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LM7 1976 Jeep CJ7

Posted in Features on March 21, 2012
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When we first offered David Lizzarago a photo shoot and feature story of his CJ-7, he said, "Yes, but…." But what? What could possibly be more pressing than having a camera pointed at your trail rig? Quite a few things, it turns out, and family tops that list. "I can't find my son," David told us.

A sea of RVs had swept over Anderson Dry Lake for Cal 4 Wheel's Hi Desert Round-Up, and Lizzarago's son was adrift somewhere among them. We wished him well, gave him our cell number (service is actually pretty good there) and hoped for the best. Jeeps come and go. Family doesn't.

Just as the sun was sinking below the horizon, David called with good news. He'd located his son and was heading our direction.

The LM7 5.3L Vortec V-8 is part of the GM 5300 Vortec engine family. Versions of this powerplant were first offered in 1999 and continue to this day. The in-block camshaft and pushrod configuration is more compact compared to an overhead cam engine.

A CJ-7 wasn't Lizzarago's first choice. That honor was held by the CJ-8 Scrambler. Alas, none could be found at the right price, so the clean 1976 CJ-7 on these pages was located, negotiated, and re-created.

Some parts of the CJ's platform didn't need to be re-invented. Spring-under leaf springs offer reduced axle wrap and often allow more bump travel than their over-the-axle counterparts. The '7's wheelbase was also left as the factory delivered it. Same goes for most of the interior and the dashboard. Why fix that which isn't broken?

It's a different story under the hood. The factory carbureted toad is long gone, and there's an LM7 5.3L Vortec V-8 in its place. The LM7 is one of today's most popular engines for swapping, and for good reason. It's easy to find in wrecking yards. It's powerful, even bone stock. Thanks to pushrods and an in-block camshaft, it's compact. Thanks to six-bolt main bearing caps and a host of other smart designs, it's reliable. Thanks to all these desirable traits, the LM7 is well-supported by the automotive aftermarket. Long story short, it's a perfect choice.

David’s 5.3L features a custom computer, Advance Adapters headers, and a K&N intake. A yellow-top Optima battery ensures start after successful start.

Downstream from the Vortec, things go back to the good old days. It's not a bad thing: an SM465 four-speed transmission and a Dana 300 transfer case are as desirable and bulletproof as the GM powerplant in front of them.

From the transfer case, power feeds aft into a Dana 44 rear axle that's fitted with an Auburn limited slip and a 4.56 gear set. Following the front driveshaft leads to a Dana 30 with a Detroit Locker, chromoly axle shafts, and a matching ratio.

This SM465 and Dana 300 combo is about the cleanest we’ve ever seen. It’s clean enough to eat off of if you don’t mind a little desert sand in your food.

Though 33-inch tires aren't considered big anymore, this tire size still brings good things to the table. Thirty-three's are easy on axles, easy on fuel economy, and easy on the wallet. David uses Mickey Thompson Baja MTZs, a tread we've tried and enjoyed.

Spartan meets sophistication in the LM7 CJ-7. We're glad we got to shoot it, but we're happier yet that father and son were re-united in short order with minimal drama. Jeeps come and go. Family doesn't.

Vehicle: 1976 Jeep CJ-7
Owner/Hometown: David Lizzarago/Chino Hills, California
Engine: GM LM7 5.3L Vortec V-8 with custom computer and Advance Adapter headers
Induction: Stock manifold, K&N filter and intake system
Transmission: SM465 four-speed
Transfer case: Dana 300
Front end: Dana 30
Rear end: Dana 44
Ring and Pinion: 4.56
Front Differential: Eaton Detroit Locker
Rear Differential: Auburn limited-slip
Suspension: Pro Comp four-inch lift springs
Tires: 33x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ radials
Wheels: 15x10 Mickey Thompson Classic II
Build time: Six years of off-and-on wrenching and fabrication

This wouldn’t be a fun interior for long commutes and general daily driving, but for a trail rig it doesn’t get much better.
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