Since World War II, the Jeep has become synonymous with reliability and ruggedness. Even after the war, the utility of such a simple yet efficient platform was recognized. It was inevitable, really, that the Jeep would eventually reach the civilian sector eventually. Unsurprisingly, the very qualities that made it such an effective military platform were the same qualities that appealed to consumers across America. The Jeep CJ5 sits square in the middle of a long evolution of the platform. In a sense, it represents both a milestone into the future and a record of the past for this venerable machine.
1954-1975: Planting the flag firmly
Just as the original Jeep was strongly influenced by its performance in the Second World War, the CJ5 too was a result of experiences of the M38 Jeep during the Korean War. In its long run, the CJ5 had the distinct honor of being a vehicle difficult to kill off—boasting of the longest production run in the brand’s long history. While its appearance varied little from its predecessor, the CJ5 got the option to upgrade to a more powerful Perkins 192 cu. In. Diesel Inline-4 engine with 62-horsepower output—very reasonable for the simplicity and rugged nature of the design.
In 1965, the CJ-5 finally got a permanent engine upgrade with the Buick 225 cu. In. V6 Dauntless which was capable of putting out over 155-horsepower. It is interesting to note that power steering came as an $ 81 option instead of a standard. In 1969, for added safety, side marker lights were added. In 1970, when the CJ5’s parent company was sold to American Motors, the Dauntless was retired completely. This lead to the installation of AMC’s own engines in 1972—a one-barrel 3.8-L proprietary engine was one such example. Additionally, CJ5 purchasers could opt for a beefier 5.0-L V8—this was the age where muscle cars were all the rage.
To make room for the newer, larger engines, the hood and fenders were stretched 5 inches and the wheelbase stretched to 3 inches as well. The front axle became a full-floating Dana 30, allowing for better dampening in even more rugged applications. In 1973, a new dash was put in with as single central gauge housing the speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges.
1977-1983: Preparing for the future
By 1976, a couple of more extreme changes were made on the CJ5. For one thing, the main body “tub” became far more rounded, the windshield frame and angle were also changed—this meant that soft-tops compatible with earlier CJ-models would not fit the CJ5. This same year saw yet another suspension upgrade to the AMC-20 which had a larger diameter ring gear, but used a two-piece axleshaft and hub assembly instead of a sturdier one-piece. Power disc brakes and a new tachometer became available in 1977—while AM/FM radios became options in 1981.
Of engine upgrades, the most important in this closing era was the Hurricane-branded GM Iron Duke Inline-4 with an SR4 close-ratio four-speed manual transmission controlling it. The funny thing about the CJ5 was that it even outlasted its “successor” the CJ6 by a couple of years. In fact, it would be the “5” that will be the basis for even the more modern iterations of this venerable classic.