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1965 Jeep CJ-5 and CJ-6 review

by Greg Lenderink

The 1965 CJ-5s were great for four wheeling and puttering around town or on the farm. Because of the deep gears, 5.38s or 4.88s, they wouldn't go much faster than 50 mph, or 55 if you pushed it. 45 mph was more reasonable.


It took five years for Kaiser to get the CJ-5 to its best state, reached in 1970. Then it took AMC to fix some of the remaining issues, while losing some its best qualities.

From 1968-71 we had a 1967 with the “Dauntless” (oddfire Buick V-6) 225, 3 speed manual, Warn overdrive, and 4.88 gears. It was probably one of the best “off the showroom floor” Jeeps for many years, but needed better tires.

In high school and afterwards (1979-84) I had a 1966 CJ-5. The T-86 3-speed didn't stand up to much abuse and split the case down the parting line. I sold it in 1985 and bought a 1970 Renegade CJ-5 in Salida, which I still have. I was the third owner of the Renegade, although the first and second owners were close friends and the second only owned it for a few months. It was positively bone stock when I bought it and had less than 50K miles on it.

I four wheeled the Renegade pretty hard for several years and drove it all over Colorado--including many back highways and trails. It eventually got disc brakes on the Dana 27 front axle off of a '78 Scout and was slated for other upgrades until it suffered a severe electrical fire in Dec '89, the night I was recalled for deployment to Panama when I was an Army Ranger with 2/75th Ranger Battalion. It has sat ever since, with work done here and there, but never finished. I regretfully sold the Warn overdrive and the Dana 18 T/C with plans to upgrade to an Atlas II and an NV4500 that was never done. Now the plan is to find another Warn overdrive and a good Dana 18 and to restore the body and most components and use it as an occasional driver. It sits semi-mothballed in the garage.

About 7 years ago we bought a 1971 CJ-5 without the overdrive and with 3.73 gears to just putt around town and out in the country. It suffered from some tranny issues which tended to kick it out of second when you let off the accelerator and some very poor replacement wiring. Its been parked for a while after the rat's nest of wiring became an issue and the rear brakes went south. The plan for this baby now is to getting it running well enough to sell it and fund the restoration on the Renegade.

1965 Jeep engines

I've been a fan of the V-6 CJs for many, many years. Despite the 4.88 gears most of them had, they got great mileage. My Renegade used to get nearly 28 mpg with all terrain radials, but it rarely had good highway tires. It always had serious offroad shoes. The V-6 was very torquey, but had a tendency to throw rods if you turned it too fast (which I never did, but saw the results of several) without some good balancing in a machine shop. They would absolutely "climb a tree" if it had the traction and I was often accused of going too slow up steep climbs when four wheeling in a group. Just let it crawl!

I tested about every aspect of the late 1960s/70/71 CJs. The heaters worked well, if you could seal off all the leaks and pushed enough air through it, which was a challenge. The original steering system was horrendous and tended to wear out quickly. Changing lanes on I-25 or I-70 was almost like taking your life in your hands. You'd want to change one lane, but might get a second or third if you weren't careful. The bell crank had to be rebuilt yearly. A one-piece tie rod helped, but your best bet was a steering box out of a Scout mounted with the steering shaft in place of the left front shock and the shock moved behind the axle. The springs were fine for a hay wagon, but drooped little and flexed even less. Rancho saved us there as did places like Mile-Hi Jeep or Denver Spring.

jeep CJ tops

My Renegade came with the full gauge option which was really nice--voltmeter, oil pressure and coolant temp. It even had an AM radio. Woohoo! As if you could hear it over the flapping soft top and tire whine from studs and mud tires. It also came with a nice spare tire/fuel can carrier that was apparently sourced from Bestop. I usually had the top off from May - September, even in Colorado. I particularly enjoyed running with the windshield down as well, but not on the interstates. It had matching low back bucket seats and a rear seat that was easy to remove as well as a factory roll bar. It even had...gasp... sun visors and a padded dash. Although it sported the small 10-gallon "under the driver's seat" fuel tank, it would go quite a ways without stopping because of the good mileage. Just don't smoke for awhile after refueling and don't park it sideways on a hill with the tank downhill.

My Renegade took me on many adventures in Colorado's mountain roads and highways. I drove from Vail to Denver one night between Christmas and New Years when there wasn't a soul on the I-70 or I-25. Apparently CDoT closed I-70 about 5 minutes after I left Vail due to heavy snow and I had the highway and anywhere from 3"-14" of snow to myself. Didn't see a single snow plow. Another time I drove from Granby to Kremmling one Thanksgiving morning when US-40 was covered with 12"-24" on snow. I'd left before the snowplows had made it that far. My only problem was I had to keep it below 25 mph to keep the engine compartment from packing full of snow and overheating the engine. Let's just say I wasn't worried about traffic.

Over those years I pulled out many stranded motorists with my Renegade. It was/is my favorite vehicle I've ever had... probably due more to the great memories than anything.

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