Sometimes it just pays to wedge your foot in the door and let yourself in. Well, maybe not in the case of White House dinners. But certainly if you're heading off to a major event like the Moab Easter Jeep Safari and you've got a pretty hot Jeep; it would pay to email the editors of the world's largest off-road Jeep magazine. You may even include a few photos of your cool ride and outline your schedule to make it easier on said editors. And that's just what Ryan Bowden of Morgan, Utah, did. Ryan simply shot us an email with a couple of photos of his '82 CJ-7 to show off his workmanship, told us he'd be at the '08 Easter Jeep Safari, and left the rest up to us. We dug the straightforward build using simple, solid components. And the flashy paint didn't hurt either. A couple of emails later and we were on the trail snapping the photos you see here.
We mentioned our appreciation of Ryan's simple, yet solid build and nothing is more solid than good old-fashioned leaf springs. Ryan first boxed the factory frame in the crucial areas around the spring and shackle hangers. Then, a set of heavy-duty spring and shackle hangers from M.O.R.E. were welded on to accept the 4.5-inch spring-under leafs out back with longer, heavy-duty shackles. In a nice touch, the rear shackle hangers are frenched up and into the rear bumper/crossmember and are capped with snazzy military-style recovery shackles. The rear spring-under arrangement battles axlewrap, and with the Dynatrac U-bolt flip kit, doesn't pose a huge impediment to ground clearance.
On the other side, a M.O.R.E stubby shackle reversal with aftermarket 1-inch-lift YJ springs done in a spring-over configuration hold up the front end. With the relocated spring perches, the new wheelbase comes in at an even 100 inches. A quartet of Rubicon Express remote-reservoir monotube shocks play damping duties and some extra-large polyurethane bumpstops keep the axles out of the framerails at full stuff.
Boys and girls, it just doesn't get any easier or more reliable than a GM Goodwrench Chevy 350 crate engine, so that's just what Ryan slung between the framerails using a bolt-on conversion kit by Advance Adapters with poly motor mounts. The 265hp 350 engine is topped by a low-rise aluminum manifold. Inhalation and exhalation is through a four-barrel carb and stock cast-iron exhaust manifolds, respectively. A GMPP serpentine front accessory kit was installed on the crate engine as an easy source for the power steering pump, alternator, and A/C compressor. The A/C compressor was converted to onboard air and fills a 3-gallon tank housed underneath the rear of the tub.
Backing the 5.7L crate engine is a Howell-built TH700R4 four-speed overdrive automatic that's toggled via an Art Carr shifter and cooled with an under-floor-mounted tranny cooler with an electric fan. Judging by the custom-built 3/16-inch steel T-case crossmember, we're betting Ryan has access to a steel brake. An adapter from Advance Adapters couples the GM automatic to an Atlas II T-case with a deep 4.3:1 Low before twisting a pair of Tom Wood's drive shafts. The front runs a long-travel spline and 1310 U-joints at both ends, while the rear features a smooth and silky double-cardan joint for those freeway jaunts.
To keep snappage at bay, a pair of Dana 60 axles front and rear running 4.56 gears and ARB Air Lockers were modified for the CJ. Ryan was a bit tight-lipped about the axles, but it appeared to us it's a Chevy Dana 60 front with Dynatrac conversion hubs and rotors and a custom-built rear using an F-350 Ford high-pinion centersection and 5x5.5-inch bolt pattern drums. It's a lot of axle, but the bulbous 38x12.50-15 Swamper SX tires mounted on 15x10 Champion beadlocks provide a decent margin of clearance under the diffs.
Body & Interior
The exterior is adorned with old-school Poison Spyder Customs parts- tube fenders, Rocker Knockers, and Crusher Corners. In a fit of Trasborgesque swappage, a set of YJ hard half-doors was installed on the CJ and a later-model YJ soft top was fitted to the CJ tub. Then the whole shebang was pulled back apart so the House of Kolor "Tang Yellow" paint and silver flames could be shot by Beckstrom Autobody in Ogden, Utah.
A full set of Auto Meter gauges mounted on a custom aluminum panel keep tabs on vitals and a set of no-name aftermarket buckets and a center console give a cozy place from which to view the trail. The tub was sprayed with bed liner and a custom-built rollcage weaves its way beneath the soft-top to ensure Ryan won't be enjoying any helicopter rides to the hospital if the Jeep ever does go tires-up.
Good, Bad, & What It's For
Ryan's Jeep is very well set up with niceties like its onboard air system, AGR power steering box with frame brace, custom two-into-one exhaust with Flowmaster muffler, Optima Red Top battery, bumpin' stereo system, and affordable-yet-durable Warn M8000 winch with synthetic rope and aluminum fairlead. However, there are one or two things that sorta bug us. For starters, if you're going to go through all the trouble of building a custom transmission crossmember, why let the T-case hang down so far? We realize there's a concession to be paid with regard to front driveshaft angle, but we'd still like to see the Atlas clocked to raise the front output shaft a bit and that huge grappling hook of a crossmember shaved down in size. Also, although it has a bitchin' rear departure angle, the Jeep just looks a bit unfinished the way there's no spare tire hanging off the tail gate. We're sure the look would improve without the top up, but as we shot it, it sort of has the vibe of a curvy supermodel with a really flat butt. Looks nice coming at ya, but leaves a little to be desired as it heads off into the sunset.
Why I Wrote This Feature
Things have improved somewhat in the interim, but back in '08 when I shot this feature, buggies were all the rage and I just got flat-out sick of them. Believe it or not, it wasn't that often you ran into a very capable, full-bodied Jeep that got wheeled off-road. It seemed most guys were running poorly executed, home-built coilover suspensions, ugly comp-cut rear fenders, and crazy axle combos like Rockwells or one-off tractor pull stuff. Ryan's CJ was, and still is, a breath of fresh air. I am still sick of buggies, but thankfully, more off-road Jeep guys have come back to the full-body flock. Happy days for us. - Christian Hazel
Vehicle: '82 CJ-7
Engine: 350ci small-block Chevy
Transmission: TH700R4 four-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Atlas II, 4.3:1 Low
Suspension: Leaf springs (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front and rear)
Wheels: 15x10 Champion beadlocks
Tires: 38x12.50-15 Swamper SX
Built For: Adventure, fun, and spending family time in
Estimated Value: $40,000