Most Jeep owners are using their rigs for hardcore off-roading but not Greg Huizenga. The speed freak has found he’s most at home with his machines on flat, level ground. That’s where he can unleash them for them to do what they do best – move, and move quite fast.
His latest build is a hard-to-miss 1975 Cherokee S. The hot hauler not only boasts a turbocharged 5.7L HEMI V8, but it’ll blast through an autocross course with the best of them and in the next moment, be turning low tens in the quarter-mile.
Greg is certainly no stranger to Jeeps, having owned four of them over the years. The red hot passion all started as a kid, when he’d spend long afternoons playing in his neighbor’s J10 Gladiator pickup truck. “It was broke down, stored in his barn and never ran,’ recalls Greg, who grew up just south of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “That didn’t keep me from crawling all over it, having a blast.” Those happy childhood memories led him to get a black Wagoneer in high school. From there, he got another and another.
That last one was a red 1983 Cherokee that Greg had worked up quite a bit, adding a roll cage, late-model powertrain and racing in it regularly. Sadly, in the summer of 2017, it met its fate and all while passing through an intersection. Another motorist ran their red light and slammed into Greg and his truck. The collision sent Greg to the hospital and his totaled Jeep, to the junkyard. While banged up and bruised, the wrencher’s spirits were far from broken. Before he had even been released, Greg was cooking up another Jeep project.
4th Time Around
The first step was tracking down a suitable body shell. A 1975 example turned up in the state of Washington and was quickly purchased. While it technically was built as the mid-range Cherokee Chief model, with everything gone but the shell, Greg took some creative liberties. “It’s a ‘what-if’ vehicle,’ explains the enthusiast. “I wanted to mix and match what I liked.” To that end, he kept the Chief’s wide fender flares but removed its thick black beltline stripe. More personalizations would come during final paint and assembly.
The next step was fitting it onto a firm foundation, in this case, Greg used a Chevy C10 truck chassis. That’s a trick he employed on the ’83 and had found it worked quite well. A few steps are required to get it to fit just right. Seventeen inches was cut out from the middle section and the front frame rails are dropped four inches. With that work complete, Greg installed a coil-over suspension and disc brakes. For wheels, Greg went with a cheap 17×11 C4 Corvette ZR1 replica, wrapped in 275/40 Continental ExtremeContact Sport tires.
Yes, This Thing’s Got A HEMI
From there, Greg purchased a 5.7L HEMI V8 engine and six-speed transmission from a 2010 Dodge Challenger RT. “The combo takes really well to extra power and is super reliable,’ said Greg. “Plus, it fits well in the Cherokee’s engine bay.” For an extra boost, a Bullseye Street Billet S366 turbocharger, running eighteen pounds of boost, was added, along with an intercooler and several other performance upgrades, too. Add it all up and the setup delivers 720 horsepower and 840 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels.
As hard to believe as it is, that over the top route wasn’t always the plan. After some thought, Greg had plans for this project to be dialed back, possibly wanting to keep it tame and reserved. Those gearheads’ thoughts didn’t last long. They melted into nothing on the truck’s first trip to a dragstrip. “Initially, I kept telling myself, ‘If this thing does 11’s on street tires, I’ll be happy and will leave it alone’,” laughs Greg. “But then I kept turning it up a little more, a little more and a little more.” Before he knew it, he was wide open throttle, thinking of more ways to make his creation even faster.
Memories Live On
During this fourth build, Greg was able to salvage lots of parts from the red wreck, including its doors, dash and side glass. “I really wanted to keep those (windows) as they bear some cool history,’ explains Greg. That other truck had been bought new by a serviceman who shipped the rig right to Italy. Faded military stickers still evident bear witness to the heritage. Other special mementos from Jeeps gone by include the license plate from the one Greg had in high school. He keeps it displayed on the dash.
Family touches are incorporated, too. The wrench that’s used as a master power cut off switch is one Greg found in his grandfather’s toolbox. “He was a gearhead, too,’ said Greg. “I wanted to include some of my family history, too.”
Another subtle inclusion is a Founder’s beer can, which Greg uses as a coolant overflow. “It’s kind of a tradition for me,’ explains the gearhead. “When the project is getting close I buy a can and put in the shop refrigerator as the finishing touch. It never fails that a new project is ready for it’s first test drive in the middle of the night when I don’t want to annoy the neighbors. So I crack open the beer, enjoy, and then install it and go to bed. Test drive in the morning!”
Feeling (B5) Blue
When it came time for selecting a paint color, Greg was initially head over heels for a vibrant orange hue. He selected Autocraft Custom Collision, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to handle the respray. “Right up until the day the painter was going to the store to pick up supplies, I was telling him orange,’ said Greg. “Then at the last moment, I said to change it to Mopar B5 Blue. He pushed back, thinking it wouldn’t work but after it was on, did admit it was perfect.”
Two other cosmetic changes were ones Greg took from the top of the line Cherokee S trim. They include the white hardtop roof (the Cherokee Chief would be body-colored) and the beltline graphics.
Putting It To Use
The entire build came together in just four months time, with Greg, a couple of car pals, doing everything except for the paintwork and installing the roll cage. “I rushed to get it done before winter,’ said Greg. “I wanted to drive it before the snow came. It’s no fun to finish something and then have to wait to use it.”
That sweet moment arrived and caused quite a stir in Greg’s hometown. “I hadn’t told anyone another build was in the works,’ recalls Greg. “When I took it out for the first time and did a lap through the little town, everyone was peering at it through their windows. Then, on the next lap, they’d come out and were standing in their yard, waving and cheering.”
Since that first drive, Greg has done anything with the truck but stop moving. In 2018, he drove it to Atlanta, Georgia, to participate in Hot Rod’s Drag Week. “I drove it a total of 2,800 miles and completed thirteen drag strip passes in it,’ said Greg. “It didn’t break a sweat and was a total blast.” Greg uses all the space in the SUV, carrying supplies for those long hauls like a welder, spare parts and more.
When he’s not competing in a straight line, you’ll find him participating in autocross circuits, too. “The truck is big and heavy but is so much fun to throw around,’ laughs Greg.
One Last Midwest Blast
Greg is in the process of leaving his home state of Michigan and relocating to a new life in Texas. Most of his stuff is already moved but he returned to the area to retrieve one last item: his truck. And less you think otherwise, trailering the classic was never an option. “I installed a trailer hitch and have a U-Haul trailer all loaded up to drive down,’ laughs Greg.
Before leaving, he stopped by one of his favorite haunts, the US 131 Motorsports Park dragway, in Martin, Michigan. “I had to come back here,’ said Greg. “This is the first track I ever raced on with a Jeep.” The seasoned enthusiast has come a long way from those early passes years ago. Back then, he was turning high fourteen seconds in the quarter-mile.
Now, on these recent passes, Greg was able to click off times as low as 10.90 seconds at 127 mph. And that’s with street tires. Lest you worry, Greg has slicks so he can go even faster. Knowing him, it won’t be long before they’re getting lots of use.