Nov 24, 2017

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1981 CJ-7

The beginning

Last year (2007), a friend called and asked if I knew anyone who wanted a 1981 CJ-7 Renegade. He'd had it since it was only a few months old and wanted it to go to a good home, rather than have it hacked up into a buggy of some sort. Aside from an empty engine bay, it was in good condition, with some surface rust but not much else wrong.

In addition to the Jeep itself, he had two hard tops, a soft top, soft doors and full hard doors that went with it.

I asked around and nobody needed *another* project, so I couldn't find any takers. My friend asked if I wanted it, for free. I waffled, but decided I didn't have room or time for a project either.

Then something inexplicable happened. My wife said she wanted us to get it. Moreover, she said she wanted it to be a Jeep for her to drive and she wanted to help with the work!

When fate intervenes like that, you can't say no. I called my friend and said we'd take it!

It's home!

So, about a month ago, we packed up the family, a mess of tools and supplies as well as a tow bar and towing lights -- then up over the pass we went.

We also took over a new set of tires and rims, just because I had no clue what the originals were like (along with supplies to rebuild/repack hubs, etc.). It's a good thing I did - though the axles were fine, the tires were toast - cracked beyond belief. Luckily, I threw a jack under the CJ and slapped on the new tires - good to go! The pleasant surprise was the factory rims all around in great shape and a PERFECT factory spare rim/tire in perfect condition!

We spent a long weekend and had some fun hiking and playing on the warmer side of the state then hitched up the Jeep and towed it back over the pass.

Our tow vehicle is a 2004 Chrysler mini-van that we also use to tow our pop-up camper. The camper is heavier than the CJ is (especially since the CJ has no engine) - so it was actually very pleasant to tow. We have electric brakes on the camper, so I was a bit nervous about the CJ, but it was a breeze. Only when we came over the very top of the pass did it get a little dicey - a hail/rain/wind storm blew through for about 1/2 mile and was a bit scary.

Ever wonder where to keep a full set of tires when the interior is already full (with a soft top, soft doors, etc.)? Well, in my case, since I didn't have an engine, I was able to fit two tires inside the car, but two weren't going in there - so they went into the engine bay!

Also, I'd like to mention the Harbor Freight tow bar I used. I went back and forth on this one, but I was having trouble justifying a really expensive tow bar for a single trip (I'm not imagining using it again) and the HF one at $50 was darned appealing. I finally just bought one figuring I was only out $50 if it turned out to be junk.

All in all, I think it's actually well made. I think the straight bars could be full box instead of C-channel, but I suppose 3 of my 4 Jeeps use C-channel frames, so it can't be totally junk.

Just in case, I went out and sprung for (4) 4' lengths of American made high-grade chain and used (4) American made shackles to rig up safety chains between the vehicles. It worked great, and I'd actually be happy to use it again.

Work begins

In the past few weeks, we've cleaned out the interior (think of a mouse condo for several years), thrown away the toasted soft top fabric (it wasn't salvageable), pulled out the seats, put on one of the hardtops and the hard doors (stored the soft doors) and scrubbed the interior with industrial cleaner.

Following that, we've started the rust fight - which isn't going to be very rough from the looks of things so far (famous last words, I know).

First, there's a small amount of surface rust in the drivers and passengers foot-wells where the paint wore out - but it's only surface.

There are several spots of surface rust elsewhere and the hood and fenders have some surface "patina" rust. I'm familiar with *bad* rust from the '55 and '59 Willys, so this is a walk in the park so far. A steel brush and some "Rust Mort" (muriatic acid) have taken the interior rust to task so far.


%*@#*$! A grinder will fix it!

I've seen that the sheet metal under the roll-bar mounting plates is a classic spot for hidden decay, so I began to pull it out - and want to state for the record that I support the death penalty for the inventor of #*&@%^ Torx bolts. I also support a new engineering coursework requirement in old Jeep dissassembly - nobody who's every had to pull old Torx bolts would ever put them back in again.

The first ones went easy. The last two refused to turn. I twisted two Torx bits (#45) like candy canes trying (this is using heat and a week-long soak in PB Blaster) before I broke out the grinder and lopped off two sides of each head so I could throw a wrench on them - they came out nice and easy that way...

There is some rust underneath, but also not bad. We'll be Herculining the entire interior and the roll-bar mounting plates themselves, so I'll treat clean off the rust, treat them with Rust Mort, primer and then line. That should keep it from coming back again!

I also pulled the windshield retainer screws today and hit them and the sockets with PB Blaster to keep them easy to use. I also hit the rear tailgate and tire carrier hinges and latches so they work easy now and don't groan at me.

Finally, I pulled off the factory steps so we can sand and paint (and probably line) them as well - in addition to clearing the bolts from the tub in preparation for lining. I also pulled the hi-beam switch, the gas pedal and a few other odds and ends to clear the tub in prep for lining.

Coming soon

A little bit of metal work - one of the drivers seat nuts pulled through the floor and there are one each of the drivers and passenger mounts where the floor is cracking around the nuts. I'll weld those up next weekend hopefully and then hit them with primer in prep for lining.

We'll have a little wire-brush or wheel work to clean out a few little rust spots and treat them - a good couple hour stint should take care of it. Also want to pull the dashboard and wires (no engine to attach to anyway) so we can line the entire firewall too.

Need to fix small cracks where the wing window vertical bar hits the sheet-metal of the door. Seems this is a common flex/fatigue point on the hard doors - I'll slip something in behind and spot weld it in as reinforcement while I'm at it.

Then a day or two with a scuff pad and a can of Herculiner will transform the interior to a clean canvas for us to start reinstalling parts!

We're going to need to make a final "save or chuck" decision on the seats. They're in decent structural shape and would look and feel good with good quality covers - but the mice used them for a latrine and I'm not sure we'll ever get the smell out.

Last week, I out the seats out in the sun and soaked them with a hose for about an hour, and then drained them. Once they were no longer dripping, I soaked each seat with 1/2 gallon of vinegar and let it sit in the sun, then did it all over again. This has made a HUGE difference.

With the difference the vinegar made, I'm going to douse the seats in baking soda and borax and let them sit for a week or so, then hose that through the cushions. After that's done, we'll make a decision depending on how it comes out.

It's worth noting that the rear seat is perfect and untainted. It'll stay no matter what.

Drivetrain

There's a big empty space where an engine would usually live - though there's a Dana 300 and a T5 tranny still in there. The rear end is a Dana 20 (narrow track) and the front a Dana 30. I'll likely rebuild the axles just because, and sell the D300. The T5 will become target practice on principal.

I'm close to pulling the trigger on a GM Vortec 4.3L v6 from a 1997 Blazer that has 24k miles on it. It includes a 4L65E tranny (original to the motor) and a Dana 300 (newly rebuilt). I think I'll sell the D 300 (it's note currently mated to the tranny) and pick up a passenger drop NP241 (which will bolt right up to the tranny and feed the front axle.

The springs look good, but the shackle bushing are toast. I'll try and keep those original and just replace the bushings if I can. If they prove to be a PITA, I'll replace the shackles but skip on lift via the shackles.

The steering box looks good. The pump does too, but the new engine comes with everything - including the pump, so I'll sell of the stock one.

I also have the original rims - and the original spare tire/rim in mint condition. I pulled the tires off the rims in my driveway (yay Harbor Freight tire changer!) and mounted a couple of decent roller tires for while we work on it. The really good tires and rims I used to get the CJ over the pass will go back on the '55 Willys.

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