The Jeep CJ7 first made its appearance in 1976. Given a complete redesign from its predecessors, the CJ7 was the first really practical Jeep for “civilian” use. The switch to a fully boxed frame increased overall stability, as well as provided the vehicle with unrivaled strength. The leaf springs were changed and moved further outward, and anti-sway bars and a steering stabilizer were added for even more overall drivability. Though the CJ5 also received these improvements, the CJ7 featured another 10 inches in the wheelbase. On top of the more stable ride this provided, it increased rear leg room and interior cargo space. In 1982, the Jeep CJ7 was again improved with “wide track” axles upgrades. This provided a wider stance which increased side to side stability and cornering abilities.
The 1976 CJ7 came standard with a 232ci inline 6 cyclinder engine, though Jeep offered upgrades in the form of a 304ci 5.0 liter and a 258ci 4.2L inline 6 cylinder. Also offered by Jeep was the choice of a standard heavy duty Borg Warner T-150 3 speed transmission, or an optional Borg Warner T18 4 speed “granny” transmission. The Dana Model 20 was the only transfer case available upon its release.
By 1980, things began to change for the Jeep CJ7. The GM 151ci 4 cylinder engine was the stock powerplant. 1981 would be the last year of the optional 5.0L V8 engine. The AMC 150ci 4 cyclinger replaced the GM 151 in 1984.
Transmissions also got changed along the way. The Tremec T-176 and SR4 were both introduced in 1980, whose 4 speeds were built more for street use, rather than off-roading. Automatic transmissions, the TF999 and TF904, also debuted in 1980, for the more casual Jeep consumer. The “light duty” Borg Warner T4 (4 speed) and T5 (5 speed) transmissions were both first used in 1981.
The Dana Model 20 transfer case was replaced in 1980 by the Dana Model 300. This new transfer case had a much deeper low range, at 2.62:1 compared to the 2.03:1 Dana 20. The change was necessary due to Jeep no longer offering anything like the granny gear found in the T18 transmission.
As for the CJ7’s standard axles, Jeep offered the Dana Model 30 for the front and the AMC 20 for the rear. The Dana 44 rear axle was being offered as an upgrade on select models, and later became standard in 1986. Jeep offered no optional factory front axles.
In 1987, the AMC badges were lost and the Wrangler was born. The CJ7 was gone. To many Jeep purists, this was the end of the real Jeep. Although the engines and geometry remained the same, the rear axle, transmission, and transfer case became more suitable for “lighter” duty. The interior became more “car” like. For safety, the classic roll bar became sort of a roll cage, which prevented folding down the windshield on the fly.
Since 1987, no vehicle produced can compare with the Wrangler. However, the Jeep CJ7 remains a vehicle in its own class. It is still one of the most sought after Jeeps for restoration, off-roading, or just a weekend trip. Luckily, it’s popularity and simplistic design has kept the aftermarket alive with accessories and parts. With frames now available, you can literally build a Jeep CJ7 from the ground up. For these and countless other reasons, the CJ7 may just be the “perfect” Jeep.