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Custom 1982 Jeep CJ7 Renegade - From Family Heirloom To The Trail

Posted in Project Vehicles on November 7, 2006
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Hey, not every Jeep you see featured in a magazine has to have gazillion-to-one gearing, monster tires, or a bunch of exotic fabrication. Contrary to some people's opinion, we do like stock-flavored Jeeps. At least, they're growing on us. Driving a tubed-out, purpose-built Jeep on the trail is one thing, but it's a totally different experience to drive a full-bodied classic that looks good. It makes you pay closer attention than if you didn't care about scuffing the body.

When we scooted down to San Angelo, Texas, to shoot an event right before Christmas of '05 ("Jeep in the Heart of Texas," April '06), we were pretty stoked to see Robert Parry lining up with the group in his sano '82 CJ-7. After watching him wheel the thing pretty hard all day, we were surprised to learn that he got the 36,000-mile creampuff from his dad, who bought the Jeep new in the summer of '81. And we decided we had to shoot a feature after learning that, despite some pretty strong sentimental attachments to the vehicle, Robert has made it his goal to upgrade the factory components for real off-road enjoyment.

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There's nothing like simplicity when building a trail rig. And it doesn't get much simpler than bolting on a suspension lift and adding a set of shocks. Robert chose a BDS 2.5-inch suspension system comprised of front and rear lift springs. To complement the spring-under system, a pair of 1-inch lift shackles were used front and rear to gain a little height and to allow the more highly arched springs full range of movement as the suspension compresses.

A quartet of Dick Cepek Race Series shocks were added with the lift, along with a JKS front swaybar disconnect so the front axle could move unencumbered. Surprisingly, the stock frame is still in good shape, with no cracks. We attribute part of the reason to the Redneck Ram hydraulic ram assist that takes a lot of the stress off of the steering box mount. Any residual forces applied to the box are mitigated by the steering box brace.

Moving on down the line to the axles, the Dana 30 front is stock, from the disc brakes to the 1.16-inch, 27-spline axleshafts with small 260X U-joints. However, the axle has been upgraded with 4.56 gears, a set of AVM locking hubs, and a Lock Rite locker.

As for the rear, it's the stock Model 20 housing and drum brakes, but the rest has wisely been upgraded. The Model 20 centersection casting is very thin where the axletubes are pressed in and, more often than not, the holes wallow and crack before the tubes will bend. Sharp eyes will notice the tubular truss that goes over the pumpkin and helps keep the tubes from flexing and wallowing out the bores. Like the front axle, the rear has been geared to 4.56, but a full case Detroit Locker was added, along with a set of one-piece axleshafts to replace the failure-prone,two-piece stockers.

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It's not often when writing one of these features we can put the word "stock" in front of every component when listing off the drivetrain specs, and this Jeep isn't an exception. But it does come extremely close.

The stock 258 straight-six has been hopped up with a Hedman header, a 2bbl Webber carb, and a Spectre manual pressure regulator that helps prevent the carb from flooding when running at angles.

Backing up the engine is the lone non-factory component, a swapped-in TF727 three-speed auto transmission. Since some Jeeps came from the factory with a TF727, it wasn't a big deal to get it to fit, but it did require a custom shifter. The gears are toggled with an Art Carr gated shifter, and a big cooler helps the nearly bulletproof auto from running hot on the trail.

Finally, one of the best transfer cases ever put in a Jeep, the Dana 300, resides at tail-end Charlie of the drivetrain. While still running the stock output shafts and single-lever shifter, it's nice to know the aftermarket has everything from low-range gears to twin-stick shifters to bulletproof 32-spline front and rear output shafts if the need ever arises.

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Body & Interior
With only 36,000 garage-housed miles under the tires, there's little wonder the blue-on-silver tub looks nearly as good as the day it left the factory. Robert has taken some steps to prevent future rock rash by building some custom front and rear bumpers and having some rocker protection built. But, otherwise, the Renegade is factory fresh from the fender flares to the tailgate.

Having such a rust-free tub to start with must have made the installation of the 3-inch body lift fairly uneventful, but we were trying our best to overlook it, so we didn't ask. It's sort of like talking to a supermodel that has a big wad of spinach in her teeth. You notice it, but it makes you feel better to imagine it's not there.

Like the outside, the interior is a remarkable example of a survivor Jeep. The factory denim seat fabric looks as fresh as the day it rolled off the assembly line, and there wasn't a broken HVAC knob to be found. Quite a rarity. Purists will be jealous of the clean factory gauges, including tachometer, oil and temp, and the speedo cluster, while retro freaks will dig on the old-school Realistic brand CB with channel selector dial.

But while front and rear factory seats and gauges can be a bonus off-road, more pedestrian items like carpeting and the stock spoke steering wheel can be an aggravation. Robert ripped out the floor covering in favor of a spray-on liner and replaced the uncomfortable steering wheel with a swoopy Grant GT model. Finally, the Jeep was brought to West Texas Off Road where a wild eight-point cage was bent up using 2-inch, 0.120-wall tube to protect the interior occupants.

Wheels & Tires
In an age where bigger is usually considered better, Robert showed some restraint and chose a set of 33x12.50-15 Super Swamper SSR tires in lieu of some larger 35s or 37s. The wheels are mounted on 15x10 American Racing wheels. Considering the fact that most of Robert's wheeling takes place in some nasty rock, mud, and loose dirt, the aggressive lugs and generous center tread siping of the SSRs are a good choice.

Good, Bad, & What's It For?
Like any vehicle that's taken off-road regularly, the Renegade sports a good electric winch. Robert went with a Warn X8000i, which offers a good compromise between strength, performance, and affordability. There's no source of onboard air, so if Robert blows a tire bead he's at the mercy of his spare or a buddy with a compressor.

But with hydro assist steering, an auto tranny complementing the 2.61:1 T-case and 4.56:1 axle gears, and some aggressive, yet streetable tires, the Jeep is able to handle most moderately difficult trails without giving up its day-to-day functionality.

What We Think
While we're really not on board with any body lift larger than 1-inch, and we'd probably run a less expensive Motorcraft or Rochester carburetor or a Howell fuel injection system instead of the Webber carburetor, we really dig Robert's Jeep. To us, it successfully blends several genres - old school flavor and new school fabrication, recreational trail use and daily driveability, and most of all, a drippy sentimental pride of ownership with a disregard in the name of having fun.

Hard Facts
'82 Jeep CJ-7 Renegade
Engine:Stock 258 inline-six
Transfer Case:Dana 300
Suspension:BDS 2.5-inch spring-under with 1-inch shackles
Axles:Stock Dana 30, 4.56 gears, Lock Rite (front); Stock Model 20, 4.56 gears, DetroitLocker, one-piece shafts (rear)
Wheels:15x10 American Racing 589
Tires:33x12.50-15 Super Swamper SSR
Built For:Having fun off-road

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