1977 Jeep Cherokee: Tailgate Rehabilitation

Among the common issues on the full size Cherokee (and Wagoneer) was that the rear window had to roll down to open the tailgate. This design had it’s benefits with a truck like tailgate for sitting on and a giant opening which makes for awesome camping views (plus there’s no overhead hatch to hit your head on like the XJ). The downside is that if something happens to the window mechanism, you can’t open the tailgate.

FSJ Tailgate glory

When I bought my Cherokee, the rear window kind of worked. By kind of, I mean that it would roll down about two inches, I’d get out rock it to the left, and then be able to roll it down the rest of the way. I’m sure you can imagine that as my primary way to load and unload Sprocket that this got old very quickly. I ordered all of the internal parts hoping to only have to disassemble the whole thing once and figured I could handle the more external parts as I desired. In retrospect, I wish I would have just ordered the deluxe tailgate renewal kit from Team Wagoneer considering that I used everything but the lifter bar and its cushion (and I was just lucky, I very well could have needed this and had actually ordered it separately).

This was my first major repair on the Jeep and I was a little bit nervous. I’d tried to read descriptions on the FSJ forums (Full Size Jeep Network and International Full Size Jeep Association). I’d poured over the factory service manual diagram of the tailgate. And finally I realized that unless I just dove in I wasn’t really going to understand it.

Tailgate rebuild: access panel removed

My first order of business was to actually remove the window. I recommend having a garage or at least not being in Colorado during the wettest May ever. Removing the window was actually a lot easier than I’d expected it to be. I took off the carpet on the tailgate and the access panel. I raised the window just enough to get my hand inside and remove the clips from the lifter bar. Next, I worked one of the studs out of the slots in the window lifter and began to search for a friend to help support the window before I removed the other stud and slid the window out. Fortunately for me, Ridgway is a friendly place and I nicely asked a woman out on a walk through the neighborhood to help me for two minutes while I accomplished those things. (Fortunately for her, it only took about one minute.)

Lifter channel in the tailgate

A look at how the studs and clips hold in the window:

Lifter channel and clip

Lifter channel

I inspected the lifter channel (also known sometimes as a lifter bar?) and realized that I didn’t actually need to remove the glass from it. I’d heard that these often rust out; mine was dirty but not rusted so I opted to keep it.

I replaced the tailgate glass side channels which looked like they’d seen better days. In fact, this was all I needed to replace to make the window function. After 38 years of dust working its way into the channels, there were large chunks missing. In fact either the inner or the outer piece (I didn’t really look at it until I’d set it down) of the drivers side channel was entirely missing. Putting in the new channels only took a couple of minutes but the rain started falling before I could get them in so it necessitated this:

Redneck jeep working; beer

I became the heroine of my neighborhood when I had to leave Francis looking like this for a couple of days while I waited for the sun to return:

FSJ with tarp

Eventually, I got tired of waiting for the rain to clear so I informed my friend Bryan that I was coming over to use his garage. This arrangement also helped me to have his help getting the window back in place. (I was petrified of breaking it the entire time it was out of the vehicle. It took a little bit of figuring out how to get the clips back in (I’d bought a new pair in case the ones inside bent or broke on the way out or in…) but I got them in, or so I thought…

Lifter channel clips

I left my friend’s house and headed to the laundromat and was super excited with my working window but suddenly, right as the rain started falling, it wouldn’t roll up. One side just wasn’t going up and it didn’t take very long for me to figure out that one of the clips had fallen off. With thunder rolling in the background, I decided to avail myself of the cover provided by an after-hours bank drive through:

Fixing the FSJ window in a drivethru

Sure enough, that fixed the problem!

I found that with all the driving I do down dirt and gravel roads that I was pulling in a lot of dust. I’d learned that the original weather stripping was body mounted but somewhere along the lines, someone had replaced mine with generic weather stripping. This didn’t take long at all to replace but it had taken me until the end of my roadtrip with Amanda to choke it up and spend the money on a new seal. The seal needs the plastic rivets at the top and doesn’t come with them. I had one still floating around, fortunately, so I was able to size one for the other side.

I also went ahead and replaced the upper slide channel since pretty much everything else was new and didn’t want it to feel left out. Removing the old one was way more of a pain than putting in the new one since it came out in about twenty pieces.

I also purchased a new wiring harness for the rear window that I haven’t finished installing yet—with all of our monsoons, it’s been hard to feel comfortable cutting off my ability to close the window for a day! More on that coming soon (probably once I get to De Beque and have a garage!).

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