1983 AMC Jeep CJ7 Laredo 4X4
My Journey With This American Icon.
Back in 2004 the wife and I were in need of a second vehicle. At the time we were getting around OK in a 2000 Dodge Intrepid which oddly enough I still drive today.
I worked as a Recruit Division Commander at Great Lakes, IL and had the privilege of training our nations finest at the cost of my spouse being without a car. She was pregnant at the time and was taking care of another youngster so being stuck at home was getting on her nerves.
So I agreed to start looking for a new ride as the Dodge had just recently been paid off. Yay, extra cash!
Well, serendipity being what it is I had mentioned to my boss at the time that the family was looking to purchase a car and he mentioned that he was selling his Jeep.
I had driven with him in it before and I thought it was one of the best cared for vehicles I had ever seen. He had kept meticulous maintenance records in a little green log book and although it was driven on the salt encrusted roads of the upper mid-west, the Jeeps body tub had comparably little rust. Shoot, he even had the manufacturers window sticker in the glove compartment!
I went for it. Without consulting the wife I made him an offer. He accepted my measly offer of get this.......$2000!
I went home that day at lunch in my bosses Jeep to show her what I was planning on buying. Selling the wife on this deal was critical to my long term happiness at home so I took her on a tour around the Jeep. Being a girlie girl she crinkled up her nose when I showed her all the features of the classic American automobile. The bullet-proof 258 inline 6 cylinder with the Carter 2 barrel carburetor. the original white powder coated military rims, the original hardtop, the original AM/FM radio, the original well, everything!
She was not impressed. Until I told her how much he wanted for it.
We understood that our best option was to get a car that would be reliable but not bust our budget and with this deal landing in our laps like this, we knew another one like it wouldn't come along anytime soon so she agreed to let me purchase it. Woo-hoo!
Went to the bank, got the loan and just like that I was the proud owner of a 1983 Jeep CJ7 Laredo.
I had a blast driving it to and from work and I found out about the phenomenon known as the Jeep Wave.
Other Jeep owners, particularly early Jeeps were fond of throwing up hand waves when passing each other on the road. I became a part of a special community. A brotherhood of sorts that understood each other and understood what it took to keep these beasts alive and running.
But I didn't yet have a clue.
Oh but I learned very quickly that in order to drive this Jeep, I would need to be prepared to get a little dirty in keeping my baby happy.
It's funny that you notice the little things about a used car only after you buy it. One morning I observed a slight drip coming from the underside and deduced correctly that my engine was ever so slightly leaking oil. Not good. So I spent an entire weekend with a friend who happened to be a Jeep owner himself and we spent hours trying to get that dang oil pan removed. Finally got it off but only after first removing one engine mount, the front drive shaft to the differential and the starter motor.
Once that leak was repaired the job of tending to the Jeep didn't ease up.
One cold early morning when I went to add a splash of motor oil, I noticed that the oil fill cap was covered in what looked like khaki colored whip cream. Not good! As it turns out, my PVC valve was blocked which didn't allow proper ventilation of the areas under the valve cover which could lead to improper lubrication and early engine death.
Once I fixed that up all was well but the engine didn't seem to have enough pep.
After researching on Jeep and off-road Internet forums, I realized other Jeep owners were having the same issues as I and had resolved that issue by installing a high voltage ignition system. Well, $100 dollars later, I put one in my Jeep as well and boy, what a difference. Heck, my gas mileage got a boost also. I was happy as a clam. For a while until.......
I let the Jeep sit for about 2 weeks when I went on vacation.
When I returned I had a whale of a time getting the thing started. As it turns out older Jeeps like mine enjoy being driven everyday. If you let your Jeep sit for any prolonged length of time the original 2 barrel carb just doesn't want to work properly and as I found out from those Jeep forums, the design of the original 2 barrel Carter carburetor was inefficient and inadequate for what the engine was designed to do namely go off road at odd angles.
And as it turns out there is a relatively inexpensive fix for that. By replacing the original carb with a Motorcraft 2100 series carb and pairing it with a modified adapter plate for the intake manifold you can dramatically improve the power and reliability of your stock in-line 6 cylinder 258 engine, for not a lot of bank.
But I never got around to performing the upgrade. Why you ask?
Procrastination. I had just completed a successful tour at RTC and had taken orders to San Diego to receive training in preparation to become a member of the first crew aboard the USS Makin Island, a new ship that would be built in Pascagoula, Ms.
With all the things I had to do to move and get the family settled, I just didn't have the time to change out the carb.
So when it was time to say goodbye to Great Lakes, She loaded up the Dodge and I loaded up the Jeep. She went up to Wisconsin while I left for a drive across the country to San Diego. Yes, in a Jeep.
Leaf spring suspension, crappy carb, a wing and a prayer. It made it to California in one piece but on the very last leg of the journey in the mountains east of San Diego I started getting vapor lock. This occurs in an engine when fuel travelling to the carb starts turning into a vapor due to intense heat and when it arrives to the venturi's in gaseous form, the engine will stall and sputter because it's not getting the correct air/fuel mixture needed to support proper combustion. Not good!
Luckily I was almost to my destination and simply needed to pull off into a rest stop, take a break and let the Jeep cool down. Once I'd done that I arrived to the naval base just fine.
While in San Diego I was able to upgrade the suspension with new shocks and tires and installed a new rear tire carrier/bumper. Had it riding pretty!
6 months of training and it was time to once again drive the Jeep halfway across the country for a second time. Yep, I did it twice. In a Jeep.
This time I was headed to Pascagoula, Mississippi to the USS Makin Island to start my adventure bringing the ship to life as a new construction vessel the Navy was to take delivery on the next year.
By this time I had figured out a simple method to avoid the vapor lock scenario I had encountered earlier in my drive out to California. With this trek to the south I altered my drive time to the evening hours. I would drive at night because I'd discovered that the radiant heat from the sun is what was causing my engine to overheat so to mitigate that I took to travelling at night. And it worked!
With very little issues I arrived in Pascagoula with little fanfare. I drove it for a few more months on and off road. It seemed to enjoy hitting the sandy beaches of the gulf coast and frolicked gleefully in the water.
Buy alas I had to take orders back to California and by this time there was no way in hades I was going to make that trip in that rough riding vehicle.
So sadly I put it up for sale. With both a For Sale sign and a Craigslist ad, I was all set.
Holy Cow! In just a few hours of submitting my ad on Craigslist I started receiving e-mails and phone calls inquiring about the Jeep. Some folks from as far away as New Orleans!
But what eventually happened was that a local shipyard worker saw the sign and came over to the office's we were based out of and talked with me face to face and you know what?
I ended up selling the Jeep for about a thousand dollars more than I had paid for it.
All in all, with all the upgrades I had put into it I'm pretty sure I only broke even on the sale.
But man, what an adventure we shared. I was forever changed as a car owner. The Jeep seemed to have its own personality and character. She let me know in subtle ways if there was anything wrong but never so much that I was left stranded on the highway calling for a tow truck.
Even with all the challenges of owning a slice of classic American nostalgia, I would do it all over again. In a heartbeat.
If the opportunity ever presented itself again like it did with my Jeep, I would take the plunge and own another one.
But this time around I'd upgrade that dang old carburetor for something better!