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How to Build a Jeep CJ Wrangler

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John Cappa | Writer
Posted June 10, 2003

1976-1986: The Last of the Ugly CJ's

It's no secret; '76-'86 CJs are ugly. Big bulbous fenders, tacky grilles, and a body style that had been pretty much the same for over 30 years. Some owners have grossly disfigured their Jeeps even more by bathing the leper-like body in horrible colors of purple, pink, and other Easter pastels. But we're not going to chastise anyone for that (at least not more than we already have). What we will do is let you in on some buildup tips--things that need attention and things to look for on the final round fenders.

The '76-'86 Jeeps began life with some less-than-durable components. Almost all of them were outfitted with AMC model 20 rearends. This is probably the worst axle in Jeep history. The two-piece shafts are prone to breakage and the centersection has been known to spin on the axletubes. The tubes themselves are small in diameter, have thin tubing, and are easy to bend, even with 31s. For all of these reasons it is best to replace the 20 with a stouter unit such as a Dana 44. Some '86 CJs came with Dana 44 rear axles. These are hard to find in wrecking yards so a custom unit may be your only hope. Beware: Narrow-track CJs ran from 1976 until around 1982. The axles in these Jeeps are about 3 inches narrower than the later models. On top of this problem is that AMC 20s came with all kinds of different axleshaft lengths (up to 1/2-inch difference), even on models of the same year. This often makes the installation of aftermarket axles and full-floaters a pain. If the housing is bent the new axles will usually leak oil or screwup the locking hubs on a full-floater. In other words, ditch the AMC 20.


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