Upon return from my honeymoon, I was faced with a dilemma: What to do with a balky, unreliable Ford Taurus that didn’t owe me anything. At this point it had somewhere around 150K on the odometer, the engine was constantly overheating, the transmission was slipping, and I was pretty much done with it. Even if I’d wanted to repair it and keep driving it, I wasn’t in love with it. I kind of hated it, actually.
In a strange bit of coincidence, a neighbor up the street had parked a Jeep Cherokee on the street with a For Sale sign in the window. I passed it a few times and then actually noticed it, which got the gears in my head whirring. I called up and found that the price was exceptionally good for a Jeep in its condition, and made some calls to my mechanic friends. What they said confirmed what I thought: Cherokees are reliable vehicles, and the 4 litre 6-cylinder AMC engine was pretty much bulletproof. The seller was an ex-Marine logistics officer with a sheaf of paperwork that accompanied the car, so I knew it had been well maintained.
I loved Cherokees from the first year they were produced, and having driven many an XJ through the repo lot, I knew what I was considering. A no-frills 4WD platform, I always liked the look of their square styling and oversized wheels.
What he was selling was a 1998 (second-generation) XJ in 2-door Sport configuration, which meant that it had cloth bucket seats, stamped steel wheels, electric windows, and A/C. It was black over gray, which was perfectly fine with me, and the body was in decent shape. Some of the bumper plastics were deformed, but that wasn’t a deal breaker. There was no rust to be found, the 4-wheel drive system worked as advertised, and overall it was in fair shape inside and out. The seller had the good sense to peel the purple(!!) “SPORT” stickers off the doors, which I appreciated. We quickly struck a deal, and it was mine.
At this point, my Scout was completely out of commission, and the idea of a vehicle that could haul supplies from Home Depot back to the house was enticing. It even had an aftermarket medium-duty trailer hitch, which meant I could tow heavy equipment from the rental center (this was handy when I had to pay to drop an elm tree in the backyard and pulled a splitter home for two weeks to deal with the wood). Over the next couple of years I hauled bags of mulch, cement, and dirt in the back, threw plywood, sheetrock, and piping on the rack I installed on the roof, and stuffed it full of debris for dump runs. It did everything I asked of it and more.
It had its oddities, as all cars do. I remember disliking the cheap 80’s feel of the first-generation cabin layout, but this one was post-redesign so it looked and felt much better. The Chrysler radio was a weak, poorly designed lump that heat-soaked itself and died on hot days. Certain radio transmission towers would overwhelm it and render it silent, the only time I’ve ever experienced this in any car I’ve ever driven. I called Crutchfield and bought a Kenwood deck with a replacement DIN plate for the radio slot: problem solved. The driving position was perfect, one of the best greenhouses of any car I’ve ever owned, and the seats were pretty comfortable for Chrysler, although the footwells were somewhat cramped on long-distance trips. Interior panels squeaked and rubbed. The exterior panel fit was average for Chrysler (which is to say, mediocre) and it had been tapped at some point in the driver’s corner hard enough to make the hood release difficult and the driver’s door squeal when it opened.
The rear area was only a step above my Scout in terms of finish and amenities: it had the same style bench seat (fold and tumble), two armrests, and shoulder belts. There was carpet on the floor but that was it. The spare took up a generous amount of space on the driver’s side.
The engine was great for what it was. It provided plenty of torque and got the Jeep up and out of the way, at the cost of mileage. I was used to an average of about 12 MPG in the Scout with the top down, and shockingly I found the Jeep only got about 4MPG better with two fewer cylinders and the luxury of fuel injection. Working on the engine was reasonably easy; Chrysler actually included a lamp mounted to the underside of the hood. It was a bitch to reach the last two spark plugs but otherwise pretty easy to maintain, and I had few problems with it mechanically during my ownership.
It was an excellent snow vehicle, and the 4 wheel drive kept us on the road and moving with no drama during several heavy storms. Being used to locking hubs on the Scout, I enjoyed on-demand 4WD and not having to get out to engage the system when the weather called for more grip.
this is the biggest photo I’ve got of the replacement kit.
Somewhere around our third year, the driver’s window dropped down into the door and refused to come back up. We were in the parking lot of the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival, ready to go inside, and I had no tools with me to get it back up and lock the truck. I bummed a screwdriver from someone, pulled the door apart, and propped it up with a wooden stick topped with a sock until I could diagnose the problem. The issue was with the plastic worm screw that was attached to the electric motor: a section of the plastic had snapped off, leaving it useless. As life does, it got in the way, and the stick stayed in the door for months after that while I tried to source a replacement.
Because 2-door Cherokees are somewhat rare on the ground (there are no production breakdowns that I can find online, but some forums claim only 5,000 2-doors were made per year during the second generation), it was hard to find one in our local junkyard. The doors are shorter on the 4-door version, so I couldn’t just use a replacement from one of those–I tried–and I didn’t want to pay a dealer top dollar for an OEM part. What saved me was some dedicated internet sleuthing when an inexpensive repair kit popped up on my radar. A week later it arrived in the mail, and I had it installed in about a half an hour.
I also had to replace the gas struts that held up the rear hatch, as they began to sag slowly and then very quickly over a month’s time. Luckily the rear hatches are interchangable so here I was able to find five XJs and had my pick of the best struts in the yard for about $4. There were always Cherokees to pick over at that time; I think this was before they really started getting snapped up for budget off-roading. These days I don’t see many of them at all.
In early March of 2006, a drunk driver misjudged the corner across the street from our house and slammed directly into the left rear bumper of the Jeep, parked innocently at the curb. It pushed the bumper up and into the back of the tailgate, mangling the plastic endcap, but otherwise not doing major damage. They left, however, a trail of coolant and plastic that I followed for several blocks before it dried up and the track went cold. If the tailgate still opened, I would have considered sourcing a new endcap myself and leaving it, but it was stuck shut. Calls were made, the insurance industry lurched into gear, and we had the Jeep back in a couple of weeks, good as new. The shiny replacement endcap made the other three look old and gray in comparison.
We were only a couple when I bought it, so we overlooked the obvious annoyance of having two doors up until my daughter was born. I inherited a Saturn SC1 when I married my wife. Say what you will about Saturn, my experience with that car was nothing but positive. But being a coupe meant it was impractical for baby duty (it was the model year before they added the third door) and the ergonomics of getting to the back seat were terrible.
The Jeep was, in fact, the vehicle I drove to and from the hospital. With our tiny human bundled in the carrier, I cinched the rear-facing base down tight across the bench in back and made do with the gymnastics of getting her in and out for as long as we could, but the writing was on the wall for the Jeep. As my daughter got bigger and heavier, we were going to need a 4-door vehicle to make life easier.
At this point, my Scout was gone and the Saturn was paid off, running well, and more economical, so in 2010 started looking at CarMax for something above beater grade. We had three requirements: four doors, air conditioning, and a stick (this last request was my wife’s). This limited our selection, but after a month’s wait, a low-mileage CR-V with a stick popped up nearby, and we practically ran to the showroom.
When the new car made it home, I had the Jeep washed and waxed and put it up for sale on Craigslist. I had a few people come to look at it, and finally sold it to a father who was looking for cheap college transportation for his daughter. He hemmed and hawed over the price, trying to talk me down over the condition of the tires (they were, admittedly, going bald) and the battery, but I’d been honest in the ad and told him I wasn’t going to budge on the already equitable price. Why do people feel that they have to haggle over $25? I was getting annoyed with him and was very close to walking away when he relented. The deal done, I counted out my cash and signed over the title. His daughter drove it out of sight and I was left with a bittersweet feeling: it was an excellent vehicle with lots of life left, but it just didn’t fit our lifestyle anymore.
I had two of those (four door models) back in the early ‘00’s and absolutely loved them. They served my late wife very well during her real estate career, until she totaled the second one (first indication that she better quit driving due to her illness).
Occasionally, I’m still tempted to pick up another one. One of the greatest hits ever.
My cousin had a 1987 four door version with all the options. It was indestructible! It had well over 300,000 hard city miles when it was destroyed in an accident.
Starting around 1988 I began to wonder when Jeep was going to pull the plug on the two-door Cherokee. To this day, I wonder why they kept it in the line until the end of the XJ run, and didn’t even make it worth the hitch in the assembly line it no doubt caused by offering it only as a “special” high-end model.
Old xj still seen on the road occasionally here in northern Minnesota. Saw one on Thursday last – it had a severe case of rust no rockers on either side. How do they stay in one piece?
The AMC/Renault “alliance” did a great job with these SUVs. For their size and mission, they were well thought-out and rather convenient. As a former saleslizard, these were like gold on the used car lot. They could be priced anywhere on the spectrum and rarely spent any time on the lot. The early ones with the carbureted GM 2.8L V6 were weak sauce, but the burly 4.0L AMC motor really woke them up.
I’ve never owned one, but I’ve been in many. They always feel just right, you can always see where each corner of the car is when maneuvering on or off road. I’m 6’0″ with a 33″ inseam, so the seats have always felt just a bit short (too close to the floor) for me, but nowhere near as bad as the contemporary 4Runners did to me.
Now that I’ve got the kids out of the house, one of these probably wouldn’t be a bad little runabout for me, but I’d never find a decent one above the Mason-Dixon line. Bummer.
My daughter and her husband drove a well worn 98 (four door) for years. I will admit I was a bit apprehensive, thinking the repair bills will kill them. Other than a few minor issues the Jeep soldiered on… Unfortunately by 2013 with zero rust proofing being applied, the the rust monster was winning the battle. They listed it on an “as is” basis and received a surprising amount of cash for it.
@Syke…Off topic. I tried to discourage my wife from driving. Too many close calls!. I breathed a big sigh of relief when the Doctor suspended her license.
Many already know but I’ll say anyways, 98 was the best engine year of all XJ’s. That’s like saying superman didn’t have a cold that year, any year phenomenal but 98 I’m thinking the engine block God came and worked in Ohio’s plant.
The City of Houston’s PublicSurplus site occasionally auctions these off in good-but-high-mileage shape. I’m always tempted to get one, but as this author points out, replacement parts for the small interior electronics/mechanicals is an iffy proposition.
But they will always be some of the best-styled vehicles I’ve ever seen. If only it could still be so easy for designers.
Ive always found that pricing a few bucks more than you want and letting them haggle to what you intended works better.
As a frequent flea-market seller, that’s my strategy too.
Although I have never owned one, I have had some close calls. My sister bought a 93 4 door Sport with a stick as a new car. I did not know she was getting rid of it until after the deed was done, and I have never forgiven her for not telling me first. In fairness, I had never put in a request.
One of the times I was looking for cheap wheels I answered an ad for a really nice one that had some fairly significant front end damage. I toyed with the idea of buying it (the price was really right) and bolting on replacement parts until it looked good but Mrs. JPC talked me out of it. Today there is a white late 4 door that lives across the street, taunting me.This is a vehicle I would still love. I don’t think there is a single Jeep I would like better.
One lesson I learned long ago: figure out what you really want from your car and then add some blubber to your asking price. The entire world expects you to come down and you need to let your buyer think he won.
You don’t see them all that much anymore, but I used to see a 1st generation 4 door with the “wooden” sides and the non-standard Jeep grille (it was divided into rows of squares) while taking my morning walk. Then one day it disappeared.
I believe from ’86 to ’90 the XJ was available under the “Wagoneer” name, while the full-size SJ ws moved upscale to Grand Wagoneer. Quad-headlight XJs with woodgrain sides were Wagoneers.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a later two door XJ in the flesh, even the Comanche pickup seemed more common than the 2-door Cherokees overall. From personal experience, as a child no less, the rear doors on the 4 door version were an awkward climb into a tight and intrusive door opening. They almost seemed vestigial.
Brings me back though, I vividly remember the stand up spare tire in my aunt and late uncle’s tan XJ, which I thought was rad. These were how I feel modern SUVs should be, not like the Cherokee’s amorphous blob namesake we have today.
“Why do people feel that they have to haggle over $25”
Because they can. This has nothing to do with your Jeep or any other vehicle but I will mention it anyway. Years ago I worked for a market research company, one whose business was testing commercials and concepts for national advertisers. There was one company in particular (I won’t mention their name but they are a major US retailer) would go to the mattresses over a couple of hundred dollars. Their business was more important to our company than our company was to them so, in the end, our company gave in. It was fortunate for me that I did not work on the customer service side of the business or my career there would have been extremely short.
Agreed, but if I put “$1500 FIRM, AS IS” in the listing, I’m going to be pissed off if you spend 10 minutes trying to haggle $25 off for a weak battery.
Or you can go with $1600 FIRM and take $1550 after he “takes” you for $50. He gets to brag to his friends what an astute negotiator he is and you get $50 more than you really wanted.
Nobody believes you when you put “firm” in an ad anyway.
I bought a 1990 2-door XJ Pioneer new (factory order) in late 1989. As I recall, there was a very large discount offered on the 2-door versions. I tried getting in and out of the back seat on both 2-door and 4-door models in the showroom and it seem that the 4-door didn’t really offer much better access due to the wheel well intrusion into the rear doors. The 2-door worked fine for us as our sons were born in the early 90s and it wasn’t bad putting them in and out of their car seats with the 2-door.
I had 160,000 miles on it by 2004 and the required repairs were piling up faster than I could get to them. I parked it with intention of repairing, but in 2006 I picked up a 1994 4-door Grand Cherokee with 105,000 miles for $2400 and the XJ went to salvage. I drove the 1994 GC to 247000 miles and then replaced it with a 1995 GC with 160000 miles. In general, I found the first gen Grand Cherokee to have many of the good attributes of the XJ in a more robust vehicle.
I sometimes forget they made two doors this late until I see one.
One of my neighbors has a 2 door very much like this one, except it is dark blue. It’s a little bit rusty but in my opinion still a very sharp looking vehicle. I like it better than anything Jeep is building now. I knew the 2 door variant was less common, but I never thought of them as that rare as they always seemed to be around. Maybe I just noticed them more.
My mom tried twice to use these as a family vehicle. The first was an early one with the diesel, which was apparently pretty rare. It was not reliable and my parents got rid of it after a year or two. The second time was a 4-door 1997 model. Nothing really wrong with the Jeep, but just too small for family trips. Though it is special to me since it does have the distinction of being the first car I ever drove.
These old Cherokees are one of the saddest casualties of the ill-conceived ‘Cash-For-Clunkers’ program years ago. I didn’t mind many of the other vehicles being intentionally destroyed, but old Cherokees would have been good for parts sourcing.
Not to mention the video of the ‘death cocktail’ being poured into an old Cherokee’s engine to kill it. Yeah, it’s an inanimate machine, but it was heart-breaking to watch the old girl valiantly struggle to stay alive as the poison did its internal damage, then the inevitable end and silence.
I won’t comment on the cash for clunkers program, other than to say i paid waaay more for a nice ’95 Bronco a couple of years ago than i ever would have dreamed possible. And that’s the reason why.
As far as those Cherokees- I wish Jeep would bring them back. They, along with the CJ/Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee, are the quintessential Jeep. The rest of the lineup are Fiat’s with Jeep sheetmetal.
Gosh I had a 2000 model and the window went out also. My son had a 92 limited and thought he would save himself some work by just hauling some steal pipe in the jeep rather then tying it down to the roof racks. I told him not to take off too quick in fear of the pipe sliding out the open rear hatch. I did not think about him hitting the brakes to hard which he had to when someone in front of him did the same, Well you know the rest of that story.
I was renting nearly every week in the early 2000’s, and every so often I would be dealt a Cherokee Sport. Even though they were nearly new, they had an aura of antiquity that was unmistakable. They seemed crude, rough and noisy. At freeway speeds the poor things had no idea where “straight ahead” was, and required constant course corrections. The rental agency, where I was very well known, eventually learned they were doing me no favors when they gave me a Cherokee.
The daughter of a good friend had a Cherokee Sport that she “just loved”. I never got it.
Everything you wrote is 1000% true and that’s why they’re beloved, their actual SUVs, tanks with license plates. I’d rather turn up a radio and steer bit more knowing I’m in an Abrahams tank from hell. My daughter leaves out into a snowstorm she’s grabbing the XJ keys. Unstoppable 4WD, Unstoppable caveman engine that a monkey fresh outta a pharma lab with a wrench can fix, yeeeeeeeez Sir these are absolute gems.
512k… yes 512k ZERO problem miles. Im 42 bought new at 19 years old. There’s no other car I’ll drive today, I wouldn’t trade it for an entire dealership full of anything you could name let alone anything else. 21 years of Chicagoland weather is equivalent to nothing ever written about or thought of. Jeep died after 2001 to me, certainly after the last 4.0 liter 6 left the plant in Toledo Ohio. Many of my friends have 70k plus dollar “Suvs” and offer to buy my girl because the one they had in college or family had was somehow their favorite and never should have sold….I wish folks would believe this, most won’t but a gentleman at my club offered 100k flat out, offered it in front of others and I told him to insult somebody else with a working cassette player. I actually saw and understand, can relate to that movie Christine from the mid 80s. I came from nothing and went without, taking chance on buying anything let alone new at that early age was a big chance. I drove her off lot in Geneva Illinois 3.4 miles on odometer and I patted the dash and remember saying something to the affect of honey I’ll take care of you so do the same…512k miles later, that’s a promise kept. Wife thinks it’s a smelly spaceship and won’t go near anything unless it’s previously mentioned vehicles anyways. Two winters ago I was out of town, HUGE storm hit, really intense she texted me where the key for the dinosaur was, I told her it’s next to the divorce attorneys number, look underneath… didn’t go well, anyways she had to get to the stables for the 4 legged money eating horses we have, I haven’t heard Jeep enthusiasts yap like my ignorant wife still does today about the XJ. All the sudden she’s asking why her Lexus truck doesn’t handle well and why this that…I secretly love hearing all about her treacherous trip to the horses when everybody else was stranded, I said honey that’s an actual SUV, they don’t make these anymore please just take a break from playing 4wd reporter. Never went over 3k miles without oil changed BY ME 84 times thus far too be exact. 10w30 winter 10w40 summers. I’m blessed to have the means to drive or buy whatever vehicle today but there’s no other car except my XJ that’s been with me from the start of everything I love and have today. Do yourself a favor and go buy an XJ no matter the condition cosmetically, clean her up and you’ll quickly understand the meaning of loyalty