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1982 Jeep CJ-7 & 258 Jeep Engine - Trail Head

Posted in Features on June 1, 2007
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I remember the first used Jeep I wanted to buy. It was a black '82 CJ-7. What a beat-down pile of crap that thing was. I think it only had something like 85,000 miles on the odometer (which, of course, I later found out no longer functioned), and it looked pretty nice in the Auto Trader's black-and-white newsprint photo (the Internet wasn't around yet). This thing was a 50-foot truck; from 50 feet away, it looked good. But once you were up close, you could tell it was a complete heap of feces.

I was 17 or 18 at the time, so I really had no idea what I was looking at. The black paint had been touched up with a rattle can, leaving flat black, dented spots with rust hidden underneath on the hood and fenders. The soft top windows resembled the clarity and tint of an old toenail-you know, the kind you find on your single buddy's kitchen floor-and all four tires were mismatched and balder than Tech Editor Hazel's head.

Apparently, the seller did take the time to polish the chrome bumpers, even though the paint job hadn't seen wax since it was on the dealer lot in 1982. The interior looked as though it had been driven by a college kid with a whole frat and a sorority stuffed inside. The passenger seat was broken and didn't match the driver seat, it was missing one of the seatbelts, and there was still party garbage and dried, unidentified liquids left on the carpet from last semester.

I thought I really wanted this Jeep, but my brother wisely didn't even let me take it for a testdrive, knowing that I would have fallen in love with this rolling dumpster. Had we actually driven it around the corner, it would've likely run out of oil due to the massive front main-seal leak on the inline-six. I say leak, but the reality was that the engine may as well of not had a main seal at all. And maybe it didn't. I couldn't tell because the entire front axle, steering, and lower portion of the powerplant had become one big, oil-encrusted dirt clod. The 258 was no doubt ailing from other problems as well, such as multiple vacuum leaks and a lack of regular maintenance (including a simple oil change). Oil was spilling out of every powertrain component faster than you could refill 'em. Overall, this thing was hammered for a Jeep that was barely eight years old.

None of this mattered to me because all I could do was imagine how cool it would be driving it to and from school with the top down. Had I actually bought the pile, I likely would have spent more time riding shotgun in the passenger seat of a tow truck than behind the wheel of my prized, rotting, eco-hazard-dumpster Jeep.

Looking back, I realize the seller was like me. He wanted a convertible Jeep to drive around in sunny California. Clearly, he didn't bring his older brother to help him purchase a good car. Over time, the thing probably nickled and dimed (or maybe quartered and dollared) him to death. But, of course, as a motivated seller, he never mentioned that. He was trying to get $5,500. Interestingly, that same Jeep would still fetch as much today, if not more. And I'm still not sure why.

I eventually ended up with a fairly reliable import 4x4 pickup instead. It took me another two years before I purchased my first used Jeep, which turned out to be a money pit anyway.-John Cappa

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