The Humbler: Five Buddies Built This Cheap Turbo Jeep To Go 12s And Destroy On The Autocross

The Humbler: Five Buddies Built This Cheap Turbo Jeep To Go 12s And Destroy On The Autocross

(Photos by Dave Nutting) – This could be the most BangShifty vehicle we have ever featured before. Built by a group of five smart friends and raced at the Grassroots Motorsports $2,000 Challenge, local autocrosses, and the drags, this 1995 Jeep goes 12s and has won the autocross at the GRM Challenge two years running. It has beaten pony cars, exotics, foreign cars, and lots of other stuff it has come up against all the while sporting solid axles front and rear, a 240,000+ Jeep engine with a home cobbled turbo setup pushing air through it, a paint job that was done inside two EZ-up tents wrapped in plastic, and leaf springs wrapped in duct tape. All of these things will be explained in further detail but perhaps the wackiest detail of ’em all is the fact that all of these dudes live within about a 60 mile radius of BangShift eastern world head quarters and we never knew it! We’re so into this Jeep that it literally hurts us. By the time you get done reading this story, you will be hooked as well. It is the perfect match of odd-ball vehicle, competition success, bucks down smarts, and brutal performance. We rode around in this thing on slicks in the rain and were still blown away about how it was handling. On dry asphalt it probably has the ability to shift the organs inside your body and it is a freaking Jeep Cherokee.


For those of you unfamiliar with the Grassroots Motorsports $2,000 (now $2,014) Challenge, it is a multi-faceted motorsports competition where racers need to have a car that they built for the $2,014 allotted by Grassroots Magazine. That means weirdo combos and lots of home engineering. Over the years some amazing stuff has showed up like a C4 Corvette with a “sucker” ground effects unit on the car that basically suctioned it to the Earth, lots of Mustangs, BMWs, and Miatas have been involved and one, yes only one, Jeep Cherokee that belongs to Team External Combustion. This group of Massachusetts guys named the Jeep the “XJ-R” with absolutely no apologies to Jaguar. Nor should they.

Like all things that seem too ridiculous to work on their face but are ultimately successful, the Jeep is a collection of fixes, modifications, and home-brewed solutions that either correct or lessen the effect of any shortcomings the base platform has. On the day we shot these photos we hooked up with the whole crew which consists of the Jeep owners Jeff Hutton and Dave Seavey along with team members Tony Sestito, Pat Murphy, and Greg Stewart. Between the five of them, they have driven, thrashed, and thought about this thing for more time than they’d all care to admit, but the results are a true humbler. A machine you can walk past with your nose up only to have it cave your face in on the track. In our world there is NOTHING better than that.

As we do with all of our features here at BangShift, we’re going to tell you the rest of the story though Dave Nutting’s awesome photos and attached captions. Here’s the story of the Team External Combustion XJ-R – King of the Mind-F Jeeps.


Ok, guys could you please move the Ferrari, those couple of Porsches, and the Maserati? We’ve got a friggin’ Jeep to shoot in here!

We owe a HUGE thanks to Kachel Motor Company for the use of their incredible shop. CLICK HERE TO CHECK THE PLACE OUT!


Yes, that is a mangled, rubber coated orange cone acting as the beginning of the air intake. We told you that every inch of this thing is awesome. We’ll get to the hows and whys, but know that before the Jeep, most of these guys had competed at the GRM challenge before. It wasn’t a mistake that they showed up with a player. Their sense of humor is perfect, though.



There are a couple things to address here. The first are the homemade traction (don’t call ’em Cal-Trac) bars which were fabbed out of scrap steel and some tubing that the guys bought. The second and more curious are the leaf springs wrapped in duct tape. What the hell is happening there? Dave Seavey worked in a restoration shop and in his past had restored an original Cobra or two. The factory transverse leaf in the Cobras were greased and then wrapped in a wax impregnated paper to hold the grease in. Duct tape seemed like an easier option than non-existent wax impregnated paper, so the boys got busy with the tape after greasing the springs.


More on those leaf springs. You aren’t looking at a stock leaf pack here. The guys went through the springs adding and removing leaves until they got a rate that they wanted. The method used? Standing on and bouncing on the springs. Once the spring “rate” was agreed upon, Dave spent untold hours basically polishing the leaves before packing them in grease and giving them the tape job. It is important to note that the springs were also moved under the axle, dropping the truck some four inches.


This highly inspired looking engine is actually a bone stock long block with 243,000 miles on it. The tube acting as a bridge over potentially troubled waters is carrying 12 psi of boost into the engine. The mill was dynoed and made 274hp and 322 lb/ft of torque. It is all done making power by about 5,300 RPM according to team member Greg Stewart.


The intercooler, like lots of the parts on the truck that the boys didn’t build is from eBay and of unknown pedigree. It fit the hole and they bought it.


This baby just screams racecar, right? From the complete lack of a tach, to the very racy stock Jeep dash it almost appears that one is sitting in a formula car of some sort. Don’t be fooled by the space aged three spoke wheel!


That little silver box is the Megasquirt that the boys used to control the EFI on the jeep. They are running MS1 and really like it.


The 243,000 miles deal isn’t a joke. That’s how many are on both the 1995 Jeep Cherokee Sport and the inliner engine powering it. The guys bought the truck for $600 bucks as a stock two door, two wheel drive Cherokee that someone had originally bought and used in Mississippi and then moved north. Know how many people want a 2WD Jeep in New England? Zero people.


The transmission is a stock AW4 automatic and that presented a problem for the guys because it didn’t allow full manual control. As we already informed you about their smarty pantedness, they went all Mr. Wizard on the thing and devised a system of relays that they can activate to give the driver full manual control over shifting it through the gears. This was important to the team on the drag strip. The good news is that on the first run after they added this technology to the Jeep they totally botched the procedure but still managed to run into the 13s…in third gear for the entire lap.


The Jeep was an is exceptionally clean from a rust and scarring perspective. The guys obviously stripped it bare, added the roll bar, and installed a racing seat and harnesses, The passenger seat is a stocker that we were bracing ourselves into during some parking lot hijinks after the shoot.


Those aren’t sheetmetal panels blocking off where the windows used to be, those are the windows painted blue to complete the cool factory AMC style racing paint job that the guys did almost overnight before heading off to Florida for the GRM challenge. Their paint booth? Two EZ-up tents wrapped in plastic and subdivided to allow the red and blue to be painted in their own “booth”. Rules.


This catch can? It was an old shock body.


The engine uses a stock throttle body and a stock intake manifold with a twist. The intake is off of a later 2001 Cherokee because this intake is an equal length runner piece and the earlier intake from the 1995 engine was a log style. The guys thought it important to get that air flow right with the addition of the turbo.


It is a great beer but it makes for an even better block off plate for the air intake when the truck isn’t running.


Some of the true genius in this thing is hidden under it. Take the front axle for instance. being a solid tube, the guys were trying to figure out how to get some much needed camber into it for cornering purposes. The researched and found that the Archer brothers who successfully races Comanche trucks in the SCCA had cut and welded their axle to get that camber, so that is what they did. By cutting a five degree wedge in it and welding it back together the guys got 2.5-degrees of camber on each side. They also notched it for clearance.


In this photo you can make out the subtle curve that the guys achieved with their pie cutting technique. Without that camber, the Jeep would be nowhere near as good as it is now in the autocross.


This little bastard greatly changed the dynamic of the Jeep as well. This eBay turbo is a 50 trim T3/T4 that they bought off of eBay because the compressor map looked close enough. It has been on the thing for a couple years now and everything still seems happy. It is wild to us that the Jeep motor has not gotten unhappy with the 12psi, but if it does…so what?


Guys, that is a JDM spec blue silicone boot. STAND BACK….WE’VE GOT A BAD ASS OVER HERE.


The Sunoco badging is a nod to the Mark Donohue Javelins and Matadors that wore this scheme in Trans Am and NASCAR during the early 1970s. There were drag machines with it as well.


The tires are Hoosiers that the dudes scored used from a local autocross racer. They got them for a song and we can tell you that they were weirdly grippy in the wet so in the dry this thing must make asphalt bleed.


Everything in our being says that this should be goofy and weird but instead it is tough and cool. We can only imagine what the other competitors were thinking when the boys rolled into the GRM challenge in this Jeep back in 2010. Can you believe that this thing weighs 2,800lbs in race trim? The dudes have to run a virtually full gas tank because if they don’t it’ll starve in the curves. That’s about 100lbs right there!


Because of the lowered suspension the guys had to shorten the front control arms and obviously they had to come up with new springs for the front. They actually took a set of 3″ lift springs and whacked three coils off. This gave them a spring rate of about 370lbs on the front corners and they’ve worked with it ever since.


On the day of the shoot the weather was junk so we met up at this amazing shop in Lawrence, Massachusetts and proceeded to move about a half million dollars worth of cars out of the way to shoot the Jeep. Don’t mind that junk in the background. The real star is front and center.


One of the best stories the guys have is from the 2010 GRM challenge where they ran out of time to turbo the Jeep before the competition so they went down planning to run naturally aspirated…but they had all the parts with them. After a long day of events and a banquet…and some beers, the guys set to work at 11pm to turbo the Jeep. The next day it ran 15.50 with mismatched injectors and prayer holding the whole thing together, but it was a major win after a huge thrash. Today the Jeep goes into the 12.90s!


As much as the dudes laugh at the Jeep we were impressed with how clean (literally) it was. Clearly built on a budget but not built in a hap hazard way.


The fellas were quick to praise the Megasquirt system controlling their fuel injection and like many other guys we know who use it, dig the fact that it is so accessible and budget minded.


The Jeep has never won the whole Grassroots Motorsports Challenge but it has been a contender several times, winning the autocross in both 2012 and 2013. On the drag strip it has gone a best of 12.98/100mph which is pretty astounding when you think of what a stock Jeep would run and that timing for that lap would be completed with a sun dial. Factory 3.73 gears live in the rear end.


From this angle you can appreciate how low the truck is from stock height. Remember, the stock control arms are used up front albeit shorter and in the rear the leafs were moved under the axle.


This Jeep would be the pride of Kenosha….if they were still building Jeeps and cars there.


Why yes, in the rain and on slicks the Jeep does have a propensity to end up sideways.


What are you lookin’ at…..What are YOU lookin’ at?


I’m looking down in the passenger seat to find the ejector button or an auxiliary brake or an anchor because I was mildly concerned that we were going ot be heading for an “off lot” excursion. Dave drove that thing like a champ though.


See all that sexy camber in the front end? Thank you pie cut axle!


The confines of the parking lot couldn’t hold us so we…we went sight seeing, yeah that’s it. Considering that this wasn’t exactly the primo part of town, some of the local sidewalk traffic got the show of a lifetime when the ol’ Jeep came dirt tracking around some corners. I mean when it idled by.


The end? Of this story but certainly not the end of the story for the Jeep. The guys are looking at different options for it and they may take it back to GRM for one last go. Whatever they do, we know it will be cool and since they are local, look for us to be up their keisters to follow the craziness. The Jeep is one of the more impressive vehicles we have ever strapped into and mostly because of the guys who built it. They thought it out and made it work on a budget that most guys have for cylinder heads. Kudos for them and thanks for the thrill ride around Lawrence! (Scroll down to see the rest of the great Dave Nutting photos!)

Jeep_XJ-R_Grassroots_Motorsports_Challenge_turbo_autocross56  Jeep_XJ-R_Grassroots_Motorsports_Challenge_turbo_autocross59

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22 thoughts on “The Humbler: Five Buddies Built This Cheap Turbo Jeep To Go 12s And Destroy On The Autocross

  1. Gary Smrtic

    Awesome. I love two door, 2WD standard Cherokees. I used to rent them for business back in the ’90’s, and would take them to an 1/8 mile drag strip in Alabama on Thrusday nights for grude racing. With the inline six, it would clean the clock of a stock 5.0 Mustang….in a rental car!

  2. Matt Cramer

    They say “You can’t make a race horse out of a pig, but you can make a really fast pig.” This has to be the craziest fast pig I’ve seen.

  3. threedoor

    Ive only seen one 2wd Cherokee before, it was in a Junkyard in TN next to the only 2wd Samauri Ive ever seen. Weird and cool,

  4. AutoX_a_Truck?

    One of my favorite grassroots builds out there. I like their style. Take something that isn’t meant to handle well or be particularly fast, make it do do both, and beat the competition.

  5. "Hemi" Tom

    Awsome cool! Where do you guys get these clean cars?. I llive in New Hampshire and I can,t find a 4 year old car that isn,t rusty or wreaked. Good job!

  6. Scooterz82

    I love this thing. I currently auto-x a 88 s-10 but have been looking for a 2wd Cherokee to build. I’m a Jeep guy at heart (have owned almost 20) and really want to build one now.
    Kudos to these guys for thinking outside the box.

    1. Anonymous

      Plenty of 2wd jeeps in Florida. I am building a 97 2dr right now but with an LS motor and ford 9 axle for drag duty


    Are you sure you were in Lawrence? There wasn’t a Honda/Acura with stretched tires
    in any of the photos(!). I work at the Chevy dealer over on Marston St, and occasionally
    sell stuff to Kachel Motor, and had a vague idea they were into exotics, but had no idea
    of the scope of the operation. Nice job on such an unlikely vehicle! Hope to see it run at
    Devens Auto X.

  8. asad

    Duct tape seemed like an easier option than non-existent wax impregnated paper

    Non-existent? You can buy wax paper at any grocery store, not to mention silicone-impregnated parchment paper. And a quick google search shows plenty of places where you can buy mil-spec wax-impregnated paper.

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