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1979 Jeep CJ-7 Done Old-School

Posted in Features on April 6, 2017
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We bumped into Brian Jacobson and his ’79 Jeep CJ-7 at Tierra Del Sol, likely the largest off-road gathering in the California desert, held annually near Ocotillo Wells. The flash of its Runs Yellow DuPont paint job caught our eye among the thousands of rigs running around that weekend, but what had us chasing after Brian was that it was not just another of the hundreds and hundreds of JKs wandering about on the sandy desert floor, but a pristine example of the “round fender” species. Upon closer inspection, the CJ-7’s overall clean build and details such as the American flag grill, hot-rodded V-8, down-to-earth drivetrain specs, and simple, but ample, interior amenities made us grab our cameras.


Underneath that screaming yellow hood sits a ’79 AMC 304ci V-8 that has been rebuilt, balanced, and blueprinted, and all the internal rotating components are Edelbrock, from the low-end torque cam right down to the crank. Edelbrock heads and valve covers, an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, Edelbrock 500 cfm carb, and an Edelbrock air cleaner are stacked on top the block. Beneath it are Hooker 1 5/8-inch headers and a Gibson 2 3/4-inch exhaust system that dumps just past the rear axle. An MSD distributor and ACCEL plug wires fire the mill.

A hot-rodded AMC 304ci V-8 nicely fills the engine bay of the ’79 Jeep CJ-7. Tempting as it would have been to shoehorn in a Chevy 350, Brian went old-school with the AMC motor, and it seems totally appropriate for this type of build.

Behind that AMC V-8 is a Borg Warner T-18 four-speed manual transmission that was sourced from a ’62 Ford pickup (which means it has that 6.32 granny-low First gear), and via Novak’s adapter, it is hooked up to a Dana 300 twin-stick transfer case with a 4:1 TeraFlex gear kit installed. Coming out the front end of that Dana 300 is an Adams Driveshafts ’shaft, out the rear comes an Inland Driveline ’shaft.

Speaking of old-school builds, we really like the belt-driven York compressor converted to create an onboard air supply to air up tires after a long day on the trail.


The CJ-7’s frame has been largely left alone, but the original leaf-spring hangers were cut off the frontend, and a MORE reverse shackle kit was used in conjunction with a pair of 4-inch-lift Deaver leaf-spring packs to move the wheelbase out three inches. Another pair of 4-inch-lift Deaver leaf-spring packs were planted under the back of the frame. Bilstein shocks do damping duty on all four corners.

Custom Deaver 4-inch-lift leaf springs, upside-down Bilstein shocks, a dropped pitman arm, frame-to-box brace, and sturdy steering and tie rods make up the front suspension and steering system. Cutting off the factory front spring hangers and using a MORE front shackle reversal kit allowed the wheelbase to be stretched 3 inches.

The stock axles (30 front and 20 rear) were retained, but have been beefed up with Moser ’shafts and 4.11 Detroit Lockers front and rear. At the ends of the axles are 35x12.50-15 Goodyear MTR Kevlar tires wrapped around 15x10-inch (3-inch backspace) Mickey Thompson Classic Baja Lock wheels.

Bilstein shocks and Deaver 4-inch-lift leaf springs suspend the rear Model 20 axle. The rear axle is stuffed with a 4.11 Detroit and Moser axleshafts.

Inside and Out

The interior of Brian’s CJ-7 is simple and sweet, no gee-gaws to get in the way of a good day of Jeeping. The factory speedo with its built-in water temp and fuel level gauge, plus an AutoMeter column-mounted tach, and Auto Meter dash-mounted water temp (for an accurate read) and oil pressure gauges let Brian know what’s going on, and a Sony sound system keeps trail tunes rockin’. An engine-speed thumb-lever rides on the long-throw shift lever for the T-18, and the Dana 300’s sticks just through the custom tunnel panel. A custom rollcage spans the tub.

The ’79 CJ-7 has been outfitted with just enough basic telemetry to keep Brian in the know. A factory speedo (with built-in water temp and fuel level gauges) was augmented with an Auto Meter column-mounted tach, and dash-mounted water temp and oil pressure gauges.

The first thing you notice about the CJ-7’s nose (other than the Warn 9,500-pound capacity winch bolted to the Motobilt Stubby Stinger front bumper) is the American flag wrap-graphic on the grille. The headlights are 24V LED Truck-Lite products, and behind them and inside the engine compartment are transformers to bump up the Jeep’s 12V system output to power the headlights. The rear wheel wells were trimmed up, and body armor and flat fenders from Smittybilt were added.

Why This Jeep?

We love seeing old-school Americana when it comes to vehicles, especially Jeeps. Brian could have easily done what a lot would do and plop in a Chevy 350, but he retained and hot-rodded the AMC 304ci V-8. And the ’79 CJ has been kept simple, it’s easy to work on, gets it done on the trail, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg to build. What’s not to like?

Hard Facts

Vehicle: ’79 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: AMC 304ci V-8
Transmission: T18 four-speed manual with 6.32 granny low
Transfer Case: Dana 300 (TeraFlex 4:1 low range)
Suspension: Custom Deaver 4-inch-lift leaf springs, Bilstein shocks
Axles: Dana 30 front and Model 20 rear axles, both with 4.11 Detroit Lockers and Moser ’shafts
Wheels: 15x10 Mickey Thompson Baja Classic Lock
Tires: 35x12.50-15 Goodyear MTR Kevlar
Built For: Fun trail runs with friends

Massive custom rods (with equally massive heims) make the steering system on the CJ-7 extra sturdy. The Bilstein shocks are mounted upside down on the front suspension to take advantage of the difference in compression and rebound rates and deliver the ride quality Brian desired.
A Motobilt Stubby Stinger front bumper, Warn 9,500-pound capacity winch, and Truck-Lite 24V headlights dominate the front end. However, despite all that, the patriotic theme wrapped around the classic American grille of the Jeep tends to be the first thing you notice about Brian’s CJ-7.
Half-doors for the CJ-7 were custom texture coated to match the Smittybilt body armor and fenders. The soft-ish texture coating also helps to keep the doors from getting dinged or scratched.
The tub’s back corners are covered with Smittybilt armor cladding to keep them from being banged up on the trail. A garage-built rear bumper and swing-out tire carrier (sans the tire the day of the photo shoot) is mounted solidly to the rear frame horns.
The ’49er perched upon the engine hood of Brian’s CJ-7 is a cast copy of a bronze that his uncle (who gave him the Jeep in the first place) has and is a nod to the pioneering and exploratory spirit of the Jeep.
Transformers mounted inside the engine bay bump up the Jeep’s 12V electrical system to properly power the 24V Truck-Lite headlights.
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