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1981 Jeep CJ-5 - Reborn

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Jordan May | Writer
Posted January 1, 2008

Permission Granted to Wheel

"One only at this price," was the ad Tom Armstrong read when he was searching his local newspaper for a Jeep back in June of 1981. Hooked on what he saw in the paper, he headed down to the dealership and fell in love with this '81 Jeep CJ-5. After a bit of haggling over the sale price, Tom finally drove off in his new Jeep for a little less than $6,500.

You are probably asking yourself how Tom scored such a sweet ride for so little cash? Well, the Jeep didn't come with a top, rear seat, doors, spare tire, or radio. Something amusing about the early history of this Jeep is that the original build Tom did to the vehicle replaced all of those components, but with the final build he ended up losing all of those items again. The dealer was apparently right: It never needed those items.

So many trail rigs we come across these days have been bought and sold many times over, resulting in booger welds and jungle-gym 'cage work. In buying this vehicle off the lot, Tom didn't have to worry about such problems. He has built and rebuilt this vehicle himself using various lockers, different engines, lift kits, transmissions, and more. The CJ-5 you see on these pages is the result of years of trail abuse, product testing, and a lot of negotiating with Tom's wife, Lawana. You see, in exchange for Tom being able to dump the amount of money he has into the Jeep, Lawana insisted that she too get her own dream vehicle: a convertible Corvette.

In April of 1983, Tom, Lawana, and some of their friends founded the Social Climbers 4x4 Group. The group wheels eight to ten times per year and frequents events like Tierra Del Sol and the Hi Desert Round-Up. Over the years, Tom's wife has gathered trophies at the Hi Desert Round-Up games, including victories in the Wet Lap, Turtle Race, Women's Short Wheelbase Potato Slab, and the Women's Obstacle Course events. Another notable event occurred when their son Jason was born and at only 2 months was strapped into a car seat and wheeled in the back of Tom's Jeep at TDS. That year, they won the award for the youngest rider.

Under the Hood
Wherever he could, Tom wanted certain items on the CJ to remain Jeep ones. The engine he chose is an AMC 401ci pushing over 300 hp to the wheels. Keeping it cool is a stock three-row radiator with a Flex-a-lite cooling fan. Other modifications include an Edelbrock manifold, Holley fuel injection, Hooker headers, Super Trapp exhaust, a GM HEI distributor, and ACDelco batteries. A Summit Racing fuel cell has been custom-mounted in the back and holds 16 gallons of fuel, which, according to Tom, is sometimes just not enough.

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