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1974 Jeep CJ5 - 4 Word

Posted in Features on March 1, 2008
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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.

Two months after the nuptials, I purchased an '82 CJ-5 with the Iron Puke - oops, I mean Duke - four-banger AMC purchased from Pontiac for a few years. Those were a few years too many, as the Iron Duke was a gutless boat anchor. This was the first Jeep I installed a Detroit Locker front and rear in, and although I loved the lockers I couldn't stand the Iron Duke, so I traded the CJ for a new '86 Toyota pickup in late 1985. This pickup was the first Toyota with an independent frontend. Hicks 4x4 in Pomona, California, installed a Detroit in the rear and a TRD limited-slip up front, so the truck worked well. It was stolen from my garage never to be seen again by anyone I knew.

I purchased another Toyota, this time an '88 with 3.0 V6. I didn't like the 3.0 V6, so I sold this truck and purchased an '86 CJ-7 with 258 I6, T5 five-speed tranny, Dana 300 transfer case, AMC 20 rearend, and Dana 30 front. I put Summers Brothers one-piece axles in the 20, 4.56 gears and Detroit Lockers front and rear, a 3-inch Rancho suspension, white spoke wheels and 33-inch BFGoodrich Radial All-Terrain T/A tires. I then headed for Utah to lead the Behind the Rocks trail during Easter Jeep Safari, something I enjoyed doing for a number of years back then. This was a great Jeep, but after rolling over a few times and heavy off-road usage, this Jeep died and ended up as parts. I then found a salvage '85 CJ-7 that became the "Salvage Special" project: my first in the new 4WD&SU. This CJ received a throttle-body-injected Chevy 350, 700-R4 transmission, Dana 300 transfer case, Currie Ford 9-inch front and rear ends with 4.56 gears and Detroit Lockers. It was also painted a bright poppy red that could be seen for miles.

I'm out of room, so I will continue vehicle reminiscences in the next 4Word. Whether it was in a Land Rover, Jeep, or Toyota, what every one of these 4x4s did was enable me to get into the backcountry and explore, seeing things chairborne people will never see. You know how cool it is to put the wheels on the dirt, headed for adventure. It's a feeling that can't be described. I owe a debt of gratitude to all my old 4x4s. I'm sure you feel the same about your vehicles, whether they're old iron or brand-new steel.

I hope to see you on the trail in whatever you're driving.

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