Z Code: 1976 Jeep Cherokee Chief


Among the circles of Jeep fanatics across this great big country of ours, there’s an almost universal appreciation for the words “Z Code.” That signifies the factory-fitted 401 engine, which meant a nice bump in power and stump-pulling torque. It was found in police cars, campers and vehicles like this 1976 Jeep Cherokee Chief here on eBay


If I have my math and my history right, 1976 was the year the 401 got somewhat neutered by the factory due to increasingly stringent emissions regulations and the aftershocks of the oil crisis. While the power dropped off from the previous year, the 401 still came to battle with 320 lb. ft. of torque, a righteous number no matter how you look at it. To this day, Jeep and AMC fanatics get downright excited when they find a junkyard vehicle with a complete 401 still attached.


The seller of this particular Jeep Cherokee Chief claims he has $15,000 invested in the vehicle, with improvements and maintenance including a full engine rebuild and a rebuilt Turbo 400 transmission. The suspension and tires have been updated and upgraded, and the seller installed a functional A/C system. Perhaps the best surprise of all is that it still sports original paint that looks quite good in the photos.


The only major defect listed is an exhaust leak that’s developed since the Jeep has been in storage. This looks like a great vehicle for using both as intended and on the local car show circuit. Though you don’t want to muss up that original paint job, it’s still not too much of a trailer queen that you can’t take it camping and maybe down a creek bed or two. Bidding is just over $2K with the reserve unmet – how would you use this Z-code equipped Cherokee?


  1. dave

    put a 30 over 401 in a 73 hornet X and no big block any thing got the mail delivered.

  2. Blueprint

    My Dad bought a new Cherokee in ’74 and his had the 360 V-8, Turbo 400 tranny and Quadra-Trac. What’s fishy with this one is the floor-mounted transfer case lever seen in conjunction with the Quadra-Trac badge on the tailgate. The Q-Trac came with a switch-operated lock for serious situations, but nothing troned on that massive transmission tunnel. Quadra-Trac was the earliest full-time 4wd setup on domestic 4×4’s.

    The diamond plate on the tailgate hides typical rust spots – the top near the glass was biodegradable.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Swapped tailgate? I dont know these but did the fulltime 4WD not have low and high?

      • D Drimmie

        QT low range was a bolt on ‘option’. Often not installed at factory but easily done afterwards… just unbolt the back cover of the BorgWarner and slide in the reduction unit and install the floor linkage at the driver’s seat edge. It gave superior reduction compared to part time t-cases.
        How do I know all this…I have been around literally hundreds of these, have owned nearly a dozen and was a Jeep dealership Parts Dept manager during the AMC and later era.

  3. Howard A Member

    I’ve gone ’round and ’round with some folks about what a miserable vehicle this was. I had a ’78 Cherokee Chief, only with a 258, 6 cylinder, and while the concept was good, it was the biggest POS I ever owned. We’ve determined, years in the “salt bath” probably had a lot to do with it, but every day, something would quit working. Gas gauge, heater fan, rear window ( stuck half up or half down), drivers door window disappeared in the door, door handles broke, on and on. Ultimately, the left rear leaf spring detached from the frame going through the floor ( again, salt bath) deeming it undriveable. I agree with Blueprint, I don’t remember the transfer case lever being on the floor, as there was switch in the glove box ( that didn’t seem to do anything) It did go through the snow well and the 258 was a great motor but the 1980 Bronco I bought to replace it was 10 times the vehicle. Sorry, no thanks on the Cherokee.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Sounds like a rough, old example to use to judge the model with.

      • Howard A Member

        Hi Bobs, that’s true, but sometimes that’s all it takes. Clearly, not all Cherokee’s were bad, but if one has a bad experience with a certain vehicle, that person will likely never buy another. Like I say, I’ve talked to people that had great luck with these, and many that did not. I went with the Bronco ( and not another Jeep) because Jeep couldn’t hold a candle to Ford or Chevy ( or Dodge) during that time. They were just better trucks, and at the time, the Cherokee wasn’t all that old.

      • Bobsmyuncle

        Well if wasnt that old, and was decently maintained than thats understandable…

        But it must have veen pretty rough to allow a leaf spring to protrude into the cabin no?

    • D Drimmie

      Your are correct in that that lever was never used on this model of Cherokee. The low range selector was located at the front of the driver’s seat…It had 3 positions. Hi, Neutral, Low and was only there if the vehicle had the optional low range unit installed either in factory or by dealer. This was a full time 4×4 system so there was no 2wd position. The dial in the glove box (Emergency Drive) was either green (unlocked) or red (locked) and that cancelled the transfer case differential (biasing front to rear) essentially locking to two driveshafts together. Somebody had removed the QT and installed an inferior part time t-case with manual locking hubs…this will be very costly to fix if restoring.

  4. Van

    Great style and versatility
    The vinyl floor cover says use me baby
    I would have to check the DIY wiring under the hood


    The shift lever on the floor was the high and low for the trans. I’ve had four of these and am looking for another. These trucks are the most rugged well designed jeeps out there. That’s why they made them in some sort of configuration for so long, be it the cherokee or wagoner.
    I could out pull most trucks with the 401 and I had one with the bulletproof 258 six which had unreal gobs of torque and got 28 mpg on the hwy.
    I never had any problems with my jeeps except fighting off the rust that would develop on the frame rail by the gas tank. Dirt would get caught up in there and start the whole rust problem.
    If you know how to maintain them they last and are easy to fix.
    I trounced fords and Chevys regularly with my jeeps. The just were better off road performers. That’s why the military’s around the world bought them.
    Jeep couldn’t keep up with the demand.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      I assumed that was what the floor shifter was.

      I have only second hand experience with these but it was always favourable.

    • D Drimmie

      Please read my comment further down… That t-case shift level was NEVER used on an SJ with automatic trans. This vehicle has been heavily modified with the original QT being removed. That floor lever has been cut into the floor and is a type used by CJ series.

      • Rustowner

        More than likely, I’d guess the trans and t-case came from a v8 Commando. That was available with a TH400 and a Dana 20 which used that style shifter. Have swapped several of that combo into SJ’s over the years to eliminate the QT system. The Dana 20 will not fit on the TH400 that is used with QT btw.

    • wuzjeepnowsaab

      Having had dozens of these (FSJ’s) in past years and in many configurations I will say that the grunt of a 401 is worth every tug on your wallet that every drop of gas sucks from it. I used to tell people these were awesome vehicles…when they run…but that you will never ever pass a gas station. One friend described one of my GW’s as an “air plow” and that’s as apt a description as I’ve ever heard.

      But you’ll also never get stuck anywhere in one of these…an old Jeep buddy has pictures of his pulling an 18 wheeler out of a ditch. Perfect Zombie Apocolypse vehicle. In Alaska, they call these moose killers. Most everything else they call moose catchers.


    I bought one from a young man to help him out. It was 74ish I think. Had a 360 and the 4 speed manual. I wanted to like it, I really tried. It was straight, it ran pretty good, it rattled and shook, and wandered all over the road. I was glad to sell it for what I paid for it.
    I love the way they look, but I agree with Howard A

  7. Don

    I had a 76 Cherokee Chief, same color as this one as a matter of fact. Mine had a 360, turbo 400 with the quadra-trac and it was a great truck! It got good mpg (15) for the times (late 70’s) and could damn near climb trees. I moved from Minnesota to Waco Texas in 1980 and traded her off for a 78 Trans-Am. At the time nobody drove a 4- wheel drive in Texas.

  8. duke

    there needs to be a change in this wonderful automotive/motorcycle world—-INVEST?
    the real words are ‘spent or wasted’ on parts or restoration-all of these great marques have a place for someone out there however when someone ‘spends’ more money on parts or restoration than the vehicle is worth…..its just not an investment its ‘spent money’…..period-

    furthermore when owner -X- has something on wheels that’s worth 10k and they ‘invest’ another 5k in it ….that doesn’t always work out to the math equation of the vehicle being worth 15k, you still have a 10k vehicle that you just ‘spent’ 5k on.
    so for the near future…..choose the ‘invest’ word properly please-

    • D Drimmie

      Yup…and the ‘real’ people in the restoration world know that. It’s the average guy on the street who doesn’t understand your statement.

  9. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Great looking rig. Rare because of the rust. My first Jeep was a 1976 CJ7. I have owned Jeeps ever since. .I bought an early Willys wagon this year and at 60 years old she goes through anything. So fun to drive.

  10. D Drimmie

    Resto project …yup…a lot of things wrong with this vehicle from an accuracy point of view. The vehicle has a modified power train. The plaque on the back says Quadra-trac and is placed in the correct position, however it no longer is a QT as there is a part time transfer case now cut into the floor. This model was never built with an automatic trans and a t-case floor shifter like that. Low range was an option and the lever was mounted under front edge of driver’s seat. Glove box had the “Emergency Drive” dial for t-case lockout. Somebody removed the Quadra-trac and installed a part time t-case and then installed non factory locking hubs…a real shame. The exterior stripe was not available til ‘ 81 and the side front fender plaques are incorrectly located, so this thing has been repainted at some point. The centre horn cap on the s. wheel is not Jeep, the factory heater box (under hood) has been removed (makes no sense), the correct engine air intake system has been removed along with the oil filler cap. Front wheel centres are not correct, and there is not interior carpet, which was standard on Cherokee Chief. Multiple changes here make me question the vintage or what happened to make the owner change so many things. My guess is it was a near base model and somebody has add the wrong year stripes and destroyed the correct power train. Too bad this has happened…devalued the Jeep by 3-4 grand.

  11. Walter Joy

    What I always thought was funny was how much those wheels looked like the ones on the same era Chevy trucks. Rust is a killer, and that’s why my dad’s 78 CJ-7 is sitting in the ground.

    • D Drimmie

      I neglected to mention those wheels…interesting that you noticed them… they were used for only on year …’ 76. 15″x8″.

  12. Jubjub

    @D Drimmie, good call, I was gonna say the stripes were wrong year.


    3-4 grand? HAHAHAHA your dreaming, bid is already over 6. This is a real nice truck and ones and similar condition have brought 25-30 grand. Try to keep up

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Yes but the folks here seem stuck at 1985 evaluations.

      I’m confident most readers here scoff at any cup of coffee over a dollar.

    • D Drimmie

      @AMC…you do have problems reading and comprehending …”devalued the Jeep by 3-4 grand.” The key word here is “devalued”! Perhaps you should try to keep up. I’ve been around this particular model (17) since introduction in ’75. I’ve owned more than a few FSJs. I am fully aware of the current market conditions and value of these in various markets across North America and Australia. As a matter of fact a friend of mine just purchased the most expensive Jeep that Wagonmaster has ever sold.
      My original statement remains accurate…this vehicle will not attain the full amount it could have, had it not been modified/molested. Purists like my self hate to see this done to a Jeep. It makes it much more costly to restore it back to the correct configuration. Try to keep up eh.

      • Bobsmyuncle

        To be fair very, very few potential buyers would ever care about the level of the originality.

  14. Van

    Are you nuts
    A rugged 4×4 fully restored is worse than a Tiffany paperweight
    You would get hours more fun getting it dirty and hosing it off than sitting polished in a climate controled garage
    Restore a Mercedes Sl, or a Jag, most convertibles. Drive this like it’s your favorite dog, feed it mobile 1, give it a bone and take it hunting. Your best friend says dont leave me at home, let’s go dad.

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