XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Family Off-Roader Gets A Garvin Sport Rack

If a good and cheap family off-road vehicle exists, then the Jeep Cherokee XJ would be at the top of that list. If you have owned an XJ or own one currently, you understand that this vehicle is truly a Jeep and comes with Jeep-sized problems. It is small, and fitting a family might mean sacrificing essential cargo. So, what kind of XJ Cherokee upgrades are out there that can help with those spatial issues?

That is exactly the issue a friend of ours was facing. “Our little XJ fits the bill for short local adventures to the mountains and deserts around San Diego,” he explained. “But when we plan and pack for longer trips to places like the Colorado River or San Felipe, Mexico, we max out the Jeep’s cargo real quick.”

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Cargo Expansion

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Family Off-Roader Gets A Garvin Sport Rack

For a turn-key XJ Cherokee cargo expanding upgrade, we turn to Garvin Industries which specializes in American-built cargo racks. Garvin’s Sport Series Racks are ideal for a vehicle like a Jeep Cherokee for multiple reasons. They are lightweight, easy to assemble and install, and are configured with vehicle-specific mounts. For the 1991-2002 XJ Cherokee, the Sport Series Rack, two part numbers are available in either a 52-inch (#34013) or 60-inch (#34014) version.  The 60-inch rack mounts to the XJ’s rain gutter rail and we demonstrated that on our Project XtremeJ a while back.

The Garvin’s Sport Series 52-inch rack is designed to affix to XJ Cherokees equipped with a factory roof rack. It should be noted that Garvin makes the Sport Series racks and other rack products to fit various vehicle makes and models.

What we like about Garvin Industries and its rack products is that everything is designed and made in America, using only steel fabricated in America. Each steel product is finished with a durable two-stage powdercoated finish.

Sport Series Rack Features And Benefits:

  • A unique style that blends itself with the modern SUV.
  • Redesigned rack with a tapered back top rail.
  • Designed and made in America using only American steel.
  • Finished with a durable two-stage powdercoated finish.
  • Made from 3/4-inch diameter steel square tubing.
  • The vertical dividers have a unique design to help reduce wind noise commonly associated with empty roof racks.
  • 4-inch high sides mount directly to the factory O.E.M. roof rack.
  • Comes complete with all mounting hardware.
  • Can be shipped UPS.

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Family Off-Roader Gets A Garvin Sport Rack

For the vehicle subject in question here, Garvin’s Sport Series 52-inch rack was selected. The kit comes supplied with everything required to securely mount the rack to the XJ Cherokee’s factory roof rack. This includes four nifty little three-piece brackets that clamp down on the roof rack rails.

The main rack structure itself consists of one front section, one rear section, one hardware kit, and two side rails that connect everything together. Additionally, this kit includes six bars that make up the roof rack flooring.

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Family Off-Roader Gets A Garvin Sport Rack

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Sport Series Rack Assembly

The assembly and installation process took our guy a little over 1 hour and 20 minutes from start to finish. He reported the biggest challenge was determining how the mounting clamps would be configured. But after reviewing the directions once more, it was made clear to him what needed to happen. After a few minutes of fiddling around with the first clamp, the rest went right into place.

The whole process begins with opening the box and laying out all the parts. Unpacking the instructions reveals a parts manifest, and we always recommend identifying each component to confirm a complete kit has been supplied. Before you begin assembly, it is also advised to read the instruction process for a complete understanding of the installation.

Parts laid out and then parts assembled into the basket mockup.

From here, you can begin a rough assembly of the basket structure. Mate the front to the back with the side rails and hardware. These rails are configured to be aligned so that they can only go one way. There is also a Garvin logo designated to indicate which side faces out. Again the directions clearly spell this out. It is best to leave the hardware loosely assembled until the entire rack is built in case any adjustments need to take place. Once fully assembled that rack forms a sturdy cargo basket that can hold and carry loads that exceed the vehicle’s factory roof rack capacity.

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Sport Series Rack Installation

Once our guy had the rack assembled, it was time to put into place the mounting clamps. The instructions present were to situate and install the mounts, bow and stern, on the vehicle’s roof rack rails. This is an important step not to be overlooked since this is what distributes the load and transfers to the vehicle. Again these are left somewhat loose for final adjustments.

Before and after the Jeep XJ Cherokee upgrade.

Next, he and a buddy carefully set the basket on the XJ’s factory roof rack. They squared it up and aligned down the vehicle’s center profile. At this point, they could mate the basket to the mounting clamps via the top bracket. This was a good time to check their work and confirm they were satisfied with the position and placement. Finally, they went through all the hardware for tightening and then they tightened up the mounting clamps for extra good measure.

The installation difficulty on this project was very simple and scored one wrench out of five on our Off Road Xtreme technical scale. Anyone with essential tools and a little common sense could complete the job in a reasonable amount of time. We will credit that to Garvin Industries’ well-designed product and precision manufacturing.

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Family Off-Roader Gets A Garvin Sport Rack

Final Thoughts: Garvin Sport Series Rack

Overall, the vehicle owner was very pleased with this XJ Cherokee upgrade. “The rack looks awesome and is very well built,” was just a little of the feedback that he provided. “One comment would be to offer longer middle/side pieces so we could make the rack longer to accommodate bigger items.”

We say this is a valid point, but we suspect Garvin made this rack specifically to fit all XJ Cherokees with the factory roof rack, both four-door as well as the shorter two-door version. Either way, if you see a family of four in a 1997 Cherokee Sport out on the trails around San Diego County, give them a wave and a nod for us.

XJ Cherokee Upgrade: Family Off-Roader Gets A Garvin Sport Rack

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Micah Anderson

Micah is a 20 year authority in the off-road industry with extensive experience founded on marketing, events, and racing. Professionally skilled in all things creative, Micah is passionate about faith, freedom, and anything powered by adventure.
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