THE word ‘understatement’ can go a long way when customising a four-wheel drive. Subtle touches, some often hidden, can improve a vehicle’s style and abilities, without frightening the daylights out of the wombats.
This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of 4x4 Australia.
Queensland-based Jeep outfitter, Stu Murchison, is a master of substance and style.
A suspension guru from way back, he’s had a bucketload of experience in the motor business and these days works full-time on enhancing Jeeps for improved on- and offroad encounters.
Stu and his Murchison crew can do wild builds and major rebuilds, but a lot of his work to date has been adding some extra polish to current model Jeep Grand Cherokees.
Although the Grand Cherokee is acknowledged by critics and consumers as a decent 4WD wagon and tourer, Stu understands some owners want theirs to go a little bit further into the never-never.
“We are known for being the ‘Grand Cherokee people’ here because out of all the Jeep businesses in Australia we started with the other six or seven models of Jeep [rather than Wrangler],” Stu said.
“We started with Cherokee, Patriot, Compass, Grand, Commander and then came into Wrangler later on because that was such an easy thing for us to do. So we started out with the hard models and created custom products and solutions for them and then moved on to the easy stuff.”
‘Custom, Comfortable and Capable’ is the Murchison Products motto, using a mix of bespoke Australian and American products.
With a decade of testing coils and shocks for independently sprung Jeeps, Stu believes these wagons can handle a lift up to 2.5 inches for better offroad ability without compromising on-road dynamics or comforts.
The Murchison showcase for these CRDSTU suspension set-ups is a black Grand Cherokee. While in this case the work is pretty much hidden, other Murchison modifications help turn a handsome wagon into a head-turner. It still works as a family tourer and pragmatic offroader, but the black beauty has real road presence through quality but subtle add-ons.
The wagon is a 2013 CRD Laredo with a VM Motori 3.0-litre V6 diesel, single turbocharger, two-speed transfer case and five-speed auto transmission – a solid combination. However, there are a couple of nuances to this Grand Cherokee which perhaps best highlight Stu’s long-standing aversion to average products and workmanship.
One is plain enough to see: the custom-made and prototype snorkel is a piece of auto art, fitting the style of the Jeep better than just about any snorkel on any machine out there.
“We’ve gone from a full CAD-style, 3D drawing with a minimalistic shape and profile but one which still provides the required airflow.
“We wanted to really complement and modernise the design of the snorkel and not have some big, boofy agricultural thing sticking out of it,” Stu said.
This Murchison snorkel for WK2 Grand Cherokees should be on the market by the end of 2014.
The other touch that illustrates Stu’s attention to detail is the fitting of the GME, five-watt UHF radio. The unit is hidden out of sight, with a handheld mic tucked away behind the lid of a dashboard console box and the speaker built into the transmission tunnel.
There is little else added inside the Grand Cherokee aside from Mopar slush mats for the floor and a Redarc brake controller for a trailer.
This particular wagon runs with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system which allows the driver to dial in modes for different engine and transmission responses depending on the terrain. Plus there’s an electrically operated driver’s seat and, with the standard ergonomics and general cabin layout of the Grand Cherokee, it’s a comfortable workplace.
Up front is an Australian-made Uneek bar, which is a full winch bar with recovery points, as well as a Uneek skid plate. Rock rails are a genuine Mopar product.
The Grand Cherokee is kitted out with a Murchison Products CRDSTU 2.5-inch suspension lift plus anti-top-out plates front and rear.
The good-looking black wheels are an 18x9 KMC product with 275/65 R18 BF Goodrich All Terrain rubber. A set of Bushwhacker flares add 20mm to the ’guards to keep the package legal and the body a little bit cleaner.
There is a factory tow bar out back and a Rhino Rack Pioneer roof rack system up top with a pair of LED work lights pointed back. Stu said this low-lying, flat and aluminium roof rack isn’t roof-top heavy but can carry a fair bit. It could, with reinforced mounts, handle a roof-top tent. “It’s good for carrying basics and also a spare tyre,” Stu said.
“Unfortunately the factory spare is inside the boot, so if on a massive trip and the boot is jam-packed to the roof with equipment, the last thing you want to do is change a tyre beside the road and pull everything out. So a lot of people dig it [the spare] out of the boot and put it on the caravan hitch or on the roof.”
To help keep the wagon up with the traffic and over the dunes, the Murchison crew have added a custom, three-inch stainless-steel twin exhaust system. It begins from behind the DPF and runs back without mufflers for a sporting tone that’s still street legal.
The result is an extra 12kW to the factory’s 140kW. Plus, for a little extra pick-up, the original plastic muffler on the intake pipe’s been swapped for a straight-through, tapered, stainless-steel pipe.
Stu was about to rewrite the Jeep’s ECU, change torque converter maps and a little more for some extra gallop from this black beauty when we visited. He’s since indicated that the results of the tuning are impressive.
A quick highway haul and forest run shows up the impressive Murchison wagon. Highway ride is excellent and the suspension kit offers a comfortable ride over rough tracks, best appreciated on the bigger lumps. The lift does mean drivers require more concentration as there’s a little body roll.
The lift, plus the underbody protection and a decent set of tyres, gives the wagon more confidence when the tracks turn tough. But perhaps one of the best bits of this Murchison Grand Cherokee is under the bonnet.
The Jeep’s V6 diesel has always been a decent workmate, but the little tweaks here make it more of a playmate. It picks up a tad better than standard and revs a bit easier, with a sweet exhaust sound. The improvements to Stu’s ride gives it better offroad ability while maintaining the Grand Cherokee’s family-friendly touring ability.
The modifications made to this Jeep are as customers request and Stu says one of the first things they want is to lift the nose off the ground, either through a levelling lift or a 2.5-inch lift. “Underbody armour and protection also seems to be a priority with a lot of customers because of that low factory stance,” he said.
“Then the second tier of customers usually go for larger tyres and offset rims and the bullbar-style set-ups.”
These days, Murchison Products for Grand Cherokees are sold and used across Australia, as are all manner of suspension tunes and offroad gear for all models of Jeep.
Now Stu has turned his attention to developing gear for the all-new KL Jeep Cherokees.
“[Focusing on] lift kits, tyres, snorkel, bar work; the whole lot because I think the Cherokees are going to be a hugely successful little car,” he said.
And with the Murchison touch, the Cherokee will be extra capable with perhaps a little more road presence yet again.
The CRDSTU 2.5-inch to 2.75-inch lift kit for the Jeep Grand Cherokee is listed from $1095.
For the full catalogue of visit their website Murchison products.
If you liked this mean Murchison Cherokee, check out their recently built Jeep JK Wrangler ute.