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.
The Atlas and tranny are suspended from a custom crossmember complete with a lightweight yet durable Delrin skidplate. An Advance Adapter cable shifter toggles the Atlas into gear before power is transferred to the custom axles via a pair of heavy-duty driveshafts. Up front, a Ford 9-inch housing was loaded with 4.86 gears and a Detroit Locker before a set of 31-spline Moser alloy shafts with CTM U-joints was slid home. Pulling steering duties, a set of flat-top '84 Dodge knuckles was equipped with high-steer arms and the tie rod was mounted behind the axle away from trail obstacles. Out back, a Ford 9-inch from a '79 F-150 was loaded up with a high-pinion centersection complete with matching 4.86 gears, a Detroit Locker, and 35-spline Moser alloy shafts. A set of Aerospace brakes brings the whoa after Robert puts the hammer down.
Body and Interior
Starting off the inside tour, a pair of Mastercraft Rubicon seats with five-point harnesses provides a nice perch from which to view the custom-built aluminum dash and gauge pod that house an arsenal of Auto Meter Sport Comp gauges. Diamond-plate tool boxes take up space in the rear next to the big 30-gallon fuel cell and make sure that spare parts won't fly around when the going gets rough.
A custom cage with clean, fluid lines adds safety without adding clutter, and body armor in the form of tubular front fenders and rocker guards are via Poison Spyder Customs. A custom front bumper houses a Warn 9500 winch that usually keeps the hook tethered to the front axle to suck down the front suspension for gnarly climbs. Out back, another custom bumper was mounted and a swing-out spare tire carrier was fabbed up to allow the stock tailgate to open.
The whole shebang was bathed in a glowing paint job courtesy of Aaron Schrick of Atchison, Kansas, who laid down the PPG Screaming Eagle Orange before painting the tribal flames by hand.
Good, Bad, and What It's For
For starters, there's over 500lb-ft on tap at an absurdly low rpm, so we can't imagine the mental stress of trying to keep Dana 44-sized front axle gear together. Robert agrees, because he's added 35-spline shafts and Dana 60 outers to his wish list. Otherwise, the CJ isn't built too tall to accommodate the 38x13-16 TSL tires mounted on 16x10 Pro Comp Xtreme Alloy wheels. We would've gone with a more common 15-inch rim size so we'd have some load range C tires to choose from instead of the standard D- and E-rated stuff common to the 16- and 17-inch rims. It's got power, it's got a heater, it's got working lights, and is easily driven on the street thanks to great steering geometry and overdrive transmission. Hell, if it were ours, we'd call it a daily driver-as long as somebody else was paying for the fuel.
Why I Wrote This Feature
I don't know if I watched The Dukes of Hazard as a kid one Friday night too many or if I'm just weird, but there's something about a powerful engine or an orange paint job that grabs my attention. It's like dangling a greasy piece of bacon in front of a hungry dog. I'm gonna jump on it, and unless it's really rancid, I'll devour it. Robert's mondo-powered, shouty-orange CJ is just the sort of bacon treat this dog likes. Mmmmm, bacon.
Vehicle: '84 CJ-7
Engine: 502 Chevy Ram Jet V-8
Transmission: 4L80E overdrive automatic
Transfer Case: 4.3:1 Atlas II
Suspension: Triangulated four-link with coilovers (front and rear)
Axles: Hybrid Dana 44/Ford 9-inch (front), Ford 9-inch (rear)
Wheels: 16x10 Pro Comp Xtreme Alloy
Tires: 38x13.00-16 Super Swamper TSL
Built For: To get away from work and enjoy life