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Orange Overlander: Garrett Barnes’ 1976 CJ-7

Posted in Features on March 7, 2019
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Contributors: Jered Korfhage

Since leaving the Navy, Garrett Barnes, a serial Jeep owner, has not spent much time without a seven-slotted 4x4. Whether it was his ’73 CJ-5 with a school bus steering wheel, the ’95 Grand Cherokee Limited, or his old TJ Sahara with a long-arm lift kit, there was always a Jeep in his life. Garrett was recently distracted amidst his search for his dream Jeep, an LJ Rubicon, by something equally elusive on the East Coast—a California-raised ’76 CJ-7.

This Jeep had spent most of its life free of road salt and had only recently migrated to Vermont, where Garrett eagerly snatched it up and drove it back home to Massachusetts. His plan was to continue building the rig to make it capable of wheeling the densely forested, boulder-riddled trails typical of the Northeast, as well as overlanding trips, where the hard-topped CJ would serve as a rolling basecamp, loaded with camping gear. Though it came to him with a handful of modifications, Garrett used the CJ as a workable canvas, upgrading parts as they broke and as he deemed necessary.

Garrett’s ’76 CJ-7 needed wheels that would retain the tires, even at reduced air pressure. The Jeep’s 37x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grappler tires are now bolted to Allied 17x10 32-bolt beadlock wheels.

The not-so-final result, because 4x4s are never truly finished, is a functional Jeep that Garrett and his son, Griffin, have used in overlanding events across the Northeast. Most recently, the 2018 Vermont Overland Rally tested the navigator-driver bond between Garrett and Griffin, as well as the CJ-7, across some of Vermont’s more unforgiving Class 4 roads. Future plans for the Jeep include an EFI conversion, new head gasket, and plenty more overland adventures.

The small-block 305ci V-8 started life in a ’92 Camaro before finding its way beneath the CJ’s hood. The Summit Racing four-core radiator and electric puller fan keep the engine cool. Power is sent through the ever-so-reliable TH400 transmission and is split at the Dana 20 transfer case, which was retrofitted with a TeraFlex Low20 3.15:1 low-range gearset. The T-case sports a twin-stick shifter from JB Custom Fabrication, and the transmission is shifted via the Lokar 18-inch mechanical shifter.
After an overland trip left him with a spun rear axletube, Garrett replaced the rear axle with a 14-bolt from an ’89 motorhome and rebuilt the differential with 4.88 gears from G2 Axle & Gear, an ARB Air Locker, a Yukon 1350 pinion yoke, a RuffStuff pinion guard, and a Riddler differential cover. Mitchell Differential, of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, supplied a heavy-duty driveshaft, while the RuffStuff disc brake conversion with Chevy K20 calipers and pads help bring the CJ to a stop.
A second-gen Blazer donated its Dana 44 front axle, which was cut down to 63 inches to fit the CJ’s width and converted to match the rear axle’s bolt pattern. Garrett gave the axle new life with new bearings, locking Warn hubs, a Solid differential cover, and 4.88 gears with an ARB Air Locker to match the rear.
Artec leaf-spring perches and a M.O.R.E. shackle reversal kit keep the 1.5-inch 6-leaf reverse-wrapped springs connected to the axle, while a pair of Bilstein 5125 shocks handle bump-absorption duties. Steering upgrades include a custom high-steer crossover system with 7/8-inch chromoly Heim joints in double-shear configuration; a heavy-duty M.O.R.E. power steering box, brace, and bracket; and a Pro Comp steering damper.
A custom-built front bumper keeps the grille and the Warn HS9500i winch safe from trail damage, while the lightbar, Rigid Industries LED cubes, and HID headlamps help light the way after dark.
PhotosView Slideshow

One of the CJ’s defining features is the custom hood, with louvers on its top side and a row of dimple-died accents toward the fenders, each backed with steel punch screen. The custom work is courtesy of Eddie’s Chop Shop of Orangevale, California. Continuing with the blended custom theme, the Poison Spyder flat fenders were painted with Atomic Orange Pearl to match the Rocker Knockers, rear Crusher Corners, and the rest of the CJ’s exterior.

On the rear of the Jeep is a fullsize spare mounted on a custom-built swinging tire carrier bumper, along with a 60-inch Hi-Lift jack. Hidden behind the tire and secured to the carrier is a trail axe (for emergencies).
PhotosView Slideshow

Detailed work went into the Jeep’s interior, beginning with a treatment of POR15 and bedliner. A custom-fabricated, 2-inch-diameter, powdercoated rollcage was fit inside; Smittybilt XRC seats keep both driver and passenger firmly planted; valuables are stored in a Tuffy locking console; and the Aqualu Industries dashboard is populated with Auto Meter Phantom gauges. A rear storage box keeps additional off-road essentials safely stowed while wheeling.

An ARB Awning allows Garrett to make camp wherever he parks, and it can be converted to a tent or gathering room with the pull of a few zippers.

At a Glance

Vehicle: ’76 Jeep CJ-7
Owner: Garrett Barnes
Stomping grounds: Orange, Massachusetts
Build time: 3 years

Engine: Chevy 305ci V-8
Transmission: TH400 auto
Transfer case(s): Dana 20
Low range ratio: 3.15:1
Crawl ratio: 38.1
Front axle/differential: Dana 44, Chevy K20 3/4-ton calipers, Solid differential cover, 4.88 gears/ARB Air Locker
Rear axle/differential: Corporate 14-bolt, Chevy K20 3/4-ton calipers, Riddler differential cover, 4.88 gears/ARB Air Locker

Front: Rubicon Express 1.5-inch 6-leaf pack, spring-over, Bilstein 5125 shocks
Rear: Rubicon Express 1.5-inch 6-leaf pack, spring-over, Bilstein 5125 shocks

Tires: 37x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grappler
Wheels: 17x10 Allied 32-bolt beadlock

Steering: Custom high-steer crossover steering w/7/8-inch-diameter chromoly tubing and Heim joints; M.O.R.E. power steering box, brace, and bracket; and Pro Comp steering damper
Lighting: HID headlamps, bumper-mounted lightbar, 3-in LED cubes, blue LED rock lights in fenderwells
Armor: Poison Spyder flat fenders, Rocker Knocker rock sliders, and Crusher corner guards
Cool stuff: Warn HS9500i winch, Factor 55 ProLink thimble, ARB awning, onboard air compressor, trail axe, Hi-Lift jack, rear storage box, Dixie air horns, custom dimple-died and louvered hood

PhotosView Slideshow

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