Home » This 1977 Jeep Cherokee Restomod Is Far More Powerful and Responsive Than the Original

This 1977 Jeep Cherokee Restomod Is Far More Powerful and Responsive Than the Original

by multimill
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The founding of restoration house Vigilante 4×4 begins with a love story, when Daniel and Rachel van Doveren first met six years ago at a Texas oyster bar before a concert. The pair stayed in touch via text for a few months, until Daniel invited Rachel to pick up a funky old Jeep with him in Kentucky and drive it back to Texas. To her credit, Rachel made the bold choice to take a road trip with a man she barely knew—but as the Jeep repeatedly broke down on the way, she learned a lot about Daniel and his knowledge for the marque. Turns out, Daniel has never owned any car other than a Jeep, and knows his way around an engine bay, too.

After initially making a name in restorations with their JeepHeritage operation, the duo established Vigilante 4×4, in Columbus, Tex., two years ago. Their focus is on high-end Jeep restomods that swap in modern Mopar drivetrains complemented by a commitment to improving all the unique details that made a classic Jeep worth driving in the first place. The van Doverens recently visited California with their latest build, a four-door 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod, and offered me a chance to take the truck for a spin in the hills of Malibu before they delivered it to the new owner.

A 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

The 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4×4.

Vigilante 4×4

Today’s exploding restomod industry runs the gamut from basic engine swaps to builds that can turn out entirely unrecognizable vehicles when compared to the original model. But Daniel’s passion for the quintessential Jeep style led him in another direction, even as other companies add wireless CarPlay functionality, touchscreens, or Pepita seat inserts and Alcantara dashes never seen on the bygone trucks their creations are based on.

“We don’t want to affect the soul and the identity of the original vehicle,” says Daniel, “But we do want to make it 100 percent more functional, and just way better than what it was back in the day. Higher quality at every level, whether it’s in the choice of materials or the functionality.” He relies on 3-D scanning and printing to help realize his vision, since almost everything can be reworked or remade as new. He can walk around a Jeep and point to every single known failure point or detail that modern technology can help improve.

The 485 hp Hemi V-8 inside a 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

The build’s 485 hp Hemi V-8.

Vigilante 4×4

The Midnight Blue ‘77 Cherokee started with a 3-D scan of the frame and body, even the original wheels, which are now replaced with new aluminum monoblock versions to add an additional two inches of width and diameter for use with larger BFGoodrich tires. This build then received a huge power increase from a Mopar 392 cubic-inch Hemi crate engine. That V-8 sends 485 hp to Dana axles through a Bowler four-speed automatic transmission and a twin-stick Atlas transfer case. 

Unlike with most classic trucks, I was able to climb right into the driver’s seat and pull away without requiring a lecture on firing up the engine or which gauges to keep an eye on. That’s the whole point, Rachel explained as we headed up into the hills. And, undoubtedly, this 46-year-old truck now drives far better than a brand-new one might ever have back in the day, right down to the spectacular feel on the leather-wrapped steering wheel—not too firm but certainly more sensitive than any truck this old has a right to be.

A close-up of the front wheels on a 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

The original wheels have been replaced with new aluminum monoblock versions that add an additional two inches of width and diameter for use with larger BFGoodrich tires.

Vigilante 4×4

All the other touchpoints get worked over by Vigilante, too. The light-blue upholstery looks period-perfect for the 1970s, but the original vinyl has been replaced with new leather that somehow even smells of the era. In fact, Daniel explains how Vigilante scanned the original material and then printed a dye stamp to perfectly mirror the original floral emboss. I wonder aloud whether this level of detail may go beyond what most customers might ever notice. “He’s 100 percent obsessed,” Rachel says. “And he will find any way he can to make the quality better, but keep the aesthetics and the soul of the Jeep. And he’s bored that into me as well.”

The climate controls, located to the left of the steering wheel (in classic Jeep fashion), also received the 3-D-printing treatment. Sliders that look exactly the same as the originals now control the largest Vintage Air A/C system possible, feeding the expansive greenhouse through—you guessed it—custom 3-D-printed vents under the dash. The original radio remains in place, but has been rewired behind the face to allow for Bluetooth connectivity with song selection via the old knobs.

The interior of a 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

The new leather upholstery looks period perfect for the 1970s, and somehow even smells of the era.

Vigilante 4×4

In fact, not a single inch of the Cherokee’s factory wiring remains. The stock window cranks now control electric regulator motors, the gauges look to be of the period but use modern electronics with a combination of a transmission speed sensor and GPS, just in case a customer installs larger tires. And even the side mirrors have been CNC-machined to prevent the all-too-common rattling of these pieces in the past.

Pulling off on a side road, Daniel pops the hood to show me the engine bay and points to the heater block, blower motor, and fluid tanks still in their original positions, despite the Hemi swap. The largest possible aluminum radiator snugs into the grille, and the V-8 can be serviced at any Mopar dealer since it’s otherwise entirely stock.

A close-up of one of the side mirrors on a 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

The side mirrors have been CNC-machined to prevent the all-too-common rattling of those pieces in the past.

Vigilante 4×4

Vigilante has done a few supercharged Hellcat builds, and even has a customer who specifically requested a Viper V10. But given the beefy engine options, I point out how quiet the Cherokee rides, other than a burly exhaust note at higher revs. This specific customer, Rachel explains, wanted four layers of Dynamat sound insulation throughout the interior to make the truck more palatable for her family (two layers usually does the trick for other builds).

All the revisions add up to the vehicle having a total weight of 5,400 pounds, which is about 900 pounds more than the original Cherokee S. Most of that heft comes from the engine, transmission, and the massive Dana axles, though Vigilante also boxed the frame for additional stiffness.

A close-up of the radio in a 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

The original radio remains in place, but has been rewired behind the face to allow for Bluetooth connectivity.

Vigilante 4×4

A coilspring conversion uses Fox shocks with remote reservoirs all around, including for the steering stabilizer, dramatically reducing chop compared to any leafsprung truck. But the adjustable suspension still allows a bit of body lean, so as not to lose too much of the archetypal Jeep feel. On the undulating, chunked-up Malibu roads, the resulting ride quality borders on the level of current OEM vehicles.

The Bowler four-speed can even sync with Daniel’s smartphone to change shift characteristics—and he revealed that Vigilante’s customer base opts more for Tremec TR6060 manual transmissions than automatics. With a slick-shifting six-speed, I could definitely off-road this Cherokee, though I have a difficult time imaging clients doing so at this price point.

A 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

All the revisions add up to the vehicle having a total weight of 5,400 pounds, which is about 900 pounds more than the original Cherokee S.

Vigilante 4×4

Vigilante’s builds start at $295,000, and current lead times are around 34 months. The van Doverens want to ramp up to 10 completed trucks per year, and in addition to the two-door and four-door Cherokees, promise that Jeepsters and Scramblers are also on the way.

I ask about smog testing for California customers, since this Cherokee is a 1977 model year rather than a pre-1975 truck (though it is not destined to live in California). Vigilante will sort the California Air Resources Board (CARB) paperwork for clients, but only on trucks built with the 392 cubic-inch Hemi. Mopar gives the option of delivering that crate engine with two catalytic converters bearing CARB stampings, which reduces output by a negligible 10 hp but may well make the difference between a customer being able to legally register their restomod or not.

A 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

Vigilante’s builds start at $295,000, and current lead times are around 34 months.

Vigilante 4×4

The van Doverens recognize that finding Vigilante’s niche in the growing world of restomods is just as important as knowing how to drop in the new drivetrain, how to rewire a classic truck from scratch, or how to 3-D scan and print the new components. Daniel draws inspiration from Jonathan Ward at Icon 4×4, in Chatsworth, Calif., but where Icon totally transforms classics into a level of rolling artwork, Vigilante focuses on how to build a restomod with an eye on the details that made the team fall in love with Jeeps in the first place.

The concept of a classic Jeep that’s ready to roll for another four decades with zero rust, impeccable paint, and modern reliability has clearly drawn in enough customers who appreciate the understated builds and the level of obsession that such undertakings require. From the muscled-up Hemi V-8 to the tiniest A/C control knob, every detail on the Vigilante 4×4 Cherokee keeps the van Doverens’ Jeep love story alive.

Click here for more photos of this 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod by Vigilante 4×4.

The 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4x4.

The 1977 Jeep Cherokee S restomod from Vigilante 4×4.

Vigilante 4×4



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