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1974 Jeep Wrangler CJ-5 4x4 - One Piece At A Time

Posted in Project Vehicles on November 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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Most of us can't afford to just write a check for some shop to build our dream Jeep, and Greg Johnson is no different. He has been building his CJ piece by piece for the last ten years. Along the way, he has added some high-tech components; they came not at great expense, but from a lot of horse-trading, hard work, and a little luck. They say that no project is ever truly finished, and that is definitely the case with Greg's Jeep. Greg started the project when he lived in Arizona and currently lives near Reno, Nevada. Instead of waiting for his Jeep to be done, he keeps wheeling it hard all over the western United States and upgrades whatever part proves to be the weak link.

Chassis
The vehicle is titled as a '74 CJ-5, and that is how it started. As Greg remembers, "I had to sell my first Jeep, and I always regretted it. So when I bought the '74, I promised myself that I would have it forever." He kept his word, at least technically. The change has nothing to do with side-stepping the smog police, as many people assume. Greg still takes his Jeep for emissions testing in Nevada every year, and it never has trouble passing.

While wheeling the '5 in Arizona, he acquired a frame and tub from an '87 YJ that had been in a fire and began building it up with a spring-over and Dana 44 front axle. That setup worked well for several years until Greg decided to step up to 40x13.50R17 BFGoodrich KM2s on 17x9 Poison Spyder Customs Spyderlock rims. The tire size required the suspension to be completely revised.

Up front, custom dropped spring hangers are used with a shackle-reversal that has the shackles mounted under the frame. Black Diamond 3 1/2-inch YJ springs are mounted above the axles and work in conjunction with 14-inch travel Pro Comp shocks on Ford F-250 shock towers. In the rear, another pair of Black Diamond leaf springs and Pro Comp shocks are used. Kerry Hancock devised the rear suspension with shackles at both ends of the spring pack and a buggy spring at the rear. The combination provides nearly limitless flex, but it does not do a good job of locating the rear axle. To accomplish that, a triangulated four-link was built with links constructed from 0.250-wall, 1.5-inch tubing, and 3/4-inch rod ends

Drivetrain
The current engine is a Chevrolet LS1 from a '99 Corvette that benefits from an LS6 intake, mild porting of the heads, and the mechanical throttle cable from a Camaro. Gen III engines are becoming more common in Jeeps, but they are still on the wish-list for most people. Greg scored a good deal on the engine from a technician at the local Chevy dealership, and it provides a whole lot more horsepower than the TBI 350 that Greg had been running for several years. LT Mufflers in Reno fabricated the exhaust that uses a single Flowmaster muffler and 3 1/2-inch tubing routed high for maximum ground clearance.

The engine is mated to a TH350 built by D&D Transmission with a low-stall torque convertor. Because of the shape of the pan on the three-speed automatic, the trusty Dana 300 passenger-side-drop transfer case that Greg had been running provided limited space for the front driveshaft. Splitting torque to the axles is now handled by a driver-side-drop Atlas II with a 4.3:1 Low and 32-spline output shafts. Bayshore Trucking heavy-wall driveshafts connect the power to the axles.

Even with the tall suspension lift, double-cardan driveshafts were not necessary due to the True Hi9 third members. These third members raise the driveshaft 4 1/2 inches higher than a standard Ford 9-inch and are constructed from Nodular ductile iron. Both axles use 5.38 gears and the front third member houses an ARB Air Locker, while the rear uses a Lock-Rite. Greg got a smoking deal on the third members from Samco Fabrication when a customer lost interest in a project and Samco was left with parts that had been partially paid for.

The rear third member is plugged into a Ford 9-inch housing from a '78 Ford Bronco, which was narrowed 4 inches on the driver-side with the help of Rick Hanse. The axle uses big bearing ends and the new width accepts off-the-shelf axles from a full-size Bronco on the driver side and an early Bronco on the passenger side. Greg traded some parts he had to Randy Harral from Driven Auto Parts for the 35-spline Moser chromoly shafts.

Disc brakes were also added to the rear axle using 4Wheeler Supply brackets and GM calipers and rotors to up the stopping power and shed weight. Up front, a Spider9 axlehousing was obtained from the same parts pile as the high-pinion third members. Greg's company, High Desert Surface Prep, polished Samco Fabrication's shop floor space in exchange for a fully-built front axle. The Spider9 axle uses Spidertrax-fabricated knuckles and Dutchman 35-spline chromoly axle shafts. Outers consist of Spidertrax brakes and Warn Premium hubs.

Spidertrax keyed steering arms are attached with six safety-wired bolts and place the 0.250-wall, 1.5-inch tie rod behind the axle centerline and above the True Hi9 third member. The 0.120-wall, 1.25-inch chromoly drag link attaches to a custom arm welded on the passenger-side plate knuckle. All the steering links use 3/4-inch FK rod ends for strength and misalignment spacers for a wide range of movement. A stock steering pump and ported Saginaw box work in conjunction with an 8-inch stroke PSC hydraulic ram affixed to the axle on a custom mount.

Body and Interior
The body of the Jeep has been battered by years of rock abuse. A CJ grille and hood are used up front in conjunction with Poison Spyder Customs tube fenders that hold up better than the stock fenders while providing additional tire clearance. Poison Spyder Rocker Knockers and Crusher Corners lend additional protection, and also cover up past body damage. All of the sheetmetal and armor was painted the brightest shade of lime green that Greg could find. Arizona Trail Works did the paint in a trade to resurface a patio.

Inside the Jeep, Greg opted for a CJ-style steel dash and gauge cluster instead of the plastic YJ dash. A Chevy tilt column from the Blazer that donated the TBI 350 occupies the driver's-side, while on the passenger-side a full Detail Zone/Ron Francis fuse box sits behind the glove box and makes the CJ look more like the Space Shuttle than a Jeep. The Tuffy console, Acura Integra bucket seats, and Simpson harnesses are more everyday-issue, though. Instead of a tailgate, Greg built a small storage box behind the rear bench seat to hold tools and spare parts.

Samco Fabrication made a cool shifter that bolts to the dash bar on the cage and holds the Hurst Quarter Stick shifter that has been modified to allow shifting from First to Reverse to help prevent rollovers. The cage was constructed back in '99 by Neil Hancock in exchange for a bedliner and doubles as an air tank. A Viair 400 compressor mounted under the hood fills the tank and powers the front ARB Air Locker.

Good, Bad, and What's It For
Greg is not afraid to pilot his CJ through any rocks in his path, and frequently takes road trips to go wheeling throughout California, Nevada, and Arizona. The Jeep does great in the rocks, although it is a little tall. The short wheelbase and leaf springs don't provide the best handling at speed through rough terrain, but Greg plans to add Fox shocks soon to improve the ride. In the meantime, the dented Pro Comp cellular shocks get the job done when rockcrawling.

Why I Featured It
I think that the fact that Greg is a normal guy who built his Jeep up one part at a time appeals to all of us. Parts like the LS1 and Spider9 front axle make this Jeep feature-worthy, but other aspects like the leaf springs and the armor that covers up body damage are things we can all relate to. -Harry Wagner

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