By on November 25, 2015

00 - 1991 Jeep Cherokee Sport in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

The XJ Jeep Cherokee was made for approximately a thousand years (OK, 32 years, counting the still-in-production BAW Knight S12), and these trucks are still extremely easy to find here in Colorado. Nice XJs still command good prices here, but used-up ones fill the local wrecking yards. Since I shared a junked Grand Cherokee last week, it’s only fair that we should admire a discarded Colorado Cherokee Sport.
05-Jeep_Cherokees_24_Hours_of_LeMons

We’ve had a number of these trucks in the 24 Hours of LeMons race series, where I toil as Chief Justice, and it turns out that they do shockingly well on a road course. Yes, independent front suspension is overrated!

03 - 1991 Jeep Cherokee Sport in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

This truck is a rusty Sport version, with 4.0-liter AMC straight-six engine, four-wheel drive, manual transmission, and snazzy-looking orange-and-red tape stripes galore.

14 - 1991 Jeep Cherokee Sport in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Not a huge number of miles, but enough that the rust wasn’t worth attempting to fix.

07 - 1991 Jeep Cherokee Sport in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

The 4.0 version of the American Motors L6 engine has a lineage stretching back to the 232-cubic-inch version used in the 1964 Rambler Classic and is (presumably) still being made to this day in China.

The Cherokee Sport helped cowboys establish romantic relationships with their horses, according to Chrysler’s marketers in 1993.

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43 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Jeep Cherokee Sport...”


  • avatar
    319583076

    Selling my ’96 XJ is probably the largest automotive regret of my life. :\'(

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      Selling my 95 XJ was not my largest automotive regret (that is a tie between my 88 Thunderbird Sportcoupe V8 with all the right options, bought new, and my 1961 Jaguar Mk II 3.8L sedan, in BRG, wire spoke wheels, real wood panelling, a Studebaker-Borg-Warner auto trans as good as any I ever drove) but I do sincerely wish I still had the XJ, though today I proudly push my 97 Grand Marquis.

      Panther love forever, but the XJ with the 4.0 I6 is also an all time great…

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The sheep in picture two is not amused.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I have shopped for an XJ many a time here, trying to find a good cheap one. It’s very difficult because:

    Rust x 1000
    Mudders modifications
    More rust

    I’d especially like to find a later Limited or Country trim, with nice wheels and wood on dash! Rare rare. Makes me irritated that -every- XJ Cherokee sold in the UK was a Limited.

    http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1996-JEEP-CHEROKEE-2-5TD-LIMITED-4X4-MANUAL-DRIVES-WELL-PX-SWAPS-WELCOME-/321929691292

    I mean $1500, honestly.

    • 0 avatar
      tpepin

      They pop up in good shape, clean and not rotted out here in CT where they were the ultimate preppy vehicle for a number of years. Frequently seen festooned with ACK, MV and Pink Whale stickers on the rear window. One local dealer usually has 3 or 4 in stock though they want $3500 and up.

      http://www.shoreline-auto.com/inventory/2001-jeep-cherokee-sport-3/

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Ha. When I was in college in the mid ’90s, I knew a woman from CT who had a blue XJ. I got recruited to ferry it a few miles from her cousin’s house once because her boyfriend couldn’t drive stick.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Argh! There’s a clean, one-owner ’96 available nearby with the 5MT and relatively low (160k) miles. You guys are gonna make me buy one!

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Be careful with them! Perhaps Gtem knows specifically, but there was a big engine issue which started on the 4.0 around that time. I absolutely can’t recall exactly, but there’s a year to avoid with them between 95-97. I ran across it when I was searching used ones a couple years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Corey, the issue you’re thinking of is a manufacturing defect in a run of heads on 98-99(?) trucks. Cracks form and the head needs to be replaced. Actually not THAT scary since the overhead valve engine is so easy to work on. Swap in a refurbished head and away you go! The 4.0Ls have some other endemic smaller issues, notably cracked exhaust manifolds and cooling systems that need monitoring. Again it sounds worse than it is, most of the guys that drive these things these days skew towards the DIY side of things, so buying some cheap replacement parts on roackauto and installing them is no big deal. Pre-90s trucks have unique fuel injection systems (a French Renix system) and non-pressurized cooling systems, which is another AMC/Renault anachronism if I remember correctly.

          I’ve never actually owned an XJ, mind you, I’ve only researched the bejeezus out of them before ultimately settling on a 4Runner.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Yes, was thinking of the heads issue. They used some sub-par material for the heads in those years which was too soft, etc.

          • 0 avatar
            anti121hero

            99-01 for Cherokees. 00-02 or so for grand Cherokees and wranglers. 0331 casting on the head.even if afflicted, a head swap is an easy job and can be completed in an afternoon or two after work.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          I know there was something with the thrust bearings for the crankshaft. The crank moves so far in one direction that oil runs out of the main bearings and oil pressure drops to nothing. My friends ’01 suffers from this however, so I don’t think it was ever fixed. On the bright side, this has been happening for about 5 years now, and the thing is still kicking. I thought it was going to blow up a long time ago. Also, the transmission has been slipping on occasion for about the same amount of time.

          As far as rust goes, his body is clean, but get under it and it is a rust downpour. He bought the thing because he always liked them, and that was the last year available.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      What about even more rust?

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      You’ll never find a good, cheap XJ.

      Don’t forget: Even more rust! They even rust out here somehow! Old Datsuns don’t even have that problem!

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Murilee, I know you know what rust looks like, that thing is the opposite of rusty. It’s one junkyard door away from being on the front line at an east coast BHPH dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It looks nice on the outside, but these things rust from the inside out. Chrysler mostly addressed its notorious rust issues with galvanized steel, but long after they bought AMC, Toledo was still building Jeeps the old way.

  • avatar
    whynot

    Use to have a Desert Sand ’99 Limited (I think that color was a one year run only). Family had it since new. I hated the thing at the time (I don’t off road…and on the road Cherokees have few positive attributes to be honest) but god do I miss it now and wish we never got rid of it.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      I always enjoyed driving mine on-road. Lightweight, plenty of torque, cornered without a lot a roll, huge greenhouse, great driving position, and drove through inclement conditions as if they were dry pavement. My sole complaint about the stock XJ is that they were under-braked. They stop OK, but the front rotors and pads were too small and therefore required frequent replacement.

      • 0 avatar
        whynot

        I agree with you in terms of torque/weight/ability to drive through inclement conditions. Ride is typical of a truck. Don’t recommend taking a Cherokee above ~85mph, it is a scary experience.

        I don’t know how tall you are but I never thought the greenhouse, especially windshield, size was that great and I think the driving position was among the worse of any vehicle I have ever been in. I found there was too much vertical distance between the brake and accelerator. So if I got comfortable with the gas pedal my knees would hit the steering wheel when I was braking and if I got comfortable with the brake I was reaching too much for the gas. The gas mileage, while good for its time, is now atrocious for something the Jeep’s size, which hurt back when gas prices exploded back in 2008 and I was just a poor HS senior/ college freshman. Then there is just the general shoddy quality, outside of the drivetrain, typical of Chrysler/Jeep of the era.

        Agreed about the brakes. OK is the best word that describes them. They stop the truck, but are not going to win any awards doing so.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Even though I already have an excellent representative of the 1990s SUVs market in my stable, I always troll craigslist for a nice XJ. Like Corey, I find that most are a) rusty or b) modified or c)all of the above.

    I did find some eye wateringly perfect examples at a dealer near my brother, but the prices more than exceed their awesome condition:

    linkhttp://altoona.craigslist.org/ctd/5318926313.html

    linkhttp://altoona.craigslist.org/ctd/5318248248.html

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      That Pioneer is LEGIT in burgundy and gold. But neither of them are worth anything like $10k. Jeebus!

      There are zero XJ’s available on Cincinnati CL currently that are under 30% rust.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Yeah that burgundy with a tweed maroon interior, and gold lace-spoke wheels and a 5spd manual looks choice, a really funky combo that just works. Back when cloth didn’t mean poverty-spec. For something I’d actually use as intended and beat on offroad, my pick would be a much more spartan trim with steel wheels, and that funky shade of mint green. Something like an ex-forest service truck, heck I’d even take one with the 2.5L four, as long as it had the manual transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        Discovery1

        I’d be worried about what lies under that repaint.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Yeah the more I looked at the photos, I realized that the badging looks somewhat incomplete on the back hatches. And there’s just no way that paint should look that nicely preserved unless it literally sat in a garage and out of the sun and was never driven.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I just do not get these things, I had a few as rentals in the late 90’s and they sucked, what is the appeal, the suck on gas ok that is a given but they had a small gas tank as well IIRC so you got nowhere before filling up again, they were small inside sub par cargo area and drove like crap on the highway, loud and shook like Kate Hepburn, but they were popular on long island.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I test drove a ’96 a few years ago (for just a few miles at speeds up to 45mph to be honest), and noticed a lot of the same things as far as interior space and how crude the whole thing came across. But therein lies the appeal to me. It’s not a good highway vehicle, but for bouncing around offroad or just local driving, I think they’re a blast. The one I drove desperately needed suspension/steering box work as it was all over the road even at low speeds, but they’re cheap and easy to work on assuming it isn’t a rusty mess. They are so brilliant in how simply and effectively they are engineered. Marying solid axles front and rear with a reinforced unibody in a compact sized vehicle with a torquey engine is just fantastic. Form follows function, and ends up being elegant and timeless as a result. To me the XJ is everything the KL Cherokee and Renegade are not.

      • 0 avatar
        whynot

        Yes, Cherokees are much smaller inside then many people realize, and being a truck first designed back in 80’s before SUVs became popular are loud and crude, especially at highway speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        tylermattikow

        Got pulled over going over 100 in mine in college. They were pretty good highway cruisers, much much better than any other small SUV at the time..

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    They were crude, horrible on gas, and came from the factory with oil leaks and electrical issues, but be damned if they wernt a freakin billy goat off road. Even a stock one was pretty good, but a small lift and decent tires pretty much made it a force to be respected in rough terrain.

    For all the praise Toyora trucks get off road, my buddy and I pulled more than a few out of a hole with his 90 XJ.

    The mileage on that 4.0L is just barely beyond broken in. I think there are more out there with over 200k than under. A friend (not the same one reffered to above) just finally had to get rid of his at 305k because the trans got weak and the body was beyond rough. Still ran great, though. He said he had replaced the valve cover gasket many times, but that was about all the engine asked for. I love a good Inline 6.

    • 0 avatar
      tylermattikow

      Had two of them. Only oil leaks I had came about with over 100k on the odometer, valve cover gaskets on one of them, and a rear main on the other. Not factory oil leaks and certainly not ridiculous considering the mileage. The gas mileage was around 17 in town, and 20 on the highway. Also not horrible. I remember my parents had a 96 explorer than would get 14 around town. Off road they were pretty good, some of the suspension and steering components were kinda weak and easy to break, in comparison to Toyota and Ford. The cost of making it lightweight.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Interesting post! I have a ’91 XJ, base model, that I bought new on December 1, 1990 from a long defunct dealer in Jacksonville, FL. Rust has never been a problem as it has spent 23 of its 25 winters in north Florida and two in D.C. but it was garaged then and rarely driven.

    At 323,000 miles, I recently parked it in garaged storage. To say that it has been a great car is an understatement! I never had a major problem with it. The 4.0 litre engine is unstoppable! Its only real issue has been an A/C system that constantly needs work – essential in Florida summers. The Chrysler/Jeep paint was also a bit weak and required a repaint a number of years ago. The repaint too has been challenged by the Florida sun.

    The most consistent thing about these cars seems to be their inconsistency. I have known many who have owned XJ’s and some have been very solid like mine but I know others who have had much more of a problem with their XJ’s (seems like ’88 to ’90 in particular).

    From my research, the ’91-’95’s with the “new” HO motor are most desirable. The ’96’s on not as much so but still good cars. The avoidable ones are the AMC issued ’84-’87 and the early Chrysler (’88-’90) as I mentioned above.

    I’m guessing but considering the N.A. production run from ’84 to ’01 was, I believe, about 1.3 MM units (I can’t recall where I read that), I bet there are probably north of 200,000 in existence still.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    I’d like to chime in along with the rest of ya’s in full appreciation of the XJ.

    My wealthy uncles bumped heads and decided they should purchase one for my Grandmother who, at the time, lived on about 100+ acres in Mid-Missouri. It was a ’96 (IIRC) two door, a completely forgettable shade of blue over gray interior with power windows, locks, and of course the 4.0L with 4WD.

    It had around 160K ish on the clock and they spent something like 6,5xx on it. Then they turned around and had her pay them back for it (?? I dunno) BUT that’s beside the point.

    Any who, that truck was meticulously maintained and good God, was it perfect on those gravel roads. I remember I drove it to town with my nephew a couple of times. We loved that ol’ Cherokee.

    So much, in fact, that I purchased my own… a ’99 base model Cherokee. Yup, poverty-spec’d!

    How poverty spec’d was it?? It was so poverty-spec’d, it only came with *TWO* speakers on the two front doors. From the factory. Haha. :)

    Four doors. Crank windows. Push button locks. But had some of the coldest air that I have yet to come across in any vehicle. 4.0L, auto, and 4WD.

    It had just over 100k on it when it died a noble death of being submerged crossing a flooded river. I swam out of the driver’s seat and thought “well, sh*t”. It was totaled out. Stinks because I just spent hundreds of dollars on stuffing the biggest tires I could on its small wheels (which were just steelies with black “Jeep” center caps).

    It was a fantastic vehicle, and I only saw the “service engine soon” light come on one time, and that was due to it needing new spark plugs. I abused it thoroughly over a four year period. Don’t believe I abused it? I bought it when I was 18, haha. Trust me, I beat on it quite a bit.

    God. I miss that car.

    Addendum: I drove an ’89 once, and the key difference that I noted amongst my ’99 and one of that vintage was the steering effort. The steering effort was much “easier” on it than the firmer steering on my ’99.

  • avatar
    kinsha

    I wanted one of these sometime back. Then I drove one and felt like Fred Flintstone! That ended that!

  • avatar
    tylermattikow

    I had two of them, both Laredo’s, a 2 door 88 5 speed in high school and 92 4 Door automatic in college and after. Great cars, lived in the northeast and never had problem with rust, to be honest I think they are pretty good about not rusting. I think you only see rusty ones because they are held onto longer than their competition, explorers troopers and pathfinders all rust worse. The best thing about them was the power to weight ratio, under 3500 pounds with 190 HP and 225 p/ft is very good. They were quite small however, over a foot shorter than a CRV for instance.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Nostalgia!

    This strong emotion really distorts the truth regarding the XJ.

    I bought a new 95 Sports with the 4l inline 6. Yes it came with Bilsteins and Goodyear Wranglers, which punctured easily. Had lots of bling, which were unreliable.

    My XJ was a lemon. The only two components that didn’t require replacement/repair were the engine and 4spd auto. I had to get rid of it as 15 months.

    It could of been a fine vehicle as it had much to offer from good off road ability to it’s 3.3 tonne tow ability. Except the diff was on it’s way out after 15 months. The diff was the final straw.

    I ended up buying a NA D20 Dual Cab Navara with a 3.2 diesel in early 97 to replace the XJ. It was rough and agricultural, but it never blinked an eye.

    So much for nostalgic emotions hiding the truth.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    My stepfather had one of these. I always remember the dashboard. It appeared as if when it was designed the engineers went, “so what do you think.”

    Management sat in quiet ponderment and then said, “it looks very nice we have just one question. Where are the panel vents for the heat and AC?”

    The engineers faces went from smug satisfaction to horror, until one of them said, “wait one minute, let me go get the sawzall. I think I can cut holes here, here, here, and maybe over, here.”

  • avatar
    evan price

    I’ve got an 89 Cherokee Laredo that I picked up from a junkyard with just under 200K miles on it. Former Sacramento CA truck so no rust. It has the Renix injection, which while crude, is bulletproof. Now sitting at 297K miles of hard use on the farm. I set it on fire once accidentally and dropped a tree limb on it. Steering is vague and I’ve changed a lot of parts to solve the Death Wobble it had when I got it. Got rear-ended and totalled out but bought back and fixed. Interior was grey now it’s spilled-coffee brown with mud splotch accents. When I bought it for $700 it had four new BFG All-Terrains on it. I figured the tires were worth the purchase price.
    It goes anywhere, anytime, any temperature. It pulls junk out of the mud, drags trees, tow tractors, ferry tools and supplies, and runs into town for parts. Weak links so far have been brakes, cooling system, electrics and the driver door hinge. The electric issues have been that just about every switch and motor has gummed up with age to the point that the wipers, window motors, door locks, all run very slowly or not at all unless randomly banged or jolted.
    I wouldn’t sell it.
    The only improvement I can think of would be a 5-speed.
    Wish Jeep still made them, the 4.0 motor was a tank and the Liberty is very much a POS compared to the XJ.
    At one time I had five XJs, including a 2.5-5spd model with 400,000 miles on the clock.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    As much as I like the lightly refreshed exterior/interior styling of the 97+ models, the earlier ones feel more solid and the interiors seem to squeak/rattle less. Maybe it was the switch away from the padded vinyl construction to the hard molded plastics that makes the newer ones noisier inside. The earlier seats were also super comfy if they were the upgraded ones with all the adjustments including the super-groovy tilt mechanism.

    97+ models also have failure prone A/C evaporators, and the replacement parts are no better – they too will fail given time.

    Although a lot of people are afraid of the Renix fuel system, they do seem to run fine for a long time in my experience, just hard to diagnose since they are pre-OBD. Fun trivia: Renix was combination of Renault+Bendix, the two entities that co-developed the system.

    The sweet spot to me is around 1993-96-ish, depending on desired equipment/options. These cars will have Chrysler fuel controls which are easier to diagnose (95+ will be OBDII) and 95’s will have an airbag, if that’s on your “must have” list.

    Even though it’s out of my “sweet spot” model year range, I will admit to having a soft spot for the quad-headlamp Wagoneer/Briarwood. I also pine away for any 1987+ 2-door model, as those seem to be a spiritual successor to the original IH Scouts and small Broncos, in spite of the fixed roof.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned two. A 91 Sport nearly identical to this one, in dark red–and a 2000 Sport 4-door automatic. The 91 was purchased used from a mega-store near Columbus in the exceedingly-early 2000’s. The others my daily. They’re nearly unkillable.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I remember a much hyped drag race in 1990 between fellow hs classmates, a poverty spec base 89 XJ (his dads car) and a rich kid in his brand new S10 Blazer 4DR with the then new 4.3 Vortech, both slushboxes. The Jeep put bus lengths on the S10

  • avatar
    sbspence

    I am the proud owner of an 01 Limited in Desert Sand metallic (iirc). Pre 01 versions with a high pinion front Dana are a little more desirable if you plan on a big lift ,but there are no deal killers on the post 97 XJs for me except rust. I lucked into mine locally about 3 yrs aho now. It lived its previous life as a county vehicle for a neighboring county highway department. It was strangely well optioned for this lifestyle in limited trim with all option boxes checked except for electric seats, go figure. It has a youthful 178,000 miles and save for needing the steerung gearbox replaced i wouldnt hesitate to drive it to across the country! Im not letting this one go Ive learned my lesson well in my 50 yrs as a car guy about letting go of the good ones! ;)


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