Sean Douglass was born in the dirt... well, almost. "I started off-roading in a dune buggy when I was 3 months old," he relates. "By the time I was 5, though, my parents sold the buggy and the off-roading ended."
The early experiences off-road left an indelible impression on Sean, so when a good friend took him out in the dirt not far from his present-day home in Ladera Ranch, California, Sean got quickly readdicted: "It reminded me of how much fun it was to be out in the dirt. After some sketchy trips out there, I decided I wanted my own vehicle with a rollcage."
Despite a plethora of options, he quickly narrowed the candidates down to one: the '89 XJ seen both clean and filthy on these pages. Most potential buyers would have been gun-shy about purchasing a vehicle with 310,000 miles on the original engine, but Douglass decided to go for it. After all, the buildup plans called for replacing just about every other component on the truck anyway.
When it came time to selecting a fabricator, Sean had another plethora of options but quickly whittled down these as well to one: Dan Fresh of DXR Racing. Dan's resume inspires confidence: Seated astride a Yamaha YZ250, he was a contender in the motocross wars that were a part of the Mickey Thompson stadium series from 1988 until 1993 with several wins to his name. Dan later doubled the number of wheels on his race vehicle by getting into a Jeep Commanche race truck where he also enjoyed extensive success. The '02 SCORE season was especially stellar, as Fresh finished First in Class 7S, claimed Sixth overall (all classes) in total SCORE season points, and was a member of one of six teams to receive the Toyota Milestone Award for finishing every mile of every SCORE race in '02. Dan came back the next year with a bigger motor in his Commanche and took home the '03 SCORE Class 7SX title. While Dan was honing his four-wheeled driving skills, he was also busy honing his tuning and fabricating skills. He founded DXR Racing, a shop offering custom fabrication and off-road race prep.
DXR Racing gusseted the stock Dana 30 front housing, adding mandatory toughness for exte
The initial buildup was a six-month effort and included a King-shocked coilover front suspension, a full 12-point rollcage, four racing seats with five-point harnesses, 33-inch BFG Baja T/As, a Currie-built Ford 9-inch rearend, and Deaver rear leaf packs. Sean's profession as a computer programmer and computer consultant left him with precious little time outside of work, so letting someone else handle the buildup was the right way to go on several fronts. Notice that the buildup didn't touch the then 310,000-mile inline-six engine. "The XJ has been evolving over time to its current state and has prerun the Baja 1000, many MDR races, and has been to Ocotillo Wells and other off-road locations more times than I can count," Sean tells OFF-ROAD.
When he's not pushing the inline-six around the desert, Sean can be found pursuing other activities, including "hiking, camping, bodysurfing, mountain biking, running, rollerblading, pretty much anything outdoors. Being outdoors and off-roading provides a great contrast from what I do at work and helps to keep me from getting stressed out about things."With a well-built 'cage and suspension as well as plenty of room for friends and outdoor gear, Sean's XJ has a lot to like and leaves almost nothing to be desired. To us, that sounds like the ultimate chill pill.
Opening the rear hatch usually allows easy access to groceries; that time passed long ago for this XJ. A Jaz fuel cell is mounted directly to the unibody floor and is surrounded by the rearmost quarters of the DXR-installed tubing. DXR placed the heavy stuff as far back as possible, including the Optima RedTop battery and the spare BFG Baja T/A. Sixteen-inch King smooth-body 2.5-inch-diameter shocks give consistent damping in the dirt. Note the fuel cell's filler tube: It connects to an aluminum panel where the rear window once was. Overall layout is smooth and clean and one of the reasons this XJ has withstood so many off-road miles without a major breakdown.
The stock rear bumper wasn't anywhere near adequate, so it was ditched for a custom DXR unit that ties into the rest of the structure. The original Dana 35 rearend was also fed to the scrap bin, replaced by a much stronger Currie-built Ford 9-inch unit. To turn the tires more effectively, 4.56 gears make the most of the stock inline-six under the hood. Traction is enhanced via a dirt-simple device: a spool. Spools lock both axles together in unison at all speeds. Spools are great off-road, but on the street they wear tires quickly and chirp them during tight turns, so get ready for some strange looks if you use a spool on the pavement. Although this Cherokee bears a license plate, it's not Sean's daily driver so the spool doesn't see much pavement use.
Tales of long-lived engines usually have "Toyota" somewhere in the story, but this Jeep mi
...produces good power and torque, and the inline configuration leaves lots of room on the
The good news overhead is twofold: First, there's a stout maze of tubes protecting the occ
Driver and passengers venture forth in Beard seats and Crow harnesses. The seats' side-bo
...and when the Jeep pitches side to side over uneven whoops. The stock gauge cluster wen
...vibration resistance. Note the way the outer 'cage tubing was tied into the A-pillars
Rear suspension layout was easy. A pair of Deaver leaf packs mount in the stock location
...stock spring hangers. Dan Fresh extended the stock shackles for extra wheel travel. T
A quartet of Hella 500s lights up the night, and a DXR front bumper with an integrated ski