Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

A cautionary tale about a Jeep conversion crossing the line

Exo skeleton

Jeep cherokee 4.0 with Exo skeleton roll cage

“Yeah, I spent about $100 000 on my Jeep before I sold it. Of course, I never got the money back, but hey….”

His voiced trailed off as if losing a 100k was the most ordinary thing in the world, barely worth elaborating on. My co-driver (we’ll call him Bill) was test driving my Jeep Cherokee XJ at the time; I was looking to sell and he was the first buyer on the scene.

Bill’s remark got me thinking back to my very own over-capitalised Jeep journey, back when I swore that I’d never need anything bigger than a 30” tire. Looking back, my naivety was laughable; I clearly didn’t know myself very well. A trip to Dr Phil would’ve been a cheaper move.

My Jeep Cherokee was stock standard when I bought it – that was my first mistake – but I was young, dumb and full of dreams. First came the mud-terrain tires, then the suspension, then bigger tires, then more suspension upgrades, then bigger tires, then gear ratios, then diff-locks, then a roof rack with accessories, then a bull-bar, then a winch, then custom pipe doors, and then and then and then…

Stock standard Jeep Cherokee 4.0 XJ
A less grey, more… “streamlined” version of myself pictured with my stock-standard Jeep Cherokee 4.0

I used to wonder at what point I crossed the line. When did logic and sense bow out to the barrage of emotional wants and crazed credit card swipes?

The question kept swirling around in my head. Half the problem was that I was so far past the line that it looked like a dot to me. The other problem is that there are no guidelines or rule books that indicate where the 4×4 modification tipping point lies: when does the financial input drastically exceed any possible return? When can you no longer get your money back because you’ve over-capitalised your 4×4?


Then it hit me. I was attending the Overland Expo in Arizona (USA), making my way through the parking area when a silver Jeep Cherokee caught my eye. The Jeep looked so simple, so clean, and so unbelievably appealing that I couldn’t walk away. Its modifications were limited to a 4.5” suspension lift and a set of 31 inch all-terrain tires on deep-dish rims. That’s it.

Entrance to the Overland Expo
The Overland Expo is an annual event that takes place in Flagstaff Arizona. Although it’s fairly “new” on the off-road calendar, the expo is growing every year. Definitely worthy of a visit.

I was enchanted, and it was at that point that I remembered my own Jeep once looked that way: simple, clean, affordable.


The problem with making a 4×4 highly modified is that there’s no end to that road, only harder roads to conqueror. A diff-lock, for example, will make your vehicle more capable on a grade 3 trail, but it will also make the trail overly easy and boring to drive, which is why you start looking for grade 4 trails. Then you realise that traction is no longer the problem, clearance is, so you turn to the next upgrade: bigger tyres and suspension. Then grade 4 trails suddenly become boring, and so the horizonless journey continues.

Before you know it you’re driving a vehicle that can scarcely handle a flat tar road, like a socially inept pit bull that mindlessly froths at the mouth. It’s not a pet anymore, it’s a single minded bloodlust machine.

Modified Jeep Cherokee 4.0 XJ with 33 inch tires

So where does the obsession end? Or rather, does it ever end? Of course is does, but the finality doesn’t lie within your Frankenstein creation, the limitation is in your head.

An artist can only add so much paint to canvas before things get messy and senseless. This is usually the point where your mates start to talk about you behind your back; they stand huddled around a fire (that you weren’t invited to) and make comments like:

“Maybe we should say something to him, that last modification looks flippin’ weird”

“He’s lost the plot”

“I heard his wife found his last receipt, he’s now sleeping in the driveway in his rooftop tent”

Jeep Cherokee 4.0 XJ with 33 inch Cooper tires

But the problem isn’t with the vehicle, it’s your vision of the vehicle that’s drawn to a close. In the beginning stages of a build you know exactly what you want. You have a vision of how the vehicle will look one day, and when you finally get there, you realise you’ve run out of dreams to dream. At this point only two options exist: sell the vehicle, or strip it down and start over again with a new vision. The answer is NOT to keep bolting stuff on.


And so, much to my surprise, I started the strip-down process. I was going to rebuild the Jeep XJ from the ground up, but there was just one thing missing… a dream.

Jeep Cherokee 4.0 XJ with half doors

Jeep Cherokee 4.0 XJ with pipe doors

I didn’t know where to start, but even more so, I had no drive to get it going. It was at that point that I realised my journey with the Jeep was over. I’m not going to lie: it was an emotional feeling.

I replaced the Jeep XJ with a Nissan Patrol 4.8-litre, a vehicle I’ve loved for many years. However, this time I was a little wiser with my purchase and bought someone else’s over-capitalised project. The vehicle was fully kitted, but despite its long list of accessories, I immediately found myself planning a new look. However, this time will be different, this time I’ll keep things simple… as soon as I get back from the head shrink.

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