Looking for simple, functional XJ build ideas

Tony the Liger

New member
Not sure how to frame this search/question, so I'm hoping some of you have had similar ideas or goals and can provide some feedback. I have a '00 XJ that I never plan to use as a rock crawler. I'm never going to turn it into a muddin' rig. I'm not adding enough gear to qualify it as a second home. What I do want out of my XJ is something that will get me from point A to point B, no matter what's in between (to a degree, of course). I want it to get me to the forgotten kayak put-ins and get me back out without getting stuck. I want unobtrusive mounts for only the most essential equipment. If such things exist, I want upgrades/improvements to the engine that will inspire enough confidence to spend long days roaming around far from the main roads.

I want a subtle, functional build that has just enough to maximize the XJ's existing capabilities without going overboard on anything. Anyone gone down this road with an XJ, or know someone who has?

Hope I've painted a clear enough picture. Thanks for any feedback.


New member
First thing I'd do is replace the head on it if it hasn't already been done. The 00-01 models had a weaker head that will eventually fail.
Also, the front axle on the 00 is a low pinion d30 I believe. I'd swap it out for a high pinion d30 out of an older XJ, and if you have the d35 in the rear you can swap a c8.25 in. For what you plan to do the d35 should be fine but the c8.25 is a stronger axle and bolts right up. Get one from a 97-99 as they are 29 spline.
Upgrade the exhaust and get a true cold air intake. I have mine routed up into the cowl. After headers, high flow cat and muffler, and intake I got a 1-2 MPG increase and a bit more throttle response. You can also upgrade the fuel injectors to have a finer atomization of the fuel.
The XJ in stock form is pretty capable. Throw on some AT's and it can go most places. If you find the need to lift and get bigger tires you can always do that later.


Bad Influence
Your goals sound just like mine when I started my build. A great daily driver with adventurer ability.

First off forget the " replace everything" method. I have a 2000 XJ with 194.000 and it runs fine, pulls my 15 foot boat fine and runs gravel roads and fire trails just fine.

I did upgrade my suspension with a Rough Country 3 inch lift kit with springs, Bilstein 5100 shocks and replaced the whole front end with a Ruff Stuff 1 ton conversion. Added 31/10.5-15's AT's and its ready to roll. I have new roof crossbars to put on so I can mount my ARB 2000 awing, but I'm trying to get the paint done before mounting those items. I have attacked the rust with new floor pans, quarter panel and entire interior make over, but that's personal comfort.

Basically a small lift, cableable tires and component suspension are the immediate goals, anything else is " replace as required" items. Motor wise, replace belts, hoses, battery and anything not up to snuff. I find my stock Dana's work well and seldom, if ever, do I need 4low to access the fishing hole. I carry a Yeti 45 cooler and Army style footlocker for cook gear and Thule on top for camping equipment.

The XJ is a great platform for adventurer travel.

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Xtreme XJ

How about protection ? Skid plates & rocker protection (not nerf bars), tow points... F&R. Not necessarily the HD stuff, but all, but the rocker protection can be found as O.E. equip. There is a better selection from the aftermarket, but O.E. stuff is out there...
All the safety equip. for your region as well as a moderately equipped toolbox, a way to jump start the XJ...
Maybe a stouter aftermarket roof rack (gutter mounted) to haul said kayak...


That's kind of been my goal with my ZJ. So far a 2" OME lift and Bilstein 5100s with good AT tires has gotten me anywhere I want to go. I added solid recovery points and spent the time to make sure things like engine cooling and AC work like they should. Basic recovery gear, a fire extinguisher, and comms and its tame enough I can drive it to work or a couple hours on the interstate but still get out in the woods. With an XJ or ZJ you don't need much.


I love my 2000 XJ and it's a fun build. I can overland in it for tent camping... when I do I pull a Trekmate trailer for gear and my dog gets the back. The real reason I keep it is that Jeeps Flat Tow easily. I can setup my FWC as my base camp and checkout local trails and sites with XJ. Love my XJ and it was very capable even stock. Good luck with your build!!!



Easy Street on Mud Tires
Lots of sound advice so far. I second the motion NOT to change out the head just "because they all will eventually fail." They will not. I like motoboss's suggestions.

If you are going to upgrade an axle, you may just as well go for an 8.8 Ford. It takes a little more work than the D35/ChryCo 8.25 swap because you need to have mounts made and welded on - but they are stronger, you can get them in lower gears, and you can find them with a factory LSD. Look for them under the older Explorers.

For more XJ specific information, check out www.naxja.org. If it's been done to an XJ, someone over there is the one that has done it.


I will say that out of 2 XJs I have owned this one was my favorite. the ride was great! OME 3.5", moog upper control arms and bushings all the way around, rustys lower control arms and trackbar. OME shocks and spring, enough room to flex the 31" duratracs. I feel it was more than capable and very reliable for daily driver. I know someone mentioned swapping in a 8.25 rear, but running 31s on a d35 and with stock gearing youll have passing power and the odds of destroying the d35 with 31s is unlikely. as for protection, id keep it simple with the skids- lca skids and oil pan. if youre casually wheeling it, picking the right line will save your undercarriage and weight if youre intending to daily drive it.

as for the head, I had a 2001 and it was always in the back of my head that it COULD go. I bought it with 137k on it- flushed the coolant a few times, replaced the thermostat and before letting it go, I realized the radiator could have used replacing but she never ran hot and I never really planned on replacing the head- like mentioned above just because it has a 0331 head doesn't mean its definitely going to crack. I bought mine, did all the fluids, tune up, etc and just drove it. I replaced all the suspension when I bought it because the previous owner had a janky ass 4.5" rough country lift with an AAL in the rear so it rode like a dump truck. id definitely look into an OME lift if you can afford it, they ride great.


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New member
I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve got a stock XJ, and looking to keep it clean, classic, yet capable. Mines a DD, but I’d like to be worry free when camping and fishing.

After tons of time on the ole inter web I think I’ve decided on the 2.5 OME lift through dpgoffroad.com . Everyone raves about the OME lift, and Dirk at DPG.

I’ve replaced all the fluids one by one, and waiting for my cap, rotor, plugs, and O2 sensors to arrive.

One thing I’m bakck and forth in are recovery points. I’d like to keep my bumpers but may end up going with a more sturdy option. But daggum those things are expensive

Looking forward to seeing what you decide on.

Xtreme XJ

You can get O.E. or aftermarket reinforced tow brackets that might require slight trimming on the front spoiler.air dam... As opposed to traditional tow hooks that were oriented vertically & would hit on ledges or ?? I went with mid. to late 90s GM hooks that are oriented horizontal. I had to drill them to the XJ hook bolt spacing... I also trimmed the tips of the hooks so the tow rope/strap could slip on easier.I only needed them once, but they were solid & helped a little with clearance when creeping up stuff. In the rear a simple Class III hitch will handle things.