There is no doubt that Jeep is an American icon. Almost anyone from just about any part of the world knows what a Jeep is, what it’s good for, and what it looks like. This apple-green ’75 CJ-5 that belongs to our pal, Mike Tarvin, of Glendale, Arizona, is a true classic. The first time the green Jeep caught our eye we thought it would fit many people’s ideal of a perfect Jeep. A true Jeeper’s Jeep. The round headlights circled in chrome, wide tires on classic wheels, a retro white top, and V-8 rumble all point towards an attitude and feel that is pure Jeep and all-American. The truth is we first caught a glimpse of the CJ-5 at the 2012 TDS Desert Safari and quickly realized that we had run into Mike and his wife Donna before in the deserts of Arizona in one of Mike’s other Jeeps. Mike is a longtime Jeeper and has owned this Jeep (amongst others) for 21 years, ever since driving past it at a used car lot near downtown Phoenix. Mike had to buy it because it reminded him of his first Jeep ride in his cousin’s then-brand-new green CJ-5 with a white top. Thus started a long relationship between a guy and his Jeep. Over the years, Mike has spent lots of time behind the wheel of this Jeep and has tweaked it a little here and there to suit his preferences but kept it basically as it was, only changing a few things and adding a few details that help it work.
You’ll probably recognize this Jeep from a few of our recent adventures like “Ground-Up to the Rubicon.” You see, Mike is always ready to go wheeling and he knows what he is doing. Mike and the Jeep go places neither have any business going, and make it look easy. He knows how to fix stuff, he knows how to get Jeeps unstuck, and he’s fun to hang out with. Basically he makes a great wheeling buddy…and in a pinch his Jeep makes a great support rig for our often ill-advised trips. We hope there will be more trips with Mike and his apple-green ’75 CJ-5.
The factory intermediate CJ-5 frame is still holding up strong despite the passing decades. The only addition to the frame came in the form of a Saginaw power steering conversion to help aim the front tires. Mike claims he spent less than $100 on parts for the conversion with the box coming from a ’70s Monte Carlo, a junkyard CJ power steering bracket and shaft, and one new parts store power steering line. The frame has had a few cracks repaired near the steering box and front crossmember as would be expected of a Jeep that gets used. Suspension of the Jeep is surprisingly stock, with factory front springs and some heavy-duty Confer shackles. It’s just enough to clear 32-inch tires with bump stoppage to keep the tires out of that vintage green sheetmetal. Out back the rear stock springs were ditched when they became too sagged and S-shaped. Replacing them is a pair of some long-forgotten brand of (roughly) 1-inch-lift aftermarket springs. Shocks are Rancho 5000s. They’re old, they work, and that’s all that’s necessary.
The heart of Mike’s CJ is its AMC 304 engine. The V-8 rumbles along thanks to the venerable factory Motorcraft 2100 carburetor. This thing seems to run like it has fuel injection when crawling. It’s smooth at all angles and seems to be very robust to changes in altitude. If there are any issues, Mike can rebuild the carb in a flash and get back out on the trail or the road. The AMC mill also spins a York A/C compressor converted for on-board air and exhales with some Hedman fenderwell headers. Just aft of the AMC 304 is a NP435 out of a late ‘70s Ford pickup. This transmission has a First gear with a super-low ratio of 6.69:1. This combined with the 3:15 TeraLow gears in the stock Dana 20 T-case allows well-controlled crawling in First gear with a craw ratio of about 80:1 (with 3.73s) and just enough wheel speed in Second or Third when a bump is needed. Mike also loves the NP435’s 3.34:1 Second gear, which is slightly lower than the factory First gear of the original T-15 that this Jeep came with or the Ford T-18 the NP435 replaced. This makes starting off at stoplights slightly easier than with the original tranny or the T-18’s Second gear. Yep, Mike is a bit obsessed with low-geared manual transmissions and tried a T-18 for a few years.
The axles of the ’75 are fairly pedestrian, but functional. A Dana 30 front keeps the tires spinning with a Powr-Lok and 3.73 gears. This ratio seems to allow near-perfect cruising down the highway with the 32-inch tires and the NP435’s lack of Overdrive. Some years back the Dana 30 received a disc brake conversion to help with the woah. Out back the CJ-5 is pushed down the road or trail with a centered CJ-5 Dana 44 with 3.73 gears, a Detroit Locker, and flanged one-piece axleshafts. We asked Mike if he carries spare axleshafts, but he claims to have had little problems from either the front or rear axle despite the V-8, low gearing, and rear locker.
Tires on the CJ-5 were some well-used 32x11.50R15 BFG All-Terrains Mike picked up used a few years back. More recently Mike has added a set of used 32x11.50R15 Pro Comp MTs. The tires are small, but seem to work well for Mike and allow lots of flex. He runs them at around 20 psi around town, up to 30 psi on the highway and down low to about 8 psi while on rock trails. That’s pretty low for non-beadlock wheels, but Mike has got the York and carries a hose balance pressure between two tires if one burps out a bit too much air while on the trail. He’s seemingly always prepared.
Body and Interior
Yep, that’s factory paint you see on the ’75 CJ-5. We like to call it apple green or maybe avocado. According to Mike, that’s probably one of the nicer ways that the paint’s color has been described to him. He mentioned something about baby poop. We’ll pretend we don’t know what he is talking about. However you describe it, that green with the white top is classic and it looks great in photographs, especially around sunset. The CJ-5 body is basically stock despite the years, with only a few little tweaks, dents, and scratches. The white top is an old pampered Kayline top That Mike has had for several years. If you know of any new old stock of white CJ-5 tops let us know, Mike wants one. Bestop? Would you make one? We can guarantee at least one or two sales. Over the years the body has been slightly modified for functionality. Somewhere along the way someone added stainless steel strips to the bottom of the rockers and rear of the rear fenderwells. These strips, where still attached, help cover what dings and dents Mike had gotten over the past 21 years. He wheels this thing, and while it looks clean, it does have scratches and dents because Mike ain’t afraid to wheel it hard. He has made it over countless Arizona, California, Colorado, and Utah trails without real rocker guards. Sure, the fenderwell headers and exhaust take some of the abuse, but part of it is because Mike knows how to drive this thing well. We watched him easily tiptoe across the Rubicon with only a few new dings or scratches.
Mike did open up the area behind the driver seat for an early CJ-5 gas tank and filler set-up. That means that the little green Jeep carries plenty of fuel despite the thirsty V-8. Mike has rescued many Jeepers who ran out of fuel while off-road by donating a gallon or two when they were in need. Seats are some older aftermarket high-back seats, but Mike still has the stock low-backs.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Mike bought this CJ because it reminded him of his younger years. He’s built it to go almost anywhere, and we have seen him drive it over obstacles that he should not have been able to get over. He knows the Jeep and has lots of seat time with it on- and off-road. Unlike many Jeeps that are very capable off-road, Mike can also take his Jeep on a road trip or to the store without issue. Mike likes driving Jeeps.
Vehicle: ’75 CJ-5
Engine: 304ci V-8
Transfer Case: Dana 20 with 3.15 gears
Suspension: Stock (front), worn out aftermarket lift springs (rear)
Axles: Dana 30 with Powerlok, disc brakes swapped from a later 30 (front) Dana 44 with flanged axles and a Detroit Locker (rear)
Wheels: 15x8 Alcoas
Tires: 32x11.50R15 BFG All Terrains (old), 32x11.50R15 Pro Comp MTs (now)
Built For: Almost anything
Why I Wrote This Feature
Mike’s CJ-5 looks like something out of a ’70’s AMC Jeep ad. I love the looks, but more importantly I love the story of the Jeep and how Mike uses his Jeep. Even though the Jeep looks like a museum piece from the ’70s, Mike drives the thing hard on-road and off. We like that. There is nothing sadder than an unused car, toy, or tool. Jeeps like this are all of those things.