Ginsu XJ

The Cleanest Jeep XJ Beast in the World

In February 1992, my father gave me a Jeep Cherokee Limited as a college graduation present. A new car is an exorbitant present for most families, and it was for us, but I felt I deserved it. My whole life up til then seemed to consist of an endless harangue about getting into the right school. I’d finally, although barely, finished with the whole charade, and I got the car of my dreams for it.

1992 was the last year before Chrysler screwed up the fabled Cherokee line by introducing the Grand Cherokee (model ZJ), a cushy concession to the market. The hardier model XJ was one of the greatest cars of all time, the car that established the “sport utility vehicle” class before the Ford Explorer and all its successors turned SUVs into a new generation’s station wagon. The 1992 Jeep XJ was the last year that the XJ Limited was the greatest SUV in the world, and the last year that meant something worth anything. XJs were really made for the trail as well as the open road.

And I took to the open road as soon as I could, driving aimlessly across the country away from everything I’d ever been and done. It was awesome.

After a dozen years or so, I still had the XJ, with a few small upgrades: bigger suspension and wheels, new paint, minor bolt-on engine mods. A guy named Jeff Arabia did the suspension lift for me. He told me that someday I’d want to do something ridiculous to my Jeep, not because I needed it, but because I wanted it. But I was ok with the modest beefiness he’d added to my XJ.

A few more years down the line, I couldn’t forget about Jeff’s words. I needed a bigger Jeep. No, I didn’t need it, but I wanted it – I wanted it so bad that I needed it. After 20 years with my faithful Jeep, it was time to really take it to another level. Which first meant taking it down to the metal.

Yep, we had to strip it all down, because we were going to put in this beast of an engine:

Now, an engine like that is not supposed to fit in this car, especially if you want to keep luxuries like air conditioning. But Jeff is a mad genius, and he made it all fit.

And the suspension work this time was serious.

What I love about Jeff’s work is that he really sweats the details. The job isn’t about hacking up some monster truck, it’s about making a clean build. Downright sanitary, as he likes to say. This thing is a beast, but it’s an exceptionally clean beast, with seriously overbuilt supports, solid welding, and attention to detail, like making sure the oil pan has just enough clearance. Sometimes cutting a corner means doing it right!

The work was beautiful inside and out …


In the summer of 2012, I finally got the Ginsu XJ out on the Rubicon Trail, one of the great natural environments this world has to offer, only accessible by seriously capable vehicles (or a really long walk).

All pics above and many more can be viewed in this photo album. And finally, here’s a little video of the Ginsu XJ in action on the trail:

22 Nov 2012

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