One of the "big lessons" I learned from Project YJ is that there are certain inevitable upgrades a dedicated four wheeler will make to his vehicle. One of those upgrades is body armor, and that upgrade is almost always done after you sustain body damage. So, in order to avoid "closing the barn door after the horses get out," armour was put on Project XJ before it sees any gnarly trails.
The good folks at OR FAB provided us with rock sliders and quarter panel armour. As with their bumpers, these items came beautifully finished with a black crinkle paint job. Also supplied were instructions and all the required nuts and bolts. (Unfortunately, we mis-placed the nuts and bolts for the quarter armour, and only found them after the install was completed! The end result is that we used hex head bolts instead of the much nicer pan-head bolts supplied by OR-FAB.)
The OR-FAB rock sliders are attached to three areas of the Cherokee: the leaf spring box, the uni-frame, and the bottom rocker panel seam. Lateral forces on the sliders (the kind you'd encounter when pivoting around a tree, for instance) are primarily dealt with by the attachment points at the leaf spring box and the uni-frame, and as such, they use larger bolts than those used for the rocker panel seam. Where the slider attaches to the rocker panel seam, it uses a long piece of flat stock that spreads the upward vertical forces even along the length rocker panel. In short, it's a very sensible design.
OR-FAB's instructions suggest clamping the rock slider in place using Vise Grips, and then marking the holes that need to be drilled in the vehicle, but we didn't have enough Vise Grips. So we improvised by using a floor jack and some pieces of lumber to hold it in place.
We used a floor jack and a 2x4 to hold the slider in place so we could mark some of the holes. By the way, this is definitely a two-man job, so make sure you've got a buddy lined up to help you do the install.
Here you can see how the back end of the slider mounts against the uni-frame rail and the leaf spring box. Because we were balancing the slider on a floor jack, we decided to drill a hole in the spring box, bolt that end of the slider in place, and then mark the rest of the holes that needed to be drilled.
The uni-frame rail and spring box with the pilot holes drilled in them. Nuts and bolts are used for the spring box holes. For the uni-frame rail, self-tapping bolts are used. Notice how that one hole is very close to the bottom of the spring box. The instructions say to use Vise Grips or an adjustable wrench to straighten the curve in the spring box before drilling.
Drilling the pilot holes for the forward uni-frame rail bolts.
The outboard portion of the slider mounts to the bottom of the rocker panel seam. We found it difficult to mark these holes because the slider bar got in the way of our marker, so with the slider held in place, we only marked the horizontal positions of the holes. Then we moved the rock slider out of the way and marked the vertical positions by measuring from the bottom of the seam. Don't worry, this will make perfect sense when you do actually try to do the install yourself.
Nut and bolt holding the outboard part of the slider mount to the rocker panel seam.
Front of slider bolted to frame.
The sliders stick out just the right amount, closely matching the width of the Napier Precision fender flares.
The sliders also leave plenty of room for running larger tires. Project XJ is sitting on 31" tires right now, but we can easily go up a few tire sizes later on without worrying about them rubbing on the sliders. It's like they were designed with our expanded fender openings in mind.
Quarter Panel Armour
The quarter panel armour incorporates a crease about a third of the way up that lines up with the crease in the Cherokee's sheet metal. It's a testament to OR-FAB's quality of design and manufacturing that this crease was a perfect match to the factory crease. The only difference is that this armour is straight, where as the factory sheet metal has a very slight curve to it. But that discrepancy disappears once all the nuts and bolts are tightened.
We opted for the quarter panel armour that came with nerf bars welded to the sides. Rubbing and leaning against trees is a common occurrence here in western Canada. Even with our YJ and its short wheelbase, we frequently dragged its quarter panels along trees, and we expected this to be even more of a problem with the longer XJ. The nerf bar option gives us additional stand off from the trees, improving our odds of avoiding damage to the Jeep's roofline.
Based on our experience with the other three OR-FAB products on Project XJ, we assume that the quarter panel armour would be a perfect fit. But in our case, it wasn't, because we had widened our fenders by a large margin, and added big, beefy, Napier Precision fender flares. That required us to perform some basic plasma cutter surgery on the armour before attempting to bolt them to our Cherokee.
Our first step was to make a paper template of the fender well opening.
Here's the passenger side template taped to the armour. We taped it to the back of the armour in order to easily align the top of the template (which was aligned with the top of the body crease) with the armour's crease. This gives you a very clear picture of just how much the Napier Precision flares allowed us to open up our fender wells.
With the template in place, we were able to mark a cut line for the plasma cutter. You'll notice that we had to cut off some of the armour's mounting holes, which meant that we needed to drill new bolt holes in the armour. After plasma cutting, we worked on it with a flapper grinding disc and some flat black paint to make it look pretty. The paint matched the armour's original paint quite well.
Before mounting the armour, we had to remove the interior liner so we could put nuts on the armour's mounting bolts. (Bolts go in from the outside, so the nuts have to go on from the inside.) To do this, we first had to remove the trim at the bottom of the lift gate opening. Red boxes mark the location of screws and bolts.
To remove the driver's side liner, we removed these screws and bolts (red boxes), and unclipped it in the locations marked by the green boxes. To unclip, all we had to do was slide the liner straight up. Any wires or harness located near the outside body panel were moved out of the way, lest they get pierced by the drill bit (see, I did learn something from this incident!).
Passenger side liner.
Once the liner is removed, you'll want to remove this electronics module by prying out the two plastic push buttons (sorry, I don't know the actual name of them). Even with that module removed, you will wish you had the slim arm of an unusually out-of-shape chimp, because you will have to stick your hand into that too-small opening and all those sharp edges, and try to reach down behind the gas filler to thread nuts onto the rear-most armour bolts. Band-Aids will come in handy during this step of the installation. But despite my best attempts and several lacerations on my arm, I couldn't even reach the bottom-most bolt.
To thread the nut onto that bolt, I put the nut and washer on the end of a telescoping magnetic pick-up tool, carefully snaked it through a gap (see the green square), positioned it against the end of the bolt, and got my buddy to turn the bolt to thread the nut. Of course, it wasn't actually that easy, because the magnetic kept getting stuck to the various pieces of sheet metal surrounding the bolt. It was like playing Operation! Once it was threaded, I could put a box wrench on the nut while the bolt was tightened from the outside.
The passenger side was much easier, since there was no filler tube to get in the way.
Remember when I said we'd have to drill holes in the armour because we cut three of the original holes out? Here's where I've marked where the new holes will be. Only needed two instead of the original three, since there was no place to put the forward-most hole.
Bolting the armour to the Cherokee was dead simple. Just remember to thread all nuts and bolts first, before tightening (remember, the body is slightly curved while the armour isn't, so leaving everything loose at the beginning is a very good idea).
You can see how much stand-off the quarter panel armour's nerf bar provides. We'd have to lean quite a ways into a tree before it hit our roof.
By the way, the instructions said to remove the tail light housing during installation, but we didn't find it necessary at all.
Project XJ with the quarter panel armour and rock sliders installed. Looks great!
The installation of the armour was a very painless experience. With the exception of the fender well opening (which was obviously due to our non-standard Cherokee fender wells), everything fit perfectly and all the necessary nuts and bolts were provided. We're looking forward to putting the armour to the test out on the trails!
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