Jeep Cherokee V8: Hella Sweet Car of the Week

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Eric Rood, Mike Spangler
November 8, 2018

Every so often, a car shows up unexpectedly to a 24 Hours of Lemons race and blows away the staff like the Azz Backwards F-150 pickup truck some years ago. At the recent Cure for Gingervitis race at Gingerman Raceway, the Ho-Chunk team dropped one of the most beautifully executed shockers we’ve seen in some time with their “Jeep Cherokee.”

We had seen the same team, formerly known as Kentucky Spirits, at NCM Motorsports Park in 2017. They’d raced Nissan 300ZXs in a few different endurance series previously, but they showed up with a rather nondescript BMW E30 and finished a respectable 14th place. More importantly, they saw some great builds at that race in the Save the Ta-Tas’ bustleback “Cadillac Seville,” Done Racing Racing’s “AMC AMX,” and Speedycop’s Trippy Tippy Hippy Van, then thought, “Ah, we can do that, too.”

But what to use? Well, the team’s primary builder runs a shop and had noticed that he had never in many years had to do much more than basic maintenance on the 4.0-liter Toyota 1UZ-FE V8 in the top-of-the-line Lexus LS400 or SC400. And what could look more out of place atop such a car than a boxy Jeep Cherokee XJ? Just smoosh them together…how hard could it be?

He fetched both cars in one weekend: the Lexus SC400 from Georgia and the Jeep Cherokee shell from southern Illinois. The original plan was simply to drop the Toyota V8 and its subframes into the Cherokee, but the first measurements on that showed it impossible. Instead, they started taking more measurements of both vehicles and realized that a whole lot of them lined up well: wheels in the wheel well, firewalls, and even the exterior dimensions.

From the first cuts of metal to the last weld, the whole process took just five weeks to make a proper Cherokee-on-Lexus. The rest of the process—building a rollcage and swapping in the five-speed manual transmission from a Chevy Colorado—took another 10 weeks to sort. And by the time they were just buttoning it up, they had time for a “drive around the block” before loading it up on the trailer for Michigan.

The team had late-registered for the race, so it didn’t show up on any entry lists before the event. As a result, nobody knew it was coming until it turned the corner at Gingerman Raceway and Lemons tech inspectors and BS judges stook mouth agape at an impossibly lowered Jeep Cherokee.

Upon close examination, everything was beautifully done and the builder said that given the chance to do it again, they could make a completely seamless one now that they know where to cut. Even though the “Jeep” sits at stock SC400 ride height, it looks ridiculously low and insanely wide. The plastic late-model Jeep Wrangler fenders box in some serious rubber and the sidepipes just complete one of the most badass-looking Lemons vehicles we’ve ever seen.

And it was certainly no slouch on the racetrack with the fourth-quickest lap of the weekend and a 19th-place finish. Perhaps that calls into question how much it “drove around the block” before loading up, but who really cares? For their awesome build from waaaaay out of left field, Ho-Chunk took home the Organizer’s Choice.

The only question is: “What should this beautiful machine be called?” We’re leaning toward “The Jeexus.” We’ll more from the Cure for Gingervitis and the Great Lakes Mistake Rally soon.

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