On-Island XJ Build

Whaler

Adventurer
I've been reading the ExPo forums for a while but I'm new to working on vehicles. I've gleaned enough from forums and youtube videos to accomplish a few projects and I'm beginning to work on a '97 Jeep XJ, 4.0, 4wd, four door. My wife and I bought it about eight years ago, before we were married, because she needed a daily-driver and we settled on "Marge" (she named it) for $2,300. We live on a little island with many summer homes; so this Jeep had only driven 44K miles, during the summertime, and was presumably garaged the rest of the year. It was bone-stock and I didn't fully appreciate what luck this was until years later.

I stumbled across ExPo a few years ago and ate it up. I've always been a camper, so combining that pursuit with scenic, extended travel was right up my alley. I live on an island off the coast of Massachusetts; where we have miles and miles of dirt two-track and accessible beach driving. The XJ has become a beach car for the weekends, so I have a particular interest in building a trunk-kitchen. While I plan to continue making extended trips off-island, ninety-percent of the time I'll just be tooling around town. I plan to improve the vehicle's function and hope to design modifications with an OEM look.

Here's what she looks like:
IMG_0115.jpg

On the ferry:
IMG_0111.jpg

IMG_0031.JPG

I've completed a few projects already and will post them, but I figured that I would start my thread with some design ideas that I'm mulling over. Ultimate plans for the beach kitchen include a dual battery, fridge and water spigot, but right now I'm trying to dial in my baseline structure for the trunk, which will include a slide out counter and set of drawers. I plan to layer additional elements on top of that base, later. This is my design draft:

xj kitchen drawer sketch-up.jpg

I tried to keep the height to a minimum, because I'm primarily interested in the pull-out countertop element for its use as a chef's work surface during beach BBQs and plan to augment that primary counter by way of a swing-out tire carrier which will support an additional fold down counter of its own. Mark Coleman of Detours OffRoad built a XJ Tailbone bumper (maintains OEM looks) and its installation is nearly complete.

In recent years, I've had some rust in a few different places and learned some basic body-work skills through a trial by fire. Those efforts turned out ok thanks to a tip I learned about using wax-paper to apply kitty-hair fiberglass filler. Ultimately, all that work got me thinking about color changes, so I've been playing around with the idea of a white safari roof and black lower body facets. Here are some renderings:

White Safari Roof:
IMG_0133.JPG

IMG_0131.JPG

Black lowers & front trim comparison:
IMG_0352.jpg

I'm curious about what everyone has to say. I'll plan to post more info about the vehicle and the I've work done to it so far. Hopefully I'll ultimately contribute something useful to the community, but I figured I would share what I learn along the way and seek advice through those explanations. ExPo is such a great resource! Thanks.
 
Last edited:

Whaler

Adventurer
I have a white roof and undercoated lower panels
Thanks for the heads up. I've read your thread and really like your truck. In looking again, I especially like the black outline around the front grill and lights. In my photo-shopped image above, I blacked-out everything stating at the leading edge of the hood, which doesn't look as good as your version. While my '97 grill is different than yours, I'm now thinking that keeping the grill surround the same color as the rest of the body makes sense.

Question for you: did you remove plastic trim guards from your doors where the paint transitions to black or did your jeep never even have them? I have trim pieces there which might be a part of different factory trim package. Looking closely at my trim, it seems to be glued on so perhaps I could remove it. That would clean things up a bit.
 

mtbxj87

Adventurer
Yes I had trim. It was peeling off. So I took it off and never looked back. I used a eraser wheel to get the adhesive off.
Xj's have nice natural lines so they look good even with out trim
 
Last edited:

Whaler

Adventurer
I first started working on the jeep when the headliner drooped, so I replaced it. I took it out one night and then put it all back in about two months later. Driving it around with no headliner was terrible but that was my first foray into auto-projects and it came out nicely so I was apt to do more. Later, when the front bumper rusted out. My wife had mentioned that it was looking pretty bad, so I jumped at the chance to replace because I had just read about Detours' OffRoad's bumper reinforcement, the BackBone. It's basically a skeleton that supports a winch mount and two recovery points, both of which stick out through holes cut in the OEM bumper. It's heavy duty, effective and discrete.

The first step was removal of the existing bumper's plastic end trim and the center metal bumper before taking stock. I applied PB blaster the day before I started and everything came apart ok. The bumper does have some stamped metal bolt clips, instead of nuts, and those are a bit annoying to deal with.

Once the front was stripped, I laid out the BackBone's primary piece in order to see how it went together before I finish painted it as Mark sends the product out with a primer coat only.

IMG_1074.jpg

I painted it up with Rustoleum rattle-can:

IMG_1039.jpg

The system is pretty slick and bolts well back into the unibody, utilizing the steering box bolts on the driver's side. Getting the steering column bolts lined up again afterwards was difficult.

IMG_1035.jpg

This is what it looks like before the bumper "skin" goes back over it:

IMG_1034.jpg

The next step is creating an opening in the metal OEM bumper, through which the recovery points and winch mount will protrude. Mark provides templating instructions, which are helpful, but I modified the opening shape. This added some complexity to the cutting but also eliminated a void underneath the winch mount, between the recovery points. Someday, if I decide I need more light, I might re-cut that section of the bumper and install a small LED strip right below the winch mount where it won't be seen.

In the below photo you can see blue painters tape along the edge of the cut. I used an angle grinder and it wasn't very pretty but cleaned up ok.

IMG_1514.jpg

With the bumper cut, you simple reinstall it using the same mounting points and the final product looks pretty clean and factory. My mistake was test fitting the bumper and then never getting back around to painting it after the cutting. I still need to paint it and the amount of prep that will be required keeps growing...

FullSizeRender.jpg

I still need to reinstall the OEM plastic bumper ends, but before I do so I plan to trim off the lower section that normally lines up with the air dam, which I removed a long time ago.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Since the time I first installed this Tailbone, I also received a Backbone, which is the rear bumper equivalent from Detours. It incorporates a tire carrier. I've gotten through the Backbone install but still need to cut the opening into the OEM rear bumper before reinstalling it. I've been telling myself that I'll paint the front and rear bumpers at the same time as a way of justifying my delay on the front bumper.

I'm very pleased with the Detours products and would recommend them.
 
Last edited:

Whaler

Adventurer
Yes I had trim. It was peeling off. So I took it off and never looked back. I used a eraser wheel to get the adhesive off.
Xj's have nice natural lines so they look good even with out trim
Thanks. My trim is still well-adhered but I'm going to remove it because the no-trim version looks so sharp. I had never heard of an eraser wheel but just watched a few videos and I'm glad to learn about it. Earlier today I was wondering how I might get the adhesive off without damaging the paint.
 

Whaler

Adventurer
Rust. It scares me. So if I wanted to build out the jeep, I needed to feel comfortable that it wasn't going to slowly disappear on me. In spite of lots of beach driving, the under body is relatively clean, although the wheels are deteriorating rapidly. Mostly, the trouble is all along the roof line, at the gutter seam and above the windshield. Between parking it under cedar trees and racking salty surfboards on top, it kept getting worse.

This is an area above the windshield, after the windshield rubber trim had been removed:

IMG_8179.jpg

At one point, thinking I might forestall the deterioration, I duct-taped over the worst spots. That was dumb and it proved difficult to scrape off the tape residue.

After chipping out the worst of the rust, i was left with more than a few holes that would need filling:

IMG_8162.jpg

I filled the largest holes with a closed-cell expanding foam (which won't absorb moisture) so that I would have a solid substrate onto which I could apply the filler.

IMG_8177.jpg

In the rear corner of the roof, I got lucky because there was a small amount of metal that was still intact along the edges of the roof's corner, between two of the adjacent rust holes. That metal bridge along the edge of the roof served as a solid reference point for shaping the foam and saved be from having to free-form an outside corner, which would have been difficult to do correctly. Here's a shot of that area, after I had removed all the duct-tape residue and shaped the foam to fit:

IMG_8287.jpg

As filler, I used kitty-hair fiberglass filler by Evercoat, because that's what I found at the auto-shop.

IMG_8294.JPG

When I applied the filler, I spread it on a piece of wax-paper first and then applied the wax paper directly over the foam and adjacent area. That allowed me to smear the filler evenly under the surface of the wax paper, wiping off the excess, before taping down the edges to let it dry. I don't know if this standard operation procedure or not, but it's a trick i picked up from a YouTube video and it worked really well.

This image shows the wax paper taped in place. Because I needed to apply filler down into the roof gutter, I wedged a little piece of leftover headliner foam into the gutter to fill out the gutter's interior and force the filler out to the edges of the gutter.

IMG_8296.jpg

When I peeled the wax paper off, the filler was already pretty well formed. I gave it a once over with a sanding block to even it out and then applied one coat of bondo to fill in a few of the little air bubble voids that remained. This is what it looked like by the time I masked it off for paint:

IMG_8301.jpg

Primed:
IMG_8308.jpg

A few years ago, the fiberglass body panel around the front grill (part name?) was scraped up a bit, so I had already bought some factory color-coded rattle can for those touch ups and had it handy:
IMG_8746.JPG

I drove the Jeep between coats, so I had stripped off the original masking before I sprayed the color coats. When I re-masked things a second time, I was a little lazy and didn't cover enough area. I got away with the color, but my final clear coat had some over-spray that ended up being visible on the top of the trunk hatch, which makes that paint look a little cloudy. It's very well dried at this point, so I'm probably stuck.... but does anyone have any silver bullets for removing a single layer of post-production paint, without damaging the factory paint below?

Here's the finished product:
IMG_8764.jpg

I'm happy with the result given that it was my first attempt at bodywork. It's far from perfect, but not really noticeable at a glance and, most importantly, I think I've halted the deterioration for now. Only time will tell. In the end, I'm now comfortable continuing to spend time and money on the build because this seems to be under control and that's what I was after.

This sort of work certainly isn't "expedition" specific and is pretty basic, but after reading other forums I like ExPo the best, so hopefully you'll all indulge my over sharing.
 

mtbxj87

Adventurer
Well besides cutting it out and welding clean sheet metal in, fiberglass is really your only option. Fiberglass doesn't absorb moisture like poly filler does. You're ok, but you might want to drop the head liner down and see what's under there.
 

Whaler

Adventurer
Well besides cutting it out and welding clean sheet metal in, fiberglass is really your only option. Fiberglass doesn't absorb moisture like poly filler does. You're ok, but you might want to drop the head liner down and see what's under there.
Thanks. When I pulled the windshield out I had a pretty good chance to evaluate what was going on by pulling down the headliner a little bit. Luckily the lowest layer of sheet metal (closest to the headliner) looked ok. It looked gnarly at first but cleaned up pretty well with the wire wheel and was mostly intact. I probably could have tried to get a little rust inhibitor into a couple of the holes just in case, but didn't think of it at the time.

Before:
IMG_8618.jpg

After:
IMG_8628.JPG
 

Attachments

Whaler

Adventurer
A few weeks ago I had a local shop replace the transmission fluid, filter and pan gasket, flush and fill the transfer case fluid, as well as the front and rear diff fluids and replace the cover gaskets. The Jeep now has 65K on it and is 20 years old. My wife and I just had identical twin boys, so I figured if I want to keep it around until they can drive it (that is if we're still giving out drivers licenses to humans then...), I better start taking better care of it.

The guys at the shop told me that I was going to need a completely new exhaust. It did sound like hell. Since they had done all the dirty work, I decided to use the jeep funds I had earmarked for suspension parts on the exhaust instead. I went with a Flowmaster Force II 409S Stainless "Mild Sound" Exhaust and a Flowmaster Cat.

IMG_8263.jpgIMG_8262.jpgIMG_8265.jpgIMG_8266.jpg

I did some research and tried to get something with a larger diameter that wouldn't be too loud. It drones a little bit more than I would like but is fine. Easy project but I'm not sure the Permatex Muffler and Tailpipe Sealer I used was the best choice because the first few times I drove it afterwards it smelled like something was burning, but that has dissipated.
 

Whaler

Adventurer
While I was figuring out what parts I would need for the exhaust, and I was laying under the truck, I noticed a dent in my front exhaust pipe, after the manifold and before the cat. I nearly ordered a new one (which are really hard to find by the way) before reading on another forum that they were made in the factory with an intentional dent. Strange. That particular theory read that it has something to do with emissions, as though the dent might restrict flow and/or create turbulence and thereby more heat before the exhaust gases reach the cat. If that's true I'd love to know the science behind why that works. Anyone know?
 

cdn_xj

Observer
While I was figuring out what parts I would need for the exhaust, and I was laying under the truck, I noticed a dent in my front exhaust pipe, after the manifold and before the cat. I nearly ordered a new one (which are really hard to find by the way) before reading on another forum that they were made in the factory with an intentional dent. Strange. That particular theory read that it has something to do with emissions, as though the dent might restrict flow and/or create turbulence and thereby more heat before the exhaust gases reach the cat. If that's true I'd love to know the science behind why that works. Anyone know?
IIRC that's there to clear the front driveshaft at stock height, full compression.
 

Whaler

Adventurer
I spent some time doing a little tire research the other night. I'm thinking I'll go with a 30X9.50R15LT Cooper Discoverer AT3 on my stock wheels. This paired with a 2.5" OME suspension. Any thoughts?
 

Whaler

Adventurer
I've been noodling on a storage box concept for my trunk kitchen. I'm trying to design a pull out countertop with an integrated drawer below the countertop. That concept is pretty standard fare, but I'm hoping to reduce the typical build up between each set of drawer slides, which creates dead space and eats up possible storage volume.

In order to solve that, I'm trying to more efficiently stack the pair of slides that allow for a telescoping assembly. The image below shows an incomplete cross section of the concept:



I'm planning to move forward on this in the next few weeks before the weather gets too cold to use it. But right now I'm still working out some of the kinks.
 
Top