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Reagan's 1983 CJ-8 Scrambler & 1962 Jeep CJ-6 - CJ One

Posted in Project Vehicles on May 1, 2010 Comment (0)
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Ronald Reagan was a lot of things to a lot of people: a lifeguard credited with saving 77 people, sporting goods salesman, college football player, U.S. Cavalry officer, Hollywood actor, television spokesman, California governor, and the 40th President of the United States. Like a character plucked from the old west, his down-to-earth sensibilities, strong values, and no-nonsense attitude marked him a charismatic leader who gave hope to a country at a time it needed hope and, it can be argued, helped our side win the Cold War. But we're not here to recount the history of Reagan. That's been done by far more eloquent and learned writers than us. Rather, we're here to share a rare opportunity we had to visit Reagan's self-described little piece of heaven and get up close and personal with his two ranch Jeeps.

In 1974 the Reagans bought a 688-acre ranch in the mountains north of Santa Barbara and dubbed it Rancho del Cielo. It was here that they would get away from the shuffle of politics and the outside world. In addition to being an avid and accomplished horseman, Reagan was a hands-on guy who did many of the upgrades to the ranch himself, and his CJ-6 played an integral part in some of them. While on horseback, he'd take note of areas that needed brush cleared, or he'd see a good sandstone rock for the front patio he was building. He would then come back later in the CJ-6 and haul away the debris or bring back the rocks for the patio. And while he may have been photographed many times in the blue '83 Scrambler that his wife Nancy purchased for him while he was president, it's the CJ-6 that we really got excited about.

After Ronald Reagan's health declined in the mid '90s, Nancy gave the vehicles to friends and acquaintances and sold the ranch to the Young America's Foundation (yaf.org), which preserves Rancho del Cielo as a living monument to Reagan's ideals and values. After the purchase, the Curator of Collections for the Reagan Ranch Center, Marilyn Fisher, tracked down the missing vehicles and purchased them back. We were granted access to the President's Jeeps and given a private tour of the property by Mrs. Fisher. And we've gotta say, it was both an honor and a moving experience.

The Blue Jeep
Nancy Reagan surprised her husband with the sky-blue '83 CJ-8 Scrambler while he was president and it provided shuttle service around the ranch for the President, countless Secret Service agents, and even visiting dignitaries such as Mikhail Gorbachev. With only 18,124 miles on the odometer, the exceptionally-clean CJ-8 appears to be all-original with the exception of the tires. The denim-blue factory buckets, pedals, steering wheel, and shifters show very little signs of wear. And the clean body is a testament to the fact that the little red CJ-6 must've done most of the heavy lifting on the ranch.

We weren't allowed to open the hood or climb inside, but mechanically the Scrambler sports a 4.2L six-cylinder backed by a Borg Warner SR-4 four-speed manual transmission. Seeing the weird SR-4 shift pattern with its "left-and-up" Reverse on the transmission shifter knob came as something of a surprise to us, but the Scrambler experts at Collins Bros Jeep assured us that it's not unheard of to find the SR-4 behind the six-cylinder. Naturally, a Dana 300 T-case sits behind the little four-speed and power is then sent to a pair of wide-track axles. The disc-brake Dana 30 front and AMC Model 20 rear, which undoubtedly still sports its factory two-piece shafts, look original and undisturbed. Axle gearing is most likely 3.54, but we didn't crawl under to check the tags out of respect for the display.

Outside, the CJ-8 is remarkably fresh. Its Renegade-package dual-blue decals, blue doors, and upholstery are still crisp, no doubt thanks to the custom car cover that members of the White House staff bought the President for his 76th birthday in 1987. Also in excellent shape are the bunk boards which were inscribed with "Rancho del Cielo" shortly after the vehicle was purchased.

Since the Scrambler was kept inside the steel-sided tack barn at the ranch where evening dew, mist, and clouds mix with the salty air of the nearby Pacific Ocean, there is a bit of flash rust on some of the steel pieces, such as the passenger-dash grab bar and the shifter cover on the floor. But that just adds to the charm of this vehicle and testifies to its role as a real workhorse and not a flashy show vehicle. And although the interior is replete with options like the clock, tachometer, oil, and volt meter gauges, center console, and tile-steering column, the radio-delete plate and carpets reflect Reagan's modest and frugal nature.

Unlike the CJ-6, which is housed up at the ranch, anybody can see the CJ-8 on display at the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara (888/USA-1776, reaganranch.org).

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The Red Jeep
After viewing the blue Scrambler at the Reagan Ranch Center, we took the long ride up Refugio Road to Rancho del Cielo where the little CJ-6 is housed. It still sits in the tack barn where Reagan repaired his chainsaws and parked his riding mower that has the presidential seal on the hood; it also houses his Subaru Brat, which was restored for the Young America's Foundation by Subaru itself.

Sadly, thoughts of cruising open-air through the ranch grounds were dashed when we learned that the Jeep is stored with all the fluids drained, but unlike the Scrambler, we were allowed to crawl under and around it and this author even got to pilot the CJ-6 while we towed it out of the barn to take our photos.

The VIN plate is still on the firewall and from it we were able to determine it was the 55th CJ-6 built in 1962. The CJ-6 is in remarkably good condition for an old ranch Jeep, but a few old paint jobs are evident and the factory mint-green hue can be seen here and there. Obviously, the dark red color is a later addition. Normally there would be a small metal tag affixed to the passenger-side firewall that would include the vehicle's original paint code. It was missing, but having owned a CJ-6 of this color ourselves, we know it to be Paint Code 178: Foam Green. It's a light, minty green color that was used in '60, '61, and '62 production model Jeeps, and again in '71 for government special order Border Patrol models.

Under the hood, the stock 134-cube F-head four-cylinder engine with its 72hp/114lb-ft output is coupled to the factory T-90 three-speed manual transmission. The carburetor on the engine is not original, since the engine was originally equipped with a Carter YF 1-barrel carburetor. It is now equipped with a Rochester B-Series 1-barrel carburetor from a '56-earlier Chevrolet six-cylinder engine that was added later.

The original Spicer 18 T-case with twin-stick is packing a dual-output PTO. The PTO assemblies were offered through the factory and most were built by Ramsey. Indeed, the CJ-6 has a Ramsey 8,000lb PTO winch on the front bumper and a dual-output PT1-J Ramsey PTO mounted on the T-case. As for the winch setup, it's part of the P-101R "Crankshaft Drive Single Direction" Ramsey winch kit for Jeep Universal vehicles that was offered through Jeep dealerships at the time. The winch kit offered an 8,000lb pulling capacity, 100 feet of 5/16-inch cable, the roller fairlead assembly, and attaching parts for the frame. No doubt it got its fair share of use considering Reagan's industrious nature at the ranch.

Underneath, stock Dana 25 and Dana 44 axles with factory 9-inch drums pull chore duty just fine thanks to the 5.38 gears. We couldn't verify it, but given how the Jeep behaved when behind the tow rope, we think it's sporting the optional Power-Loc differential out back. Up front, a pair of Warn locking hubs off of a '60s International Harvester give the option of 2WD Low.

The rear bench seats and front 60/40 bench seating are also a factory option. The fronts have been recently recovered, but the rear frames and upper padding are original and in many of the archival photos you can see the torn hole in the upper backrest on the passenger-side that's clearly still there.

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Why I Featured It
Every now and then this job throws a real plum at you. As a young boy, I remember the despondency that preceded Reagan's election and the buzz of hope and excitement that followed his inauguration. As a teenager, I benefited from an economy he helped improve and held my head high knowing that our military had the leadership to face any trial and resist any challenge. I consider it an incredible privilege to have held the same steering wheel that Reagan held during some of his happiest moments and to have seen the ranch that I'd watched in the news so many times.

It's just as the Reagans left it during their last visit in '95, with their riding boots standing side by side next to the bedroom closet, the blender on the kitchen counter, and the throw pillow sitting in Reagan's favorite arm chair from which he'd called the NASA astronauts as they orbited. It's a humble place and lacks the glitz and pomp one might expect of a world leader's vacation home. But Reagan was a humble man. To experience the place where such an iconic figure went to rest and recoup while conducting affairs of the state was inspiring. And as a Jeep enthusiast, to provide an update on some of the most famous vintage Jeeps of all time was pretty darn cool, too.
-Christian Hazel

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