Earlier this year, we had a chance to go out and run some trails in central Wyoming. In doing so we came across Johnny Dorman driving his clean and customized ’78 CJ-5. There were several things about this Jeep that caught our eye and made me curious so we definitely wanted to see and know more about this build. We grabbed some pictures and got all the info on it so we could share this unique build that still had much of its original appearance and design. Well, at first glance anyway!
PowertrainWhen you hear Johnny pull up in his CJ, you know right away that the Jeep is not running a 258 simply by the lope of the engine. The way the Jeep lurches is like a thoroughbred in the gate at the Kentucky Derby, just waiting for the opportunity to stretch its legs while throwing dirt up from the track.
This coral-colored CJ-5 is powered by an AMC 360ci V-8 that was sourced from a ’76 Wagoneer and then bored .030 over. It runs 9.5:1 compression pistons, with a high-torque RV cam, HV oil pump, and a Cloyes roller timing chain. The heads are ported and polished and a Holley Pro-Jection system keeps the fuel fed to the Edelbrock Performer intake while it easily climbs up, over, and around various obstacles at multiple angles.
To ensure ease of access for trail repairs, inspections, or simply to tinker within the engine compartment, the hood and fenders were swapped with a fiberglass front clip that flips up and out of the way so you can get in and work instead of trying to fold yourself into the small engine compartment that once was. It is a well-built powerplant for the lightweight little Jeep that can.
Drivetrain/SuspensionDelivering power to the tires on the ground is a Borg-Warner WR T18 four-speed transmission and Dana 300 transfer case connected to a pair of Dana 44s sourced from that old Waggy and a Scout II. The axles were rebuilt with Superior axleshafts, Detroit Lockers front and rear as well as new 4:56 gears to keep the 36x13.5-15 Interco Super Swamper IROK’s rolling. The suspension supporting all of these components is as unique as many of the other components making up this build.
Up front, the leaf spring hangers were widened and stretched so the 4-inch-lift Black Diamond leaf springs for a YJ could be utilized. In the rear, a set of Black Diamond springs intended for the front of an old Wagoneer, also with 4 inches of lift, were installed, giving this CJ-5 a 90-inch wheelbase while also making it 7 inches wider. Rancho RS 9000 shocks were installed for the ability to adjust the shocks depending on the environment the Jeep sees, while a Pro Comp ES 2000 steering stabilizer helps soak up bumps heading to the big tires.
Inside/OutsideAfter checking out all of the modifications within the engine compartment and underneath this Jeep, it was nice to look into the interior and see much of what an original CJ-5 dash should look like. Quite often we come across builds like this in which the old dash has been pulled out and some space age design has been created in its place with flip toggles, LED lights, multicolor gauges, and a host of other components leaving you to wonder if you just jumped into a Jeep or the cockpit of a small plane and in need of an owner’s manual to figure out how to start the thing. This dash was pleasantly simple and clean and only had a couple of things such as Grant steering wheel and a tachometer added that made it any different from what you would have seen in it 20 or 30 years ago.
Had we decided to stay out and play in the dark, there would have been plenty of illumination from the six Lightforce lights mounted up front to keep us pointed in the right direction until we would ran out of gas or became bored. Should things have gotten precarious, there was a 9.5 TI Warn winch mounted up front to help get Johnny or his pals out of a sticky situation.
Good, Bad, And What It’s ForIn a world of catalog-built JKs and buggies that are designed to handle everything from Moab to Johnson Valley and everything in between, it is nice to see some old-school iron out there that can still tackle the trails that isn’t built nor designed to accommodate coilovers on every corner. This is a project that had much thought and deliberation into it from beginning to end, with the end result being a great wheeling rig, while at the same time holding onto a few of its original roots.
Why I Wrote This FeatureMany of the fondest memories from my childhood are of various wheeling and camping trips with my folks in their early Jeep vehicles. I remember an old CJ-6 they had that we used for several outings. After that, it was long a string of CJ-5s over the years, and with each, a different memory or destination can still be reflected upon. I learned how to drive a manual transmission in a CJ-5, and a CJ-5 was my first vehicle. However, I was young and a gearhead, so traded it for a muscle car. Eventually, I bought another CJ-5, but it was torture not having driving it during the long build process, so I went out and purchased another. Since then, a long list of CJ-5s have come and gone through my hands, leaving a special appreciation for them that lasts to this day.
HARD FACTSVehicle: ’78 Jeep CJ-5
Engine: AMC 360ci V-8
Transmission: Borg Warner T18
Transfer Case: Dana 300
Suspension: Black Diamond 4-inch lift YJ springs (rear); Black Diamond 4-inch lift rear springs for a Wagoneer (front), Rancho RS9000 adjustable shocks on all four corners
Axles: Dana 44 front and rear, 4.56 Detroit Lockers and Superior axleshafts in both
Tires: 36-inch Interco Super Swamper IROK
Built For: Muddy Wyoming trails