It was 1976 when the first Jeep CJ7 graced the roads. Redesigned from the frame up, the new CJ was much more practical for “civilian” use than any of its predecessors. The now fully boxed frame not only provided superior strength, but was also widened to increase stability. The leaf springs were altered and moved further outward, and anti-sway bars and a steering stabilizer were added for even more improvements in drivability. Although the CJ5 received these improvements as well, the CJ7 boasted an additional 10 inches in its wheelbase. This not only provided an even more stable ride but also added rear leg room and interior cargo space. The Jeep CJ7 was improved further in 1982 with upgrades to the axles, providing better cornering abilitys and overall handling, thanks to the wider stance.
The 1976 CJ7 came standard with a 232ci inline 6 cylinder engine, though Jeep offered upgrades in the form of a 304ci 5.0 liter and a 258ci 4.2L inline 6 cylinder. Jeep also offered the choice of a standard heavy duty Borg Warner T-150 3 speed transmission or an optional Borg Warner T18 4 speed transmission with a “granny” first gear as an upgrade. 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 became the stock powerplant, and the optional 5.0L V8 engine was discontinued later in 1981. In 1984 the AMC 150ci 4 cylinder replaced the GM 151.
Along the way, the transmission saw come changes as well. 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. In ’81, the 4 speed Borg Warner T4 and 5 speed T5 transmissions both saw their first use.
1980 was the year that the Dana Model 20 transfer case was replaced by the Dana Model 300. The Model 300 had a much deeper low range, 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, CJ7 was gone, the AMC badges were lost and the Wrangler was born. Many Jeep purists believe this was the end of the real Jeep. Although the engines and geometry remained the same, the transfer case, rear axle, and transmission all went even “lighter” duty. The interior took a shift for a more car-like appearance, and safety changes were made. For instance, the roll bar morphed to a full roll cage, which kept the windshield from folding down.
Since 1987, no vehicle produced can compare with the Wrangler. However, the Jeep CJ7 remains a vehicle in its own class. Today, it remains one of the most sought after Jeeps for off-roading, restoration, or just a weekend trip. It’s simple design and popularity has kept the aftermarket flooded with parts and accessories. Additionally, a Jeep CJ7 can be literally built from nothing as frames are offerred at many jeep parts sites. For these and countless other reasons, the CJ7 may just be the “perfect” Jeep.