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1982 Jeep CJ7 - Ruby Red

Posted in Features on July 1, 2003
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We like CJ Jeeps. Along with earlier flat fenders, the CJ lineup defines Jeep; it's still the classic, clean vehicle of choice for many backcountry connoisseurs. We've done a few TJs lately for projects and wanted to return to the basics and build a tough, go-anywhere CJ that would be no-frills but still be comfortable enough for highway trips to the trail. With this in mind, we enlisted the help of James Stewart, owner of Drivetrain Unlimited in St. George, Utah, to build a CJ-7 that was worthy of his shop's name.

An extremely clean '82 Jeep CJ-7 with no rust and a frame in great shape was purchased. The body was removed from the frame. so the frame could be inspected for cracking or other problems - there weren't any. It was then sandblasted and coated with POR 15 to preclude any corrosion problems that might arise in the future. The body was then completely stripped of all parts, including motor, lights, wiring, and weather stripping.

While most of the parts on the Jeep were in great shape, we wanted an almost brand-new CJ-7 as the base for our backcountry explorer. Stewart contacted 4 Wheel Drive Hardware in Columbiana, Ohio, and ordered new lights, new heater/ventilation controls and knobs, a heater motor, a heater box and core (the new core was used, but the old box turned out to be perfect, so it was reused), a windshield wiper motor and wipers, CJ fold-forward seat brackets, and rearview mirrors. 4 Wheel Drive Hardware also supplied an Optima Yellow Top sealed gas recombinant battery for installation when the project was complete.

Part of the CJ's charm is its clean, flat dash. We wanted to use a complete array of Auto Meter gauges, so Stewart fabricated a new dash, sans radio and glovebox holes, to make it look even cleaner. An Auto Meter Phantom 5-inch tachometer, a 5-inch electronic speedometer, and two 1/16-inch gauges that included fuel level, oil pressure, water temperature, fuel pressure, voltmeter, and clock were installed. The Auto Meter 5-inch electronic speedometer is a great addition to the Jeep, allowing easy, one-touch calibration no matter what gearing or tire size changes we make. The heater and ventilation controls were mounted, as were the turn signal and high-beam indicator and two 12-volt outlets for power. The finished dash turned out very clean.

The fenderwells were cut to accommodate TJ fender flares. The TJ flares afford a much larger opening, allowing for a larger tire without too much suspension lift. Custom rocker panel guards were built that go all the way under the body to the body mounts and allow pesky rocks to just slide by and do no damage. The smooth steel rear quarter panels from Off Your Rocker were cut to install rear LED lights and backup lights, as well as a TJ fuel filler on the passenger-side. Once all the parts were installed and the body was back on the frame, Adam at Drivetrain Unlimited painted the Jeep bright red, and then the interior was Rhino-lined.

It was now time to address the engine, transmission, transfer case, front- and rearends, and suspension. Drivetrain Unlimited's specialty is engine building. The company pointed out to us that many Jeeps it sees in the backcountry barely run, even though the suspension and axles are top notch. A Jeep can't travel on- or off-road without a good powerplant, so Stewart did what he does best: he built a superb engine for our CJ. He chose a Chevrolet 350 V-8 block and new Vortec heads and performance valvetrain parts from Precision Engine Parts (P.E.P.). A Comp Cam roller cam was used, and all studs and bolts came from ARP.

All engines that Drivetrain Unlimited builds are custom for each application. Ours was built for low-end torque and good street performance. Like all its blocks, this one was heated and stress relieved, align-honed, square-decked, deck-height-corrected, and bored and honed with a torque plate. The rotating assembly was balanced within 1 gram, and the crank was ground to correct factory stroke differences (indexed). Connecting rods were cleaned and magnafluxed, and new ARP bolts were installed and sized to manufacturer specifications. The Vortec heads were treated to a performance valve job with the three-angle seats cut on a Sunnen SGM-1500. Block- and head-surfacing was performed on a Sunnen HBS-2100.

For induction, we wanted to use Street & Performance. The company has been around a long time and has become famous in the street rod, hot rod, and high-performance venues for quality fuel injection, harnesses, and other components that set high-end vehicles apart no matter what they're designed to do. Stewart ordered a new Street & Performance Ram Port fuel injection, which is designed for fast-burn aluminum and cast-iron Vortec heads. S & P adapted the technology from its famous small- and big-block Chevy multi-port fuel injections. With the same design characteristics of the multi-port units, the Ram Port maximizes the performance characteristics of the new heads. The new Ram Port has a lower profile than its older multi-port siblings. Using the new LS-1 24.9 injectors, the compact design is ideal for Jeeps or other 4x4s using Vortec heads. To make the installation simple, Street & Performance ships the Ram Port fuel injection with wiring harness, a GM computer, a fuel pump relay, a MAP sensor, a check-engine light, an ALDL diagnostic link, an oil pressure backup system, and a manual fuel pressure gauge. Street & Performance billet Vortec valve covers and shorty-coated headers with oxygen sensors were also used. Once everything was assembled, the engine was mounted in the frame using Bomb Proof motor mounts from M.O.R.E. A DynoMax Ultra Flow muffler and Super Converter catalytic converter complement the Street & Performance-coated headers and make the 3-inch exhaust system really work.

Drivetrain Unlimited built a fresh Chevrolet 700-R4 four-speed automatic tranny. The lock-up torque converter was retained and still works as stock. We like lock-up converters on the street because fuel economy is greatly enhanced. The transmission line pressures were increased and everything beefed up so the transmission would perform well in tough environments. Behind the transmission, an Atlas Highlander transfer case from Advance Adapters was installed. The superb, gear-driven Atlas has proven itself throughout the four-wheeling world. We like it because it allows us to choose High or Low range front- and rear-wheel drive and High and Low range four-wheel drive so we can get into and out of every situation. The Atlas comes in a number of conigurations. We chose a left-hand drop to better clear the 700-R4 tranny pan and installed it using the mounting holes that clock the T-case up for ground clearance.

We wanted front- and rearends that would be overkill for our application. We also wanted the Jeep to live up to its name. Wimpy axles wouldn't do. At the time of the buildup, Stewart was a dealer for Tera, and he recommended that we look at the Tera 60R high-pinion front- and rearends. The heavy-duty third members feature reinforced bearing caps, a ductile iron-cast cover, and provide more ground clearance than a Dana 44! Some early Tera 60Rs had reported oiling failures. Tera came up with an engineering change that ensured oil would get to the pinion bearing, so no more worries. The heavy-duty Dana 60 axles should withstand the toughest abuse we can dish out. Up front, Stewart chose kingpin knuckles for the 60R, so we would have no problems no matter what backspacing we chose in wheels. 5.13 gears and Detroit Lockers were installed front and rear from West Coast Differentials, which is a great company to work with. We ordered the wrong Detroit Lockers for the Tera 60R. The 60R with 5.13 gears uses a Detroit designed for 4.10 or higher gears. We didn't know that. Once we discovered we'd ordered the wrong parts, a call to Gary at West Coast Differentials had the correct Detroit Lockers at the shop the next day.

For suspension, we broke no new ground. We chose Rubicon Express 4.5-inch Extreme Duty YJ leaf packs with Bilstein gas-charged shocks from All Pro Off Road. The Rubicon Express springs allow plenty of articulation yet control weight transfer well on steep climbs and off-camber situations. All Pro now offers complete Jeep suspensions, as well as its great Toyota suspensions. We chose the company's Bilstein shocks because the people at All Pro seem to understand shock valving better than anyone we've found. The 4.5-inch springs and 1-inch body lift from M.O.R.E. easily clear the 37x12.50R17LT Goodyear Wrangler MT-Rs mounted on 17x9-inch Mickey Thompson Classic II alloy wheels with Champion bead locks.

Steering and brakes were next. A Jeep that runs as well as this one needs brakes that work well. Stewart ordered a Chevrolet truck 1-ton power brake booster and master cylinder from Chevrolet and installed it, along with four-wheel disc brakes. The rear discs came with a small drum emergency brake that works positively and well (there's no small-caliper brake worries here). Steering in the rocks can get difficult with large tires when you're jammed between a rock and a hard place. Stewart installed a steering system from Howe Performance that included a power steering box, a pump, a bracket, and a hydraulic ram assist. A custom, beefy Drivetrain Unlimited tie-rod and drag link were fabricated so the steering links were as strong as the rest of the Jeep. A steering box brace from Currie Enterprises further strengthens the reinforced steering box mount. You can now easily steer the Jeep in the toughest situations with one hand. An added plus is that the CJ still has steering feel on the road for safety and stability. Stewart ordered a new steering column from Jeep and installed a Grant steering wheel. The new column wasn't really necessary, but in keeping with our everything-new policy, were installed anyway.

Be Cool radiators have become very popular with four-wheelers who swap in larger displacement engines. Advance Adapters supplied our Be Cool CJ model. It fit perfectly in the CJ grill shell. With a little grinding here and there, the stock '82 CJ-7 fan shroud worked OK with the short water pump and stock Chevrolet heavy-duty fan and fan clutch. We will probably be going to Campbell Enterprises for a custom aluminum shroud in the near future. Once on the road, our Jeep had a tendency to run at about 225-230 degrees, which was too hot. Joel Randall told us he found that the coolant was entering at his Be Cool's inlet, going straight down the tank, across the bottom of the radiator, and to the outlet. In other words, the coolant was never going past the radiator's cooling fins. His Jeep was running 225-230 degrees, too. He outlined a fix that worked for him, and that sounded good to us. We cut a slot in the tanks, about a third of the way down from the top inlet and about a third of the way up from the bottom outlet. We then slipped a piece of aluminum sheet into each of these slots and had an aluminum welder weld the sheets in. This forces the coolant to flow across the radiator before it exits. That did it! Our Jeep runs at the 195-degree thermostat temperature no matter what the load.

Joe McArthur of St. George, Utah, was enlisted to build the rollcage, crossmember, and front and rear bumpers. Stewart and Joe were able to get the crossmember flush with the bottom of the frame for easier breakovers. The front and rear bumpers were fabricated using 0.250-wall stock, and the rear bumper features two D-rings for backcountry towing chores. The rollcage allows the useof factory three-point seatbelts, even for the rear seat occupants. A winch mount was fabricated to install a new Warn 9.5ti Thermometric winch. This new 9,500-pound winch is sealed at key points to keep water at bay and provides a shield for the motor and wiring. The 9.5ti features a new Gen II Bosch motor with thermal sensor that relays temperature information to the handheld remote while the winch is in operation. By the time you read this, Warn will have introduced the 9.5si winch. This all-black beauty replaces solenoids with solid-state construction. This is a major leap forward in winch technology. The Warn 9.5ti was the winch of choice when we put this project together, and we're extremely happy with it.

Now that the rollcage was installed, the interior could be finished. Bestop Trailmax Pro seating was installed on the new Jeep seat brackets. The Bestop seats are comfortable and strong, able to take backcountry abuse well. The Bestop fold and tumble rear seat installed easily using factory mounting locations. Not pictured are the Bestop Supertop we'll use if southern Utah ever gets inclement weather again, a Bestop bikini top, and a trail cover for summertime four-wheeling. A Tuffy Super Security console will house an MP3 deck with Sirius Satellite radio if we ever get around to getting one. The MP3s will sound great through the Thor Sound Wedge speaker boxes supplied by 4 Wheel Drive Hardware. A Cobra 75 WX ST CB that houses everything in the microphone is used for CB communications along with a pair of Cobra microTalk PR200WX GMRS/FRS radios for even clearer, better communications. We do wish Cobra would come out with a mobile GMRS/FRS radio we could mount in the Jeep, though.

The Jeep is graced with a Quick Air 3 12-volt air compressor from Sun Performance. All of Sun's compressors work great, and the Quick Air 3 is no exception. We've always liked the Quick Air II, and the Air III is almost twice as powerful! We also use a Power Tank PT10 in the field. The Power Tank is faster than a garage compressor and can be used in our different 4x4s. The only trouble we've found with the Power Tank is from the friends who four-wheel with us. They all want to use it because it's so fast, and they soon empty it. We've found that with our PT-10, we fill about 18 37- to 38-inch tires from 6 to 30 psi.

The Jeep has turned out to be worthy of its name. It's well balanced off-road and able to tackle (and surmount) the toughest obstacles without giving us any worries about drivetrain components breaking. The V-8 runs great at any and all attitudes and altitudes, thanks to Drivetrain Unlimited's work and the Street & Performance Ram Port fuel injection. The 3.0:1 Atlas Highlander transfer case, mated to the 700R4 and 5.13:1 gears in the Tera 60R's has proven to be the perfect ratio for us. We're reminded of Stewart's nitpicking attention to detail and quality and his desire that everything Drivetrain Unlimited turns out will be the best of the best every time we use the CJ. This bright-red, clean, tough Jeep has turned out to be one of our finest projects.

SPECIFICATIONS
Year/make/model: '82 {{{Jeep CJ}}}-7
Engine: Chevrolet 350 V-8 with
Vortec heads
Induction: Street & Performance
Ram Port MPFI
Transmission: Chevrolet 700R4
Transfer case: Atlas Highlander/3.0:1
Frontend: Tera 60R
Rearend: Tera 60R
Ring-and-pinion: 5.13:1
Suspension: Rubicon {{{Express}}} four-
leaf packs; Bilstein
gas-charged shocks
Wheels/tires: 37x12.50R17LT Goodyear
{{{Wrangler}}} MT-Rs/Mickey
Thompson Classic IIs
with Champion
bead locks

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