As a 35-year member of the Contra Costa Jeepers, Jeff Mello of Danville, California, has been 'wheeling longer than he's been walking. Beginning with his spot in the backseat of his parents' Jeep during numerous runs of the Rubicon Trail and stretching to his vast experience competing in mud and sand drags, pro stadium trucks, and eventually rockcrawling events, Jeff has kept a steady flow of Jeeps pumping through his veins. His latest competition vehicle, a '79 CJ-7, started out as a worthy trail rig, but easily made the transition to competent competitor. Since 2002, Jeff and his CJ have notched numerous event wins, including two national championships in two years and capturing the Super Stock Championship at the 2003 Supercrawl.
At first building the rig at the same pace as parts would break, Jeff worked out the weak links after a few events and got the CJ dialed in for competition. The majority of the factory driveline was retained, including the AMC 360 V-8, T-18 transmission, and Dana 300 transfer case. The AMC 360 received an Edelbrock Performer aluminum intake, dual glass-packed mufflers, and a propane direct-injection fuel system that Jeff bought used and installed on advice from Lance Clifford of pirate4x4.com. The Dana 300 T-case is equipped with a twin-stick shifter and is clocked flush with the framerail for greater ground clearance.
Continuing down the driveline, driveshafts from Tom Wood's Custom Driveshafts lead to Dana 44 axles yanked from a Jeep Wagoneer. The housings were shortened on the long side so they'd accept early Bronco axleshafts, and Warn chrome-moly 'shafts were installed, along with CTM U-joints, 4.56 gears, Warn premium hubs, and Detroit Lockers. Jeff used the stock braking system, with the exception of the Neal cutting brakes in the front discs and rear drums, to assist in competition. The stock suspension configuration was converted to a spring-over setup using 2.5-inch Skyjacker Softride springs and offers ample clearance for the 35x13.50R15 BFGoodrich Krawlers mounted to 15x10-inch Centerline wheels with Champion bead locks.
The stock CJ-7 tub made it through the first season of competition, but rollovers and clashes with rock obstacles left it with a good deal of damage. An aluminum tub from JP Off-Road became the logical solution. The tub was secured to the stock frame, and the front clip was treated to fresh paint, applied by Jeff's friend Tom Jones. Jeff built the rollcage and modified the front fenders, adding tube and tying them into the front bumper, which houses a Warn 8,000-pound winch and a Rock Dancer Hot Lips aluminum fairlead.
With more than 20 competitions under his belt during 2003 alone, Jeff is already under way preparing for the 2004 season. Bringing plenty of experience and his ever-ready CJ-7, there's no reason why you shouldn't see him on the podium.
Owner/hometown: Jeff Mello/Danville, California
Year/make/model: '79 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: AMC 360 V-8
Transfer case: Dana 300
Frontend: Dana 44, Detroit Locker
Rearend: Dana 44, Detroit Locker
Suspension:, SOA with 2.5-inch Skyjacker Softride leaf springs
Wheels/tires: 15x10-inch Centerlines