502 Ram-Jetted CJ-7
William Faulkner wrote of the sound and the fury, but said nothing of the color and the feeling. When Robert Lemke lazily idled passed us on the trail that day in Moab, Utah, it was the searing orange paint on his clean, linked '84 CJ that sucked the air right out of our lungs, made us feel timpani drumming inside our chest and skull, and inspired us to give chase. When we caught up to him and forced our feature sheets into his hand, we discovered one of the nicer CJ builds we've encountered to date.
Where'd the leaf springs go? Or for that matter, the stock frame? Who cares. The custom-built 2x5-inch, 3/16-inch-wall rectangular tube frame makes a much stronger starting point than any stock CJ frame and allows worry-free wheeling with all that power on tap. Out back, 2.5-inch, 14-inch-travel Fox coilovers with 150- over 250-lb springs keep the rear in the air and a custom triangulated four-link does away with the need for a rear track bar to keep the axle centered under the vehicle. Up front, the missing track bars continue, as does the motif of a custom triangulated four-link. The front also employs identical 2.5-inch, 14-inch-travel Fox coilovers and 150- over 250-lb springs just like the rear. The remote-reservoir shocks were hung on custom-bent shock mounts securely welded to the frame. And although the rears were MIA the day we shot Ryan's CJ, a quartet of 2-inch Fox air bumps ensures that the axles don't come crashing into the framerails during those quick jaunts down the trail.
The heavy-wall suspension links stretch the wheelbase out to an even 98 inches for a nice blend of climbing ability and finesse over tight, snaky trails. And speaking of heavy-wall tubes, check out the care taken with regard to the steering geometry. The custom heavy-wall drag link is absolutely horizontal thanks to a dropped pitman arm on the PSC power steering box and the tie rod is nicely tucked up behind the front diff on the back side of the axle, away from trail obstacles.
You can't beat the power output and simplicity of a GM Performance Parts Ram Jet 502 crate engine. Belting out a leisurely 502hp and 565lb-ft of torque, the injected mega-mill offers up seriously-scary off-idle power that carries all the way upstairs. Belting out a leisurely 502hp and 565lb-ft of torque, the injected mega-mill offers up seriously-scary off-idle power that carries all the way upstairs. Ryan dropped the Ram Jet between the rails and hung only the requisite alternator and PSC Motorsports power steering pump on the front of the engine, keeping clutter to a minimum. Since the engine comes virtually ready-to-run, it was a simple matter of hooking up a few wires and plumbing fuel from the 30-gallon stainless steel fuel cell that resides where the rear seating used to be. Oh yeah, and all those little things like-the Sanderson 13/4-inch tubular manifolds, a full 3-inch Flowmaster exhaust, and a custom aluminum radiator with twin 1-inch cores.
To back up such a serious engine, an equally serious transmission is needed, so in went a 4L80E tranny from a '99 GM truck. The electronic four-speed overdrive is controlled by a TCI transmission control system and a B&M Magnum Grip Pro Stick shifter toggles the gears. Robert added a honkin' B&M tranny cooler and had to add a reluctor to the aftermarket T-case output housing to obtain a reading because the stock one went away with the aluminum GM chain-drive T-case. Since the 4L80E uses information from the front and rear reluctors to know when to shift, it's not an option. Otherwise, the factory 4WD transmission had the correct six-bolt round pattern and 32-spline output shaft required to mate directly to the 4.3:1 Atlas II T-case.