Saving The Jeep: A New Series

July 31, 2017 at 5:41 pm

There has been a 1979 Jeep CJ-7 in my family for nearly 40 years now. My Great-Uncle bought it new from the dealer, and it passed to my father, then my mother, and now to me. The Jeep has many fond memories associated with it. I can still remember the first time I road in it, with my uncle taking dad and me to the cabin. I remember when both my mom and dad were separately teaching me to drive and made me promise not to tell the other. I remember when, on one particular lesson, mom drove the Jeep off a steep embankment and I had to calm her down and get it out. Countless stories are wrapped up in that hunk of metal; precious memories that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Unfortunatly life gets in the way sometimes. Dad passed away many years ago, and the Jeep became an occasional driver. Mom got sick a few years ago, and the Jeep was semi-permanently garaged. Recently, Mom passed after a long battle with cancer, and now the Jeep belongs to me. I don’t know much about cars, but I know keeping a vehicle in an unconditioned space for several years is bad for it. So what to do?

I’m a fan of a show called The Survival Podcast (TSP). In it, Jack Spirko, a renaissance prepper-cum-duck-farmer, talks about dozens of topics ranging from stocking a larder to bitcoin’s implications on the global economy. It’s a fantastically interesting show. TSP also has something called an Expert Council, comprised of subject matter experts from fields across the spectrum. One in particular stood out: Charles Sanville, the Humble Mechanic. I thought if anyone could help and offer guidance, he could. So I sent the following email to Jack.

Question for: Charles Sanville

Question: What should I do for an inherited 1979 CJ-7 that’s been garaged for the last 5 years and had some odd modifications done to it? It currently doesn’t run, but I’d like to keep it, and learn the basics of car maintenance and “restoration”.
My great-uncle bought an odd CJ-7 new in 1979 from the dealer. It has
  • A straight 6, automatic transmission (I think AMC 232?)
  • Power steering,
  • Manual breaks
  • All-time 4-wheel drive, Quadra-Trac, which makes the jeep really squirrely at speed).
  • Less than 20,000 original miles
  • Almost no rust

Over the years, it passed on from my great-uncle, to my father, then my mother. It’s a family heirloom at this point, and I have many fond memories of going camping, hiking, and to our families cabin in upstate NY. Heck, I ever learned to drive in it! I really want to keep this vehicle for weekend/occasional driving, camping, and because it’s all I have left of my family at this point. I’d love for my son to learn to drive in it some day.

There are a few known issues with the vehicle:
  • My dad didn’t believe in modern emissions regulations and pulled most of those components. There are hoses the terminate in a bolt and hose clamp. The Jeep ran after these modifications, but I’d like to get it back to “normal” running mode so that it doesn’t potentially mess up the engine.
  • Some of the control knobs inside come off.
  • All four whitewalls are flat and don’t appear to hold air.
  • The spare tire was side-mounted so a rear wooden cargo-box could be added. That box is now falling apart. Should I rebuild it or try to restore the spare tire to the rear?
  • It’s in a garage in upstate NY, and I need to get it hauled to my garage in PA.

I’m an IT Architect/engineer who used to build a lot of sets for theater, so I’m competent with tools and woodworking, but I have almost no experience with cars. I’ve changed oil a few times and that’s about it.

How do you get started with something like this? How do you figure out what was removed from the engine? Is a car this old worth restoring, or am I letting my sentimentality get in the way?
Any insight or advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
-Derek M, in PA.
I sent it in wondering if the question was too specific for a followup on the show, but I figured it was worth a shot. A few weeks went by and no answer came, so I thought I’d have to figure it out on my own. Then, to my surprise, I heard my question on the air…

This is the start of a new series, documenting my Family’s 1979 CJ-7. Stay tuned for updates.