525hp Jeep CJ-7 Lays Tracks in Oregon’s Dunes

The Last Jeep CJ

Bruce W. SmithPhotographer, Writer

David Diens has a lot of loves. However, three stood out more than any others when we met him on the vast expanse of the Oregon Dunes: family, sand, and CJs. The first led to the last. Twenty years ago his then-girlfriend, and now-wife, Alicia, knew he loved ripping up the sand in a CJ-5 running a 327 SBC. But he’d sold his beloved Jeep to help buy his first house a couple years earlier. So when the Oregon couple saw an ad for a stock ’86 CJ-7 in an Autotrader during a road trip in 1998, she pushed him to buy it.

“That was the last year of the CJs,” says David. “After years of driving different crappy $500 cars and saving money, the Jeep bug was coming back. I was on the hunt for a 1986 Jeep CJ-7 with a four-banger, rare Dana 44 rearend, and Dana 300 transfer case to do another SBC conversion. Alicia knew our budget was tight, but she was all in.”

At the time David worked at a local body shop in Springfield, Oregon, and with help from friends working nights and weekends, they had the Jeep back on the road, complete with a 383ci Chevy stroker and 700R4 tucked neatly into a totally reworked and painted body by Steve Hines at Collison Too in Eugene. They named the color “Badass Yellow.” The revamped, bright yellow CJ-7 became a regular sight on the Dunes.

Ten years later the economy tanked at the same time the Diens had a 6-month-old daughter. Once again, family security and money in the bank overruled family fun on the sand. David sold his beloved Jeep to a friend of a friend—with the caveat he had first-right to buy it back if the new owner ever sold it.

Fast-forward to 2007. Diens is now the owner of a thriving car wash business, the family is growing, and they are cruising the Dunes in a Rubicon LJ along with their other Jeep-loving friends when one of them gets a text that David’s old CJ-7 is up for sale. He didn’t hesitate buying it back, even though the engine and transmission were on their last legs.

Three months later David and friend Richard Travis had transplanted a Pace Performance 525hp LS3 into the old classic, along with a 4L60E and Dana 300 built by Transmission Solutions, another local shop. They also discarded the Dana 30 and Dana 44 axles for a Crawl King Dana 60 in back and a Dana 44 up front, upgraded the springs with Alcan 4-inchers, and had a custom exhaust built by Jeremy’s Muffler.

Then the Badass Yellow Jeep was driven across town to Dunks Performance shop where techs Eric Dunks and Casey Castle put the finishing touches on the wiring, plumbing, cooling, custom air intake; set up the custom tuning for the engine and transmission; and installed the Fox 2.0 shocks.

The result of nearly a year’s worth of loving care and custom workmanship on this classic CJ-7 has resulted in one fine dune runner. “We are super happy to have this Jeep back in our family,” said David when we caught up with him at one of his favorite places, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area just south of Florence, Oregon. “My wife and I truly look forward to passing it down to our kids when the time comes.” The only question we have is: “Can we be adopted?” After all, this is the last of the CJs!

Hard Facts

Vehicle: 1986 Jeep CJ-7
Engine: Pace Performance 525hp 6.2L Chevrolet LS3
Transmission: GM 4L60E 4-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Dana 300 w/ Novak adapter
Suspension: Alcan 4-inch w/ Fox 2.0 shocks
Axles: Dana 44, 4.11 TrueTrac (front); Crawl King Dana 60 w/ Detroit Locker; Spicer chromoly axles (rear)
Tires: Sand Tires Unlimited Desert Trak 14.50x15 (front); Padla Trak 16.50x15 (rear)
Wheels: Mickey Thompson Classic III 15x8 (front), 15x12 (rear)
Other: PRP Enduro buckets; PSC steering; Wilwood hydroboost; Hanson winch bumper with Warn 8000; Dakota Digital instrumentation; Tom Wood’s driveshafts, Novak radiator; Winters Sidewinder shifter; Painless Performance wiring
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