Pros: Very fun and versatile, the 'real' ultimate tanning machine
Cons: you'll become a parts addict and you will suffer cuts and bruises during restoration
"CJ" or Civilian Jeeps were made from the 1940s until 1986 and they resemble the mighty military Jeep of WWII. Back in 1983, I bought my first Jeep CJ7. I drove her all the way to Canada with no top and no doors. Most of the way through Oregon, I folded the windshield down and wore goggles - it was like being IN a motorcycle. I have fond memories of driving in the mud and then letting it dry - then driving through Beverly Hills and letting all the wealthy snobs see what having fun with a vehicle was all about. Some days, I'd coil my 7 foot Boa Constrictor around the roll bar and drive around fielding stupid questions. But I digress.
From what I understand, the Jeep CJs (5, 7 or 8) are the ONLY American-made, non-classic or exotic car that goes UP in value each year. I sold my CJ7 in 1993 (for $100 more than I originally paid) and I cursed that day ever since. That is, until now.
Buying advice: The CJ5 has a smaller wheelbase, smaller interior and tends to flip easier unless you modify the suspension significantly and/or swap in wider axles. The CJ8 (Scrambler) is a CJ front and a pick up back - in essence, it's a 2-seater. These are more valuable now because they're more rare. Rare because much fewer people bought them back in the day, but it does have a longer wheel base. Smoother on road and more able off the road.
The CJ7 came in (basically) two models: The basic Renegade and the nicer Laredo. The Laredo package had nicer amenities such as leather trimmed steering wheel and grab handle, a tachometer and a clock - to name a few. Back in 1983, I paid $8200 for a new CJ7 Laredo. On rare occasions, you might find one that is a factory automatic transmission. These were special orders and highly rare today. Yup, my '83 was an automatic. But the stick shift was and is so much fun to drive - well, except in heavy traffic.
Recently, I purchased a white 1984 CJ7 for $2,000. Why so cheap? The engine (with only 120K miles), transmission and clutch were dead. The way I figured it, Jeep people buy used parts all the time, so I could sell the hardtop, the F & R seats and a few other parts and this would almost pay for half of my vehicle purchase. (Update: I sold all the parts I didn't need and made $1,220 back!) In essence, I purchased the Jeep for $780. My rationale tells me that if I was to buy a Jeep with a working motor and transmission, it could still go out at any minute. You never know just how well maintained the vehicle was. So buy a vehicle with a dead motor and either rebuild it or upgrade it.
I then embarked on "Project Restore." To me, there is nothing more enjoyable than restoring a car with your son or daughter. I stripped the vehicle of its bolt-on parts. I had the motor and transmission removed and I'm planning on replacing the motor with a rebuilt 1993 4.0 from a Wrangler. You ask, why would I replace an inline six 4.2 with an inline 4.0? Simple. The Wrangler engine is fuel injected. I could have paid $1400 for a fuel injection conversion - but why? The Wrangler motor with it's EFI is more powerful and more efficient.
The Jeep CJ7s (CJ stands for Civilian Jeep) were produced from 1976 to 1986. All I can say is that the motors were quite strong, but there were some things I hated.
What I Don't Like: (or why Jeep becomes Just Expect Every Problem)
The vacuum system is a nightmare. I spent countless hours trying to find and fix vacuum leaks. Air would get in or out of the miles of vacuum tubing and make the engine run poorly.
I loathe the carb system. I tried switching to a Holly carb, but had a heck of a time passing my California smog tests unless the thing was set perfectly and kept clean. Also, off-roading on inclines, you run the risk of engine fire brought on by the carbleaking and hitting the hot exhaust manifold.
I hated the fact that AMC/Jeep designed the fuel line and its fuel filter to run over the exhaust manifold. This is why engine fires in Jeeps were so common. It's simple to move them, but why design a fuel line over a heat source - especially when the hood insulator was such easily ignited kindling?
The distributor cap (where the spark plugs get their power) was located down too far. When driving through water, the cap would easily get wet and I'd stall. I'd have to get out and remove the cap, dry it and reinstall it. Nightmare.
For these reasons, many Jeepers replace their motors with either an AMC V8 304, a Chevy 350 V8 or similar engines. I chose the Wrangler motor because I feel that a V8 in such a small vehicle is pointless. Jeeps are not designed for speed. Besides, the six cylinder is more gas-efficient and with lower gearing, any four or six cylinder would have just as much off-road (low-end) torque as the V8. By all means do NOT install a four cylinder motor in a Jeep CJ unless you will ONLY use it for off-roading and you install lower gears to give it that better torque.
What I'm on the Fence About:
Not really fond of having to jump out and rotate the front locking hubs manually to engage the four wheel drive. In newer Jeeps, it's as simple as 'shift on the fly'.
What I Like:
I love the camaraderie between CJ owners. We often wave to each other on the road - it's actually called the "Jeep Wave." We often love to share stories about getting stuck in the mud or where to buy the best and coolest parts.
The Jeeps are quite versatile. There are countless part makers that produce endless stock (OEM) and custom replacement parts to make your Jeep CJ your own fun car. Before buying parts, you have to decide what you'll use your Jeep for. Strictly on-road, strictly off-road or a combination of the two. Once you get started down the road of restoring a Jeep, be prepared to spend some money. Hence the Just Empty Every Pocket. You ask, "Why not just buy a newer Wrangler TJ Rubicon?" There's a difference between a mostly STEEL and old fashioned feel of the CJ compared to the plastic and (IMHO) far too "foo foo" Wranglers. After all, they are called YJ which stands for Yuppie Jeep or TJ - Toy Jeep or actually Trail Jeep. I have recently driven a 2009 JK Wrangler and I have to say that I was impressed - even with all the bells and whistles.
Speaking of versatility, you can drive with no top, a bikini or safari top (like a sun shade for two or four passengers), a soft top or a hardtop.
You can install full steel doors with roll up window glass, steel half doors with plastic upper windows, soft fabric full and half doors, tube doors (for off-roading) and other options like mesh netting.
You can even drive with the windshield down. It actually ties to the hood via the use of a "footman strap." That's what those loops are on the hood - two are cushions for the glass and one is for the strap. Many people like the motorcycle feeling.
The reasons why the windshield folds down are quite simple and hearkens back to history and the original military Jeeps like the GPW, the Bantam or the early Willys. Sometimes a military medic would drive with his left hand and tend to a wounded soldier with his right. The stretcher would be situated from the hood to the rear and supported underneath by the low-back front passenger seat. I recommend bringing goggles along if you drive with the windshield down. Oh, and try to keep your mouth shut - unless you find bugs tasty. The other reason (and most folks believe the real reason) why the windshield folded was during the shipping process. Jeeps were shipped in pairs. A Jeep was stacked onto another Jeep facing the opposite direction and with the windshield folded down, this could easily be accomplished. Obviously, those early Jeeps didn't have a roll bar.
In some states, it's actually illegal to drive without a windshield on pavement and some other states it is legal but not faster than 10 miles an hour. The latter probably for parades. But in most instances, if the car came with a folding windshield from the factory and you wear eye protection, you'll be okay.
Most every vehicle has one - obviously in a 4 wheel drive vehicle there are two differentials. It's that bulbous "pumpkin" on your axle(s). This houses gears that the drive shaft turns in order to propel your vehicle. My 84 CJ came with a typical Dana 30 in the front and a AMC 20 in the rear. In my opinion, the AMC 20 is/was sub-standard due to its thin-walled axle tubing. An axle truss and/or one-piece axles can help remedy this though. If you do any off-roading and or have a V8 motor installed I would recommend a stronger unit like the Dana 44 or 60 or even the Chrysler 14 bolt. Some serious off-roaders upgrade to the Ford 9" or military pumpkins - but I think it's a bit much for a small Jeep unless you're a serious rock crawler.
The stock suspension was good for its day but falls short of the mark in today's market. I advise an upgrade of the suspension but be practical for what your actual needs are. Invest in better leaf springs and shocks or (if you have the cash) do a coil spring conversion. Depending on the height of your lift kit (4" or more), you might need to lower the transmission and install a drop-down pitman arm (for your steering linkage). CJs do NOT have coil springs to cushion the ride like later model Wranglers do. I would always recommend replacing worn-out rubber body and suspension bushings with poly-urethane bushings. They last longer and provide a better ride. Anyone with any mechanical sense and some tools can install a suspension and bushing kit by themselves.
Wheels & Tires:
Many younger drivers feel the need to raise a 4-wheel drive vehicle too high and put larger-than-needed tires and rims on the vehicle. This is either an ego thing, a competition thing or their idea of an opposite sex attractant. It's simply stupid to spend that kind of money lifting a vehicle that never sees mud, dirt or snow. Shackle lifts are one thing - but body lifts (on a strictly on-road vehicle) are really stupid - it softens the handling too much. In an accident, you run the risk of the body shearing off. If you do go off-roading, spend the money but be realistic. I'm lifting mine three inches and installing 32" Cooper STT tires. That's enough for me. If I experience tire rub, I might install a 1" body lift but I never advise going any higher on a body lift. If you're an off-roader, 35" tires with a 4-6" lift is okay, but you'll have to lower the transmission to keep the drive shaft at the best angle. Also you won't break so many u-joints (articulated links in the drive shaft).
The stock configuration was two front disc and two rear drum. Many people upgrade to 4-wheel disc, hydro-boost units (new or from old Chevy trucks) or even more substantial power boosters from junkyard Cadillacs, but it all depends on your wallet and your driving needs. The bigger the tires you run, the more substantial your brakes will need to be on a CJ.
Anyone who has owned or has ridden in an older (stock) Jeep knows that a kidney belt would be beneficial. These things are bumpy broncos due to their short wheel bases. Upgrading the stock suspension with newer technology helps a great deal. Expect to pay from about $600 to $2500. I went with Rubicon Express Extreme Duty for about $830.
These rugged things are noisy on the road. If you're doing a restore, I recommend stripping the vehicle and coating the tub (interior bed) with a spray-on or roll-on liner. Then coat the engine compartment with high-heat paint like Black Velvet - which is rated at 1400 degrees. Lay down a sound/heat shield in the bed, then install an indoor-outdoor carpet kit.
Unless it's locked down or secured in some fashion, expect things to be stolen because sooner or later they will be. A company called 'Tuffy' makes great steel lockable boxes for the console, the glove box, the fender wells, and trunk area and more. They even make a lockable door/hinge lock for any door. If you didn't know it, your doors can be opened, lifted off the hinges and walked away with quite easily. There are a myriad of ways to secure a stereo system. Mount the deck in the center console - NOT the dashboard. Mount your amp under the rear seat - it's virtually impossible to get at that unless you remove the rear bench seat. One trick I learned was to install a really cheap deck in the dash. Would-be thieves will see this and steal the expensive deck from the next guy's vehicle.
In my wife's new Jeep Liberty, I noticed an electric fan to cool the radiator. Most vehicles use a belt-driven fan that robs your engine of horsepower and uses up more gas BUT they are much more reliable. While there are kits available to switch over to the electric version, I would not recommend it on a CJ. You will save gas and gain some horsepower with an electric fan BUT it's not worth the aggravation in high altitudes (with thinner air) or the countless times you'll over-heat.
Roll bars and roll cages - The 4-point factory roll bar was adequate at best - probably more of corporate liability thing. In a roll over, the factory roll bar might keep the front passengers from getting crushed, but the back passengers might be at greater risk. Some of today's Jeepers install 6-point roll cages that are more substantial and protect the front and rear much better. As an option, there's a company called "Rock Hard" that makes bolt-on (to the factory roll bar) roll cage systems - front and back sections that really add a rugged look and safety to the vehicle.
This is an older car. And like other older cars, there are NO airbags and no ABS brakes. I would surmise that lifted CJs might be a bit safer, but front seat passengers will probably hit the windshield and in a side impact with half or no doors, it can get ugly to say the least.
Seat belts - The factory 3-point standard lap/shoulder seat belts attach to the roll bar and the floor. Some more serious off-roaders might opt for better seats with racing-style harnesses.
Optional Parts I'd Suggest:
Tuffy's line of security items such as a center console and rear storage trunk.
A bikini top, a soft top and storage boot for the soft top, more substantial front and rear bumpers, a suspension lift, hard half doors, hard full doors, side steps or nerf bars and a good stereo system. There are thousands of products made by a myriad of companies all designed to make owning a Jeep CJ scads o' fun.
Unless you live in a very rainy or very cold area, I would suggest not spending the money on a hard top. They're difficult to remove by yourself (even with the available hoist) and take up a lot of storage space.
Ask the owner how many owners there have been, how often it was off-road, if it has been in an accident or has rolled-over and ask him or her if there are receipts and service records. Always good to have so you know when the next maintenance items are due.
When going to look at a Jeep (or any used vehicle), bring along a magnet. Go around the entire vehicle and place the magnet in random spots on the body. If the magnet falls off, you know there's Bondo underneath the paint.
Look for RUST - the cancer of any vehicle. Rust on the frame is the worst thing, but look for rust on the body and ESPECIALLY fold down the windshield and look for rust. Jeeps are notorious for rusting in this area. While rust can be treated, avoid any Jeep with too much rust and use the rust to lower the purchase price.
Make sure the frame is not bent. Have it inspected. Many times roll overs are not divulged to a potential buyer. While under the vehicle, look for signs of cracks in things like the frame, the motor mounts and the shackle mounts.
And last, but not least... Look for leaks. CJs are notorious for leaks in differentials, transmissions, transfer cases and engines. Unscrew a couple spark plugs and look for oil in there too.
As with ANY four-wheel drive vehicle, you should get in the habit of engaging the front wheel gears once in a while. This keeps the gears in the front differential lubricated. If you neglect this, you will have gear drama later on down the road.
My Favorite Websites for Jeep Parts:
and for more links try:
You will need to become very proficient at fixing and replacing things on the Jeep. And you'll need to carry along extra parts for the trails. If you lack mechanical and problem-solving skills, the CJ is not the vehicle for you.
Stock CJs are not the best primary car you could own, but they make a very fun second or third car. But restore and update an old CJ and understand what it feels like to be a proud Jeep owner. It really is like no other driving experience.
Please note that my ratings were based on a stock CJ7. The reliability, comfort, etc. get much better after a restore and upgrade of parts.
And one final piece of advice for anyone restoring a Jeep. When you remove ANY part or set of screws, put them in Zip-lock type baggies and label each bag. Label ALL disconnected wires. All of this will make assembly much easier.
If you have any questions or need advice or Jeep links, please email me.
* * Please visit www.JeepRiver.com * *
Other Jeep-related Product Reviews:
2007 Jeep Liberty
3" Nerf Bars / Step Rails
Bestop Seat Glider
Bestop Hard Door Jackets
Bestop Soft Top
Bestop Bikini Top
Bestop Rollbar Cover
Bestop Window Storage Bag
Bestop Snap Repair Kit
Jeep Weatherstrip Kit
Ultimate Grab Handles
Grab Handles for Jeep
Winch Roller Fairlead
How to Choose the Best Tires for Your 4x4
The following is for anyone who owns (or who has owned) a Jeep - you'll be able to relate.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE A JEEP OWNER IF...
... You can drive the REAL "Ultimate Tanning Machine" with your left leg out on the nerf bar or up on the door sill
... You pretend you're driving a motorcycle because you can remove the top and doors then fold the windshield down. Oh, and you also bring along the goggles.
...the words 'dirty' and 'topless' turn you on when not spoken in a sexually-charged conversation.
...seeing dogs hang their heads out the car window makes you think to yourself, "I know the feeling".
...when you see someone at a stoplight put their sunroof down you get out and take your entire top off just so they'll be jealous.
...seeing Jeeps nicer than yours doesn't cause envy or jealousy, but instead causes you to root them on.
...you feel a little hurt inside when other Jeepers don't wave back. But you instantly forgive them knowing they must not have seen you. Oh well, you'll get the next one.
...getting stuck isn't an inconvenience. Its an adventure you can't wait to tell others about.
...you felt like an idiot when you bought your first one from a dealership as you asked which ones are four wheel drive.
...you've ever stood up in your vehicle as you were driving it just because you could.
...you keep full pvc waterproof rain suits in your vehicle.
...the first ever strapless bikini you bought wasn't a swim suit.
...seeing convertible sports cars with powered tops makes you think to yourself these two things... 1. "Wimp!" and 2. "I've got roll bars, beeotch"
...you ripped out the carpet on your floorboard because it started to stink after that first good rain or romp in the mud.
...there's no point in washing your vehicle. You just do it because you can leave the windows down while you rinse it.
...you've apologized to a first time passenger because of how dirty your interior was. Then rescinded that apology as you thought to yourself that they should be thanking you for the experience.
...you've almost slapped a girl for complaining about her hair getting messed up on that first (and only) date. (I actually left a first date at a restaurant because she asked if I had a real car.)
...when you're in other cars you roll the windows down even when its raining or freezing cold because you feel like you're cheating on your vehicle.
...you keep heavy duty trash bags in your glove box for emergency seat cover up.
...when you get dents in your body and you're proud of what you've done - even brag about it.
... you look at a hill or a rock ledge and say, "Yeah, I can make it."
... gas mileage? whats that!?
... You could have money...but as soon as you get enough, you buy something else for your Jeep
... MJ, XJ, YJ, CJ, TJ, WJ, ZJ, they all mean something to you.
... lowriders really are moving speed bumps.
...if u see a pot hole (or speed bumps) in the road instead of avoiding it u head right in it to get that off road bumpy feeling!
... Did that sign say "No Trespassing?"
...You own a set of Torx wrenches and use them on a regular basis.
... You can look at a Torx screw and know what size it is.
... You laugh at morons who spend far too much money on spinners.
... You spill something in your friend's car and it doesn't occur to you to apologize because it should just drain out the plug holes.
...You can pack for a week in a backpack because that's all the luggage space you have.
...Your idea of a "road trip" includes a minimal amount of pavement.
...You have a supply of hair bands around the shifter.
...You have two sets of friends. Those who knew you before you got the Jeep, and every other Jeep owner.
...you've had to chase raccoons or cats out of your Jeep in the morning.
...If you have to get a step ladder for anyone under 5'8 just so they can get in.
...other people can't tell what color your Jeep is because of all the dried mud.
...Keep a spare set of goggles in the Jeep, to keep the rain/mud out of your eyes or when you ride with the windshield down.
...People hear you coming down the road... because of your mud tires!!
...when girls you know talk about getting a lift and you immediately ask what size tires they are trying to fit.
...you take more pics of your vehicle than you do pretty girls, parties, etc..
...You're proud of scratches and dents on your ride as each one has it's own unique history and story.
...You see another Jeeper in a parking lot of a store you're not going to and stop to talk anyway.
...Hard, soft and topless hold completely different meanings to you than most people.
...you focus more on whats on the side of the road than the road itself ...
...you take a first timer for a ride, and it changes their life...
...as in childhood; sand, mud, water, streams, rocks, and hills are once again your playground ...
...You've learned how to vault into and out of the driver seat to avoid getting dirty rather than wash the Jeep.
..when you get offended when someone calls your Jeep a "car"
...when you can kick any given place on one of your bumpers at any time, and at least one dried clump of mud falls off
...you don't have to open your doors to get out.
...people in the back seat just use your back tires to get in or out
...when you get goofy looks from people when talking about your bikini top.
...When you see another dirty Jeep in a parking lot, you want to find the driver and ask where they've been.
...When you're damn proud of being a Jeep Girl and the title gives you a new found sense of independence and power!
...When parallel parking involves popping one tire up onto the sidewalk.
...When you know the height clearance of every parking structure in town.
...When you show up for dinner with friends and no one even bothers to mention the mud on your clothes.
...When you know, with absolute certainty, exactly how much pressure is in your tires at any given moment.
...Potholes are no longer an nuisance. They are preparation....
...during the Summer months, you always know what the weather will be like a week in advance.
...you leave your doors unlocked at all times so that a burglar won't cut through the soft top
...every time you're cut off by a sports car, the thought of parking on top of it makes you smile