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525hp Jeep CJ-7 Lays Tracks in Oregon’s Dunes

Posted in Features on March 12, 2018
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David Diens has a lot of loves. However, three stood out more than any others when we met him on the vast expanse of the Oregon Dunes: family, sand, and CJs. The first led to the last. Twenty years ago his then-girlfriend, and now-wife, Alicia, knew he loved ripping up the sand in a CJ-5 running a 327 SBC. But he’d sold his beloved Jeep to help buy his first house a couple years earlier. So when the Oregon couple saw an ad for a stock ’86 CJ-7 in an Autotrader during a road trip in 1998, she pushed him to buy it.

“That was the last year of the CJs,” says David. “After years of driving different crappy $500 cars and saving money, the Jeep bug was coming back. I was on the hunt for a 1986 Jeep CJ-7 with a four-banger, rare Dana 44 rearend, and Dana 300 transfer case to do another SBC conversion. Alicia knew our budget was tight, but she was all in.”

At the time David worked at a local body shop in Springfield, Oregon, and with help from friends working nights and weekends, they had the Jeep back on the road, complete with a 383ci Chevy stroker and 700R4 tucked neatly into a totally reworked and painted body by Steve Hines at Collison Too in Eugene. They named the color “Badass Yellow.” The revamped, bright yellow CJ-7 became a regular sight on the Dunes.

David Diens has no problem pulling the front tires of his ’86 CJ-7 off the sand when climbing the dunes. The 525hp 6.2L Chevy V-8 under its hood has more than enough power to conquer just about any hill it’s pointed toward.

Ten years later the economy tanked at the same time the Diens had a 6-month-old daughter. Once again, family security and money in the bank overruled family fun on the sand. David sold his beloved Jeep to a friend of a friend—with the caveat he had first-right to buy it back if the new owner ever sold it.

Fast-forward to 2007. Diens is now the owner of a thriving car wash business, the family is growing, and they are cruising the Dunes in a Rubicon LJ along with their other Jeep-loving friends when one of them gets a text that David’s old CJ-7 is up for sale. He didn’t hesitate buying it back, even though the engine and transmission were on their last legs.

Three months later David and friend Richard Travis had transplanted a Pace Performance 525hp LS3 into the old classic, along with a 4L60E and Dana 300 built by Transmission Solutions, another local shop. They also discarded the Dana 30 and Dana 44 axles for a Crawl King Dana 60 in back and a Dana 44 up front, upgraded the springs with Alcan 4-inchers, and had a custom exhaust built by Jeremy’s Muffler.

Then the Badass Yellow Jeep was driven across town to Dunks Performance shop where techs Eric Dunks and Casey Castle put the finishing touches on the wiring, plumbing, cooling, custom air intake; set up the custom tuning for the engine and transmission; and installed the Fox 2.0 shocks.

The result of nearly a year’s worth of loving care and custom workmanship on this classic CJ-7 has resulted in one fine dune runner. “We are super happy to have this Jeep back in our family,” said David when we caught up with him at one of his favorite places, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area just south of Florence, Oregon. “My wife and I truly look forward to passing it down to our kids when the time comes.” The only question we have is: “Can we be adopted?” After all, this is the last of the CJs!

A stock Jeep cage with front hoops provides protection, and Sand Tires Unlimited rolling stock provides the traction. Diens runs a full soft top and 33-inch Toyo M/Ts on the street.
The 525hp Pace Performance LS3 looks like it came from the factory. Dunks Performance in Springfield, Oregon, handled the final wiring, plumbing, and programming of the 4L60E and engine. A Wilwood hydroboosted disc brake system handles the stops; Optima delivers the juice.
A Winters Sidewinder shifter is a perfect match for the built 4L60E behind the powerful LS3. The transmission is mated to the CJ’s Dana 300 transfer case thanks to a Novak adapter. Diens used Bedrug for carpet, which works really well in the sand.
Custom hood louvers help keep the LS3 engine bay cool and add a nice custom touch to the otherwise stock body appearance. Paint is “Badass Yellow” DuPont, according to Diens.
It’s hard to miss this ’86 CJ-7, whether it’s climbing the dunes or cruising the streets around Springfield, Oregon. David Diens’ classic is as clean as they come, all the while hiding a 525hp Chevy LS3 under the hood.
A Hanson winch bumper and Warn 8000 come in handy on the dunes. Even high-horsepower and paddle tires occasionally succumb to soft sand. PIAA LP560 LED driving lights bring out the sun at night.
Diens had Dunks Performance build the Dana 44 up front with a TrueTrac and 4.11s. They also installed the Fox steering stabilizer, PSC steering box, and hydraulic steering system.
Desert Track 14.50x15s up front provide excellent traction and turning grip in soft sand. The Hanson bumper provides a strong base for the Warn winch, and provides the approach angles needed for running dunes.
The Grant steering wheel is a nice complement to the classic CJ-7 dash. Diens had Dunks install a Dakota Digital gauge cluster to bring the dash into the modern era. The stereo faceplate is usually there, but on this outing it was locked up in the car hauler.
Alcan custom 4-inch leafs at all four corners give this CJ-7 just the right amount of clearance to run paddle tires on the sand and 33-inch Toyo M/Ts on the street. Shocks are single Fox 2.0s all around.
Planting 525 hp to the paddle tires takes some heavy beef in the rear axle category, and the Crawl King Dana 60 with chromoly shafts and a Detroit Locker does just that.
One reason Diens likes plenty of power under his right foot is he enjoys competing with the side-by-sides that roam the big dune complex. Most of the time his yellow CJ-7 is king of the hill.
This sweet Dakota Digital cluster that keeps tabs on all the powertrain vitals replaced the stock gauges in the CJ-7.
PRP Enduro buckets up front are a nice touch. Diens’ future plans are adding four-point harnesses and bucket seats in the back to keep everyone in the family secure, and going to a more robust full cage to replace the stock hoop and front supports.
The LS3-powered CJ-7 is just as clean underneath as it is topside. Jeremy’s Muffler custom-built the dual exhaust system that gives the crate motor an awesome, deep-throated roar. Fox 2.0 shocks keep the suspension nicely controlled for a very pleasant ride.
Dunks Performance’s techs Casey Castle and Eric Dunks worked their magic on the CJ’s suspension and wiring/tuning. Everywhere you look, it’s a super-sanitary setup.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: 1986 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: Pace Performance 525hp 6.2L Chevrolet LS3
Transmission: GM 4L60E 4-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Dana 300 w/ Novak adapter
Suspension: Alcan 4-inch w/ Fox 2.0 shocks
Axles: Dana 44, 4.11 TrueTrac (front); Crawl King Dana 60 w/ Detroit Locker; Spicer chromoly axles (rear)
Tires: Sand Tires Unlimited Desert Trak 14.50x15 (front); Padla Trak 16.50x15 (rear)
Wheels: Mickey Thompson Classic III 15x8 (front), 15x12 (rear)
Other: PRP Enduro buckets; PSC steering; Wilwood hydroboost; Hanson winch bumper with Warn 8000; Dakota Digital instrumentation; Tom Wood’s driveshafts, Novak radiator; Winters Sidewinder shifter; Painless Performance wiring

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