Reviving A Former Champ
Apparently you can find everything on Craigslist. A couple years ago Eric Heiden, JeepSpeed racer and head of G2 Gear, saw a Phoenix Craigslist ad for an old race Jeep. He inquired. The seller didn’t really know what it was, but the description sounded familiar to Eric. Long story short: Multiple phone calls were made to verify that the Jeep was a multiple SCORE/HDRA champ.
This ’76 CJ-7 won Class 3 in 1977 and 1978, driven by Ray Russell. In 1985, dirt-bike enthusiast and Conejo Off-Road owner Mike Schwellinger decided to get into desert racing. He bought the Jeep through a classified ad in Dusty Times. Schwellinger promptly became SCORE Rookie of the Year in 1986 and went on to win the 1987 and 1988 Class 3 championships.
Individual race wins included the Mint 400 and multiple Baja 500s and Parker 400s. (Tragically, co-driver Les Erickson suffered a fatal heart attack while piloting it in the 1989 Parker 400.)
Schwellinger’s main sponsor was George Adler’s 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers. George’s sons, Greg and Kevin, got their first taste of racing as crewmembers and co-drivers of the Conejo Off-Road Jeep.
When Schwellinger moved to a Class 4 Ford in 1990, the Jeep was sold to Mike Lesle and driven by Curt LeDuc. Then it disappeared from the scene. After talking to Eric Heiden about the Craig’s listing, Greg Adler jumped at the opportunity to get the Jeep back in the family.
Like a big-buck Barrett-Jackson barn find, the Jeep was mostly intact. The original brushguard was gone, but most of the ’80s state-of-the-art technology remained. Jon Snyder, Mike Schwellinger’s stepson and crew chief, helped Kevin Adler freshen up the Jeep. Jon Snyder says that the KISS philosophy (“keep it strong and simple”) was enforced throughout.
Kevin Adler brought the Jeep out of retirement for the 2010 NORRA Mexican 1000 race. True to form, it won its class. He plans to run it at select BITD races in 2013 as a tribute to Mike Schwellinger, who himself had planned to come out of retirement to race one final Baja 1000 when he died unexpectedly in 2006.
Kevin Adler adds, “Mike Schwellinger had a large heart. I appreciate him and the Conejo Off-Road team letting myself and Greg into their racing family. We were in the parts business, but without Mike and Gayle Schwellinger and Jon Snyder, racing might never have come to life for us.”
This CJ-7 brings the Adlers’ racing efforts full-circle.
1976 Class 3 CJ-7
Engine: AMC 401 bored 0.030 over, 11:1 compression, shot-peened rods, ported/polished heads, Engle solid mechanical cam, Edelbrock Torker intake manifold, Holley 750 double-pumper, K&N air cleaner, custom headers, MSD 6AL ignition, Brassworks water pump, Magnaflow mufflers
Transmission: TH400, reverse manual valve body, B&M ratchet shifter
Transfer case: Modified single-range Quadra-Trac
Front Axle: Wagoneer Dana 44, 4.56 gears, F-150 hubs and rotors, 11⁄16-inch studs
Rear Axle: Dana 60, Summer Brothers shafts & spool, 4.56 gears, Wilwood brakes, 11⁄16-inch studs
Springs & Such: Custom Warren 31⁄2-inch springs, Fox remote-reservoir shocks
Tires & Wheels: 33x12.50-15 BFG Baja T/As, 15x7 American Racing Outlaw IIs
Steering: Lee Mfg. Saginaw from a Jeep J20