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1976 Jeep CJ-7 - Going Legit

Cover Photo
Kevin Blumer | Writer
Posted July 17, 2013

Friday Night Cruiser Turns Trail Weapon

"I bet you won't finish it," came the challenge. Jaime Moat, of Whittier, California, had just bought a well-used 1976 CJ-7 from a buddy. As purchased, the CJ was a classic. Not classic in the nostalgic sense of the word, but classic in the way it stereotyped an era. In this case, that era was the mid-'80s. Emblazoned with chrome nerf bars and yellow brake drums, it was primarily ready for hamburger runs. Trail runs had obviously been secondary during its past life.

Jaime had big changes in mind. The CJ needed to be capable of tough (though maybe not extreme) trails, and it needed to be comfortable. It needed to look nice. Not gaudy, just nice. Most of all, it needed to be finished. After all, "I bet you won't" can be a powerful motivator.

There are those who can write big checks spontaneously and there are those who have to save up. Mr. Moat is the latter of the two. Jaime is also a realist who understood that if the CJ was going to take its new shape in a timely manner, his best bet was to get a professional involved. Enter Desolate Motorsports.

Once the CJ was at Desolate, the transformation began. The tub came off the frame, and the axles were separated from the chassis. The engine went on a road trip to a rebuilder. Parts were ordered and stockpiled.

The build took a year and a half. That might sound like a long time, but considering the depth of the work and the stunning final result, it's clear that Desolate's efforts were fast and focused. Greg Gilbert and Matt Carter, the core of the Desolate crew, like to get stuff done.

The CJ was finished in time to put it in the dirt at last year's Tierra Del Sol (TDS) Desert Safari. We don't think this Jeep would recognize its former self. The chrome nerf bars and bright-yellow brake drums are long gone. The leaf springs have been replaced by a smooth, flexy GenRight suspension. Thirty-seven-inch Goodyear MT/R tires grace the axles, which have been treated to a host of internal upgrades that make them capable of withstanding the punishment dished out by the MT/Rs.

Yes, "I bet you won't" can be a powerful motivator. This time, the phrase helped metamorphose a classic CJ from a Friday night cruiser into a true trail weapon. It looks great, but the function is there to back up the form. It's gone legit.

Specifications
Vehicle:
1976 Jeep CJ-7
Owner/Hometown:
Jaime Moat/Whittier, CA
Engine:
4.2L I-6 built by L&R engines
Induction:
Weber carburetor, Clifford intake manifold, MSD distributor and ignition box
Transmission:
Borg-Warner T-18
Transfer case/low range ratio:
Dana 20/low-range 3.15:1 TeraLow gears installed by Tri-County Gear
Front suspension:
GenRight Legend Extreme link kit, custom Desolate steering system and Panhard bar, King 2.0 coilover shocks
Rear suspension:
GenRight Legend Extreme link kit, King 2.0 coilover shocks
Ring and Pinion:
4.88
Differentials:
ARB Air Lockers
Tires/Wheels:
37x12.50R17 Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar/17x8.5 Raceline RT 233 Monster beadlocks with 4 inches of backspacing and 6-on-5.5–inch bolt pattern

Step By Step

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  • The steering system is like no other we’ve seen on a trail rig. In order to achieve longer lengths and shallower angles for the draglink and Panhard bar alike, the crew at Desolate Motorsports built a hinge-style idler arm that’s directly inspired by I-beam desert racing trucks. The draglink has two segments. First, it runs from the steering box over to the idler arm. Next, it travels from the idler arm (often called a “swinger” in desert racing circles) down to the driver-side steering knuckle. The tie rod was custom-fabbed to clear the draglink system. An AGR Rock Ram assists the steering box, producing an easier effort at the steering wheel and less stress on the frame.

  • Jaime turned to GenRight Offroad for Legend Extreme front and rear suspension systems. The front is a three-link, while the rear is a four-link with triangulated upper links. Big suspension travel and clean suspension geometry are securely in place on this CJ.

  • Jaime turned to GenRight Offroad for Legend Extreme front and rear suspension systems. The front is a three-link, while the rear is a four-link with triangulated upper links. Big suspension travel and clean suspension geometry are securely in place on this CJ.

  • The Legend Extreme suspension system is designed to be used with coilover shocks, and there’s a King 2.0 coilover at each corner. Bumpstops and limit straps protect the shocks and chassis from self-destruction, ensuring that all the components play nice with each other.

  • The Legend Extreme suspension system is designed to be used with coilover shocks, and there’s a King 2.0 coilover at each corner. Bumpstops and limit straps protect the shocks and chassis from self-destruction, ensuring that all the components play nice with each other.

  • The GenRight tire carrier fastens securely to the body tub and to a Desolate Motorsports rear bumper. The bumper curves upward at the corners, creating extra clearance while maintaining protection for the sheetmetal above. The tire carrier swings downward when needed and is securely in place the rest of the time.

  • Goodyear’s latest Wrangler MT/Rs were designed with direct input from desert legend Walker Evans and work every bit as well for Jaime as they do for Walker. Raceline Monster beadlock wheels look just right and securely grip the tires even at low psi.

  • With GenRight parts underneath, seeing a GenRight bumper up front isn’t surprising. The bumper’s integrated steering box guard is a clever addition by Desolate Motorsports. The Warn 9.5ti winch is wound with Viking synthetic winch line and a matching end thimble. A 22-inch LED lightbar sits low-profile over the winch, throwing out plenty of lumens after dark.

  • Beard Super T1 seats comfortably cradle driver and passenger. Occupants are protected by a custom Desolate Motorsports rollcage, topped off by an aluminum roof panel that features quick-turn Dzus fasteners for easy removal, as needed.

  • This is a shift-for-yourself Jeep. The Borg-Warner T-18 four-speed has a granny-low first gear, and sends power downstream to a Dana 20 transfer case. You can see a Flex-a-lite Mojave heater just below the dash, and there’s a red MSD ignition box hiding in the corner. The inside of the body tub was coated with Line-X, which preserves the sheetmetal and helps deaden unwanted sound.

  • The 4.2 inline-six was rebuilt by L&R Engines and uses a Comp Cam to control the valves. A Weber carburetor mixes air and fuel and sends the vapors through a Clifford intake manifold. After an MSD ignition and distributor spark the air/fuel mix to life, spent exhaust flows out through a Clifford header. Dual Optima batteries ensure there’s plenty of juice to run the engine and power the winch. GenRight shock hoops are just visible up front, connected by a Desolate Motorsports crossbrace.

  • No, the bolts aren’t missing. The crossbrace is all one piece for now, but there are two-bolt quick-disconnect flanges already in place if and when the crossbrace needs to be cut.

  • Selectable traction comes in the form of front and rear ARB Air Lockers, which are powered by a pair of Viair compressors. There’s a Viair tank mounted behind the seats, ready to power the Air Lockers as well as inflate tires and run air tools.

  • Low-profile Desolate Motorsports rock sliders protect the 1976 rocker panels. GenRight tube fenders and rear corner guards protect the rest of the classic sheetmetal.

  • We liked the view from this angle, too.

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