When we first offered David Lizzarago a photo shoot and feature story of his CJ-7, he said, "Yes, but…." But what? What could possibly be more pressing than having a camera pointed at your trail rig? Quite a few things, it turns out, and family tops that list. "I can't find my son," David told us.
A sea of RVs had swept over Anderson Dry Lake for Cal 4 Wheel's Hi Desert Round-Up, and Lizzarago's son was adrift somewhere among them. We wished him well, gave him our cell number (service is actually pretty good there) and hoped for the best. Jeeps come and go. Family doesn't.
The LM7 5.3L Vortec V-8 is...
The LM7 5.3L Vortec V-8 is part of the GM 5300 Vortec engine family. Versions of this powerplant were first offered in 1999 and continue to this day. The in-block camshaft and pushrod configuration is more compact compared to an overhead cam engine.
Just as the sun was sinking below the horizon, David called with good news. He'd located his son and was heading our direction.
A CJ-7 wasn't Lizzarago's first choice. That honor was held by the CJ-8 Scrambler. Alas, none could be found at the right price, so the clean 1976 CJ-7 on these pages was located, negotiated, and re-created.
Some parts of the CJ's platform didn't need to be re-invented. Spring-under leaf springs offer reduced axle wrap and often allow more bump travel than their over-the-axle counterparts. The '7's wheelbase was also left as the factory delivered it. Same goes for most of the interior and the dashboard. Why fix that which isn't broken?
David’s 5.3L features a custom...
David’s 5.3L features a custom computer, Advance Adapters headers, and a K&N intake. A yellow-top Optima battery ensures start after successful start.
It's a different story under the hood. The factory carbureted toad is long gone, and there's an LM7 5.3L Vortec V-8 in its place. The LM7 is one of today's most popular engines for swapping, and for good reason. It's easy to find in wrecking yards. It's powerful, even bone stock. Thanks to pushrods and an in-block camshaft, it's compact. Thanks to six-bolt main bearing caps and a host of other smart designs, it's reliable. Thanks to all these desirable traits, the LM7 is well-supported by the automotive aftermarket. Long story short, it's a perfect choice.
Downstream from the Vortec, things go back to the good old days. It's not a bad thing: an SM465 four-speed transmission and a Dana 300 transfer case are as desirable and bulletproof as the GM powerplant in front of them.
This SM465 and Dana 300 combo...
This SM465 and Dana 300 combo is about the cleanest we’ve ever seen. It’s clean enough to eat off of if you don’t mind a little desert sand in your food.
From the transfer case, power feeds aft into a Dana 44 rear axle that's fitted with an Auburn limited slip and a 4.56 gear set. Following the front driveshaft leads to a Dana 30 with a Detroit Locker, chromoly axle shafts, and a matching ratio.
Though 33-inch tires aren't considered big anymore, this tire size still brings good things to the table. Thirty-three's are easy on axles, easy on fuel economy, and easy on the wallet. David uses Mickey Thompson Baja MTZs, a tread we've tried and enjoyed.
Spartan meets sophistication in the LM7 CJ-7. We're glad we got to shoot it, but we're happier yet that father and son were re-united in short order with minimal drama. Jeeps come and go. Family doesn't.
This wouldn’t be a fun interior...
This wouldn’t be a fun interior for long commutes and general daily driving, but for a trail rig it doesn’t get much better.
||1976 Jeep CJ-7
||David Lizzarago/Chino Hills, California
||GM LM7 5.3L Vortec V-8 with custom computer and Advance Adapter headers
||Stock manifold, K&N filter and intake system
|Ring and Pinion:
||Eaton Detroit Locker
||Pro Comp four-inch lift springs
||33x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ radials
||15x10 Mickey Thompson Classic II
||Six years of off-and-on wrenching and fabrication
We’re also big fans of the...
We’re also big fans of the tubular framework running underneath for superior drivetrain protection.
After having broken a spindle...
After having broken a spindle in the Glamis dunes, David lists the front Dana 30 as the biggest bummer about his rig. Even so, he’s given the smallish axle a fighting chance by adding chromoly axle shafts. The steering linkage is also tucked up high and it’s further protected by the Pro Comp leaf packs. Behind the steering linkage you can see the orange hue of the 5.3’s cast iron block.
The front bumper is simple,...
The front bumper is simple, sturdy, and compact. There’s a receiver hitch dead center, plugged with a billet Bow Tie when not in use. Tube fenders keep rocks from invading the classic sheet metal.
This Spartan interior is easy...
This Spartan interior is easy to clean and easy to modify: witness the gauges added to the dashboard. The CB is mounted to the floor where it’s easily accessible.
A pair of fire extinguishers...
A pair of fire extinguishers is mounted where they’re easy to get at, yet are securely in place until you need them.
Jeep rocker panels are nice...
Jeep rocker panels are nice and flat and easy to protect. The tubular hoop step hangs down, but it’s made of sturdy stuff and should take a beating. The best part is that body protection like this is easy to repair and modify. It’s a smart move to add body armor the way David has done before the body gets dented in the first place.
Tire coverage is generous,...
Tire coverage is generous, but a bit of rubber still juts out past the body lines. That’s the best arrangement for trail work in the rocks, but you might need to install mud flaps for street driving.
Mickey Thompson runs the rolling...
Mickey Thompson runs the rolling stock shown here. Baja MTZs work well in a variety of off-road conditions yet have decent pavement manners for an aggressive tire. Classic II wheels never go out of style.
The rear quarter panels are...
The rear quarter panels are armored, and a set of tube flares nicely matches the front fenders. The rear tire carrier is a fold-down style that’s stable and secure when the Jeep’s underway.