Peaked: Troy Hawley’s 1990 Jeep Cherokee

When you’re building an off-road vehicle, what comes out the other side must be at least two things – tough and capable. Mother Nature won’t magically make trails or mountains easier to climb just because your rig is ill-prepared. You have to have a 4×4 ready to go and make its own way through the wilderness. That’s what we saw when we saw Troy Hawley’s 1990 Jeep Cherokee.

Clad in a bare steel exocage, trimmed fenders, and stout axles, the Jeep had all of the qualities of a hardcore off-roading machine. We saw firsthand the kinds of obstacles it could take on, and it proved itself worthy against large rocks and deep gulches out in the desert.

We met Troy out at King of the Hammers. He was driving his Jeep through a busy canyon south of Hammertown, and we hailed him down as he clambered over rocks. He was more than happy to talk to us and share what it took to get his Jeep built.

Background Of The Build

Troy received the Cherokee after a friend’s passing a few years ago. “It’s been around since we were teenagers,” he said. “He had it for years and when he passed, it was left to me.”

Out of that dark time, Troy emerged with a purpose to honor his friend and give the Jeep the rebuild it deserved. “Back when we used to wheel it, he made it clear he wanted to build it up at some point,” said Troy. “I took what I knew, having done a lot of fabricating at small shops. I pulled everything out from under it and continued to build it over the years.”

After finishing the build, Troy has taken the Cherokee through the off-road hotspots of Northern California. “It’s been through the Rubicon and Fordyce,” he said. “It did great up there, and this year I wanted to take down here to SoCal and see how it did at Johnson Valley. This is my first time attending King of the Hammers.”

Build Highlights

The main thing that drew us to this Cherokee was the work Troy did on the outside, namely the exocage. “I built it myself,” he said. “I just finished it the Thursday before King of the Hammers.”

Using .120-inch-thick DOM tubing and a manual tube bender, Troy was a one-man show when it came to building and welding it together. “It took me an entire week to get it done,” he explained. “It was pretty exhausting figuring out some of the bends. I watched some YouTube videos, and that kind of guided me on how to do the bending. After that, it was all just finding the straight lines and drawing the steel to get the angles right!”

Troy took his time hand-making the cage for the Cherokee, using tried and true materials and methods. "I used a good amount of 19-foot sticks of DOM tubing," he said. "Almost 200 feet of tubing went into the cage. I'm really proud of how it tied into the engine bay and where the external reservoirs mounted for the shocks."

Troy didn’t just stop at the cage, however. He also got busy with armor and structural add-ons.”I did the sliders and bumpers. The unibody got plated from front to back, giving it more structural support. I did everything I possibly could to make it strong.”

The Cherokee's underside features a Dana 60 front end and GM 14-bolt rear. These are significant improvements over the weak Dana axles that plagued factory Cherokees.

One of the more noteworthy changes to the Cherokee was in its drivetrain. Not content to run on the stock Dana 30 front end and Dana 44 rear end, Troy swapped these out for beefier upgrades. “I installed a Dana 60 on the front, and a GM 14-bolt in the rear,” he said.

Suspension went from standard shocks and struts to more serious units. “I use 14-inch coilovers on the front, and 10-inch coilovers on the rear,” he said. “The fronts are Sway-A-Way Race Runner series. The rears are from Walker Evans.” Given most of Troy’s driving is relegated to rock-crawling, the setup has served him well. “I think I might retune the rears, just because I keep bottoming out,” he said. Bolstering these longer-travel shocks are linked suspension arms from Ruff Stuff Specialties, giving the Cherokee increased articulation and suspension travel. Ruff Stuff also works as the steering setup and an anti-wrap bar.

Troy’s Cherokee has a Badland winch to help it get out of trouble.

For footwear, the Cherokee sports Ironman All Country M/Ts and 17-inch beadlock wheels. Troy went with these lower-cost tires to save money on the build, and the Cherokee still gets great traction. “They were a cheaper version of the BFGs I wanted, but they’re good,” he commented. “They’re sticky enough out here, and I didn’t have to break the bank to get them.”

A Cherokee For All Seasons

Troy set out to make a Cherokee that honored his late friend, and we can see he succeeded. The Jeep showed it had real capability in Johnson Valley. But Troy is getting ready to upgrade it even more in the coming years.

“In 2022, I want to take the winter season to strengthen it even more,” he said. “I’m going to cut out the entire unibody, from front seats all the way back. I think a tube chassis is the way to go. I’ll also tub the rear, get rid of the leaf springs, link it, and put it on 40-inch tires. That’s the way I wanted to do it originally.”

Maybe if we meet Troy again at the 2023 King of the Hammers, his rig will put on an even more amazing off-road display in Johnson Valley. For now, we’re happy to see the Jeep getting used and driven the way it was meant to.

About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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