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

Harry Wagner | Writer
Posted November 1, 2009

Jeep-Build Horse Trading

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.

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

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.

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