Project Over Easy – A 1981 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler

Project Over Easy - 1981 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler

Welcome to the oldest build plan in 4X4Review Off Road Magazine’s history. It’s so old in fact, that it outdates the magazine, and the actual vehicle’s age. How in the world, you might ask, can this be? Has 4X4Review found some method by which to bend space-time? Have they stolen components from their project vehicles to fabricate a time machine? Well, not so much – but our build plan began in 1975, which predates our newly acquired ‘81 Jeep CJ8 and our magazine too. In the next few paragraphs, I will answer that riddle and lay-out a plan for coverage of this Jeep’s restoration / modification strategy too.

So what was happening in 1975?  Gerald Ford was in the White House.  Nobody had smoked a draft card in at least 2 years. The average cost for a home was just over $50,000, a new car would set you back a mere $3,500 and the average household income was less than $10,000.

Project Over Easy - 1975 Jeep CJ5During that same year, 4x4Review’s newest feature editor, yours truly, a car-crazed, bell-bottom wearing five year old, was deeply enamored with the brand-spanking new 1975 CJ-5 that my oldest brother had just purchased.  The Jeep was perfect in the eyes of this pre-pubescent gear-head.  It was white with a black soft-top, it had a 232ci straight six sending power to a three-speed manual transmission.  It had no roll-bar, no rear seat, white steel wheels and a spare tire mounted on the passenger quarter-panel.  In other words, it was a complete base model.  In my eyes though, there was nothing cooler on or off the road. 

I followed the simple progress made on my brother’s Jeep – Roll-bar, rear seat, Warn hubs, tire upgrades, headers and dual exhaust and eventually, a steel half-cab – with great interest and enthusiasm.  Over the years, I was the second-hand beneficiary of his old 4-Wheeler and Pick-up, Van and 4WD magazines.  In these pages, and in my off-road focused mind, I watched the performances of the Bill Stroppe’s Baja Bronco Team as well as the Archer CJ-5 Baja racer. 

At the tender age of five, I knew what I wanted…  a Jeep.  What could be cooler?  I set my mind to it and made plans for all of the coolness that would be at my disposal when I turned 16.  All that I had to do was wait to be of age, and come up with the dough.

Project Over Easy - 1981 Jeep CJ8 ScramblerFlash forward eleven years to 1986.  Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Top Gun was in the theaters (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, too).  I was now 16 and my brother was trying to sell his Jeep.  How perfect, I had my license and my brother was ready to pass the Jeep on to a new owner.  The trouble was I didn’t have the $3,000 that he wanted for his CJ-5.  The Jeep ended-up selling and I was forced to settle for the family car, a ’73 Ford Maverick.  I made the most of it and converted the two-door coupe to “Grabber” trim (scoops on the hood and a small spoiler) to go along with the mild performance of the small-block 302 and the C4 automatic transmission (ironically, the very same power-train in our other 4x4Review project vehicle, Project Buckshot).   This was the first in a long-line of passenger cars, each one more focused on improved performance – but my Jeep desires never came to be. 

Flash forward twenty-three more years to 2009.  Barack Obama is in the White House, we’ve just lived through the largest drop in the economy since the great depression and your burgeoning 4x4Review Feature Editor is longing for a new project to commemorate his upcoming 40th birthday (January, 2010) – could this be a mid-life crisis kicking in?  Having been through a string of 30+ cars over the decades including two dedicated track cars, my interests are now wandering back to Jeep CJs – the desire of my youth. 

A quick review of Craig’s list produced the same old, tired CJ-5s and CJ-7s that I continue to see in the Dallas area.  These are rough Jeeps that look like they have been, “rode hard and put-up wet” for past twenty years.  While ideal for hunting rigs these Jeeps are not solid foundations for a fun project vehicle.  For the heck-of-it, I typed-in, “Scrambler.” 

The clouds parted, the sun shined through and the angels begin to sing.  There she was – a clean, un-cut and rust-free Scrambler.  This Jeep had a detailed write-up that had clearly been drafted by a Jeep enthusiast and fellow gear head.  While I had my heart set on a low-mileage 258ci with manual transmission, this Scrambler had an interesting upgrade of a Chevy TBI fuel injected 350 engine with 4L60E automatic transmission.  The seller, who has owned the CJ8 for the last 12 years, had performed the swap with an Advanced Adapters kit eight years prior and it looked to be an extremely clean install.

An excruciatingly long 24 hours pass before I can see this Jeep… my mind racing with the fun that will soon be had with this Scrambler.  So much more room than the CJ-5 and 7s that I had been searching for.  This could be a real family fun rig with room for the kids and all of our gear.  Never mind that my wife and I haven’t been camping in 15 years and my small children have never been in a tent.

Project Over Easy - 1981 Jeep CJ8 ScramblerUpon first inspection, I am pleased to see that the Jeep is just as the owner had described. No rust, no filler, nary a dent or scratch, and equipped with a very clean engine swap that looks nearly factory.  The two significant, non-factory appearing changes include a set of Hooker Headers with glass-pack mufflers and a 33-gallon fuel tank.  All other features of the Jeep are stock and well preserved. 

Not having driven a Jeep for decades, I was amazed with the way this Scrambler handled.  It got up to 70 mph quickly, drove straight with no wandering and without the choppiness that I remember from my brother’s sainted CJ-5.  The long wheel-base really makes a difference on the highway.  I will say though that the mud traction Coopers combined with Hooker Headers and the glass-packs exiting ahead of the rear wheels make for a loud highway ride.  While test-driving the Scrambler on the highway, an 18-Wheeler passed me and seemed to silently glide past!

Two test-drives later and check in hand, I became the proud new owner of this 1981 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler and 4x4Review has her newest project vehicle.

In the months ahead, 4x4Review will provide coverage of a series of upgrades designed to prepare this Scrambler for use as a family-fun oriented off-roader.  The Jeep will not be a hard-core rock-crawler. Rather, this Jeep will be a family rig.  It must be safe, reliable, capable and comfortable for a family of four. 

Duties will include trail driving and some light duty rock crawling.  Being in Texas, it will be expected to travel long distances without riding atop a trailer, and must haul camping gear, recovery gear and other necessities for the family.

Target Trail:  This Jeep will be built with a target trail in mind, such as the famous Rubicon trail or Moab, UT.  The Jeep will be christened on that very trail with the whole family in Summer, 2010.

So, there you have it friends.  The story of a boy, a dream and how a Jeep CJ8 Scrambler can be used to blur the space / time continuum.  As we look forward into the future, the 4x4Review team’s newest project vehicle will go through several phases of development beginning first with roadworthiness.  Stay tuned for the next article as we have a number of key suppliers involved in helping the Scrambler drive cooler, brake better and stop leaving a Hansel & Gretel trail of oil drops where ever it goes.

About Rick Webster

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