When the ’80 CJ-8 was introduced it was met by mixed reviews. At the time, tiny Japanese trucks were finding a huge market here, whether they were branded with Japanese marques like Datsun, Mitsubishi, or Isuzu or rebadged with American marques like Dodge D-50 or Ford Courier. Jeep needed to get in on it, but the company was still years away from something that could compete. So, taking a page from the CJ-5/CJ-6 playbook, the company rolled out the CJ-8. With 10 inches of wheelbase and 24 inches longer body length, when topped by a shortened hardtop, the CJ-8 was a decent small truck. But the Jeep-buying populace just wasn’t convinced. Only 27,792 units were sold from ’80-’86. Fast forward 24 years and Jeep went back to that same playbook again, and stretched the TJ. The wheelbase grew the same 10 inches, but the body only got 15 inches longer, which meant a smaller ass to get hung up on stuff. Instead of the six years the CJ-8 ran, the LJ mustered out in only three years to the tune of 46,492 units built.
The number of LJs built is great, but the only number that matters to us is what the dang things are selling for today. Those numbers are in the stratosphere. Whether you want a CJ-8 or an LJ today you will be paying a premium for them. The prices are so out of control it is almost to the point where it would make sense to build your own from a more commonly-available Jeep. That’s exactly what Tommy Shelby did, and did well. His Jeep was stretched to LJ-like proportions to the point where a stock-spec LJ top could be grafted to the tub. The conversion is so clean at first we thought we were looking at an LJ with a CJ tailgate. Then we saw the front of it and had to look underneath. We found a CJ frame, modified CJ body, and lots of solid aftermarket parts.
When we found this Jeep, Tommy was trying to sell it. There is no telling who owns it today. But the quality of the conversion is so clean that it duped even us for a few minutes. Considering that Tommy brings his bread home by restoring classic cars, we probably shouldn’t be surprised. But even knowing that, the quality of this conversion is something to see, and the Jeep still gets wheeled so we knew we had to shoot this thing and bring it to you.
The TJ and CJ-7 both had a wheelbase of 93 inches whereas the LJ had a 103-inch wheelbase so the first item of business was to stretch the frame 10 inches between the wheels and the rear got a 5-inch bump as well. The frame was stretched by Rick Keller who is also the guy responsible for the uber-high-clearance steel belly skidplate. Some 1990s-era Ford F-series upper shock mounts were frenched into the frame front and rear to fix the stupid-short stock CJ shock length issue. A 20-gallon GenRight Off Road gas tank provides the go juice.
Taking advantage of the longer shocks are some 21⁄2-inch-wide JRS springs front and rear that give more lift thanks in part to a spring-over conversion. The springs are hung off the frame with custom-fabricated spring hangers and a shackle reversal conversion for the front axle. Matching front and rear Warrior Products bumpers provide protection, with the front one being cut to clear the custom spring hangers. Out back, an anti-wrap bar keeps spring wrap from that spring-over under control and Bilstein 5125s at all four corners provide the dampening. A Howe power steering pump with remote reservoir, ram, and power steering box push the tires around while a dual-diaphragm vacuum booster aids a Corvette master cylinder pressurizing braided stainless steel lines.
Motorvation comes thanks to a Ford 5.0L V-8 with a Ford Racing E303 cam topped by a Ford Explorer intake manifold. Capping the intake manifold is a 65mm throttle body accompanied by an EGR spacer and MSD coil. The engine is fired up with a gear reduction starter that spins the Centerforce clutch hiding in the F150 bellhousing. Spent gasses leave through a 21⁄2-inch exhaust with a WickedFlow muffler. Power goes from the engine to an NV3500 five-speed manual transmission with help from an Advance Adapters transmission adapter. Backing that is a Dana 300 with a twin-stick conversion coupled to a pair of 1350-jointed driveshafts.
The front axle is a kingpin Dana 60 narrowed to 651⁄2 inches between the wheel mounting surfaces and stuffed with 5.13 gears, an ARB Air Locker, and 35-spline inner and outer shafts with Warn hubs. OTT high-steer arms get the one-ton steering linkage up over the springs while a heavy-duty steel differential cover protects the guts. Out back a 14-bolt rear axle was swiped from a dually and narrowed to 641⁄2 inches before getting stuffed with matching 5.13 gears and ARB Air Locker. In addition to the matching steel differential cover, a pinion guard was added along with disc brakes. The 37x13.50R17 Toyo Open Country M/Ts are wrapped around 17x9 black steel wheels.
Body and Interior
Obviously it takes a lot of effort to make a CJ into an LJ and there is quite a lot going on here. In addition to the stretched body tub, this Jeep got YJ front fenders and TJ fender flares. The lower steel doors also were swiped from a YJ but the soft top is stock LJ complete with tinted windows and upper doors. The top of the windshield frame was modified to accept the LJ header and latches.
Inside, the dashboard is left largely stock and a set of Bestop Trailmax seats lend a place to park it and RCI lap belts keep it there. The rollcage is custom and was designed to mimic an LJ rollbar. It picks up all the factory LJ soft top mounting locations and allows for clearance for the top to be folded down just like a stock LJ. The rollbar also allows for use of the factory LJ door surrounds so that everything fits just like the factory intended and has MasterCraft grab handles both front and rear.
Once all the modifications were done, the Jeep was shot with a Land Rover color called Aries Blue. There is no carpet to worry about getting wet or dirty, but instead the interior was covered with Rhino Linings liner. A new factory replacement speedometer cluster and AutoMeter gauges keep the driver apprised of what’s going on with the Jeep while a Grant GT steering wheel caps off the factory steering column. A hydraulic hood lift makes it easy to get under the hood.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
The kingpin front axle and 14-bolt rear are both bulletproof and the Ford 5.0L is a good choice for a powerplant. However with that kind of power on tap pushing on the 37-inch Toyos we wonder how long that 3550 will stay together. With all the work that went into the body we’d be really hesitant to wheel this thing like it is capable of.
Vehicle: Jeep CJ
Engine: Ford 5.0L V-8
Transfer Case: Dana 300
Suspension: Spring-over axle leaf springs (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front); Corporate 14-bolt (rear)
Wheels: 17x9 black steel
Tires: 37x13.50R17 Toyo Open Country MT
Built For: Getting out to off-road events
Why I Wrote This Feature
I have a TJ top on a YJ, and when I saw someone go to the next level by converting a CJ to LJ proportions, I was intrigued. The TJ and LJ tops are so much easier to use than CJ and YJ tops, flap less, and are quieter in general. Besides that, the LJ is a great Jeep if you want to go wheeling with more than one person and aren’t towing your junk out there. This Jeep combines the best parts of a classic round-fendered CJ with the usefulness of an LJ for a Jeep that would be a joy to drive, wheel, and camp out of all the time.