off of Craigslist. The guy had put a decent amount of work into it, he just had his first kid and it sounds like he was having to sell off some toys.


This is her on day 1. He had some Rough Country 4.5" lift leaf springs, and lift shackles on the rear, Stinkyfab 3-link long arm kit, and Rubicon Express 7.5" springs up front.
He also had put the RockHard 4x4 bolt-in sport cage in it, as well as Corbeau seats up front, and 4 point harnesses.

Because I am an impulse-buy idiot, I didn't really know much about what I was getting myself into, and the more I dug into it, the more I wanted to redo a lot of the stuff the previous owner had done. But, the more I appreciated a lot of the effort and time he had put into a lot of stuff. (For example, it's a Renix, and he had already done a majority of the Cruiser54 Renix Bible tips, etc.)

First thing I wanted to do was get rid of the first-gen front clip, freshen up the paint a little bit, and get rid of all the 90's chrome. I had never painted a car, and I didn't really want it to look rattle-canned, so I figured this was a good time to learn. After watching a couple hours of youtube videos, I bought some Harbor Freight HVLP guns, and a ton of sand paper, and went to town. Got the 97+ front clip, and fenders, off of eBay (aftermarket chinese brand, they don't fit perfect, but they were dirt cheap.)


Bought some 5 mil plastic sheeting on Amazon, and a little exhaust fan to put under the garage door, and went ham.


I got all my paint from Speedokote on eBay (and I think some from their website) it's good quality, good price, would recommend. I originally planned to do gloss black, but, after some test sprays it was WAY too glossy, almost a mirror, and this thing has so many dents and dings in it (plus is going to get dirty) that I went with white instead, with a 2K clearcoat.


I went with some LED 5x7 headlights, and also got the LED side marker/turn signals, from Amazon I think. I put 96+ mirrors on (they have bigger mirrors than the old style, and they bolt right up. I also pulled all of the metal trim off from around the windshield, as well as all of the windows, and stripped all the old paint off, and hit that with black enamel spraypaint. Much cleaner than the ugly old chrome.)


(My GSXR, also pictured...)

Bought new 96+ door handles on eBay as well, they look much better than chrome, and also bolt right on.

List of stuff I have done so far, that will be archived in this thread:

  • Replaced stereo with a single-din "floating screen" 8" touchscreen head unit, looks GREAT and really helps modernize it, which is what I'm going for.
  • Installed back-up camera. (I can't see shit behind me with that spare tire where it is.)
  • Relocated license plate from standard rear deck spot, to the spare tire. (Didn't really want to get pulled over for having my plate completely blocked by the tire, and cops around here are assholes.)
  • Replaced door speakers with 6.5" and put 6x9's in the rear deck. Wired amplifiers, and redid all of the speaker wire with 12 gauge oxygen free copper. Installed voltmeter in one of the rocker switch holes to keep an eye on battery level.
  • Re-did gauge faces with new ones from Azzy's Design Works, replaced all the cluster bulbs with LED's, painted the back of the cluster face gloss white (to reflect more light onto gauges), it looks great at night!
  • Installed light bar and pillar pods. (pillar pods not pictured)
  • Experienced Jeep "death wobble" for the first time, which started when I was on my way back from trails 90 miles from home. Had to limp home on the back roads at about 25mph. Ended up replacing steering box, pitman arm, and nut. This also resolved all my steering play, which made it hard to control.
  • Repainted the whole thing (minus door jambs and engine bay), did vinyl pinstripes as well.
  • Somehow screwed up installing a lunchbox locker in my D30 front axle, TWICE. Currently back to open diff but have a Powertrax Grip Pro sitting in my garage, just waiting for bearing puller.
  • Replaced leaking passenger-side inner axle seal on D30.
  • Replaced leaf springs and shackles. When I bought it, it had 4" rough country springs on it but the rear bushings were SHOT, and the shackle angle was all borked. So I looked into replacing the bushings, saw how much work it was going to be, and decided to just upgrade to 4" Rusty's leaf springs and adjustable shackles, much better.
  • Replaced tail lights with all-metal housings and LED lights. Wasn't sure how I'd like them, but they actually look really good at night.
  • Installed Bilstein 5100's all around (not in picture).
  • Installed an add'l (push) Mishimoto auxiliary fan in front of radiator, on a toggle switch. (Previous guy removed the AC unfortunately, but, means I have a bunch of space with no AC condenser.)
  • Installed molle panels on rear quarter-windows, left and right.
  • Taken the door panels off probably 10x. Repainted arm rests with that Rustoleum vinyl/fabric paint, it's pretty cool!
  • Wired in an auxiliary 12V 100Ah LifePo4 battery in the back, with a DC-to-DC charger w/ "reverse charging". I can run all of my accessories off of the LifePo and never worry about draining my starter battery. If my starter battery every dies, I can recharge it via the LifePo.
  • Installed Smittybuilt door armor. (Fender armor and flares were done by the last guy)
  • Swapped to newer-gen side mirrors. Thank god, the other ones were so small they were useless.
  • Mounted hi-lift jack mounts on roof with nutserts (not pictured)
  • Repainted chrome roof rack to matte black, reinstalled. (not pictured)
  • Replaced battery, fuel pressure regulator, various sensors. Replaced PRNDL bezel, and light. Replaced battery hold-down w/ Dirtbound one. Replaced fuel injectors.
  • Installed a $15 Amazon "train horn" (the guy before me removed the horns for some reason, and I needed a way to let people know when I was coming around corners on trails/back-roads). I have an aftermarket NRG steering wheel (w/ quick disconnect) that the guy before me put in, and so can't use the regular horn button, but I put an arcade button in the dash.
  • Installed a PA. Mounted speaker under hood where the airbox used to be, tons of space there now with the THOR cowl intake. It's got sirens too... and it's LOUD.
  • Stripped (with a grinding wheel) all the metal window trim of the old faded black paint, and repainted with matte black. Putting that fucking trim back on was the most frustrating out of all of the stuff I have done to this XJ so far.
  • Found woodgrain dash panel from a Country edition at a junk yard yesterday! Scored for $30!
  • Replaced nearly all window seals.
  • Installed GPS wired directly to battery, that also has an internal lithium battery so I can find the Jeep even when it's not running. (Really don't want to get this thing stolen...)
  • Installed AffordableOffroad's rear window exterior molle-panel w/ 2 rotopax mounted on it. (Not pictured)
  • Dug myself into an insane amount of "Paypal Pay In 4" debt.
  • Learned a ton about this car, this engine, etc. (Never had a Jeep before. I can change my own oil and brakes and do gaskets and stuff, but haven't ever done most of the Jeep stuff.)
  • Beat the shit out of my hands and wrists, cuts everywhere, also permanent dirt/grease under my fingernails.
  • Stained pretty much every pair of jeans I own with gear oil and god knows what else.
  • Fixed parking brake, previous owner had just done a parking brake delete (I used mid-90's passenger-side YJ cables, if I remember right?)
  • Rear disc brake conversion on the C8.25
  • Welded on rear frame stiffeners
  • Installed Dirtbound front and rear bumpers
I will document all this stuff, provide resources for anyone looking to do the same, and as many pics as I can find.

(Hit image attachment limit, continued in next post)
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The clearcoat ended up a little bit orange-peely, but, for having never painted a car before, and using a $30 Harbor Freight HVLP gun and the cheapest paint I could find, I am thrilled with it. (Maaco wanted like $2,000 to just do one shot single-stage white, that was without body work even...) I still haven't done the engine compartment, or door jambs, and I keep saying I will do them some day, but, whatever.

Now that she was looking pretty, I wanted to put a locker in the front. Previous owner had swapped in a C8.25 rear axle, and put a lunchbox locker in, but the front (D30) he left alone. I bought a PowerTrax LockRight, watched another YouTube video, and cracked open my first ever diff.


Oh, also, I should mention that this D30 has the retarded CAD housing, but the previous owner converted to a one-piece axle, and installed a CAD delete block-off plate. However (and I have done a good amount of research on this) there is no double-lip seal that will fit in the passenger side of a D30 w/ CAD. There are a handful of obscure NAPA seals that will work, but everyone has the same issue, they seem to leak within a couple thousand miles, mine have lasted even less. The passenger side axle seal was leaking when I bought it, so, while I was in here, I replaced that seal. (There are some guys that dremel this out, to accept the same size seal as the driver's side seal. I've considered doing that, but I also feel like I would end up fucking up the whole thing, so, I haven't bothered.)


I then reinstalled everything, and realized that something was terribly wrong, because I couldn't steer the fucking Jeep and it sounded like shit was binding just turning the front wheels in my driveway. When I eventually got it out of the driveway, I drove around my neighborhood, and had to make a 3 point turn, just to turn left at an intersection... people kept saying "oh that's just how lockers work in the front." No, this was like, unsafe...

So I opened the diff back up, I somehow sheared one of the pins in the LockRight... I ordered a rebuild kit (with new pins and springs) and reinstalled everything, this time I actually checked all of the clearances that the LockRight manual said to check, and AGAIN, had the same problem. I don't know if the locker itself was bad, or if this diff is bent, or wtf is going on, but after the third time of opening this thing up, I got frustrated and said fuck it, and bought a PowerTrax GripPro Limited Slip locker lol.


I used the same shims that were in the original carrier (I think I ended up taking 1 thou off one side in the end, don't remember which). Keep in mind I have never done any gear meshing, I just watched a ton of videos on it, and sent a bunch of pics to my mechanic buddy (as well as some FB groups) and everyone said "fuck it, I'd run it." She hasn't exploded yet...


Figured I'd open up the rear diff and fuck around in there a bit...


When I did, I found that THREE of the ring gear bolts had been sheared off and ground into glitter, my diff fluid looked like the bottom of a stripper's bathtub... Plus, the remaining ring gear bolts were barely even finger tight. I mean this thing was literally just flopping around, and what's insane is that I had taken it to Clear Creek BLM, and also Hollister Hills once or twice, and somehow had no issue. So, I'm sure gear meshing is important and all, but if I was able to wheel up a mountain with a ring gear in a rear diff that was literally flopping around on the carrier, I'm thinking that some slop isn't too big of a deal...

So, got all new ring gear bolts from Yukon, and put this ring gear back on, torqued to spec, and adjusted backlash and bearing pre-load to spec. Wow, no more loud "clunk" when I shift from P to R...

(I'm at work but will continue this post shortly, there's a whooooole lot more)
So after replacing all the ring gear bolts, I had to fix the parking brake. The previous owner just left the E-brake cable off after he did the lift. I ended up using 2 passenger side YJ cables, which were plenty long, but had to use some threaded rod to extend the adjuster/equalizer a bit.


Front Door XJ speakers are 5.25", but there's plenty of room in the door panel for 6.5's, just gotta get out the dremel.



I also ended up putting 6x9's in the rear hatch. This is super easy, since it's fiberglass. Basically just start cutting, there are many other threads about this with good pics.

Because I have the Corbeau seats up on big brackets, there's about 9" of clearance underneath the seats, not used for anything. I got 2 shallow mount 8" subs and some MDF and busted out the table saw and made some quick custom boxes:




Scored this cheap CarPlay touchscreen from Boss on eBay for like $150 new, it fits perfect even underneath the dash, because the head unit articulates and can be raised/lowered/swiveled. I don't have AC anyway, so don't really need to fuck with the dash controls much.

The door speakers are DS18 PRO-ZT6's (Water Resistant) and the rear speakers are the PRO-ZT6x9's. All powered by a DS18 4000 watt amp tucked under the rear passenger seat. The DS18 stuff isn't particularly amazing, but for the price, it's loud and sounds good enough to be put in an off-road vehicle. I also have a 10" sub in the rear.

Previous owner took out the rear seat, and seatbelts. I got a new seat from a pick-n-pull, but didn't want to deal with seat belts, so put 4-points in. RockHard 4x4 makes a "rear harness bar" for the XJ sport cage, but they want like $300 for it, plus shipping...

I ended up fabbing my own out of some eBay 1.75" roll bar clamps, and a "universal" harness bar that is made for ricers. I don't have a tube bender that could do these bends, so this universal bar worked out totally perfect.

Total cost was like $130.

Link to Harness Bar: Amazon.com (There are 100 places online to buy this, they seem to just all be generic, and about the same width.)


Yes, I know these welds are terrible, don't care, they will hold.

When I got the thing, the rear shackle angle was all fucked off, and they were rubbing. Also, the leaf spring bushings on the passenger side were shot to hell. They were Rough Country 4.5" springs, and from what I read, they use the same size bushings as OEM springs. Replacing the bushings seemed to be a pain, so I ended up getting new Rusty's XJ 5" leafs and boomerang shackles that wouldn't rub with these shackle relocation brackets.


(Note the shot out bushing)




Did these in an afternoon, everything went in totally smooth, no issues. Ride quality is great.


Had a bunch of steering play when I first bought it, which left like a huge dead spot in the middle of the wheel, so to make minor corrections while driving in a straight line, I had to turn the wheel 30 degrees each direction like a bus driver lol.


The pitman arm and sector shaft were kind of wallered out, and the nut was actually stripped, so I couldn't tighten the pitman arm up any higher onto the sector shaft. I ended up replacing the gear box. Which sucks because I think the box itself was probably fine...

New Bilstein 5100's all around:

(This was before I had replaced the leafs actually)


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Previous owner had put some really nice DirtBound rock sliders on it, and I love them, but, he just sort of drilled holes into the "frame" and made some self-tapping bolts. I'm sure it held fine, but after taking these things off and on a few times, it was a total pain trying to figure out which bolt fit in which hole (the sizes weren't all consistent) and some of the holes were just stripped out.

So I got some big ass 1/2-13 weld nut/bungs and welded those in to the frame (and frame stiffeners/crossmember).



Go easy on my welding, it's a little bit better now than it was back then... but not by much.

Completely stripped the previous paint off of the rock sliders:

2K Epoxy Primer:



And then I hit them with Raptor Coating (which I have gone through a whole lot of...)


I read 10 different guides to do the ZJ rear disc conversion on my C8.25 but ended up just buying the complete kit from Crown. It was a little more expensive, but, I'm glad I did because I didn't have to dick with it too much, and it works great.




Thing stops more like a car now, and less like a boat...

Oh I also bought I what I THOUGHT were the correct rear axles, based on what I was told (27 spline) but it turns out he had put 29 splines in, with a 29 spline locker in the rear. So, I did the whole axle swap, and got the C clips back in, turned the rear hubs a bit and just heard click click click... Had to take the fuckin locker apart again, dig the C clips out, and swap the old axles back in. I have Chromoly 29 spline rear axles on the way right now, but if anyone wants to buy a set of brand new 27 spline C8.25 rear axles, let me know!
So, I really liked the Dirtbound Hi-Line Cut and Fold rear bumper. I should have bought the DIY version, but I didn't have a welder at the time when I bought it. It took 8 weeks to fab and finally get.

In the pictures on the site, the hitch receiver kind of sticks out of the bumper a little bit, there is a lip all the way around it:

But, when I got mine, they had welded the hitch receiver so far into the bumper, that it basically just a big flush hole.


(Coated in Raptor Liner)

Because I have my spare tire on a hitch carrier (not the best play, I know, but it works for now), and these are 35's, in order to be able to close the hatch, I have to pull the spare tire itself a bit back away from the back hatch. So, the farther back you pull it, the more leverage the weight of the spare tire has, which was causing the bumper to flex, even if I just wiggled the spare tire with my hands. I'm sure on a trail or even just daily driving, it would have flexed even more, and eventually just warped the bumper or worse.

I ended up basically cutting the hitch receiver out of the bumper, and welding another longer, stronger one in, to help support the tongue weight of the spare tire (or anything else I put back there. I have a Honda Grom that I want to load in a hitch carrier some day.)


I also cut off the dinky 1/2" clevis mounts and welded on some big-boy 1" mounts.


This was also the day that I finally filled a CO2 tank, and made the switch from 110v flux core wire, to 220v solid core wire. Holy shit, what a difference. I wasn't even welding before on 110, I was basically just soldering.

I'm still practicing and getting better, but, the above pic is one of my best welds to date. (Have been welding for ~3 months now, completely self taught except for like YouTube videos and people talking shit to me online.)



I also reinforced the rear of the receiver with some add'l 1/4" plate, and ugly welds.

I also built the fab/fixture table in these pictures, myself. That was one of my first welding projects. I needed a table that I could put something in a vice, and smack the shit out of it, without breaking anything. All of my other workbenches are plastic/wood, so I built a ~350lb metal fab table, and it has come in handy so many times with this Jeep shit.




I wanted to do the whole thing in the fixture-table plate with the fixturing holes, but god damn that stuff is expensive. So I ended up getting one of the little "fab wings" from Certiflat. Super nice, easy to build too.

Keep in mind this table is really one of the first things I ever welded in my entire life.
Love this build. Switching my sons xj to newer front clip with eBay shit too. And will paint it ourselves. Thanks for details on mirrors and handles I wouldn’t have thought of that.
Having seen this in person now I can say the home brew paint job came out great. It probably looks as good or even better than my factory 1990 white paint
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