This stupid Jeep has become one of the family. It’s the first vehicle Hazel ever owned that his wife actually loves. It’s got enough backseat room for his three boys and their car seats. It’ll swallow a day’s worth of beach gear or accommodate enough bikes, toys, or fishing stuff for five people. It’s a day-trip, family-fun, retro-throwback machine. Get in, unplug, hit the road, and follow the grille wherever it takes you. The only trouble with this Cherokee is that so far every component has had to be replaced. And we do mean every component.
We first introduced this ’78 Cherokee Chief to you in “The Monkey Bus, Parts 1 & 2,” (July and Aug. ’11). After getting enough aftermarket and replacement parts thrown at it to sink a battleship, it was ready for the road. That’s when other ugliness began rearing its head. We won’t delve into everything here and now, but one of the biggest issues was the steering. Or, more specifically, the need to hold the steering wheel at 10 o’clock in order to get the vehicle to drive straight down the road.
In addition to the front (PN...
In addition to the front (PN 004402) and rear (PN 004408) 4-inch-lift springs, BDS sent its front and rear box kit (PN 014402), which includes Grade 8 U-bolts and locknuts, brake line drop brackets, and bracket hardware. We went with the standard 5500-series hydro shocks rather than the company’s gas-charged 9500- or 2.0-series shocks since we’re more concerned with a smooth ride than bombing fast off-road. We also opted for a dropped pitman arm (PN 083402) and the company’s Grade 8 spring eye-bolt kit (PN 121009).
When a leaf-sprung, solid-axle vehicle exhibits a severe pull to one side, it normally means a bent front axle, worn ball joints, a sticking brake, a bent spring, worn bushings, a bent frame, or any combination of the above. In our case, a little investigation led to some fun surprises. The first was severe porosity in the factory welds holding the shackle hangers to the frame. The driver-side hanger was partially knocked off and the passenger-side leaf spring looked to have a bend in it. We fixed the shackle hanger, but it had no effect on steering. Surprise number two came when we pulled off the front springs. The bushings were all toast and the passenger-side front spring was bent. That, coupled with the clicking and clacking heard from the rear suspension on every ride, sealed our decision to go with new replacement springs from a reputable company.
When it came time to choose our new springs, we knew BDS Suspension would get the nod. The company prides itself on building a quality product—so much so that it offers a no-questions-asked, free replacement warranty. Essentially, if your BDS component breaks, no matter the reason, the company gives you a new one. That’s it—no fine print or bull-byproduct. The company offers a 4-inch lift for our vehicle, including new front springs with factory-type rubber bushings, U-bolts, shocks, and brake line drop brackets. Rather than using a lift block or add-a-leaf out back, we chose the company’s optional full replacement packs with smooth, quiet rubber bushings. We also checked the option box for a dropped pitman arm and new spring eye bolts.
After we got the new lift on the small 31-inch tires just looked way too runty, so we transferred the 31s to our YJ and placed an order with Mickey Thompson for the company’s new Baja Claw TTC tires in a 33x12.50R15 size. We mounted the tires on some Mickey Thompson 15x8 Sidebiter wheels with a 3.31-inch backspacing. The new suspension isn’t exactly supple, but it doesn’t beat you up either. We’d put the ride quality slightly below the old, worn stock springs. However, with more room under the rockers for off-road clearance and the ability to stuff 33s with no trimming (or 37s if we want to cut the steel flares), we’re now well equipped to put our family wagon to work in the dirt.
Here are some salient points about our new BDS FSJ suspension and Mickey Thompson rolling stock.
• Ride is on par or perhaps ever-so-slightly firmer than stock suspension
• Stock suspension would bottom to bumpstops violently on big potholes and road incongruities
• BDS 4-inch suspension soaks up same bumps without discomfort, but overall suspension feels harsher on smaller bumps
• Steering wheel now straight and vehicle tracks with no left/right pull
• Jeep sits perfectly level with BDS front/rear spring packs; no nose-high or jacked-up stance
• Longer wheel studs may prove necessary with aluminum wheels (not much lug thread engagement with thicker aluminum wheels)
• Despite removal of sway bar, on-road stability and cornering performance not affected
• Springs still breaking in and feeling softer/more comfortable with every ride, but haven’t sagged.
• Baja Claw TTC tires roll very smooth considering how aggressive; road noise on par with other street-friendly mud tires like old-school BFG M-T.
• Rear BDS spring packs employ steel shims to rotate pinion upward—no driveline buzz detected at any speed with factory driveshaft
• Removal of exhaust hanger on passenger-side rear shackle hanger necessary for spring installation
A severe pull to the right...
A severe pull to the right gave us cause to investigate our front suspension components. Our driver-side shackle hanger looked like this. We ground out the porous factory welds, hammered the hanger back into shape, and welded it up with a triangular gusset, but the pull remained. There are photos and more detail of the hanger fix on our web site blog pages at blogs.jpmagazine.com.
The factory spring bushings...
The factory spring bushings were completely gone. They literally fell apart when we removed the springs for inspection. Rather than go through the trouble and expense of straightening and rebuilding our stock springs, we ordered up a set of BDS 4-inch lift springs—which have a lifetime warranty. The company recently began offering factory-type rubber bushings, which we normally prefer to stiffer, squeak-prone polyurethane bushings.
We began our installation...
We began our installation on the front by placing the vehicle framerails on jackstands, removing the front tires, and positioning a jack under the front axle. We gave away the front Monroe shocks and factory sway bar assembly and disconnected the drag link from the pitman arm. Before removing the front springs, we needed to address the front brake lines to avoid overextension during the front spring installation.
Although BDS includes brake...
Although BDS includes brake line drop brackets in its 4-inch kit, we’ve never really been fans. Instead, we purchased longer brake hoses for a ’76 Chevy pickup (PN SP4972) from our local CarQuest for about half the price of fancy braided steel lines. Note the length difference of the Chevy hoses (right) compared with the factory FSJ hose (left).
With the new, longer hoses...
With the new, longer hoses installed, we used the floor jack to support the axle and removed the U-bolts and springs one side at a time. Before installing the new BDS lift spring, we used an adjustable wrench to open up the hangers slightly to allow the spring eyes to easily slide into place.
The ’74-up FSJ front leaf...
The ’74-up FSJ front leaf springs have offset centerpins. Make sure you put the shorter side towards the front of the vehicle. Install the rear eye in the spring hanger first, then install the shackle end. Once the bolts are in, you can lower the axle onto the spring and install the new U-bolts. Snug down the bolts, but don’t torque them to spec yet.
Once both front leaf springs...
Once both front leaf springs are installed, you can slap on the new shocks. The BDS 5500 shocks are standard, non-charged hydro shocks with less compression and more rebound valving for a softer ride. The low price doesn’t hurt, either.
If you have an aftermarket...
If you have an aftermarket large-diameter front driveshaft or have made drivetrain modifications, you may need to reroute the exhaust for driveshaft clearance. At full droop the factory driveshaft barely misses the exhaust crossover pipe on V-8 applications.
We retained the stock steering...
We retained the stock steering linkages with no modifications other than installing the optional BDS dropped pitman arm (PN 083402). Buy or rent a pitman arm puller. Once you have a good deal of tension on the puller, give it a couple of gentle, yet firm, raps with a hammer. The pitman arm should pop right off. If you’re in the salt belt, you may need to grind a groove clear through the factory arm to relieve the tension on sector shaft.
The dropped pitman arm maintains...
The dropped pitman arm maintains the factory drag link angle and helps prevent loss of turning radius and overextension of the tie rod ends. Install the new pitman arm on the sector shaft and torque the nut to 200-250lb-ft with plenty of red Loctite. Reinstall the drag link, but wait until the rear is lifted and the vehicle is sitting level to center the steering wheel.
The rear install goes down...
The rear install goes down pretty much like the front with the exception that the rear axle must be supported before the U-bolts are removed. The BDS springs have a heavy arch and lining up the bolt holes can suck. Install the shackle, then the spring eye to the frame bracket. Install the shackle-to-shackle hanger bolt last. Our factory brake hose was too short, so we purchased a new brake hose for a ’78 J2000 pickup, which gave us the additional length we needed.
The 33x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson...
The 33x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tires are a relatively new design and proved surprisingly quiet on the road. The Mickey Thompson Sidebiter wheels we chose have a 3.31-inch backspacing and fill the wheelwells better than our old 3.75-inch backspacing wheels.