Ah, the glorious CJ-7. Replaced in 1987 by the then all-new Wrangler YJ (and those much-maligned square headlights), for many, the CJ-7 would be the last of the “real” Jeeps. With an available V-8, classic styling, and a no-frills interior, the CJ-7 remains a popular build platform for Jeep enthusiasts. A perfect example of this can be found with Rossie Manning’s ’77 CJ-7.
In 2005, Manning was looking for a classic CJ to haul his family out to the beach. Living in coastal North Carolina, Manning didn’t need anything too extreme, but a stocker wasn’t going to pass the cool test with his kids. After hunting for quite some time, he eventually found his new-to-him Jeep from a classic GM car restorer out of Virginia.
It was there that the CJ had undergone a tub swap from an ’87 Jeep Wrangler YJ and received a built 350ci GM V-8. It had a mild lift and a handful of bolt-on accessories, but it was far from the Jeep you see pictured here today. While Manning enjoyed the turnkey aspect of his find, his drive to modify eventually led the rig to Low Range 4x4 where it got the sizeable upgrades you see today. Still primarily used as a weekend toy and family beach buggy, this CJ is a great example of a Jeep that balances the needs and wants of the owner.
ChassisThe previous owner had done a good job of restoring the CJ. This equated to a rust-free platform for Manning to start with. Since 42-inch-tall Boggers were on the docket, Manning planned on the Jeep being a little on the tall side. To help with stability, he yanked the stock axle set for a pair of full-width 8-lug units. Using a full-width leaf-spring conversion kit from Poison Spyder Customs, the new setup moves the springs outside of the frame and positions the shackles behind the axle.
Custom 6-inch springs are wrapped under the axle and use a set of Pro Comp shocks to dampen the ride. Protecting the Jeep are steel bumpers from Poison Spyder. The front bumper is set up for a winch, which will be a future upgrade. The rear bumper now sports a custom Low Range 4x4–built tire carrier that allows the fullsize spare to pivot downward if Manning finds he needs it.
DrivetrainUnder the hood, you’ll find a small-block Chevy V-8. The 350ci engine was outfitted with a Summit engine kit, including a cam, Comp springs, HEMI ignition, Holley intake manifold, and Truck Avenger carburetor. It’s mated to a SM465 manual transmission. Behind the classic four-speed you’ll find a gear-driven Dana 20 transfer case. This T-case setup drives a set of Tom Wood’s driveshafts.
For the rear axle, a full-float Dana 60 was paired with a set of 4.88 gears and a Detroit Locker. The front axle is an 8-lug Dana 44, which Manning knows is pushing the limits with the 42.5x13.50R17 Interco Boggers. While it’s been paired with a matching set of 4.88 gears and upgraded axleshafts, Manning has opted to leave it open for now to avoid overstressing the 44. A front Dana 60 swap will likely be in this Jeep’s future.
Along with a custom steering conversion, Solid diff covers round out the axle upgrades. Couple the 3 1/2 inches of backspacing from his 17x9 KMC Machete beadlocks with full-width axles, and this CJ is extremely wide. The beadlocks are also a great way for Manning to ensure he can stay floating on top of the sand at single-digit air pressures.
Body and InteriorFor you keen-eyed Jeepers, you’ve likely noticed that along with the tub from the ’87 Wrangler, the windshield frame, wipers, and seats are all from a Jeep YJ as well. Manning installed the stock YJ cage to give his kiddos three-point seatbelts out back. The baseball shifter is a hat tip to the little league coach. During the YJ tub swap, the body was raised 2 inches over stock. In place of the stock fenders, you’ll find a set from MetalCloak; these tie in well with the Poison Spyder rocker guards.
Why This Jeep?This Jeep is unapologetically big, and we like it. The fact that Manning uses it as a beach buggy is great, as it doesn’t have to get bogged down in practicality. It’s visually exciting and works great for what he uses it for. Swap in a slightly stronger front axle, and you have a sand slayer that will last for generations.
Hard FactsVehicle: ’77 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: 350ci GM V-8
Transfer Case: Dana 20
Suspension: Spring-under w/ 6-inch custom springs, Pro Comp shocks
Axles: Dana 44, 4.88 gears (front); Dana 60 w/ Detroit Locker, 4.88 gears (rear)
Wheels: 17x9 KMC XD229 Machete Crawl beadlock
Tires: 42.5x13.50R17 Interco Bogger