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Long-Abused 1980 Jeep CJ-7

Posted in Project Vehicles on May 1, 2012
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In the hot rod world a “survivor” is an old vehicle that hasn’t been restored but is still in pretty decent, if not great, shape. The same can be said for old factory-original or old vintage-modified Jeeps. But that isn’t how we are using the word “survivor” here. We first saw this Jeep at the end of the infamous Sledgehammer trail out in Johnson Valley, California, and it was obvious both the Jeep and its owner knew their way around the Hammers.

It had everything we were looking for in a feature Jeep: well used with all the bugs worked out; approximately zero dollars wasted on paint and beautification since the day it was made; and it just plain worked. We knew we had to shoot it, but after that brief glimpse on Sledgehammer we couldn’t find the Jeep again for the rest of the weekend.

That is, until we were cruising through camp on our way to the trails and we saw it out of the corner of our eye. We bailed on our trail run so that we could go and bag the Jeep. However, the owner, Scott Adamson, had loaded the Jeep on his trailer and was about 30 minutes from heading home. Fortunately for us, he is a real down-to-earth guy and was mildly amused at the idea of his old beater Jeep being in the magazine. So, he humored us enough to unload the Jeep and take it out for some wheeling and photos.

The factory ’80 CJ-7 frame and even the factory belly skidplate are both still present and accounted for, albeit in slightly less than pristine factory condition. The factory frame-side body mounts are in the factory locations with 1-inch aluminum puck spacers giving a little more clearance between the sheetmetal and rubber. The ’cage is tied into the frame through a variety of welded-in heavy-duty mounts. A front shackle reversal and 4-inch-lift BDS springs on all four corners are hung from heavy-duty shackles and provide the elevation and approximately 2 inches of wheelbase stretch. The 2x4 tubular steel bumper is located out in front of the where the factory framerails terminate and the spring mounts hang from the bumper. Out back, an old-school 3-inch tube bumper is still hanging tough from the factory rear crossmember.

It all starts between the fenders. Oh, wait, there are no front fenders. The 401ci V-8 was sourced from a ’73 Wagoneer, then stuffed with a Comp Cams bumpstick and topped off with an Edlebrock intake and Holly Truck Avenger carb. Other modifications include the factory Wagoneer York A/C compressor converted for on-board-air, and the fill neck for the power steering pump has been extended to almost touch the underside of the hood to keep it from puking at extreme angles. After over 15 years of running the T-18, Scott doesn’t remember what year, make, or model of vehicle he sourced the transmission from, but it is the desirable granny-geared unit.

From there power is shoved back into the factory short rear output Dana 300 with 2.62:1 low-range gearset. Custom driveshafts hand power off to the front Dana 44 and rear RockJock 60. The front axle is stuffed with 4.88 gears and an ARB Air Locker and runs Chevy disc brakes and calipers. Meanwhile, the 9-year-old Currie rear end is spinning 4.88 gears and a Detroit Locker with the Currie-installed drum brakes. The use of rear drums allowed Scott to retain his factory vacuum booster and master cylinder combination and bring the big Pro Comp Xterrains and Allied beadlocks to a stop

Body and Interior
One of the biggest things you notice right off the bat about this Jeep is that you can see the big V-8 right through where the factory fenders should have been. Unlike the later Wranglers, the CJs used only the center mount on the grille in addition to the fenders to locate the nose of the Jeep, so Scott had to build extra mounts for the grille to keep it all in line. In front of the grille, a well-exercised Warn CE M8000 winch can be found underneath an aluminum diamond-plate-protected power steering cooler.

The factory rockers are protected by custom-built steel rocker guards and the rear fender openings have been cut to the profile of the inner fenderwell. Scott added panels behind the tires to extend the protection for the wires and fuel filler hoses. Out back the factory tire carrier surprisingly is still pulling spare-carrying duty, even with the big 37-inch tire hanging off of it. Surrounding the tailgate and covering the corners is a bunch of aluminum. However, it isn’t the heavy-duty 1⁄4-inch-thick stuff that is in vogue today but the 1⁄8-inch-thick diamond-plate that was all that was available when this Jeep was first built.

Inside, the front seats were pulled out of some car in the junkyard and made to work with the factory Jeep mounts while the rear seat is the factory CJ-7 unit. The Smittybilt ’cage is built off the factory rear hoop and is tied into the frame. It was then covered with closed-cell foam rubber and wrapped with electrical tape. The electrical tape wrap makes for easy repairs when (not if) the ’cage comes in contact with rocks. The windshield was tossed by the wayside and the fuel filler was moved inside to the rear passenger-side inner fender to provide more clearance outside for the tire. The driver looks down at the factory speedometer, but a Sun tach and aftermarket oil, temperature, and water temperature gauges monitor everything else.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Given how much “Hammers time” this Jeep sees and the T-18 manual transmission, we are somewhat surprised that the Dana 44 hasn’t had a catastrophic failure yet. But with so many years on the clock, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We really like the cutting of the rear fenders because it is functional, not “comp-cut,” and still clears the 37s. And the deletion of the front fenders and windshield for a desert-bound rock hound makes a lot of sense.

Why I Wrote This Feature
I was heading out to Johnson Valley and Hazel asked me to keep my eyes peeled for a Jeep that might fit with the theme of this issue. I’m normally not the go-to guy for nailing features like that, since I lean more towards shooting whatever cool Jeeps I see. But then I saw this Jeep, and not only was it cool, its owner was down-to-earth—he clearly had taken this Jeep wherever he wanted with little regard for sheetmetal or breakage. The fact that it might have been the cover Jeep Hazel was looking for was just a bonus.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1980 CJ-7
Engine: 401ci AMC V-8
Transmission: T-18
Transfer Case: Dana 300
Suspension: 4-inch spring-under lift (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 44 (front); Currie RockJock (rear)
Wheels: 15x10 steel Allied beadlock
Tires: 37x13.50R15 Pro Comp Xterrain
Built For: Wheeling the Hammers

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