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A Little At A Time - 1983 Jeep CJ-7

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2011
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Much like the he is a guy after our own hearts. If it was broke, he’d think about replacing it, but otherwise, it stays around. Over the years we’ve seen this Jeep grow from a mild bolt-on lift to the beast it is today and at every step of the way, Lyon has come up with some neat innovations. We’d run into him out on the trails from time to time and he’d always be scheming the next big round of modifications to the Jeep—once the money fairy left it on his porch, that is. A couple of years ago he started a big teardown of it and we thought nothing more of this CJ-7. Like so many projects we’ve seen start, we figured it would be a long time in the making. Imagine our surprise when we found this brightly colored Jeep in place of the grey machine it used to be. Lyon is a go-anywhere, try-anything-once kind of guy, so we tagged along with him and his new machine to get some insight on a super-capable Jeep that is still something accessible to the rest of us.

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Unlike so many “CJ-7s” we see, this one still actually has the original ’83 CJ-7 frame under it. The frame has been plated with M.O.R.E. frame plates for strength and to help reinforce some of the suspension mounting points. The front axle has been moved 3 inches forward from stock while the rear is 5 inches aft for a 101-inch wheelbase. The axles are located by a GenRight Off Road three-link front axle kit and four-link rear kit. Front and rear feature 14-inch King coilovers for elevation and damping.

Out back, the frame was cut between the over-axle body mount and gas tank to move the GenRight EXT gas tank up 1-inch for a better departure angle and overall clearance. Lyon and his friend, Keith Dittmer did all the welding and fabbing on the frame and then Dittmer took it one step further and custom-modified a Saginaw steering box to work with an AGR ram assist and pump to push around the big tires. The engine, transmission, and T-case are all lifted 1-inch so that a flat transmission skidplate could be fabbed up.

Lyon left the drivetrain components that worked in place. That is, the 258ci inline-six is still hanging between the framerails and bolted to a T-4 four-speed manual transmission. The old workhorse benefits from a Howell fuel-injection system installed by YT Motorsports but otherwise the engine is left alone. Lyon says both that he never has any problems with it, and that he wishes there was more power (in his best “Scotty” voice: “I’m giving her all she’s got, captain!). Other improvements to auxiliary systems include a 110-amp alternator, a three-core radiator, and a K&N air filter.

While the T-4 isn’t a spectacular transmission, it is still in fine working order so it hands power off to a 4.3:1 Atlas II. The Atlas, in turn, sends it on down the line through a pair Coast Driveline and Gear driveshafts. A pair of Currie RockJocks packed with 5.38 gears and Detroit Lockers handles all the power that six-cylinder can dish out with ease. The front RockJock has Wilwood dual-piston calipers while the rear has Ford Explorer disc brakes. The stock CJ master cylinder is helped out by a swapped-in dual-diaphragm Cadillac brake booster. The 40-inch Goodyears have no problem grabbing and biting whatever they are aimed at, and the Allied beadlocks allow single-digit pressures as needed.

Body and Interior
To be honest, we didn’t even recognize this thing as Lyon’s Jeep. We saw the gaudy paint and moved right along looking for the grey CJ we knew. If that wasn’t enough, the colors aren’t paint; it is a vinyl wrap by Andrew Madrid Motorsports. Lyon likes the wrap because it resists desert pin striping and if (when) he ever does destroy it to the point where it just looks like a pile, a new wrap is way cheaper than a new custom paintjob.

Inside, a GenRight roll cage protects the occupants seated on the YJ Wrangler thrones. The inside of the tub was Herculined for protection from the elements and there are LEDs for interior lighting under the dash. A locking console protects whatever might need protecting and a kicking stereo system means you can hear this Jeep coming from blocks around. An Alpine head unit pairs with a Rockford Fosgate 600-watt amplifier and Rockford Fosgate speakers. For bass, a Bazooka subwoofer kicks it up.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For
When Keith told us he had the stock four-speed in the Jeep, we kinda laughed. It didn’t matter which four-speed it was. This is a mid-’80s Jeep—all the transmissions sucked—but as he pointed out, it hasn’t broken in 14 years, so why replace it now? And so help us, this Jeep does very well with Keith at the helm despite that handicap. He took a low-output engine in a known chassis, mated it with a bulletproof T-case and axles, and put a flexy link suspension under it. About the only thing we’d do differently is to ditch the bass tube.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: ’83 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: 258ci inline-six
Transmission: T-4
Transfer Case: Atlas II 4.3:1
Suspension: Custom three-link coilover (front); four-link coilover (rear)
Axles: Currie RockJock Dana 60 (front and rear)
Wheels: 17x9.5 Allied Black Dayton beadlocks
Tires: 40x13.50R17 Goodyear MT/R
Built For: Wheeling anywhere there is a trail
Estimated Cost: $35,000 (but don’t tell the wife)

Why I Wrote This Feature
Sometimes we get too far away from real Jeeps, and I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground for an older Jeep without too much bling that just flat-out worked. When Keith told me he was “done,” I first laughed. Then he assured me he was finally happy with how the Jeep wheeled. This is after I’ve known him for 4 or 5 years, and he’s had the thing now going on 15 years. He then told me that most of it was still his old and faithful ride, so I had to see it. Once I saw how well it performed, I was sold. Is it fast? No. Will it win show-and-shines? No. Can something just like this be built by anyone a little at a time with lots of patience and determination? Most definitely.

—Pete Trasborg

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