How to Restore a Jeep
There is a big difference between rebuilding and restoring a Jeep. Most of the older Jeeps found on these pages (and most other 4x4 magazines) have been rebuilt. That is, the process of taking something old and used and making it new again. The rebuilding process allows much more leeway because almost any component that fits and works can be used to make the vehicle stronger, faster, more nimble, or better able to perform specific off-road tasks.
Restoring, though, is a much more difficult job. In the process of making the vehicle like new again, it must also be as close as possible to when it originally exited the factory. A top-of-the-line restoration is referred to as museum-quality, meaning the restored vehicle is a replica of what originally appeared on a dealer's showroom floor. Museum-quality vehicles are rarely driven and are mostly for show in someone's collection. Many of us harbor a desire to own a CJ from our youth. This vehicle is one we can use in our daily driving and take off-road, yet it looks and feels like what we owned maybe 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. While possible, it takes time and mechanical skills along with money and the ability to do the research to learn exactly what the CJ looked like as it left the factory.
A few years ago I yearned to have a '67 CJ-5 exactly like the first brand-new CJ I ever owned. I located a '67 CJ-5 with a V-6 engine for $3,000. Not the 134 F-head I had, but that was OK. It was a '67 CJ in good condition, and due to living its life entirely in southern New Mexico, the Jeep had no rust damage. A thorough pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle revealed it drove fine and could track 80 mph on the freeway true and smooth. The engine ran properly and cool, just purring along (as well as the odd-fire Buick V-6 can purr, that is). The transmission and transfer case also checked out fine, as did the braking system. The gauges and speedometer didn't work, and the odometer had stopped at 50,000 which was probably the accurate mileage. It had about 500 pounds of steel junk welded and bolted all over as previous owners added what they deemed necessary to make it a tougher off-road 4x4. This had to go. I drove the Jeep for a couple of months while removing the non-original add-ons.
Unforeseen reality slowly began to erode my concept of happily driving a like-new, stock, original '60s CJ-5. It was a lot bigger than I had remembered and also more difficult to maneuver. Do you think that a few decades of driving with power steering, power brakes, and auto trannies had anything to do with altering my memory?
Another problem arose as I began the restoration process. The last CJs I had rebuilt were in the early 1980s. At that time, Jeep (owned by American Motors) was still producing the CJ-5 and parts were readily available. But by 2003 the early CJ product line had been dead for over 30 years, and parts were not located as quickly. Ironically, I discovered that parts for restoring the World War II Jeeps-the M38s and early flatfender CJs-were more readily available than for the CJ-5 line. Thus my process of restoring my '67 CJ-5 was nowhere as easy or cheap as I initially thought. But I eagerly began a restoration project that ended up taking over a year and costing over $11,000. Here are some good Internet and print sources that I used that will be helpful in completing your own accurate restoration.