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1974 Jeep CJ5 - 4 Word

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Phil Howell | Writer
Posted March 1, 2008

The very first 4x4 vehicle I drove was a '63 Land Rover Series IIA 88 with a half-cab and bows for a soft top in back that had been built for a National Geographic expedition. I don't know how or where he found it, but my dad did and purchased it used. This vehicle would hardly move with its 2.25L I4 gas engine, and 55 mph was about all it could do downhill, but that didn't matter to me since I was driving it in the dirt and crawling around at 0-5 mph.

The Land Rover had already left the family's vehicle inventory by the time I got my driver's license and had purchased my dad's '61 Chevy shop truck. While I was 15, I had spent almost all my spare time getting the truck running, and on the night of my 16th birthday, finished stapling a Saddleman seat cover over the torn bench seat and took two buddies for a night run into the backcountry. I learned that snow chains work in deep sand too while driving that old Chevy. I also learned that swapping a 348 Chevrolet V8 with Tri-power into that old truck was easier said than done.

My first Jeep was a new '72 CJ-5 that had a 304 V8, T-15 three-speed tranny, and a Model 20 transfer case. The willowy channel frame was fine for the kind of off-roading I was doing back then. I remember there was no fuse block, so every time a fuse blew, I was tracing wires to find the inline-fuse holder. It had a good, strong Dana 44 with one-piece axles (remember when we searched salvage yards to find these to retrofit them into later CJs?) and took me many places in the mountains and desert. It wasn't much fun driving this Jeep between Southern California and Utah where I was attending BYU. It was fun driving it in the snow.

My next Jeep was a '78 CJ-7 with Quadra-Trac, a Turbo 400 automatic, a 304 V8, and Rancho Freedom Rider springs, maybe the best leaf packs ever built for Jeeps. I remember agonizing over whether a Jeep with a long (for then) 93.5-inch wheelbase would work in the backcountry. Today, many have forgotten (or never knew) how well shorter-wheelbase vehicles work on tight trails. The CJ-7 was my first vehicle with an automatic transmission and I didn't like it much. How things have changed. Now automatic transmissions are my choice for crawling around in the rocks or in traffic. This was my first Jeep with a Detroit NoSpin Locker and I loved how it increased the CJ-7's ability to go where I couldn't before.

Because of the late-'70s fuel crisis, I sold the CJ-7 and purchased a '75 Toyota Hilux pickup that would only start when cold if I removed the air cleaner and put a paper plate over the carb. I converted it to 4WD using a Dana 30 frontend and a Toyota FJ40 transfer case. This didn't last long, as I then purchased a brand-new '81 Toyota pickup that came from the factory with a front axle. This was a reliable truck that spent lots of time exploring the California, Arizona, and Colorado/Sonoran deserts and southeastern Utah. This truck was so reliable, and it's still working today with its current owner in Phoenix, Arizona.

After selling the Toyota, back I went to a '74 CJ-5 once again with a 304 V8, T-15 three-speed tranny, and a Model 20 transfer case. This Jeep wasn't reliable and had a major failure almost every trip off-road. I remember one freak incident where a broken brake line was caused by the body flexing and crushing the steel tubing. Another was a complete electrical system failure while on a night trail run that fixed itself once I was towed home and safely back in the driveway. The brake line problem was an easy fix. I never did figure out the electrical problem. I traded that CJ for an engagement ring. Although the Jeep was unreliable, the marriage hasn't been.

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