One of the original features that made Jeeps so appealing, both to the military and for recreational use, was the fact they were small and maneuverable enough to go just about anywhere. Sixty years ago though, no one thought that “just about anywhere” would include climbing ten-foot-tall vertical ledges. No Jeep that has the wheelbase of a Yamaha Rhino is going to climb the kind of obstacles found on today’s rockcrawling trails. This is what Robert Baird realized when wheeling his CJ-5 on the infamous trails of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Baird hails from nearby El Paso, Texas, and chose to replace his trusty CJ-5 with an ’82 CJ-8 Scrambler for added stability on the big climbs.
The CJ-8 was stripped all the way down to the frame and boxed to accommodate the severe use that Baird had planned. At that time, the body mounts were cut off and moved up three inches on the frame to provide more tire clearance for the 42-inch Super Swamper IROK tires mounted on Allied steel beadlocked rims.
It takes more than relocated body mounts to fit 42s, though, so the springs were also slung over the axles. The fronts are 4-inch-lift Skyjacker units mounted to a Warrior Products shackle reversal system. These are used in conjunction with Edelbrock Xtreme Travel shocks mounted on custom tubular shock hoops. The leaf springs are aided by a custom torque arm traction bar constructed from 1.75-inch, 0.120-wall tubing and 2-inch Johnny Joints.
In the rear, the shackles were moved to the back of the frame and new spring hangers were added to accept the Skyjacker 4-inch leaf springs. The relocated springs stretch the wheelbase to 110 inches, or 6 inches longer than stock. Like the front, the rear relies on Edelbrock Xtreme Travel shocks mounted outboard of the frame, but the rear kills axlewrap with a more-traditional traction bar that runs parallel to the driveshaft. Both traction bars were fabricated by Roger Little at A Little 4x4 Shop.
Little and his crew also did the engine swap, which is one of the cleanest we have ever seen. A 5.7L Vortec engine sits between the front framerails and churns out plenty of power with the help of a K&N filter, SBC thermal-coated headers, and a custom dual exhaust with Flowmaster Super 44 diamond-plate mufflers. The 350 V-8 is also fitted with a York air compressor that Baird plans to plumb for onboard air in the near future. To feed the Vortec engine, a custom 20-gallon fuel tank with an integrated skidplate was required to accommodate the stretched wheelbase.
Behind the small-block, an NV4500 routes power to the last remaining stock drivetrain component. While the factory Dana 300 is still there it is a bit misleading to call it “stock,” as it has been heavily massaged with a twin-stick shifter, TeraLow 4:1 kit, and a 32-spline rear output. The beef continues with a full-width GM 14-bolt axle in the rear. The 14-bolt has 4.56 gears, a Detroit Locker, and disc brakes on SSBC brackets. The front axle is a full-width, high-pinion Dana 60 that has been upgraded with 4.56 gears, a Detroit Locker, 35-spline alloy axleshafts, and 35-spline Warn Premium hubs. The steering uses custom-fabricated, double-ended steering arms bolted atop the Dana 60s kingpin knuckles. A custom 1.25-inch, 0.250-wall tie rod rides behind the axle out of harm’s way and connects the knuckles together. Out in front, the passenger-side knuckle is attached to a custom drag link, while the driver-side knuckle is connected to a 8-inch-stroke PSC ram-assist cylinder. A Saginaw steering box conducts the direction and a PSC power steering cooler keeps the whole shebang from boiling over.
Body and Interior
Not only is there more sheetmetal on a Scrambler than most other Jeeps, the sheetmetal on Baird’s CJ-8 is in exceptional condition given the type of abuse to which he subjects his Jeep. Southern Customs fabricated the tubular fenders before laying down the teal paint. The front fenders are fairly standard “flatfender” type tube fenders. However, in the rear, Southern Customs opened up the wheelwells to accommodate the stretched wheelbase and 42-inch Swampers. Then the company seamlessly integrated 1.25-inch, 0.120-wall tubing for added strength. Flush-mounted LED taillights aren’t as prone to breakage on the trail, even with the protection from the Southern Custom Fabrication rear bumper. Up front, another Southern Custom bumper is topped with a Warn XD9000i winch that takes over when the climbs get too tall for comfort.
Speaking of comfort, inside Baird’s Scrambler the MasterCraft Baja RS seats are mounted to take full advantage of all the extra space that the extended CJ-8 provides. Occupants are protected by a custom ’cage from Southern Custom Fabrication crafted from 1.50-inch, 0.120-wall tubing that integrates many custom features. Diamond-plate gussets in the corners of the ’cage not only provide added strength, but also house components speakers as well. In the rear, a hinged tire carrier mounts a full-size 42-inch spare that can be laid flat on the cargo floor, be angled up for more room in the tub, or swing down for easy removal. We saw how well this system works when Baird had to loan his spare to a club member on the trail.
Good, Bad, & What It’s For
Baird achieved his goal of building a Jeep that can make the climbs found in Las Cruces on his favorite trails like Habanero Falls and Rocotillo Rapids. The only problem is that he has more sheetmetal to dent than most of the stretched YJs and TJs and some paint gets left behind at times. The extra room offered by the Scrambler makes it worthwhile, though, since the smaller Jeeps have to choose between bringing their dog or their kids. Baird can bring both.
Vehicle: 1982 CJ-8 Scrambler
Engine: Chevy Vortec 350 V-8
Transfer Case: Dana 300
Suspension: Spring-over with 4-inch Skyjacker leafs (front & rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front); GM 14-bolt (rear)
Wheels: 16x10 Allied Beadlock
Tires: 14x42-16 Super Swamper IROK
Built For: Climbing dry waterfalls
Why I Featured It
This Jeep originally caught my eye because of the beautiful paint and huge tires, but once I got a closer look at all of the little details, I knew I had to do a feature on it. The relocated body mounts, super-sano engine swap, and rear tube fenders really set this Jeep apart from the pack.