My $120 CJ7 build


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How long since you've seen a CJ7 for $120? Well, you can't expect her to run, but here she is.


This is a result of changes plans... I had started a "retired cripple builds a '79 CJ7" thread. Well, I came into this, and the extra 10 inches of cargo room and the rather nice hardtop will do nicely for my intended purpose of exploring America off road/overland style.

Here's the story. I picked up a 1980 Jeep CJ7 a while back that I intend to build as an adventure/overland rig. My skills are limited, so I will have to hire some of the work done, but I want to do as much of it as I can myself. As we all know, there is great satisfaction in standing back and looking at something you built with your own hands. A thing America is losing these days, as is so accurately reported by public figure Mike Rowe. I like him... he's cool in my book.

Anyway, She isn't running now, but she is complete, and near as I can tell, almost 100% stock, (except added fog lights) so that gives me a known starting point. That itself is something lacking in so many old Jeeps, including my current CJ5. The "new": CJ7 has a 258 I-6 and the auto trans. The shifter is on the tilt column with a very nice Lecarra wheel. The dash, seats, everything about the interior and hardtop is complete and in nice shape. The hardtop even has a defroster in the back glass and a rear wiper. The doors are great and the roll up windows work perfectly. The windshield is a goner, and there are some panels on the tub that will require attention.

So I met a fellow combat vet at a 4x4 meet. He also has 3 tours. He also drives a '79 CJ5. (way nicer than mine) He's trying to get out of paying storage on two old Jeeps he was going to build, and he sells me one, and a buddy one. I got mine for $120. Yeah, that's right. $120. I didn't miss a zero. He just wanted me to cover the last months storage fee. He's younger, still in, and single. I'm old, fat, crippled, retired, wife is a teachers aid that has no paychecks in the summer, and we have two kids in college, but man he hooked me up!

Now the CJ5 I already have just happens to have a very strong powertrain from a Dodge truck. It has a built Dodge 360 (Holley 4V, headers, cam, MSD ignition...) , a TF 727 and full width Dana 44 front, and Chrysler 9.25 rear axles with 4 wheel discs. This is on a spring over axle lift that allows for a 35" or 37" tires on the CJ5 tub.

Do I really need to go that high? No.

Is it a bit of a pain to climb in and out of with my injuries? Yes.

Is it fun, and cool? Yes.

The CJ7 has a much more sensible straight six that would be plenty for adventuring around this beautiful nation of ours and I do like how easy it is to climb into and out of as it sits now in stock form. However, she isn't running at the moment and who knows what it would take to get it that way... Besides, I may be old enough to complain about stuff, but I still enjoy the roar of a good old American V-8. That Mopar 360 sounds awesome.

I'll be using the power train from the CJ5. I'll duplicate the spring over setup on the CJ7 as well, but go with YJ springs that are known to soften up the ride and allow for more flex. The Hardtop will give me a more secure vehicle in bad weather travels. It still allows for the normal door off Jeep driving on nice days. I have found Jeep facebook pages in my area that will make it easy to sell off remaining parts from either vehicle I don't use. Of course, I also love Jeep forums like this, and have learned a lot from these places. I hope to learn (and share) more as I go. I will probably need to ask questions when I get stuck on something. Thanks in advance people.

I picked up a couple commercial grade steel shelving units from a college that went under. With my injuries, I have to do my work in short spurts. Also, I'm also under the typical buy a part or two each month budget of a retired disabled soldier. This will be a 2 year project (or more) as I'm taking two vehicles down to the frames.. to build one back up.

I will build the inside up to be user friendly as an adventure/overland vehicle with stuff I've learned traveling on my own, in groups, with the Army, and on sites like this. The outside of the Jeep will be a tribute to my time in the military. (and to my brothers and sisters who serve now) I will do it up in desert sand much like the trucks we had on my last tour in Iraq, but with the bumper numbers from my first tank I had in West Germany back in 1981.

Wish me luck...
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Here's the engine running just prior to me starting tear down. Love that sound...

Over the last few weeks I've continued tear down of the CJ5.

I got the side steps off.

Got the twin stick cable shifter off the T-case.
Fire extinguisher came out.
Radio antenna mount came off.
Got my center console (20mm ammo box) out.
Salvaged a few electric parts from the dash.
Tach out.
Cage out.
Seats out.
Dog house off.
Windshield off.
Exhauset off.
Fuel tank out.

Cage and windshield off.JPG

Still a retired cripple, so the going is slow, but I need to step up my game if I'm going to get the tub and frame of the CJ 5 out of the garage and the CJ7 inside before bad weather hits. I need to get my drivetrain out of that CJ5 frame soon. The cooler weather helps some as I don't do well in the heat.


Wow, totally lost track of this forum. I have made some progress. Not as much as I'd like, but some...

Teardown of CJ5 is complete, frame and tub is sold, and CJ7 has been rolled into the garage.

THIS is my true starting point. The CJ5 was for parts I will use on the build of this (the $120 CJ7)... that first has to come down to the frame.


Step one, start tear down...


Turns out the tub has a lot more rust issues than I want to deal with so the search was on for a better tub. The interweb was my only hope, but even so, the only decent tub I could find was n ot here in the midwest where they rust out... It's is out of Utah. I found it online on a Facebook Jeep page from a guy in Colorado. So we strike a deal, and he's bringing it to me... and he blows up the engine in his truck in Kansas. It gets towed to a diesel shop in Nebraska, and that's where I end up having to go get it myself. At least I got out of flooded Indiana for 3 days. Things have been crazy, but I managed to get the "new" tub home for the build so I don't have to mess with all the rust issues. This one has been all over the country, and it's not even on a frame.


Spent yesterday taking (breaking) off the body mount bolts to the old tub. Three of them broke. I'm going to position the Jeep so I can take the old tub off and set it on saw horses next to the "new" tub 'til I get it ready to mount. With my memory it will be easier to just remove parts from the old tub and directly mount them onto the new tub without delay. There is some work to do to it. The tailgate bolts are broke off in it, and some body mount bolts broke off in it... Sucks buying crap on the internet, but the sides aren't rusting away from the fender wells and the cowl isn't rusted away.

There will be some changes as the "new" tub is an "older" (unknown year) tub. It did come with a different under dash vent to mate to the heater box, but the gas filler is also different... it's round. No room for the big rectangle plastic insert of the 1980 one from my tub... The roll bar won't mount in either, but I'm planing a custom cage, so that's no biggie.

The frame will be taking shape on the other side of the garage as the powertrain and suspension gets swapped out.

Engine came out today along with brake and fuel lines.


Here you can see the old ventilated I-6 (#3 rod through block) on a couple car dollies, and behind it on the engine stand is the Mopar 360 that will go in Jeep when all is said and done.


I think with your great commentary and pics people are just watching the progression of you project. Lot of work ahead of you, been there done that, before posting pics on a forum was easy.

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Axles and springs are off. She's finally down to the frame. Well, almost. The steering box and front sway bar are still on, but I'm going to see if their location can remain unchanged if possible. It will remain upside down for a while, as I still have some brackets to cut and grind off in the front before I get to the sandblasting.

Killer thing is from what I've read about building a vehicle, and from talking to those few people I know who've done it...

Taking the old one apart... That was the easy part.


Are you planning on doing the sand blasting yourself? I've never tried that.
I have one of those portable plastic sandblaster tubs that hold about 50 pounds of sand.

Keep in mind this is my first vehicle build. This isn't a professional deal here. It's a driveway/garage build, done by an unskilled cripple, with harbor freight, and Craig's list tools... I wish I had a way of getting the inside of the frame clean, but short of taking it to get dipped, I don't. I thought of checking into that, but the outside is only surface rust. If the inside is like that, I'm good. If I did get it dipped, it would be bare metal, then I'd be screwed because it would need to be professionally painted or it would start to rust like crazy....

Driveway blast, and rattle can it is, maybe POR 15.

Took off the front spring front shackle mounts yesterday. Did some cutting and grinding to get the rear spring mounts for the front springs off the frame too., One easy, one a PITA. Got the I-6 motor mounts off.

Started to take off the steering box off and one of the bolts snapped off in the frame. This is gonna be a real PITA. These bolts go right into the boxed frame. Any ideas on how to deal with this?

The steering box will get replaced with a fresh unit, and I could just weld a short bead at that last bolt hole location (it's the rear hole) but I want to keep so it can be removed again if need be.

I hate wrenching on a bare frame. These rusty bolts are on so tight, and the frame has no weight, so it just wobbles around on the jack stands...

Man it’s been a while, but seems like there is a small access hole in the frame near the steering box mount location. You might have to drill it out and retap it.

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Got some parts delivered this week. The Dave's Unlimited full size axle kit came in first. It's a well made kit, but will need slight modification. It is designed to hang a Ford or Chevy front axle under a CJ. I just happened to have a Dana 44 out of a Dodge truck, that is a bit wider. I'll need to put a 1/4 or 3/8 spacer plate between the new Dave's mount and the frame when I bolt it in for good. The rear mount will have to be cut and widened as it made to sandwich the frame. It also has gusset plates to be welded in after it gets bolted in place, so my welder guy will be doing that. I'll be prepping the frame and getting it to him this next week or so if I can.