We ran into this really clean mustard-colored (called Dune) Jeep out in Moab, Utah, during the 2014 Easter Jeep Safari. It was sitting in a garage at a BBQ we were invited to and belongs from Rob Schmid from Maryland. It was restomodded by Max-Bilt in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Since it was in the garage, we thought they might have broken it out on the trail. They then showed us under the hood, and we thought it was a work in progress. There was no battery, no battery tray, and almost no wires. It was clearly a late-model 4.3L, and we know those things have wires out the wazoo. We didn’t notice any heater hoses, and while it had radiator hoses, it was missing a fan shroud.
So, like anyone would, when talking Jeeps, we asked them when they were going to finish it. In response, they fired it up. Wait, what? It runs? Ok, how’d you do that? As it turns out, most of the wires for the engine are hidden under the plenum; the battery is hidden up under the dash, along with the speakers for the radio, the heater, the computer, and the coil. One of the cool things about vintage Jeeps is how clean they are under the hood. They don’t have a ton of wires, and after a few wiring kits in other Jeeps that we just kept adding wires to, we really appreciate the simplicity of old Jeeps and how simple they are. Sure, this thing has wires, as it must for the fuel-injected engine, but they are hidden well.
If that wasn’t enough, then we were then asked one of the most rhetorical questions ever: “Wanna go wheeling with it?” As you can tell from the Aug. ’14, cover, we gave the only answer a good Jeeper would: “duh!”
The frame is still the factory ’70 CJ-5 frame, but it’s got a custom front crossmember, next to which sits a factory-spec YJ steering steering box, while a ’76 factory-spec CJ-7 stabilizer keeps the front tires under control. In front of that is a Max-Bilt custom front bumper. Also, out back, it has a Max-Bilt skidplate protecting a relocated gas tank. Rancho springs team up with Rancho shocks to clear the new tires.
As we mentioned earlier, the engine is a 4.3L Chevy V-6 and runs 10W30 Rotella T oil. It was yanked out of a ’95 and then slammed into the CJ-5 with some Advance Adapter engine mounts. Max-Bilt custom-built the wiring harness to be able to hide as much of it as possible and put the computer and coil up underneath the dashboard. A Howell Performance computer actually runs the engine, which was rebuilt by Powerline Performance. The 21⁄4-inch exhaust crosses under the driveshaft to join the two banks and then dumps out the back on the driver side.
From there, power still goes through the stock ’70 T-14 transmission, thanks to a Napa Perfection clutch for an ’85 Chevy truck. Then its handed off to the stock Dana 18 T-case rebuilt by Max-Bilt and driveshafts built by JR Driveline send power out to the axles. From there, things take a left turn, both from stock and from what a lot of our featured projects have under them. Both axles, the trans, and the T-case run 80W90 Napa gear oil.
Up front, the factory closed-knuckle axle was tossed in some rusty heap somewhere and an open-knuckle narrow-track Dana 30 was slung under the Jeep. Since the Jeep is Maryland-based, it was left with an open carrier but got 3.73 gears. Out back, there really wasn’t any reason to throw out the factory Dana 44, so it’s still there. And, in a Jeep so short, the 3.73 gears ride on another open carrier—a Detroit Locker would’ve gotten too skittish with that engine, trans, and T-case. A sway bar from the same CJ-7 as the Dana 30 was swiped to keep the Jeep on the straight and narrow when pulling daily-driving duties.
The factory shallow-hat front discs are still hanging out on the front axle, but the rear has a disc conversion from R&R Offroad. A Wilwood manual-brake master cylinder squeezes the calipers, and a Wilwood clutch master does the same for the shifting. The non-OD trans and 3.73 gears work out great for the LT255-85R16 tire size, and the 16x7 Stockton steel wheels really round out the vintage vibe of the Jeep.
Body and Interior
The wheelwells were slightly enlarged to clear the tires, but even we didn’t notice it until it was pointed out. Up front, that grille was swiped from a ’76 CJ-7 (hence the custom front crossmember). As we mentioned earlier, the color we fondly call “mustard” is actually a 2013-2014 Mopar color called “Dune”. The rocker guards are custom Max-Bilt rocker guards, but we think the company should put them in regular production. Like the laser-cut plates under the hood, the rocker guards have the company’s logo cut into them. If you know anything about laser-cutting, you’ll see how intricate the design is, and it’s pretty neat looking. Out back, a pair of Max-Bilt’s Trail Tail LED lights let others know what the driver is doing.
Meanwhile, inside, the steering column was moved for more space and a set of Corbeau seats make for a plush place to park. A custom six-point ’cage protects the occupants who have parked there. Before the computer, coil, battery, and Vintage Air heater were hidden up under the dashboard, the entire interior was shot with Rhino Lining. A Max-Bilt center console was painted the same mustard color as the Jeep itself and then filled with a Sony MEX-5000 radio. The 61⁄2-inch Polk speakers are hidden under the dash in custom pods, along with other things. Some tweeters are stuffed in the Max-Bilt console to take care of the highs. The speedometer shown in these pictures is actually an older model from Speed Hut. The new speedometer, which we don’t have a good enough picture of to print, has a tachometer between the engine temperature and fuel level gauges and a digital odometer above that.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
For a Maryland-based Jeep, there are some things that make a lot of sense, like the 3.73s (Maryland is relatively flat) and the open differentials (for all the inclement weather they get back there). But, while the BFG KM2 tires are fairly bulletproof and look really cool on this Jeep, we’d have picked different meats for that area on a Jeep that will see more street duty than trail duty. Also, as of this writing, there is no plan to put either a top or doors on this Jeep. Ever. So, either this is going to be one helluva test for that Vintage Air heater or the Jeep will just sit during those cold northeast winters. On the one hand, we hate letting Jeeps sit like that. But, on the other, we know firsthand how much salt they throw on the roads in Maryland, and we kind of can’t blame Rob for making that choice.
Why I Wrote This Feature
While I’m not the hot-rod guy that Hazel is, I still appreciate them. And when you start bringing hot rod elements into a Jeep build, sometimes it works out great. Sometimes you end up with a gaudy chromed-out pile of crap, but in this case, this Jeep just oozes a vintage vibe that evokes the simplicity of what Jeeps should be. At the same time, it has a stereo, a heater, and a fuel-injected engine that make it very easy to drive every day, if desired. All in all, it’s the perfect blend of classic looks and modern conveniences. Sure, it isn’t a monster rockcrawling, mud-whomping beast, but it’s cool for its own reasons, and I dig that.
Vehicle: ’70 Kaiser CJ-5
Engine: ’95 Chevy 4.3L V-6
Transfer Case: Dana 18
Suspension: Rancho leaf springs (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 30 (front), Dana 44 (rear)
Wheels: 16x7 Stockton 4x4 Special
Tires: 255/75R16 BFG KM2
Built For: Summer fun