We aren't much into root-beer floats, and when Steven Wykoff told us that his 1985 CJ-7 was root-beer colored, we thought we'd heard him wrong. At the very least, we sure didn't expect all the functional modifications we found underneath this CJ.
We were all ready to bust on Steven for his dash-mounted flower vase and frilly tissue holder, but that wasn't the case. Steven has been through a bunch of Jeeps, and while he did get this one with the Dana 60 in the rear already, it still had quite a bit to go.
Being a Jeep enthusiast, Steven wanted to be able to go out and wheel his CJ-7 on hard trails and snow runs but also wanted something that he was comfortable driving on the road and was comfortable inside.
So he sold his partially built '78 CJ-7 and picked up this one with a Chevy 350, 700R-4 and Dana 300 already in it. He figured it was cheaper to buy one with the main elements there than to build his to that point.
The interior was mostly done when he got it, and it was lifted with a spring-over conversion, it just wasn't stable enough on-road for him. After driving it for a bit sprung-over and normally aspirated with the Dana 44 front and Dana 60 rear, Steven decided to tear into it - specifically, the engine, trans, and especially the leaf-sprung suspension.
It didn't take Steven long to decide that the leaf springs had to go. The rear suspension was done by Rockworks in Montrose, Colorado, and uses sleeved DOM tubes for the control arms along with custom spring buckets, 4-inch lift XJ springs, and Rancho RS 9000 shocks.
The front suspension shares the 4-inch lift springs and Rancho shocks, but the arms, geometry of the arms, and the fabrication of it all was done by Steven and his friend, Neil Wolski, over a six-month period of 6 p.m. to midnight design, construction, and finishing. They worked on it for six days a week after work and whatever time they could get on weekends. Steven was sick of working on the Jeep after all that time, but it sure paid off in the end. The lower arms are built out of 31/48-inch plate, welded, bent, ground smooth, and rewelded as needed.
The front differential cover is another item that took forever to build. It is fabricated from 11 pieces of 31/48-inch plate, all welded together and then painstakingly ground smooth inside and out by Steven. All that beef was necessary because the cover is the mount for the track bar and one end of the hydraulic-assist ram.
That front axle is a Dana 60 pulled from an '80 Chevy pickup, and then stuffed with 4.56 gears, a Detroit Locker, Dynatrac 5-on-5.5 bolt pattern conversion, and 35-spline axleshafts. Similarly, the rear Dana 60 is still out back with 4.56 gears, 35-spline shafts, a Detroit Locker and a 5-on-5.5-inch conversion.
After Steven blew up the '89 TPI 350, he took it to U.S. Machine in Loveland, Colorado, and had it stroked and punched to 383 cubic inches. With a 4340 crank, 9:1 compression, and H-beam rods, it is just about right for the Vortec supercharger that was added on after the build. Then a methanol/water injection unit was thrown into the mix from Snow Performance to help keep detonation down. When we asked Steven how he tuned it, he said "The old fashioned way: on the dyno. Flash the FMU with a new program and put it on the dyno. Repeat until its right."
Backing the healthy 383 is a 700R-4 from an '89 'Vette that Steven had Engle Automotive of Loveland, Colorado, build. It got Red Line clutches, reused the stock 'Vette torque converter, and runs three transmission coolers to keep it at a frigid 160 degrees. Power goes from there to the Dana 300 transfer case which is still running a stock 2.62:1 low range but upgraded with a 32-spline rear output.
While the cutting board covering the belly pan skidplate is functional, it also adds to the look of the Jeep. We aren't sure what its made of (neither is Steven), but upon close inspection, it sure handles a beating and looks way better than a dented, scratched, and rusting belly skid.
The body of the Jeep is covered in root-beer colored paint, which we are told is a stock BMW offering. Steven says he got it that color, but has had it repainted the same hue after a roll in Moab and other various trail damage. The flames on the hood are Tangerine. Steven is an old-time AMC/Jeep nut, and he took the V-8 emblem of days gone by and had it powdercoated to match the flames.
There are Warn bumpers front and rear. The front bumper sports a Warn winch, and immediately behind the winch in the front crossmember is the plug for the remote-mounted winch solenoid and an air chuck for easy airing up and down.
Inside are Bestop bucket seats with a JC Whitney carpet kit, Lecarra steering wheel, and an Alpine AM/FM/CD player to make the long trips comfortable. The rollcage is a custom job based on the stock CJ main hoop, and Steven uses some Master Rac locking consoles and fender-mounted boxes to keep his valuables locked up. Behind the rear seat resides a 12-gallon fuel cell, which isn't enough for any real distance, but that's where the fuel cans out back come into play.
This coil-sprung CJ is running 39.5x13.5 R-17 Super Swamper Irok tires wrapped around a set of True Design bead locks in 17x10 flavor.
Steven says that aside from the six months of manning a grinder ever night after work, he really liked building the Jeep. His goal all along was to build a Jeep that he's comfortable driving anywhere, and he's succeeded.
However, with the 383 and the blower under the hood there were overheating problems, and he simply didn't like taking it wheeling due to having to stop every so often to cool it off. Bullhide 4x4 stepped in and put a Griffin aluminum radiator in it with dual 13-inch Flex-A-Lite fans. Steven could, once again, wheel his Jeep.
Well, we don't like the fuel cell inside the Jeep, and while we aren't fans of coil conversions on older Jeeps, we do have to admit that this one works...and works well. Also, we wouldn't even admit to our mother that the color of our Jeep was root beer, but it does look cool and Steven has no problems getting on it, so it loses the pretty-boy Jeep stigma that way.
We did think that the 4.56s are too high of a gear for the 39-inch Iroks, but Steven tells us that with the power he is making, it will lope along at 70 to 80 mph with no problems at all.