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Cheap Truck Challenge Early 1960 Jeep CJ-5 Build

Posted in Features on September 17, 2015
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Last year Rob Peterson entered his V-8 Jeep Grand Cherokee, a leather luxury wagon, in the Cheap Truck Challenge (CTC). Complete with linked suspension, an overdrive automatic transmission, and modern creature comforts. Rob's ZJ was the pinnacle of technological advancement circa 1995. This year Rob invited me to join Team Roblem and we went back to basics with an entry featuring none of the above.

For the 2015 challenge our budget of $2,015 got us behind the wheel of a 1960 Jeep CJ-5 with four shifters sticking through the floor, three pedals, two working gauges, and a one-barrel carburetor atop a tired four-banger. What started as a Craigslist link sent to Rob in jest of his love-hate relationship with Jeeps turned into the most entertainingly nostalgic time either of us had experienced in years.

This little gem had great potential. It featured a stock drivetrain, Warn overdrive, a rust-free body, and 30-inch all-terrain tires. The small aftermarket steering wheel, goofy auto parts store racing seats, and aftermarket dash told us that someone had spent a little coin on this Jeep, but otherwise it looked unmolested. Unfortunately our two working gauges told us we had low oil pressure when warm and would overheat if we attempted to keep up with freeway traffic. Not the best for an overland adventure, but driving the Jeep around town we could not keep a smile off our face and were ready to face adversity.

Our Jeep came to us idling poorly and bogging under any load, so our first mission was to give our little F-head a tune-up. After a good carb rebuild, ignition coil, plugs, wires, distributor cap and rotor, and an adjustment to the points, it had a decent idle and some pep was restored with only $100 gone from our upgrade budget. A new water pump and radiator hoses were installed and a quick radiator flush done to try and overcome the Jeep's freeway overheating issues, but it turned out our issue was more serious than we thought. With the omission of creature comforts comes a level of simplicity seemingly designed to allow total dismantling of the vehicle with a pocket multitool, meaning extra tools were not really needed. Our Jeep is a joy to work on, and we had the confidence to fix almost anything in a pinch.

After driving our CJ-5 on the street we noticed our suspension could use a little refresher. We installed fresh bushings from Daystar's Super Kit; all the bushings and sleeves we could want were included. A handheld propane torch and small hacksaw were indispensable in getting the 55-year-old bonded bushings out. We used caution and the torch to burn out the original rubber, then hacksawed a single groove through the outer sleeve to get it to come out of the housing. We also wanted to upgrade from our stock shackles for a little lift. We went with Daystar's 1/2-inch lift shackle, giving us the clearance we wanted with the 30-inch tires—and the shackles came with new bolts!

Knowing our CJ-5 had small axles, we chose to leave them without traction-aiding devices and go with a self-recovery winch from Warn. Our Warn VR8000-S is plenty strong to pull us out of any sticky situation, and the synthetic line keeps the weight down on our tired little four-cylinder Jeep. The VR8000-S is a winch we can count on with high-quality synthetic line and does not kill our budget.

We chose to go with a universal mounting plate from Warn (PN 60368) to keep the awesome bumper that came with the Jeep and mount our winch. The winch plate was a perfect width for the framerails and posed no issue installing with the stock steering setup on our early CJ. We welded our winch plate directly to the top of our framerails with a Miller welder at our wheeling buddy's house. It is always important to be sure to have a secure ground, clean welding surfaces, and proper safety gear to produce the best welds.

When you're choosing the right rig, sometimes it is as simple as looking at what your friends are driving. While it is cool to be unique, there is something to be said for having a rig with similar parts and tool requirements. For us, knowing that Editor Fred Williams would bring along his flatfender, which shares most of the same drivetrain components, gave us peace of mind. We knew we could share parts and tools if need be. And while we carried some spare steering parts, he carried a spare tire. This is a good lesson for the beginning off-roader: Build the same or similar rig as your wheeling buddies.

Grabbing the steering wheel in our CJ let us know our original steering components could use replacing. We have the stock bellcrank-style steering and would like to swap to crossover in the future. While a friend turned the steering wheel side to side, we noticed the play was coming from the worn-out tie-rod ends at the steering knuckles. We found direct replacement steering links with tie rod ends from Omix-ADA that were within our budget. Always be sure to assemble your steering links with an appropriate amount of antiseize.

Team Roblem wanted to keep this build simple and on a budget as if we were wide-eyed 16-year-olds again. As most off-road enthusiasts are aware, adding traction devices to your axles is one of the best upgrades you can do to keep yourself out of trouble, but with that upgrade comes increased drivetrain stress. With our 55-year-old Dana 27 front and Dana 44 rear differentials, we did not want to risk breakage on the trail. We chose to spend our money on recovery gear. After locking in our front Warn hubs and trying to turn our much too small steering wheel, we noticed something was not right. It was very difficult to make the tires point where we wanted to go when in 4-wheel drive on a hard surface. Our first trip in the rocks revealed magic traction and a few jokes at our expense, such as, "Is there a locker in there or is it broken?" Upon returning from CTC we pulled the cover and found a Dana Powr-Lok limited slip. Great surprise for us!

Where the Money Went
Vehicle purchase $1,500
Budget $2,015
Tune-up $100
Cooling system$50
Winch $749
Mounting plate $115
Daystar SuperKit $100
Daystar shackles $154
Steering Omix-ADA $100
Spare fluids, points, etc. $75
Total $1,443

What to Do Next

Our little Jeep proved itself to be a blast, even with its share of issues, and Rob plans to keep it that way. A reproduction steering wheel of larger diameter to help turn with the limited slip, some more appropriate vintage racing seats, and an original dash will give this Jeep the classic NORRA racer look Rob is going for. No classic racer project is complete without a rumble coming from under the hood, especially when the stock four-cylinder is not long for this world (did we mention we spent no less than a dozen trips under the hood during CTC?), and someday this one will rumble to the sound of a small-block Ford adapted to the T-90 transmission. With the addition of big power, we're going to add front disc brakes to keep everything under control while racing off into the sunset.


Miller Electric
Appleton, WI 54912
Phoenix, AZ 85043
Suwanee, GA 30024
Warn Industries
Clackamas, OR 97015

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