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1970 Jeep CJ-5 - White Lightning

Posted in Features on July 1, 2002
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When Rex Kirkland was a kid, his dream was to build the ultimate off-road buggy. Around 1993, he spotted an old Jeep rusting away in a pasture near Grant's Pass, Oregon. The dream was rekindled, a deal was struck, and the forsaken CJ-5 was hauled home for a little TLC. The initial plan was to create a good back-road cruiser for camping and fishing trips. Then Rex saw a coilover four-link suspension at a monster truck exhibition at the local county fair. Things snowballed and it wasn't long before the little CJ lost its body for a frame-off buildup.

Taking tips from local shops and magazine feature rigs, Rex fabricated a custom front and rear four-link suspension. With articulation and reliability in mind, Rex used 1.250-inch, 0.125-wall chrome-moly tubing to build the control arms. The front control arms tuck neatly into the framerails, while a Panhard rod maintains lateral positioning. For control on the rocks, a set of King coilover shocks with a 14 inches of stroke and a 150/160 spring rate was used.

The rear received the same four-link treatment, along with a set of quarter-elliptic spring packs that were fabricated using the leaves out of a '74 Grand Cherokee. A combination of Rancho RS 9012/5012 shocks handle the damping duties on each side. We do not generally place much stock on RTI scores as a measure of trail-worthiness, but this rock buggy did pull an impressive 1,280 on a 30-degree ramp.

Thirty-spline Dana 44s were used front and back. The front axle was fitted with 4.88 gears and a Power Lok diff, then was narrowed to 63 inches. The rear axle was equipped with 4.88s and a Detroit and then centered and widened to 62 inches. A set of 35-inch Interco Boggers on 15x8-inch Eagle 589s provides traction and keeps the whole setup on terra firma.

Powering the rig is a Buick 225 V-6 that's been bored 60 over and fitted with Buick 350 pistons. It breathes through an Edelbrock/Offenhauser intake combination and a K&N air filter. Oversized stainless valves seal against Harden seats and are energized by an Iski cam. A Pertronix pointless ignition brings it all to life. The system exhales through custom aluminum headers and a 2-inch exhaust.

Transferring power downward is a pair of extended-travel drivelines that are turned by a twin-stick Spicer 18 transfer case and an SM 420 granny-low transmission. While future plans include a set of 4.6:1 transfer case gears from O'Brien's Four Wheel West, this traditional combination produces a respectable 89:1 final drive.

The interior hosts a full set of Auto Meter gauges and a CD player, which complement the polished aluminum dash. The lockable hand throttle, twin-stick transfer case levers, and Chevy Chevette tilt wheel are comfortably accessible from the Isuzu Impulse bucket seats. The rollcage was home-fabricated, as were the heavy-duty front and rear bumpers.

We first 'wheeled with Rex at the 35th annual Sierra Trek (Jan. '02 issue) and caught up with him again on the Rubicon for this feature. We really liked his rig for several reasons. One reason is the unequalled attention to detail;the second reason is the unique blend of custom-fabricated items and quality aftermarket products; the third reason is that Rex is not afraid to put this show-quality rig through the proverbial ringer of real-world four-wheeling.

Owner/hometown: Rex Kirkland/
Folsom, California
Make/model: '70 Jeep/CJ-5
Engine: Buick 225 V-6
Induction: Edelbrock/Offenhauser
Transmission: SM 420
Transfer case: Spicer 18
Frontend: Dana 44 with Power Lok
Rearend: Dana 44 with Detroit
Ring-and-pinion: 4.88
Suspension: Custom four-link
Wheels/tires: 15x8-inch Eagle
Interco Boggers

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