CJ Jeep History (1970-1986)

Article by Mark Trotta

By the late sixties, consumer interest in off-road activities had grown in leaps and bounds, with the Kaiser-Willys Jeep leading the way. Four-wheel drive vehicles were more popular than ever. It was at this time that American Motors Corporation was looking to expand their product line.

Jeep CJ5 history

Seeing the rising demand for off-road vehicles, AMC purchased Kaiser-Jeep in 1970. Through the next 17 years, the Jeep CJ was offered in an wide array of trim packages and special editions.

Longer CJ Frame

For 1972, A new box-frame, featuring six cross-members for rigidity, was lengthened by 3" to accommodate American Motor's six-cylinder engine. Fenders and hood were also lengthened. The CJ5 wheelbase (hub to hub) was now 81" and the CJ6 wheelbase measured 101". Transmission choices were upgraded to a T14A or T15 three-speed, or T18 four-speed manual transmission.

Other upgrades on the Jeep CJ included a full-floating Dana-30 front axle and heavier Dana-44 rear axle. Both front and rear axles were solid and suspended with leaf springs. Larger 11-inch drum brakes were fitted, as well as an improved steering system.

Jeep Renegade

In 1970, the Renegade I was introduced. The Renegade II followed in 1971, and by 1972, it was simply Renegade. By 1974, it was separate model in the Jeep CJ lineup.

Jeep CJ-5 Renegade

CJ5 Engine Options

The first two years of American Motor's Jeep CJ5 saw the continuation of the GM 225ci V6 engine that first saw use in the 1964/1965 Jeep CJ. In 1972, CJ5 models were fitted with AMC's 232 inline-six engine. The cast-iron block featured seven main bearings and was very durable. An OHC cast-iron head housed hydraulic lifters with non-adjustable rockers.

Read: CJ5 Engine Swap Choices

Jeep 304 V8

From 1972 through 1981, an AMC 304ci V8 was optional in CJ Jeeps. The best performance years were 1972-1978, with a net horsepower of 150 at 4,200 rpm and peak torque rating of 245 at 2,500 rpm. The cast-iron block featured five main bearings, with early engines having an 8.4:1 compression ratio.

Super Jeep

With dozens of available options and a wild stripe pattern, the Super Jeep CJ model was first offered in 1973, then again in 1975 and 1976. The 1973 Super Jeep came with chrome bumpers, white steel wheels, and a 304ci V8 engine.

1976 Jeep CJ5

Courtesy lights, day/night mirror, and a new steering wheel appeared in 1976. This year also saw an energy-absorbing steering column which featured an anti-theft steering lock. Rocker panel moldings between the front and rear wheels were new. Safety concerns brought about larger combination backup/tail-lamps.

Also in 1976, the body tub and frame were modified slightly from earlier versions. The windshield frame also changed, making tops from 1955-1975 CJ models different from 1976-1983 CJ models. The new windshield used screw-type hold-downs.

Jeep CJ history

Power disc brakes became optional on the Jeep CJ5 in 1977. Starting in 1979, the standard engine was the 258ci straight-six with two-barrel carburetor. From 1980 to 1983, the standard engine became the GM "Iron-Duke" four-cylinder engine.

Levi's Jeep

Offered from 1975 to 1986, the Levi's Jeep package was not a special edition, it was an option. It was one of the most popular interior and top options Jeep had ever offered. Aside from simulated stitching in Levi fashion on the seats, there was jean-style padding on the dash, and a jean material-type top. The Levi's package was available in blue or tan, and was optional on all CJ Jeeps and standard on the Renegade.

Jeep CJ7

Introduced in 1976, the CJ7 marked the first significant change in 20 years. A longer wheelbase (about 10") allowed fitment of an automatic transmission. Along with full-time Quadra-Trac 4WD, more interior space, an optional molded plastic top, steel doors and air conditioning, the CJ7 was a big leap forward in comfort and day-to-day practicality.

Quadra-Trac 4WD

Jeep introduced the Quadra-Trac System in 1973, the first automatic full-time 4WD system. The first version was produced from 1973 to 1979 and used the Borg-Warner BW1339 transfer case.

Many people use the name Quadra-Trac for any full-time Jeep 4wd system, but there are several varieties produced by different manufacturers. The original Qudra-Trac system used a differential which split engine torque from front to rear automatically. There was a vacuum lock switch located in the glove box, and a low range selector shift located on the center hump.

CJ7 Jeeps received the Quadra-Trac system starting in 1976. It was available in full-size Jeep trucks and wagons as well.

CJ5 Jeep history

In 1979, the standard Jeep 232ci six-cylinder engine was replaced by the AMC 258 six-cylinder with a two-barrel carburetor. This motor was long-lived and still enjoys a very good reputation with the Jeep community.

Jeep Golden Eagle

From 1977 to 1983, the Golden Eagle package came with a soft-top or hard-top option, power disc brakes, power steering, tachometer, 304ci V8, air conditioning, side steps, and Golden Eagle decals.

1978 Jeep Golden Eagle CJ

A Silver Anniversary Jeep CJ was offered in 1978. Special features on this model included metallic silver finish with accent striping, black interior and soft top, and commemorative dashboard plaque.

Read: Restore An Old Jeep

CJ7 Engine Options

To help comply with stricter U.S. mileage requirements, a four-cylinder engine built by GM debuted in 1980. Jeep advertised the 2.5 litre motor as the "Hurricane" but it was commonly known as the "Iron Duke".

CJ5 Jeep history

With a displacement of 151 cubic inches, a two-barrel carburetor, and 8.2:1 compression ratio, engine output was 82-horsepower at 4,000 rpm. Engine torque was 125 lb-ft at 2,600 rpm. The motor was dropped in 1983, leaving the 258-six as the only engine available.

V8 Option Discontinued

Federal requirements for emission controls severely hurt 304 V8 engine performance, and was dropped from the option list in 1981. By 1979, power output dropped to 130 horsepower. The last two years the 304 was offered, it dropped 110 horsepower, which was barely higher than the 258 six cylinder motor.

The idea of putting a V8 in a Jeep CJ was not new. Enthusiasts had been doing it for years, with several aftermarket companies still offering installation kits to fit Chevrolet V8 engines into Jeeps.

Last Year CJ5 Jeep

With popularity of the Jeep CJ7, demand for the smaller CJ5 gradually decreased, and was eventually discontinued in 1983. With a total of over 600,00 units produced between 1954 and 1983, the CJ5 enjoyed a 29-year production run, longer than any other Jeep model up to that time.

CJ5 Jeep history


Jeep CJ Pickup (1981-1986)

Starting production in 1981, the Jeep CJ8 was designed to compete with other American small domestic pickups such as the Ford Ranger and the Chevy S-10. Wheelbase on the CJ pickup was 104-inches, essentially a longer wheelbase version of the CJ7 model.

Jeep CJ8 history

A removable half-cab was attached to the vehicle, and a small pick-up style box was utilized. An optional "Scrambler" appearance package added tape graphics, lettering and special wheels.

Jeep CJ8 history

Although primarily designed as a short-bed pickup truck, the CJ pickup could also be set up with rear seating and a full hard top or full soft top. The Jeep CJ8 was available with either a 2.5L 4-cylinder or 4.2L AMC in-line six. Produced from 1981 to 1986, about 28,000 models were sold.


The CJ7 was one of the most successful Jeep models, with numerous special packages. Close to 400,000 were produced by the time it was discontinued.

Jeep CJ Series Discontinued

The Jeep CJ-7 and CJ-8 were replaced by the Jeep Wrangler. Late in the 1985 model year, a dash plaque was added, which read "Last of the Great Ones".

After Chrysler's buyout of American Motors in 1987, the 258ci motor continued production through 2006. It is considered by many to be one of the most durable engines ever produced.

Aftermarket Jeep Parts

Parts availability for CJ Jeeps is second to none. Anything mechanical, as well as wheels, tires, soft and hard tops, interior and exterior parts are easily obtained. There are also plenty of off-road upgrades, such as transfer cases, drive shafts, axles, differential lockers, roll bars, bumpers, skid plates, winches, etc.

CJ5 Jeep history

Jeep CJ Axles

Installed in CJ models from 1976 through the mid 1980s, the two-piece axle design of the AMC Model 20 are OK for stock use. However, you may want to upgrade your axles to handle any significant performance upgrades. Many CJ owners replace the two-piece shafts with the stronger one-piece style, or weld the tubes for additional strength.


Related Articles:

Kaiser Willys Jeep History

Restore An Old Jeep