10 things you should know about the Jeep CJ-5

The Jeep CJ-5 is what brought the name and the vehicle to the forefront of the market for consumers looking for a great off-road vehicle. However, it didn’t start out that way. The CJ-5 began its long run as a front-line vehicle during World War II. The Jeep CJ-5 was created out of a need by the War Department to have a vehicle that could quickly get from place to place, regardless of terrain. The CJ was designed, engineered and manufactured quickly to fit the need, but after the war, the soldiers and their families were interested in a civilian Jeep that could excel off the beaten track. With that in mind, let’s take a walk through the ten things you should know about the Jeep CJ-5.


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10/10 The CJ-5 was born to be “a civilian vehicle for the masses” in 1955

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Front and side views of a 1955 Willys CJ-5

After the end of World War II, the need for an all-terrain vehicle that could go almost anywhere became apparent. The automaker rose to the challenge by taking the Jeep that had been built for military use, making some changes and marketing it to the public as “A Civilian Vehicle For The Masses.” It might not be the catchiest slogan ever used by a car manufacturing company, but it got the point across. The CJ-5 became a Jeep for the common man, not just government officials and troops who needed a way to get around.

9/10 From 1955 to 1971, the CJ-5 was still a military-style Jeep

A parked military jeep from the 1950s
Jeep

A 1950s Jeep from the side and front

The early years of the Jeep created by Willys and Kaiser Motors were not much different from what military personnel drove, except for a few additions that catered to what civilians needed. A top was added to the rear and a tailgate was added to make the CJ more user-friendly. Now that a design had been created that seemed to be popular with the public, the automaker decided it was better to leave what worked alone, so only a few mechanical and visual changes were made to the CJ-5 from 1955 to 1971.

Related: This electric Jeep Wrangler CJ is proof that the past can be electric, too

8/10 The CJ-5 had a diesel engine from 1961 to 1965

A parked but ready to work Jeep CJ
Christopher Ziemnowicz via Wikimedia Commons

Rear and side views of a farm-designed Jeep CJ

In the 60s, diesel engines were not often seen in vehicles because the technology simply wasn’t available to make them useful to the average buyer. However, Kaiser Jeep saw a way to take advantage of the diesel engine when Perkins created the 4.192 Diesel to fit into the CJ-5. The diesel could almost keep up with the original four-cylinder engines, but could outperform them because a diesel was meant for a hard day’s work. Since the Jeep was first offered as an agricultural vehicle to help out on the farm, an engine that could work was a big bonus.

7/10 1971 was when “Trac-Lok” took over

A parked Jeep CJ-5 from 1971
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Front and side views of a 1971 Jeep CJ-5

In 1971, GM bought back its rights from AMC to manufacture the engines for the Jeep CJ-5. A better driveshaft system was needed with the bigger, more powerful engines under the hood. The Jeep could effectively start off the line with some of the best muscle cars, but that wasn’t what the CJ-5 was all about. The company designed and installed the Trac-Lok system that allowed the vehicle to adjust power to the wheels as needed, without the driver having to do anything other than keep pressing the accelerator. This system only lasted a couple of years, giving way to the Quadra-Trac system in 1973, which left the Jeep in all-wheel drive.

Related: The 10 most off-road worthy 4x4s

6/10 The sporty look was matched with a beefy V-8

A parked Jeep CJ-5 from 1972
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Side and partial front views of a 1972 Jeep CJ-5

As with all vehicles, large and small, one of the things automakers strive for is a way to put a V-8 under the hood. In 1972, the AMC 304 V-8 was brought under the hood of the CJ-5, offering the eight-cylinder for the first time in the small Jeep. This engine was capable of creating approximately 150 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque. It may not seem like much when looking at today’s vehicles, but at the time it was powerful enough to require stronger frames to be designed, which were implemented in 1973 to prevent twisting and breaking any frame.

5/10 The welded frame was introduced in 1976

A parked Jeep CJ-5 from 1976
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Side view of a 1976 Jeep CJ-5

As power and torque increased due to new engine technology, the frames that had been riveted together began to fail. This meant that the company had to develop a better and more stable way of connecting the frame. In 1976, the solution to the problem was a simple switch, from a system with riveting to instead using a strong weld. This change created the basis for all new Jeeps today, although there have been some problems with it on the road.

Related: Jeep Wrangler vs. Ford Bronco: Choose the right SUV for you

4/10 1983 was the end due to an older sibling

A parked Jeep CJ-5 from 1983
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Side and front view of a 1983 Jeep CJ-5

New models and trends eventually led to the end of the famous Jeep CJ-5. The CJ-7 was produced and marketed to the public as an all-terrain vehicle with a wider, more stable stance. It came off the assembly line with a more modern, aggressive style, which captured the hearts of all Jeep lovers, causing a decline in sales of the CJ-5. In 1983, the CJ-5 became a vehicle from the past that would be remembered by many but forgotten by the mainstream buyers who gobbled up its larger CJ-7 sibling.

3/10 Rounded front fenders to prevent back spray

A parked Jeep CJ-5 from 1979
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Side and front view of a 1979 Jeep CJ-5 Levis Edition

The CJ-5 was the model that started the rounded front fenders. The style was used during the other CJ production series and also in some of the models offered today. The benefits of this front fender style can only be found by taking the CJ-5 out into the backcountry and plowing through sand or mud. The debris that will be kicked up will be deflected by the rounded fenders above the wheels, keeping mud and sand off the windshield. Not only does this make the Jeep safer to drive, but it also makes it easier to jump through mud pit after mud pit without having to slow down for the wipers to catch up.

Related: The Jeep Gladiator is the most off-road worthy pickup truck on the market today

2/10 Longest production run of all CJs

A parked and displayed Jeep from the 1980s
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Side and partial front view of a 1980s Jeep

Of all the CJs developed and marketed for sale, the Jeep CJ-5 had the longest run. It first appeared in 1955 and continued to be sold until 1983. The other models were produced alongside the CJ-5 for many years, offering a new style to the old Jeep that was so popular, but none so far matched or surpassed the 28 years of production that the Jeep CJ-5 had. That may not mean it is the best version of the Jeep. However, it was the most popular choice for many years, and is still an off-road vehicle sought after by many enthusiasts.

1/10 Many special editions to help sales numbers

A parked 1979 Jeep CJ-5 Renegade
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Front and side views of a 1979 Jeep CJ-5 Renegade

Over the years, the Jeep CJ-5 has had a base model and a few special editions designed to boost sales by creating an exciting new twist to the original CJ-5. Models like the 1961 to 1965 Tuxedo Park Series and the Camper in 1969 and 1970. After that there was the 462 in 1969, the Renegade series from 1970 to 1983, the Super Jeep in 1973, from 1973 to the Golden Eagle, the 1979 Silver Anniversary Edition, the 1980 Golden Hawk and then Laredo from 1980 to 1983. These models did not differ much from the base model except for looks, which drove sales for the entire CJ-5 line.

FAQ

Q: What year of the CJ-5 had a V-8?

Beginning with the 1973 model year, the Jeep CJ-5 was offered with an AMC 304 V-8. The engine was able to push out 150 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque, creating a Jeep that could cut through any terrain and have fun playing at the strip with today’s muscle cars.

Q: How many CJ-5s were produced?

The full production numbers for the CJ-5 come in at 603,303 examples. The CJ-5 had some excellent years and some less-than-great years, but overall, the CJ-5 did very well for the company throughout its production run.

Q: What is the funny fender on a Jeep?

The CJ-5 had a unique design implemented in the front fenders to prevent debris from flying onto the windshield. The rounded front fenders directly above the wheels help maintain operator visibility, no matter how much mud, sand or snow they plow through.

Q: Is the CJ-5 safe?

Unfortunately, the CJ-5 is prone to rollover, even at lower speeds. Precautions can be taken when driving one to ensure this doesn’t happen, such as slowing down around corners and never trying to do donuts in the local Walmart parking lot.

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