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Is a CJ-7 Vintage?

Posted in Features on May 6, 2018
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Photographers: Tanya Schimpf

While everyone has been focused on the new Jeep JL platform, and we’ve seen some great first builds of the newest-generation Wrangler, we don’t want to lose sight of the venerable old standards. The CJ-7 is a functional and unique vehicle that can claim its place on the trail in a world of new coil-sprung Jeeps.

The CJ-7’s production ran from ’76 to ’86, meaning that many of these rigs are now getting to be 40 years old, and they are increasingly rare in good condition. Does this mean the CJ-7 could be considered vintage? Where do you draw the vintage line? We found a 1984 Jeep CJ-7 with enough of its original roots to keep it classic, blended with custom work to satisfy the builders out there. Shawn Franzen’s CJ-7 is a great example of this modern capability and vintage look.

This CJ has plenty of flex and handles the altitude as well as it handles the rocks. We headed into the backcountry of Wyoming, and all systems and components performed flawlessly.

The Jeep wasn’t much more than a rolling chassis when Shawn picked it up, but the upside was that he could begin the project with a blank slate. The majority of the original frame was kept, with the exception of a few modifications to the very front so a steering box sourced from a J-20 could be mounted. The front crossmember had to be moved forward 2 inches to accommodate the new steering box as well as a set of YJ leaf springs that were incorporated into the new suspension. The frame was slightly modified to allow the 4-inch Rubicon Express springs to be mounted on custom, outboard spring mounts that were also slightly moved forward.

The power in this CJ comes from a small-block Chevy that is more than adequately built for this Jeep. It even has a little extra power for those “just in case” moments. Shawn had the guys at J&B Engines in Cody, Wyoming, build the motor. They utilized a Holley Pro-Jection system and an Edelbrock Performer intake to provide the fuel and air mixture; the Dart II Iron Eagle heads with roller rocker arms send the mixture to the cylinders so the 9.5:1 compression ratio pistons can do their part. An HEI distributor from D.U.I. ignition keeps the spark firing directly and powerfully to the system, and a 160-amp single-wire alternator works to keep the battery charged. Sanderson headers and custom bent tubing complete the exhaust system. Keeping this balanced small-block running cool is done by the high-flow water pump and aluminum crossflow radiator.

A small-block Chevy 350 was easily shoehorned into the ’84 Jeep CJ-7’s engine compartment, leaving plenty of room to work on it when the situation or need arises.

This Chevy 350 is backed up by a 700R4. Browns Transmission in Billings, Montana, built and beefed up the transmission. It’s hooked up to a Dana 300 that has been upgraded with a TeraFlex TeraLow 4:0.1 conversion kit and HD rear output shaft. Custom-built driveshafts from Tommerup Machine in Thermopolis, Wyoming, carry the power to the Dana 44s stuffed with 4.56 gears. The 35x12.50R15 Cooper STTs work well, sticking to the boulders and slickrock of Moab. Bilstein shocks on all four corners help with handling control on rough roads or demanding trails, as well as highway ride quality and comfort.

The Dana 44 is a suitable upgrade for the size of tire that this CJ-7 is running, and the internals are well protected behind the sturdy ARB differential cover.

Catching your eye from a mile away is the color of this 1984 Jeep CJ-7. It is the same 1974 yellow that graced the earlier CJ-5 Renegade package. This is one of those colors that can evoke a love it or hate it reaction, much like today’s Gecko Green or Orange Crush on the JK platform. Shawn said that he “liked the original color of the early Renegades, so he dug up the Martin Senour automotive paint code so he could paint it the same color.”

Protection from rocks and other trail hazards is the duty of the GenRight skidplate, seen here guarding a GenRight Crawler fuel tank.
Shawn fabricated the hangers for the front springs so he could use Rubicon Express YJ springs to upgrade the performance of the CJ-7’s suspension system.

Custom-made bumpers provide front and rear protection, as well as a place to mount the Warn winch. TNT Customs front tube fenders, 3/16-inch rear corner protectors, and rock sliders keep the rest of the body protected. The front fenders were coated with Defender Pro before Shawn prepped and painted the Jeep in his garage. A Daystar 1-inch poly body lift helped provide a little more room for the 35-inch tires at full articulation.

With all of the modifications, upgrades, and updates on this Jeep, it was nice to see the dash looked much like it did more than three decades ago.
The interior is clean and very simple, with attention paid to comfort as well as security. Both are important when space is limited and comfort is a must. The MasterCraft suspension safety seats make all the difference in the world when riding in this leaf-sprung classic, and the Tuffy Security console keeps items secure and safe.
A modular rollcage from Rock Hard 4x4 was installed inside the CJ-7’s tub. It acts as added protection and as an interior accessory-mounting structure.

The interior still holds enough of its original character, especially where the dash is concerned. The MasterCraft suspension seats and Tuffy Security console add a modern touch of both comfort and style. The Tuffy console protects the sound system and precious items that one wouldn’t want stolen while parked at a hotel overnight. A B&M shifter is another addition to the interior that takes you back to another era. A Rock Hard 4x4 modular rollcage was installed, and a set of YJ doors add to the updated yet classic aspect of the Jeep.

Why This Jeep
What I like about this Jeep CJ-7 is that it’s comfortable enough to be a daily driver, and it performs very well on the trails. This Jeep is built to be driven and to be wheeled, and the vintage CJ-7 character of the Jeep makes it all the more fun.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: 1984 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: Small-Block Chevy 350
Transmission: 700 R4
Transfer Case: Dana 300 with TeraFlex TeraLow 4:0.1 conversion and HD output shaft upgrade
Suspension: 4-inch Rubicon Express YJ springs mounted to 1/2-inch-lift Warrior shackles and M.O.R.E. shackle hangers, Bilstein shocks, 1-inch-lift Daystar poly body mounts
Axles: Dana 44 from a 1979 Jeep Wagoneer, ARB Air Locker, 4:56 gears (front); Dana 44 from a 1978 International Scout II, Detroit Locker, 4:56 gears (rear)
Wheels: 15x10-inch; manufacturer and model unknown
Tires: 35x12.50R15 Cooper STT
Steering: Steering box from a J-20 truck.

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