An '81 CJ-7 that's been through the wringer
There are really only a few ways to describe the driving style of Encinitas, California, resident Dustin Ewing: It's like running a belt sander on a pool table or sending metal through a meat grinder or a wood chipper. But it wasn't always like that. At one time, Dustin spent most of his seat time on the passenger side. For several years, Dustin watched, helped spot, changed Birfields on his buddy's Land Cruiser and cooked dinner. During that time, he learned a lot about picking a good line and how to build a rig that wouldn't break.
Eventually, Dustin bought this '81 CJ-7 from his brother, who somehow managed to drive it from Las Vegas to Encinitas with a broken rear axle shaft. Dustin went to inspect the "grinding" noise his brother heard during the trip and the whole shaft, drum brake and wheel fell right off the Jeep. The '81 CJ's only real saving graces were the relatively dent-free body, an AMC 360 under the hood and the Dana 300 transfer case. After repairing enough to get it driving, Dustin set out to wheel it and proceeded to blow apart the Dana 30. That's when the real buildup began.
Chassis & Driveline
Dustin did a spring-over for the lift he wanted. The CJ's frame was modified to accept Wrangler leaf springs with a couple of extra leaves added to the packs for more stability and increased height. A shackle reversal was worked into the front, and the wheelbase was stretched to 101 inches, requiring the factory rear-mounted fuel tank to be pulled. Leftover scrapper shocks damp the travel, and a traction bar in the rear damps the spring wrap.
Under the hood, the AMC 360 received an MSD ignition to replace the problematic factory Motorcraft stuff. An aluminum intake manifold and a Holley Truck Avenger take care of intake duties. A set of fenderwell headers and Flowmaster mufflers tune the tone of the burbly V-8.The Dana 30 and AMC 20 axles were pulled and replaced with Dynatrac 60s. A high-pinion 60 was fitted to the rear and stuffed with a spool, 35-spline shafts, drum brakes and 4.88 gears. Then when the bank account recovered and the Pro-Rock 60s came out, Dustin ponied up for a front Pro-Rock with a Detroit locker, like gears and 35-spline shafts. Factory power steering with a steering box brace direct crossover steering linkages made from heavy-wall DOM and high-misalignment rod ends. The factory tranny was tossed in favor of a Ford T-18 manual, which was mated to the Dana 300 and AMC 360 with Advance Adapter components. Power is transmitted to the axles via High-Angle Driveline driveshafts. An extra-long slip joint on the front shaft keeps it from coming apart during droop of the shackle reversal suspension.
Body & Interior
From the looks of Dustin's Jeep, it's hard to believe it was once straight. But with the drivetrain all wrapped up, he sent the then-clean-looking CJ over to JD Fabrication to get an exceptionally strong DOM tube cage and aluminum lid put in. Little did he know that on his very first outing (before the sun came up so he could get photos of his clean, completed rig) he would roll it down a 10-to-12-foot ledge. From there, it's been a downhill ride, and the body has seen the worst of it. Beyond the dents and ripped metal, you'll find flush-mounted taillights and even a framer's reinforcement strap helping to keep the corner panel attached.
The interior was stripped and simplified, including the wiring. Inside, you'll find Moroso switches mounted in an aluminum dash along with Auto Meter carbon-fiber gauges. Beard seats make it comfy up front. A fullsize spare tire, a boat fuel tank, a Hi-Lift jack, a Power Tank CO2 bottle and a sack of tools take up the area where the back seat once was. Somewhere in there, Dustin fits the requisite cooler for beverages and lunch.
Since most of Dustin's wheeling trips involve loose sand, silt or jagged rocks, he chose Super Swamper Boggers in 37x13.00 flavor. The tough-as-nails paddle-like tires are mounted on OMF 15x10 bead locks.
Good, Bad & What's it For
Dustin's combo works great for the Southern California wheeling his Jeep sees. He frequents Ocotillo Wells, Truckhaven Hills, Glamis and Johnson Valley and even works in a yearly trip up to the Rubicon. The slightly longer wheelbase helps the Jeep climb without sacrificing maneuverability. Dustin wants to replace the easily-damaged fenderwell headers (he's on his second set) with some in-frame pieces. He's also looking for an excuse to swap in a tire-roasting GM powerplant or fuel-inject the 360.
WHAT WE THINK
We dig the green driveway flames, but the headlights are a little too bug-eyed looking for our tastes. However, we really like the fact that Dustin's Jeep still has a real steel body that he doesn't even pretend to care about. He's put together a Jeep that almost never has a failure and climbs the most difficult trails with ease.