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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
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.
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
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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