Unique 1998 Jeep Cherokee XJ Build

A twin traction beam (TTB) from a full-size Bronco is an offbeat suspension to include when you’re doing a ’98 Jeep Cherokee XJ Desert Pre-runner build.

But it’s even quirkier when the ones doing it are twin brothers.

“My brother and I are a lot alike and we’re both into fabricating and desert racing,” says Ryan Filar. He and Eric have been working on their Cherokee build on and off for the last year, and they’re making a conscious effort to take the road (or trail) less traveled.

They’re after a family friendly vehicle that can also take on Baja-like off-road conditions without batting an eye.

Filar Brothers Jeep

Leaping at Opportunity

“We originally planned a simple build with an over-the-counter Rubicon Express lift and 33-inch tires,” explains Filar. “But after some late night bench racing and a few beers, we got ambitious and decided to try something that hadn’t been done before.”

Specifically, they wanted to try to fit a TTB front suspension from a Ford Bronco under the Jeep. When they were desert racing they sported 10 inches of suspension travel in their Cherokee and this build almost doubles that by cycling at 18 inches of travel. “It appealed to us because we knew we’d get more travel, a smoother ride, and way more cool factor,” he laughs.

They saw it as an opportunity, but what really spurred them on was the challenge of making it all work.

Filar Brothers Jeep

Custom and Class

Much of the build is custom although Ryan admits the Cherokee isn’t the ideal platform for it. The Filar brothers have taken the challenge head on, but when you’re looking for the perfect truck or Jeep parts, you hit some snags.

On the safety side, “It’s completely caged front to back,” says Filar. They added a slip yoke eliminator for the transfer case so there won’t be any vibration and the ride will be nice and quiet. As for comfort, “Nobody makes Cherokee race seats,” he explains.

So they put standard race seats in front and upholstered the rear seats to match the front ones. They also agreed to keep the air conditioning, figuring that will come in handy in the desert and make it one classy Pre-runner.

The vehicle specs include:

  • 98’ Jeep Cherokee XJ
  • Stock 4.0L inline 6 engine
  • Stock AW4 transmission
  • Pro Comp wheels and hydraulic bump stops
  • TTB Dana 44 front axle with 5.43 gears
  • Ford 9” rear axle with 5.39 gears

Filar Brothers

Racing and Beyond

Back in 2000, the brothers ran an off-road fabrication shop called Fat City Off-Road Engineering, and in the desert racing world, they came to be known as the “Fat City Brothers” or the Filarski Brothers.

“Filarski was our grandfather’s last name when he came over from Poland before he shortened it to Filar,” explains Ryan. When they raced their other Jeep, it was under the name Filarski Brothers’ Racing.

Desert racing is demanding and races like the Baja 1000 can require drivers to be up 48 grueling straight hours. The twins triumphed at Baja in 2009 in the 1700 class. “We took an early lead and 40 miles in we blew a tire,” recalls Filar.

After the setback, they managed to regain the lead and hold on for the win. “I’ve never felt anything quite like going through that finish line first,” he says.

The plan is for the build to be completed by spring of 2014 so Ryan can take his family down to Mexico or out to the desert. But it has to be able to whoop out and navigate the big bumps.

“We’d love to have it done in March in time for Tierra del Sol,” he says. With the brothers living only a mile apart and united in their effort to accomplish an innovative build, the desert sky’s the limit.

CJ Bantam
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