A JEEP WITH A PURPOSE
BY Jim Allen
PHOTOGRAPHY JIM ALLEN
SIXTY YEARS AGO, “WORK Jeep” meant a rig destined for commercial or agricultural pursuits with special equipment installed. Back then it was common to see a Jeep groaning under the weight of a trencher or backhoe. Those days are pretty much done for the Jeep brand, but there are still Jeeps that go to work. John Conrad’s CJ-8 is one of those, but it ain’t luggin’ around a backhoe.
John is a well-known custom fabricator in Indiana with a rural shop just far enough west of Indy to be considered truly country. You are just as likely to see a combine or a soil sampling rig at JB’s 4x4 shop as you are a wheeling rig, given that he’s deep in the farm belt. Over the years, JB’s 4x4 has built some noteworthy 4x4s, many of which have graced the pages of 4x4 mags.
One of the John’s passions is desert racing, and he has long been associated with Baja racing. His technical background has led to his working as pit crew, lately for various teams that use BFG tires on Baja 1000 races. The BFG pit groups supply tires and fuel but also perform repairs. That’s what John does, and sometimes he needs to run out to a broken racer to do it. After using a variety of vehicle types, he decided to special-build a service truck.
He started with the remains of a CJ-8, but the finished vehicle bears only superficial resemblance to a Jeep. Most of the chassis is custom built. The suspensions is a custom three-link at both ends, and the Jeep is powered by a very warm 401. You could confuse Conrad’s truck with a SCORE Class 1 buggy, but this truggy is built to carry weight and volume while still being able to negotiate the course at a rapid pace, day or night.
1 This rig is all about the connection between the brain and hands of an experienced fabricator. Though built for high-speed desert racing, this truck would likely do well in just about any venue.
2 Though it’s built like a prerunner or a competition vehicle (and performs as well as many), it has the space for several mounted tires, tools, and spare parts. The CJ-8–like body cladding is fiberglass, which JB’s 4x4 had specially made.
3 The 401 was built to produce 425 hp but with a broad torque range that extends well into the higher rpm. Machining was done by Phil’s Machine Shop in Danville, Illinois. The block was bored 0.040 over and given TRW piston with a 10.5:1 compression ratio. It uses massaged factory dogleg-port AMC heads with valves that are popped by a Comp Cams Magnum 280H cam via Comp Cams roller rockers. A Quick Fuel four-barrel supplies fuel through an Edelbrock Airgap intake manifold. An MSD distributor makes the fire, and the truck uses a dual ignition system to make sure heat, water, or dirt doesn’t stop the truck. The well-used exhaust exits through headers built by John Conrad at JB’s 4x4 and through a custom dual exhaust system. The engine mounts a compressor and a Premier Power Welder.
4 Below the cargo basket are dual Optimas, a big air tank, and a 32-gallon fuel cell. The trans and engine oil coolers mount behind the seats. The complex tube and metal work is a specialty for JB’s 4x4.
5 The interior sports seats from PRP and gauges from Auto Meter. At a race, the Jeep is fitted with CB and FM radios, as well as Lowrance for navigation. A Premier Power Welder provides welding capability, and its high output alternator provides juice to almost a dozen off-road and work lights.
6 The front suspension is a three-link design that uses a triangular lower link mounted to the center of the axle from the frame. All the arms are custom made and use Heim joints or high-quality poly bushings. The coilovers and bypass shocks are Sway-a-Way Racerunners, and the hydraulic bumpsstops are also from Sway-a-Way. The springs are Eibachs with sway bars from Speedway Engineering. Note how the front chassis swoops up over the axle. This is because the front section is actually the rear of a CJ-8 chassis. This suspension has lots of up and down travel but is not designed for great articulation. The front axle is a high-pinion Dana 44 with a Powr-Lok limited slip. The steering box is a familiar Jeep Saginaw box mounted well back in the chassis. The drag link connects to a bellcrank on top of the axle, which operates a second drag link to the passenger steering knuckle.
7 The rear Dana 60 uses Strange shafts and Warn full-float hubs with drive flanges. It also mounts a Strange spool with 4.10 gears. The rear suspension is a three-link built by John Conrad using Sway-a-Way coilovers. The TF-727 trans and Dana 300 transfer case are protected by a skidplate.
1980 JEEP CJ-8
ENGINE: 401ci AMC
TRANSMISSION: TF-727 3-speed automatic
TRANSFER CASE: Dana 300
FRONT AXLE: Dana 44 high pinion, Powr-Lok limited slip, 4.09 gears
REAR AXLE: Dana 60, Strange spool, 4.10 gears
SPRINGS & SUCH: Sway-a-Way coilovers w/ Eibach springs; custom 3-link front and rear
TIRES & WHEELS: 35x12.5015 BFG KM2 on American Racing 15x8