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1963 Jeep CJ-5 - Something Old, Something New

Posted in Project Vehicles on November 1, 2007
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In a rational world, we'd probably all be driving TJs, with their supple suspensions, relatively stout drivetrains, and comfortable interiors. In fact, we see more late-model Wranglers on the trail than anything else nowadays. Some people put a high value on nostalgia and history, though, such as Randy Mezger of Truckee, California. As the owner of a successful excavation business, Randy could've gone out and bought a Rubicon TJ, installed a lift, and hit the trails. Instead, he chose to invest his money in his '63 CJ-5, which has been in the Mezger family for more than 15 years. It started as a hunting and fishing rig that has been upgraded in a piecemeal way whenever a weakness appeared.

The stock engine was yanked in 2001 and replaced with a LT1 Chevy small-block. The new engine was mated to a T-18 four-speed manual and a Dana 20 T-case with an adapter from Advance Adapters. From there, the power was routed to the stock leaf-spring axles for a number of years.

Randy had only recently decided it was time for another round of upgrades and dropped the CJ-5 off at Samco Fabrication in Reno, Nevada. Samco tore out the old suspension and axles to bring the CJ up to current standards. The frontend was fitted with a Dana 44 filled with Yukon chromoly axleshafts, CTM U-joints, a Detroit Locker and 4.56 Yukon gears. The axle is suspended by a triangulated four-link constructed with Blue Torch Fabrication brackets and custom Samco

Fabrication links made from 1 3/4-inch DOM tubing loaded with Samco Flex Joints. The upper links are 0.120-wall, while the lower links were constructed from 0.250-wall to resist bending in the rocks. The front axle is suspended with 12-inch Fox coilover shocks fitted with Hypercoil tender springs over Eibach 150-in-lb springs over QA1 325-in-lb coil springs. Samco also crafted a custom 4130 sway bar behind the front axle to combat body roll on the street with the flexible new suspension. The T-18 transmission and Dana 20 transfer case are protected by a tubular structure skinned with 3/16-inch 6061 T6 aluminum. All the upper links are mounted to this structure, which allows them to be as long as possible.

In the rear, the uncut tub prevented the use of coilovers. Instead, Rancho TJ 3-inch lift coil springs were used in conjunction with 10-inch-travel Fox remote-reservoir shocks. The same materials used for the front links were used in the rear, but they're located by custom Samco Fabrication mounts. A Ford 9-inch built with 31-spline Superior axleshafts, 4.56 Yukon gears, and a Detroit Locker resides at the ends of the links. Disc brakes with Rock Equipment caliper brackets give the rear some whoa.

Steering is handled by a PSC steering box, reservoir, and 8-inch-stroke hydraulic ram. Before the addition of the ram, turning the wheel caused the 1.25-inch, 0.120-wall 4130 drag link to flex the framerail instead of turning the 1.5-inch, 0.250 wall DOM tie rod. The PSC ram is mounted on the axle on one end and connected to a Blue Torch Fabrication high-steer arm and Parts Mike flat-top knuckle on the other end. The steering links are fitted with 3/4-inch FK rod ends with 5/8-inch holes, which turn 35-inch BFGoodrich MTs wrapped around 15x8 aluminum rims.

The body is retro cool, from the diamond-plate corners to the chrome-plated front bumper. Other vintage aspects include the 3-inch rollcage wrapped in foam and black tape and the trail rack on the rear. A pre-'60 split windshield was added, but '72-and-later front sheetmetal was added along the way to provide 3 extra inches of room for the LT1 engine. The interior is totally bare bones, with minimal knobs and gauges and a tach mounted on the transmission hump. TJ flares were installed in the rear to accommodate the stretched wheelbase and keep the tires covered on the road-a modern addition to appease the local law.

With an LT1 V-8 under the hood, lockers in both ends, and gobs of suspension travel, wheelbase is the only thing holding this Jeep back on the trail. Even stretched to 92 inches, the short wheelbase and overly tall lift limit the CJ-5 during high-speed trail running and steep rockcrawling ascents. Getting to remote hunting and fishing locations is no longer an issue, though.

If this same suspension and drivetrain were on a TJ, I probably wouldn't have even looked at it twice. The fact that it's a CJ-5 appealed to me, though-plus, it still retains many parts and pieces that were popular 10 or more years ago. Rather than just buying a new Jeep and dumping a bunch of money into it, Randy took his old Jeep and dumped a bunch of money into it. It's hard to rationalize, but somehow that just makes it so much cooler.-Harry Wagner

'63 CJ-5

LT1 350 small-block V-8


Transfer Case:
Dana 20

Triangulated four-link, front and rear

Dana 44 (front), Ford 9-inch (rear)

15x8 American Racing aluminum

35x12.50R15 BFGoodrich Mud Terrains

Built For:
Hunting and fishing/nostalgia

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