Kirk Cessac’s 1985 Jeep CJ-7: BFGoodrich's WHAT ARE YOU BUILDING FOR? Contest Winner for July

Redo for the Do-Over

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. So when Kirk Cessac introduced his nephew Grant to off-roading, he made darn sure he had everything under control before he pointed his ’85 Jeep CJ-7 at the dirt. “Sure enough I got high-centered,” he admits, laughing at his misfortune. “I didn’t even have a shovel!” He and his sons Lucas and Noah broke the Jeep free by jamming some scrub under the dangling tires. “Grant got a little anxious but at the end of the day he thought it was a cool adventure.”

Kirk’s willingness to share his wheeling passion dates to 1994, the year he bought his Jeep. “I always loved this thing,” he brags, explaining how he drove it daily to school and then work. “But about 12 years ago I lost the clutch in it so I parked it,” he says, running down an inventory of things that always seemed to get in the way of the old Jeep in the garage.

Then in early 2016 Kirk’s wife Melodie announced that her church planned an off-road weekend on July second. “I made a commitment to myself to get my Jeep going for that,” he says. “Starting in March I cleaned up my garage. I pulled everything out and spend the next few months putting it back together.” In fact he worked until the afternoon of the event. “It was registered and insured but I didn’t have the sticker so it wasn’t fully legal,” he says. He took it out anyway. “It was really worth it because for the first time my kids got to ride in my Jeep. We took it out to the sand dunes. I was doing rooster-tails and climbing up hills I never climbed before. It was great!”

The reborn Jeep became a part of the family. Kirk looked for reasons to include it in daily activities, even pestering his daughter, Maryssa, to learn to drive a stick in it. “If she could drive this, she can drive anything,” he speculates.

Over the following couple years Kirk addressed the weaker points of his CJ. “It’s from Hawaii so it has some rust,” he says. “My dad has a welder so I taught myself how to weld so I could patch it up.” It also has what he describes as four-coats of rock-hard paint that he’s diligently (but slowly) stripping. “I always wanted to paint it black or dark blue but my sons like white with red trim.” Other plans call for a textured bed-liner coating on the interior.

At one point Kirk replaced the troublesome Carter BBD carburetor with a simpler Holley. “It’s better but not quite right,” he says. “When I took my other daughter, Tori on a hundred-mile drive to Cabezon Peak, I realized that gas mileage is going be an issue if we decide to take it cross-country.” But as luck (and Jeep engineering) has it, the cylinder head from the fuel-injected 4.0 drops on the 4.2 with limited work. So far he sourced everything including the injection from a wrecking yard. “That’s probably my new winter project,” he says.

But the specter of the trail fail still taunts him. His solution: go bigger. “I’m going to lift it about 2 1/2 to 4 inches so I can run 33s,” he says. He admits he’ll probably have to re-gear and he says he dreams of lockers,” “…but some of that stuff is expensive!” he laments. “It may sound funny but I like the history of Jeeps. I don’t want to put a V8 in it or build it into a rock crawler or anything. I just want to make it a little better.”

Of course Kirk understands that he’ll never have another chance to make that first impression on his nephew, Grant. But if his Jeep turns out half as good as it exists in his mind’s eye, nobody will ever remember that one time.

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