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1986 Jeep CJ-7 - My First 4x4 - Right From The Start

Posted in Features on December 22, 2014
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I was fortune enough to grow up in Northern California, just a stone’s throw from the famous Rubicon Trail. When I was a kid my father had a 4x4 shop, and I would often spend my weekends in the back of the family Land Cruiser on the trails in the Sierra Nevada Range. That one-owner FJ40 now sits in my garage as a time capsule, waiting to be brought back to its former (or future) glory.

Since our family was active in 4-wheeling, it was only natural that my first vehicle be a Jeep, and it was—an ’86 CJ-7—but there were strings attached. Through elementary and junior high school I was involved in Boy Scouts, but after entering an awkward and self-conscious phase in high school I wanted to quit. My parents knew that I would regret this later in life, and they were right, so they offered to “motivate” me. I thought that their motivation would be something like a Nintendo game, but they were thinking much bigger. Instead of The Legend of Zelda,I was out making my own personal legend behind the wheel of my Jeep!

A CJ is a great first vehicle because they are simple, with minimal electronics, large engine bays, and solid axles suspended by leaf springs. This was a perfect way for me to learn how to turn a wrench.

After reaching the rank of Eagle Scout and saving up all my pennies from my job at a local hardware store, my father helped me install Rancho leaf springs, Con-Ferr shackles, and 33-inch all-terrain tires. Now when I say “helped,” what I really mean is that he installed the lift and I fetched the tools. He had moved on from the 4x4 business by that time, but his knowledge was vital. We swapped out the rear axle for another Model 20 with 4.56 gears and regeared the front Dana 30 to account for the larger tires.

The Jeep was my sole transportation all through high school and college, and I only let it go when I moved out of the country. Since then I have owned dozens of 4x4s, but none of them can match the memories created in my little red CJ.

Much of my youth was spent in the back of the family Land Cruiser. Even 30 years ago it had eight-lug axles, 36-inch-tall tires, and Detroit Lockers front and rear.
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