Rebuilding An Intermediate Jeep CJ-5 For a Vintage Venture
Truth is we’d been looking for a decent intermediate Jeep CJ-5 (built between 1972 and 1975) for a while, because our good friend, Mike Tarvin, has a 1975 CJ-5, “Apple Green,” we’ve always admired. His Jeep is pretty stock with the original AMC 304 V-8 (which has a few tweaks), locking differentials, 3.15:1 transfer case gears (the factory gears in a Dana 20 are the not so desirable 2.03:1), and a NP435 from a Ford Truck swapped in for its granny gear. We wanted one for our own and so we could talk Mike into some more crazy adventures.
Over the past year or so, we’d come across a few intermediate and later Jeep CJ-5s, but nothing that was really what we wanted. We finally found a very nice rust-free Southwestern 1973 body, tub, hood, front fenders, windshield, and more in a suburb of Phoenix and bought it.
Then a few months later, a 1974 Jeep CJ-5 with a AMC 304 V-8, a Wide Ratio T-18 transmission (with a granny gear), and more—that needed a nicer tub.
All this fell into place about two to three weeks ago. We had the orange (or red?) tub that was in great shape, and had just bought the yellow 1974 CJ. The idea was to make the two Jeeps into one and take the resulting intermediate CJ-5 to the Relic Run, a vintage-aimed off-road and camping event put on by the website Expedition Utah.
Tearing Down The Yellow Jeep CJ-5
We started by purchasing this clean, rust-free (it has a few stress cracks, but nothing bad), red (or orange?) 1973 Jeep CJ-5 with most of the body, frame, front axle, transmission, and transfer case. Our plan was to piece it back together after gathering the missing parts. Later we found this odd yellow 1974 Jeep CJ-5. It was running and driving and was in pretty good shape; with a few issues, the price was more than we should have paid. But instead of gathering parts, all the parts were there.
The frame, drivetrain, and engine all looked like they were fresh off a restoration. The body tub was a mess, with tons of bondo in every panel and dubious repairs to the floors. Wiring was dubious at best, with a fair number of butt splices, wire nuts, melted wires, and loose connections. It also had a Bestop Soft Top, Factory roll bar, Dana 44 rear axle with 3.73:1 gears, and a limited-slip. The front axle is a Dana 30 with like gears and drum brakes. The Jeep also had power steering with several new parts. Also at some point this Jeep had received some unmoving 4-inch lift springs and new body mounts (held in place with loose ungraded hardware). The coolest part is a wide-ratio, granny-geared T-18 transmission between the 304’s bell housing and the Dana 20 transfer case. The T-18 is a bit stubborn to shift, but the granny gear is one of the things we wanted to swap into our ideal Intermediate Jeep CJ-5 at some point anyway. We tore the yellow Jeep apart to address the many loose nuts and also add on our more desirable (to us) 1973 body parts.
Rebuilding in Red
We then swapped the red tub onto the formerly yellow Jeep’s frame keeping the engine, fuel system, exhaust, and drivetrain in place. It was quite the undertaking for the week or nine days we had before we’d have to leave for the Relic Run, but apparently we thrive on the stress of a nearly impossible rebuild on a Jeep CJ-5
Making the Red Jeep CJ-5 a Runner
We added a Rebel Wire 8-Circuit Harness, a new copper/brass radiator from Summit Racing (more on that later), and a set of Milestar Patagonia M/Ts in 33×12.50R15 size (more on them later) on a set of old 8-inch wide Ford wheels from none other than our pal Mike (the owner of the green intermediate). Then the 1,600-mile trip in a freshly rebuilt rig. You can read about that adventure soon, but know that it was a pretty brave and bold undertaking after the timeframe of the rebuild.
What is an Intermediate CJ-5?
When AMC acquired the Jeep name in 1970, the company decided to make some changes that would allow the use of their AMC engines in the Jeep platforms. Technically, the Intermediate Jeep CJ-5s were those built between 1972 and 1975, with early Jeep CJ-5s built from 1953-1971 and late Jeep CJ-5s built from 1976-1983. The most notable change for the Intermediate Jeep CJ-5s would be the adoption of the AMC V-8s and I-6 engines. The AMC 304 was installed in the Jeep CJ-5 as the first factory-available V-8 in the open top CJ Jeep line stretching the wheelbase 3 inches and the front fenders and hood 5 inches.
The end result was a muscle car power-to-weight ratio in the short and relatively tall Jeep CJ-5. Maybe this is the “American sports car” Enzo Ferrari may have been referring to when he supposedly said, “Jeep is America’s only real (or true) sports car”? The package is potent and, with a few tweaks, can be reliable and drivable on-road and -off. There were a few other changes with the introduction of the AMC power plants like the swap to the Dana 20 transfer case (replacing the off-set Dana/Spicer 18), an open knuckle drum brake’d Dana 30 front axle, the fuel tank was moved to the back of the Jeep rather than under the driver seat, and a centered rear Dana 44 with flanged axles replaced an off-set Dana 44 rear. Retained from the “early Jeep CJ-5” was the underseat tool box resting below the passenger seat, and a similar frame and suspension.