Jeep’s heritage is arguably one of its most important aspects. The brand constantly references its past on its new models, showing that the current crop of engineers has immense respect for those that came before.
To prove that its not-so-long-ago past is still relevant and cool, Jeep brought out the Grand One project build to this year’s Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, an original ZJ Jeep Grand Cherokee that has been specially built to show its potential.
First off, you’ll be happy to know that Jeep gets its neat project build models from the same place you do: the internet. After cruising online postings, the team of Jeep engineers found an original ZJ with just over 100,000 miles on it, deeming it perfect to modify thanks to how clean it was.
Once the Grand Cherokee was transported back to Jeep HQ, it was torn down and built back up. The standard powertrain remains, a 5.2-liter V8 that made 212 horsepower back in 1993. Most of the other components here have been improved, with the biggest off-road modification coming from a set of 33-inch BF-Goodrich tires and big Dana 44 axles.
But as much as the Grand One is about performance, it’s about nostalgia, and it’s covered in it. Literally. Pearl Jam stickers, a car phone, an original Game Boy and even a David Hasselhoff badge have been stuck onto the Grand One in strategic places to make sure the ’90s aren’t forgotten. There’s even a tape deck that still works.
Interior modifications are few, but the nicest is a new plaid headliner that offers some cool style to an otherwise plain cabin. The tail lights are also special; pull them out and secret storage compartments are revealed, perfect for stashing that (insert a ’90s themed thing here) — Tamagotchi? Pog collection? Beanie Babies?
Taking the Grand One out on the trail was an instant reminder of how good modern cars are. It creaks, groans, chatters, and makes all sorts of unidentified noises as it bounces over the rocks, showing its age after 24 years of service. Some wheel rub at full steering lock doesn’t help either, but this vehicle’s charm far outshines its few shortcomings. In fact, some of the little nagging things that would off-putting in a new Jeep help make this ZJ more endearing.
Thanks to the lift and those fat tires, off-roading in the Grand One is a breeze. Although some Jeep purists wrote off this Grand Cherokee model because of its unibody design, it still packs a set of solid axles, an imperative part of any rock crawler.
Power from the stock engine, which has probably abandoned a few ponies along the way over its 20-plus years of driving, is still fairly strong, while the four-speed automatic transmission clunks through its ratios with short, pronounced shifts.
The Verdict: Jeep Grand One
As I mentioned off the top, the Grand One is simply nostalgia wrapped up in a project vehicle; a celebration of days gone by. It’s a reminder of where Jeep has been, and with the addition of modern parts, where the brand is today.