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Jeep CJ-7 Build Basics- Introduction

How Our Latest Project, a 1986 CJ-7, Came to Be

Oftentimes, when a new project vehicle comes into the shop, we jump right in with the tech stories, eager to get the information and the progress of the vehicle out to the world. Sometimes we forget about the back story of how we got a hold of the vehicle in the first place, or why we decided to work on it, or even what the goal is going to be for it. This time, we're going to do things a little different.

Back in high school, this editor had a 1971 Chevy Blazer. It was lifted, it had a roll cage, and it had dual shocks and trussed axles. It was pretty fun, to say the least. It made a whole lot of surfing and camping trips. One of our friends, Julie liked it a lot. So much so that she put her Mazda pickup up for sale and started searching for a SUV to call her own. Soon she found the one. It was a 1986 Jeep CJ-7 Laredo, which was only like five years old at the time, but it was already lifted a bit, repainted in the original silver, and had all three tops included. It also had all the chrome and stainless accessories all over it that were so popular at the time.

The Jeep served her well for many years. It went up the coast with her to college, and four years after that, it headed back east for her for a job. Several years later, Julie returned to the West Coast, and naturally the Jeep came with. This is where things started to go south for the now 25-year-old CJ-7. A beautiful daughter, a not-so-beautiful divorce, and a career became the main focus, as they should. Several unscrupulous local mechanics had their way with the Jeep, all in an attempt to keep the Jeep alive. Eventually, even that proved to be too much. At that point, it was relegated to a few different storage spots, where it became even worse for wear and a few hard-to-find parts like the factory roll bar and hard top rear window walked away. Finally, after a couple years at a secure storage, the property was sold. The Jeep had to be moved immediately, but conveniently, a friend of a friend was willing to take it off her hands for a few bucks.

When we found out our old friend, Julie was almost to the point of letting go of her beloved '86 CJ-7, we decided to intervene. After having not seen the Jeep for several years, this is what we found.

This is where we stepped in. We know how much we miss that old Blazer; we'd give just about anything to have it back! So, after Jules had worked this hard for all these years to hang onto it, there was no way we were going to let her Jeep slip away forever! Without knowing the current state of the thing at all, we grabbed a trailer and snatched it up.

The plan was simple—isn't it always. We were going to get it back on the road, pretty it up a bit with a few updates, and hand it back over to Jules and her daughter. We soon realized that it wasn't going to be that easy, and so we began a long process of going through several areas of the old SUV to make it fun, and more importantly, safe, to drive once again.

We're calling the series Jeep Basics because this is where you'd typically read about us finding a CJ-7 like this and bolting up big axles, big horsepower, or accessorizing the snot out of it for some off-grid activities. And while we made damn sure this thing was fun to cruise around in the dirt (maybe too much fun), the real goal was to make it back into the reliable second vehicle and fun weekend rig that it used to be. That will include engine upgrades, suspension and steering upgrades, as well as new wheels, tires, and a whole bunch of accessories.

Check out our initial retrieval and walkaround below, and keep an eye out for the full series of how we get the CJ-7 back on the road for another 25 years.

We removed the tarp and quickly learned the reason why it was there. The hard-to-find rear hatch was missing. So was the stock roll bar. And the spare. Unfortunately, nobody took the chrome buggy bumpers.
Peeking underneath, it was obvious that the suspension had not been touched in years. In fact, the Con-Ferr shackles and steering stabilizer appear to be the only modifications ever made to squeeze the 33s under it.
Inside, we quickly realized that the steering column was extremely loose, so much so that driving like this was going to be downright scary. At least the seats and canter console looked pretty good.
The door strikers were completely missing from the Jeep tub, so the doors wouldn't shut. But that didn't matter because the door latches were all frozen up anyway. We had to bungee the doors together for transport!
Under the hood, we learned that the old 258 had been rebuilt. We're not sure by who, and it starts and runs a little, but that's about it. Being a 1986, the year before many vehicles began EFI, this thing is a sea of hoses and wires, with a tiny carb buried under there somewhere. These are the two weakest points on these I-6 engines, and this is where the most time will be spent, eventually. We may even get more than the original 112 horsepower out of it!
We got our new project on the trailer and continued to examine it. The sagging front end actually caused those ancient BFGs to eat away at the fender flares. We also made plans to ditch the chrome that made up the "Laredo Package." But we were a long way off from that stuff; we just didn't know it yet.
At this point, we dragged the Jeep back to the shop, and we got rid of all the varmint deposits and spiders that were left.
Finally, we limped the CJ-7 over to Bryan Cook at Cook's Tire and Tune in Fullerton, California. With the condition of the engine, coupled with the steering issues, the driving speed was about 25 mph. The crew gave it a once over, made a bunch of small adjustments and let us know that the carb was shot, along with the worn-out factory distributor. It ran a lot smoother when it left, which was all we were hoping for. We at least wanted to be able to move it around under its own power while we worked on it. And we're glad we did because we did a bunch of other stuff before we tackled the engine mods—go figure! Stay tuned because we're just getting started.

Source:

Cook's Tire & Tune
714.870.0100
cookstireandtune.com