If you’re a baker, you create dazzlingly delicious cakes, pies, and pastries for the display case to show off your culinary talents. A florist fills the store with fanciful examples of blooming abundance. So it made perfect sense for Jaime Moat to build his ’76 CJ-7 into a silvery shining example of his mechanical prowess. Moat is co-owner of Engelhart and Moat Performance in Santa Fe Springs, California, where cars, trucks, and 4x4s are treated to any manner of custom performance upgrades. After spending a day wheeling with Moat in his custom ’76 CJ-7 on one of the boulder-strewn trails in Johnson Valley during King of the Hammers week, we became believers.
While Moat is responsible for completely assembling this smartly built rockcrawling CJ-7, he’s also no fool. The electrician and performance car builder gathers the best talent he can find for his business and personal performance ventures. L&R Engines of Santa Fe Springs lent a hand when it came time to tear down and rebuild the 4.2L AMC I-6. The balanced and blueprinted mill features resized connecting rods, new pistons, ’moly rings, and new rod and main bearings.
The 4.2L also got a new Clifford intake manifold, a Weber carb, the COMP Cams Stage 2 head was ported and received a three-angle valve job, and its valves are tinkled like piano keys by a COMP Stage 3 cam. An MSD ignition box, distributor, and coil light up the fire, and juice flows from twin Optima batteries along a Painless Wiring harness. Exhaust gases are evacuated through a Clifford header and a custom Flowmaster exhaust system with 2 1/2-inch pipes.
Power from that built 4.2L AMC I-6 funnels through a T-18 tranny equipped with a Stage 2 McLeod clutch to the Dana 20 transfer case on its way to the full-width Dana 44s that Moat scavenged from underneath a mid-’80s Jeep Wagoneer. The 44s hide ARB Air Lockers and 4.88 gears inside their pumpkins, and those diffs spin 35-spline Dutchmen axleshafts. Disc-brake conversion kits from Parts Mike round out the ends of both 44s.
While the frame is basically a stock ’76 CJ-7 unit, it was modified to tie into the custom cage (that also ties directly into the rock sliders on Moat’s Jeep) at three points along the frame’s length. A custom swinger-style steering system augmented by an AGR steering box points the big meats wherever Moat wants them to go. Custom sliders and a full belly pan of aluminum skidplates protect the Jeep’s rockers and underside.
Moat hit up the GenRight inventory quite a bit when it came to the suspension system. A GenRight Legend Extreme three-link front and four-link rear suspension setup with triangulated upper links was used. Damping duties are performed by a full array of King 2.0 coilover shocks, and the 38/13.50R17 Falken MTs wrapped around 17x9.5-inch Raceline Monster wheels bite into the terrain.
Inside and Out
Competition-style seating comes in the form of Beard five-point Super TI seats (2 inches wider than standard), and the interior of the pan has been sprayed with black Line-X for easy cleaning. Custom work includes very cool aluminum doors and center console, as well as a custom aluminum roof panel, all done by Robertson Industrial. A full complement of AutoMeter gauges sit in a custom dash built by Double D Fabrication.
Again sourcing the GenRight catalog, Moat went with the company’s Stubby steel bumpers and a GenRight rear tire carrier. He then continued the body mods with a set of GenRight steel corner guards and fenders. He also installed a GenRight fuel tank and tank skidplate for a little more range. Rock lights (Moat calls them “off-brand”) are mounted under the fenders, and a lightbar beams from the front bumper.
Like we said earlier, Jaime did a lot of the work and directed every move made by other people. He wants to give credit where credit is due, though, and told us that Desolate Motorsports of Whittier, California, was responsible for designing and building the steering, rollcage, and sliders, as well as setting up the suspension.
For the most part, the Jeep’s body appears to be your run-of-the-mill CJ-7, but that’s part of its charm. It’s sort of a sleeper. From a distance, it’s not clear that this is a coil-sprung, hot-rodded CJ-7. That’s the way Moat likes it. We like it, too.
Good, Bad, And What It’s For
The ride quality on dirt roads and suspension articulation on the trail were right on the money. We’re not huge fans of the old 4.2L AMC I-6, but Moat has made the most of it and admits that one day he’ll likely plant an LS3 in the CJ-7. No matter, though. Moat’s Jeep does just what it was designed for: easily crawling over rocky terrain and through boulder-field canyons with no trouble.
Why I Wrote This Feature
There’s a classic appeal to the CJ-5s and CJ-7s (like Moat’s) that harkens back to the early days of the first really big Jeep enthusiast tidal wave. It reminds me of a time free of closed trails and over-regulated off-roading and an era when we were the only ones on the block with a Jeep. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “wish for the old days” types. I really like things such as modern medicine and suspensions that don’t feel like 1890s buckboard wagons, and it’s great that the Jeep fraternity has grown by leaps and bounds. However, it does feel just a tiny bit less special when you’re driving with the seat warmers on.
Vehicle: ’76 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: ’76 4.2L I-6
Transfer Case: Dana 20
Suspension: GenRight 3-link front and 4-link rear, King coilovers
Axles: Front: Dana 44 from mid-’80s Wagoneer, 4.88 ARB Air Locker, Dutchman 35-spline axleshafts. Rear: Dana 44 from mid-’80s Wagoneer, 4.88 ARB Air Locker, Dutchman 35-spline axleshafts
Steering: AGR box with custom swinger-style steering
Wheels: 17x9.5 Raceline Monsters
Tires: 38/13.50R17 Falken MTs
Built For: Southwestern rock trails and displaying owner-builder’s skillset