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Mercruiser CJ-5

Front Right View
Tom Morr | Writer
Posted September 1, 2000

Extreme Jeeping With Marine Power

Step By Step

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  • Randy Buchanan's '60 CJ-5.

  • Send in the Marines: Power comes from a built Mercruiser four-banger. The goal was to have V-6 power in a lighter-weight package.

  • Scat seats back a Schroeder Sprint Car steering wheel with an owner-built disconnect system and tilt column. The dash is also custom and has VDO gauges. Incidentally, the windshield came from an M170 (a CJ-6 field ambulance), courtesy of Jim Hicks’ private stash.

  • The spring-over steering linkage is all custom. Randy made beefy steering arms and used 11/16-inch solid rod with 3/4-inch Heim joints; the Pitman arm is also custom. A Saginaw box was sourced from an ’80 Jeep, and single Rancho RS 9000s support each corner.

  • The Spicer 18 sits above Randy’s custom skidplate. It has a Warn (now Saturn) overdrive, and the custom rear driveshaft has a CV joint. Also visible is the transfer case–mounted E-brake disc.

I wanted a totally reliable backcountry exploration vehicle,” Randy Buchanan said. His ’60 CJ-5 became all that and then some. Randy’s Willys has so many innovations that we could literally write a book if we had the space. Instead, we’ll cover some of its most unique highlights.

Axles came from a ¾-ton ’78 Dodge. Randy had Dynatrac narrow them to 54 inches. The Dana 44 frontend was then assembled with 5.89 gears, an ARB Air Locker, and disc brakes—with Ford knuckles, GM ¾-ton rotors and calipers, and custom caliper mounts. Similar treatment went to the Dana 60 rear: 5.86s, an ARB, and GM ¾-ton discs. Randy later completed the brakes with a Wilwood master cylinder, a Mico-Lok pressure-holding system, and a transfer case– mounted disc e-brake.

For the suspension, Randy achieved about 6 inches of lift by doing a spring-over using 1-inch-lift Rancho leafpacks. An Energy Suspension 1-inch body lift added extra clearance for 35x15.50 TSL-SX Swampers on 15x10 Allied rims.

But the Jeep’s most unique feature is its engine. Randy dared to be different by choosing a marine four-banger. Fain’s Automotive in Ventura, California, handled the buildup of the 181ci/3.0L GM Mercruiser. Goodies include 8.5:1 GM pistons, Sealed Power rings, and a hydraulic 254-grind Clifford cam. On top, the 153 Chevy head received new valves and springs as well as cast Crower roller rockers. Breathing is completed with a 278-cfm Rochester 2G carb, a Clifford intake, a Randy-built exhaust manifold, and a MagnaFlow muffler. He estimates output at 160 to 180 hp.

In addition to custom intake and exhaust adapters, Randy had to make a few other tweaks for the swap. For one, he used a rear-sump oil pan and pump pickup from a ’71 postal Jeep. Randy also made a custom adapter and incorporated a GM 250ci straight-six bellhousing to mate the Mercruiser to the stock T98A four-speed.

To keep weight down and his four-banger happy, Randy got a ’glass tub from 4WD Hardware and added a ’71 postal Jeep grille. He shot the skin with DuPont Centari 6561A, also known as National Car Rental Penske Yellow. He finished the look with custom butt-end stenciling and Steel Horse flares. Randy then did the armor at his shop, Buchanan Precision Machine in Ventura, California. Aside from front and rear bumpers, he also modified a Smittybilt rollcage.

This Jeep has served Randy well at the Rubicon, Moab, TDS, Glamis, Pismo, and Hi-Desert Roundup. “Off-road, it’s killer,” Randy says. “I’ve never broken anything major, never been stuck, and it does everything well except for the freeway.”

During the process, Randy learned a few things. “I didn’t take any shortcuts, so it took longer to figure out what I wanted than it did to build it,” he says. Randy also claims that the Mercruiser is a viable all-around engine as long as weight is kept to a minimum. Furthermore, he adds, “Keep in mind that short Jeeps tend to tip over backward in extreme rocks. But short Jeeps are more maneuverable and can go over taller obstacles with less lift.”

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