XJ Jeep Cherokees, with their unibody construction and boxy looks, have a serious cult following. It’s no wonder – they work well on and off-road and are built with some great components straight from the factory. Still, like anything else, they can be improved, and for some, adding a more powerful engine just makes sense. We’ve often thought (and we know you have too) that this platform is ripe for the installation of a GM LS V-8 engine. That’s exactly what Chad Minor of Vista, California thought too, but unlike us, Chad followed through on his idea and built this LS-swapped XJ over the course of 11 years or so. The end result is this beefed-up, well-built 1998 XJ with a 2001 LS1 5.7-liter V-8 and more.
The 5.7-liter LS1 is the first of the Gen III pushrod V-8s from General Motors, and was found in 1997-2004 Camaros, Firebirds, GTOs and Corvettes. From the factory, these engines made power figures ranging from 305-350 horsepower and 335-365 lb-ft of torque, which was a big jump over Jeep’s factory 4.0-liter I-6 with 190 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque. Of course, the LS engine isn’t the only modification Chad made to his XJ. Here are all the details.
Chad isn’t one to leave enough alone, so the 5.7-liter LS1 that powers his Cherokee isn’t stock. The engine is bored to .020 over stock, has 706 heads, an LS2 intake, a 92mm Holley throttle body, a mild cam, short headers, ARP rod bolts, and a Holley Terminator X-MAX fuel injection system with 6.68 Pro digital rush. This built engine sits in front of a 2003 4L80E transmission backed by an Advance Adapters Atlas II four-speed transmission. Up front, a 2008 Ford Superduty Dana 60 spins 5.13:1 gears on an ARB Air Locker. Out back, a Ford Sterling 10.5 spins the same ratio on an Eaton Detroit cabinet. The unibody frame is also fully plated along its length to withstand the LS and monoton axles. As anyone with a stock XJ knows, cooling a larger, higher horsepower engine can be difficult, but Chad was able to trim parts of the XJ unibody to fit a stock radiator for a 2013 Jeep JK, along with its Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) fan , used from the factory on 2012 and later Jeep JK. This fan keeps air moving through the radiator to cool the LS engine no matter what Chad throws at it, and he reports temps stay at 200 degrees even when playing in the sand.
Like the original engine, the stock suspension is long gone. Up front, the factory four-link was dropped in favor of a Clayton long-arm three-link suspension, and the rear leaf springs were removed in favor of a rear four-link. Suspension movement at all four corners is handled by dual-speed Fox 2.5 coilovers with Dual Speed Compression (DSC) adjusters. 2.5-inch air bumps handle any hard bottom. Chad built most of the Jeep, including the steering, which uses parts from Barnes 4WD and Jesse Haines for high-steer arms. The steering box is from an S-10 and is ported for a Trail Gear frame assist.
Safety and bumper
The interior of the XJ features PRP seats and racing harnesses to keep occupants safe. Telemetry is handled by the Holley Terminator 6.68 digital dash that is cleanly grafted into the Jeep’s dashboard. An exo-cage keeps the body lines true and the interior secure in the event of a flop or rollover. Bumpers, front and rear, are from Filthy Addictions.
- Stomping Grounds: SoCal Deserts
- Build Time: Jeep went from stock to what you see here over several builds and about 11 years
- Engine: 2001 GM 5.7-liter LS1
- Transmission: 4L80E
- Gearbox(es): Atlas II four-speed
- Low Range Ratio: 2.0:1, 2.72:1, 5.44:1
- Scan ratio: 69:1
- Front axle/differential: Ford Super Duty Dana 60, 5.13 gears, ARB Air Locker
- Rear Axle/Differential: Ford Sterling 10.5, 5.13 gears, Detroit Locker
- Front: Three-link with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers and 2.5 air bubbles
- Rear: Four-link with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers and 2.5 air bubbles
- Steering: Barnes 4WD parts, Jesse Haines high-steer arms, S-10 box ported for a Trail Gear Ram Assist
- Tires: 37×13.50R17 Cooper SST Pro
- Wheels: 17×9-inch Dirtylife Roadkill
- Varna VR 10 with Tacticall Offroad synthetic rope
- Exo ‘cage
- Fully plated unibody
- PRP seats and harnesses
- Filthy Addiction bumper