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1980 Jeep CJ-7 - Nip Tuck

Posted in Features on June 1, 2013
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If you are tall we have bad news for you. It is a generally accepted unwritten rule that someone much over 5 feet 11 inches is never gonna be very comfortable in a flatfender Jeep. Why? Well those little tubs that fit well on almost any trail in the U.S. only allow the driver seat to be pushed back so far without modification to the overall length of the tub or rear wheel tubs. If you are six feet tall, sitting in a flatfender is possible, but uncomfortable. The rollbar is gonna be real close to your noodle and your knees will be desperately trying to share space with the steering wheel. Even at about 5 feet 10 inches, we can assure you that while long drives in our un-cut flatties are possible, but they are not terribly comfortable. Our legs almost always cramp up from holding the gas pedal at part throttle when driving for more than a few hours. Sure, you could just stretch a flattie tub, but in our opinion that never really ends up looking right. Now you could just buy a later and larger Jeep like a CJ-7, but while these Jeeps are cool they lack a certain level of coolness that literally flows from a flattie. The solution: Do what Marc Bryson of Woods Cross, Utah, did and graft a MB grille onto the nose of a CJ-7. Looks easy and sounds great, right? Well, while the end result is well worth the work, the swap was apparently not so easy and involved lots of “work” to the nose of the Jeep. The effect is that the nose job is clean, and as with any good surgery, you have to look for a while to find where the cuts were made. We recently got to hit a few trails in and around Moab with Mark, his sons, and his Jeep. Check out this one of a kind MB-7…er, CJ-7MB.

Marc started the build with a YJ tub and frame, and that’s a great place to start given the stoutness of the first Wrangler’s frame. Cherokee leaf springs were used on all four corners and provide ample flex. The XJ springs have the centerpin offset to one end so the springs were flipped around maximizing the wheelbase and minimizing approach and departure angles. The leaf spring mount on the back of the front springs was pushed back to allow use of the long springs. Out back the suspension touts boomerang shackles pushed way back and a stout traction bar to prevent axlewrap. Homemade bumpers front and rear help tie the whole shebang together.

A junkyard-sourced ’89 Chevy 350 V-8 with approximately 240,000 miles on it was plopped between the rails of the CJ-7. Venerable GM throttle body injection supplies the high-mileage mill en route to a TH700R4. Behind the GM overdrive transmission lives a Dana 300 with Tera 4:1 gearing and a heavy-duty 32-spline output. Marc does report having had a few issues with the Dana 300—it may find a new home one of these days. Tire spinning duties fall to a kingpin GM Dana 60 front axlehousing 4.56 gears and an Eaton ELocker. A GM 14-bolt with like gears and a Detroit Locker lives out back. Tires are 38x14.50R-17LT, Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar wrapped around Hummer H2 wheels.

PhotosView Slideshow

Body and Interior
Okay, let’s not dance around the elephant in the room. Getting the MB grille on Marc’s CJ required more than a little cutting. The grille was mounted and a narrowed YJ hood underwent lots of massaging to match the profile of the military metal. A look at the underside of the hood gives an idea of the number of relief cuts made…and they number in the dozens. The end result is a clean look. Other mods important to the look include home-built tubular flat fenders that add tire clearance and large steps along the rockers of the Jeep. The front inner fenderwells replicate the look of a flattie, while tubular rear fender flares round out the rear of the Jeep.

The interior of the CJ-7 features a full rollcage, Bestop seats, a GM steering column and a custom home-built center console that Marc built with his 10-year-old son, Eric.

Good Bad and What It’s For
The retro CJ-7 was built for use in the rocks of Utah and the Southwest. If we had any complaints about the CJ it might be the silver paint…not that we don’t like silver, but an MB grille dressed in OD green or desert tan is always better in our opinion. We dig the idea of the long XJ springs with offset pins, but rear spring-overs with a traction bar is a hard combination to get to work. Now having said that this one does work, but with the XJ spring’s propensity to bend and a V-8 we would probably opt for some 4- or 5-inch XJ lift springs run spring-under.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1980 CJ-7
Engine: 1989 Chevy 350ci TBI V-8
Transmission: TH700R4
Transfer Case: Dana 300, TeraLow, 32-spline heavy-duty output
Suspension: Spring over on XJ springs (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front); 14-bolt (rear)
Wheels: 17x8.5 Hummer H2
Tires: 38x14.50R-17LT Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar
Built For: Rocks and old-school looks that fit around a “bigger dude”

Why I Wrote This Feature
I am not gonna lie, I love the vintage military grille in a CJ-7 sized Jeep. I think more people need to spend the time making newer Jeeps look like their heritage. After wheeling with Marc for a little while, I could see how much he loved wheeling and wheeling hard. He knows his Jeep and its capabilities and is not afraid to push the limits. It’s fun to see someone having fun wheeling with their family and friends. I also can relate to and like the repurposing of durable junkyard parts that are inexpensive and easy to get.
—Verne Simons

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