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The Tempo - 1961 Jeep CJ-5

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2011
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“License To Ill” is arguably the Beastie Boys’ best album, and as soon as I saw Mike Baggerman’s Jeep, the song

“Slow and Low” popped into my head. “Slow and low that is the tempo” is all I could think whenever he was driving it. I ran into Mike in town at the 2010 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, with his Jeep on a trailer, and in no time I had convinced him to meet me out at the Moab Rim trail.

There are a couple of obstacles on that trail which can pitch a normal Jeep onto its roof, but Mike was completely unconcerned. Between the stance, the Rockwells, and the massive tires, the Jeep has a very low center of gravity which Mike enjoys playing with. He can run some obstacles sideways that regular Jeeps on 35-inch tires have issues going up. He’d approach things at a weird angle and I’d cringe because I’ve seen the very same angles not work out well in the past. After a half hour or so I just sat back and shot pictures of whatever situation Mike put the Jeep into and just shook my head at how easy he made some difficult obstacles look.

The frame is completely custom, and but one reason why we have trouble nailing down exactly what this Jeep is. It might have started as a ’61 CJ-5, but none of that frame is left. The new frame was built by Gold Coast Customs and is a combination of rectangular and square tubing. The main portion of the frame under the doors is rectangular tube off of which the control arm mounts are hung as well as the rectangular tube rocker protection. The front and rear ends of the frame are made from round tube that provides clearance for the center sections of the Rockwells and tie back into the interior cage and engine cage.

Likewise, Gold Coast Customs designed and executed the front and rear four-link setups using some 2.50-inch, 0.50-inch wall tube for the lower control arms with 1¼ by 1-inch rod ends. The upper control arms are smaller and use ¾ by 7⁄8-inch ends and ORI ST-series air shocks hold up all four corners of the Jeep. The full hydro steering system is based off of an orbital box mounted to the frame that Mike got out of a tractor wrecking yard.

Much of the cool factor of this Jeep isn’t in gee-gaw gadgets or unobtanium parts, it is that Mike picked reliable and easy-to-find parts and then left them alone. The TBI 350ci Chevy V-8 is a great example. He didn’t open it up at all, so all the stock internals are still there. A custom wiring harness gets it running and a Summit aluminum radiator keeps everything cool. Spent gasses go out through a 2-inch-diameter exhaust system that features a Hot Popper on the passenger side for cooking lunch on the trail. The factory A/C compressor is now in use for an on-board-air system.

The NV4500 was bolted to the engine with an Advanced Adapters bellhousing and a Centerforce clutch. The STaK Monster Box splits the power and sends it out through some 1410-jointed driveshafts. The front Rockwell axle got an Ouverson locker with the rear axle getting the spider gears welded up for spool-like traction all the time. The factory 6.72 gears help turn the big by huge Interco LTB tires on 16-bolt MRW beadlocks. Custom wheel brakes bring the whole thing to a stop.

Body and Interior
A ’93 Wrangler was relieved of its body tub, hood, and grille to bring this all together. Mike didn’t even bother with the front fenders and the rear fenders are cut just as far as he can without moving the inner fenderwells. Thanks to the super-low stance, the tires do rub a bit at full stuff.

Inside, the tube that makes up the back of the frame also provides overhead protection for the driver and passenger. The cage is tied into the frame in 14 places overall. The Empi Raceline seats are attached to the cage on either side of a Tuffy center console in front of a fuel cell made by Gold County Customs. The custom aluminum dash houses only the essential switches along with a winch controller. Water and oil pressure are the only gauges you’ll find in the dash and a small aftermarket heater helps take the edge off on those colder days.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Between the Rockwell axles, the monster tires, and the custom frame, this is not a light Jeep. The full-hydro steering makes it illegal to drive on the street in some states and the air shocks and weight mean that it will not perform at higher speeds. That said, it was built to crawl and it does that very well. We’d prefer a more all-around performer, but it sure was fun watching Mike crawl all over anything he wanted to, from any angle he chose.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: ’61 CJ-5
Engine: 5.7L Chevy V-8
Transmission: NV4500
Transfer Case: STaK, 4.33:1
Suspension: Custom double triangulated four-link (front); double triangulated four-link (rear)
Axles: Rockwell (front & rear)
Wheels: 15x12 Marsh Racing Wheel
Tires: 47x17/15 Interco LTB
Built For: Wheeling and stability
Estimated Cost: $30,000

Why I Wrote This Feature
The stance of this Jeep is just awesome. About the only way I wouldn’t have wanted to shoot it was if Mike called it a Toyota. It stands only 76 inches tall, rides on 47-inch tires, and has a 120-inch wheelbase; it just looks cool even standing still. The front fenders were just tossed—none of that trimming or moving stuff here, this thing is all business. If that wasn’t enough, one look at the scars in the body and underneath tell the story of just how hard Mike wheels this Jeep—and you gotta respect it when a Jeep is used for exactly what it was built for.

—Pete Trasborg

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