cj 7 red jeep builds restoration

CJ-7 Jeep Restoration Walkthrough: A Covid19 Antidote

by | Mar 27, 2020 | CJ7 Builds

I’m sitting here in my office, looking at the locked door, and I see very few cars on the street. There was no hurricane warning, and last I heard, there’s no oil crisis. But this Corona virus thing is really pissing me off. I’m tired of this doom and gloom stuff. My Facebook is full of doom. I turn on the TV, same stuff. Hop over on Youtube, news are full of COVID stuff. Enough already! Yes, we get it. It’s scary stuff, and it’s dangerous. Heard you the first time. Now, can we please continue living? I’ll be the change I want to see in the world. I have 7 CJ-7 jeeps we are building in my garage that are due to be shipped out in 30 days and in 60 days. So I’ll get on with it, business as usual. But during this break (c’mon, I’m not 20  years old, I need them breaks!) I decided to sit down and type up a positive blog post, to lift my spirits, and to lift your spirits. You may ask, Johnny, why a CJ-7 Jeep? Why are they so popular, and, why are you so into CJ-7s? Well, it’s the history, the charisma, the road presence, and the feel of freedom that I so lack at the moment. I want to hop in, drive off, and feel the wind in my hair. Ok, I’m completely bald, Kinda like the rock or Vin Diesel 🙂  but, you get the picture. It’s about freedom. kinda the same feeling when riding a Harley Davidson Busting down some backcountry roads. The history, as some folks may know, is the Willy’s Jeep that was used in World War 2. When the war was over and we beat Hitler, there were thousands of these returning home, and finding their new life. Folks loved them. They were true workhorses. Then, the public was hungry for more of these. And, we saw the birth of the Civilian Jeep. Aka, CJ-lineup. Incase you were wondering Jeep made the CJ-7S from 1976-1986. The CJ-7 has enough of that old-school ruggedness, so you can do whatever you want to it. It drives like a modern vehicle without all the gadgets and electronics that separate you from your driving experience. And, even bald guys like me still want to feel the wind in our hair AND feel the road beneath that rubber. It’s the experience, not the destination. Right. I mean, c’mon. FUN on the road. That’s the CJ-7. That’s why I love them. That’s why I’ve restored hundreds of them. Let me break things down in 10 important and FUN steps. While we can’t drive them now, at least I can write about them, and pass on the positive vibes to you all.

The Find

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  Any build I do starts with a find of a good CJ-7 Jeep to restore. I do a lot of traveling all across our beautiful country, meet cool people, and find great deals. I recently stocked up with a pretty good collection of western Dry vehicles, many of them are CJ-7, Camaros, Novas and so on. When a client calls and asks for a CJ-7 build, we start with the body type and color. So if they want a red soft-top, and happened to have one, we can get to work almost immediately. If not, I can go look for one. Or, sometimes clients bring down their own CJ-7.

The CJ-7 Jeep Strip-down

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  After we have the donor/restoration CJ-7, it’s time to take it apart, completely. We strip off all the interior, all mechanics, all electrical, and get down to the bare chassis and steel body. You know what they say, it will first get very messy before it starts getting better? Well, dismantling the CJ-7 Jeep leaves me with the building blocks. The Chassis and the steel body. Usually, they’re in pretty decent shape. This is why we specialize in finding rust-free donor CJs Some use an acid bath. This is the process of immersing the chassis and steel body in a chemicals tub that will eat through the paint and filler, to reveal the true state of the steel parts. But, I’m not a chemicals guy. I prefer the sandblasting method to bring out the bare metal  It doesn’t leave me with a few tones of toxic chemicals around the shop, and I don’t have to think about replenishing this toxic stuff. Sandblasting also gets me closer to the action. When I fire up the compressor and grab the sandblaster, I love the recoil it makes when I take the jet of sand to the metal. Then, it’s the satisfaction of stripping the layers of paint, then layers of filler, till you get to see the steel underneath. Call me crazy, but I really enjoy this. There’s something therapeutic about stripping down paint with Blasting Just so you know there are many different blasting medias one can choose from Walnut shells , corn cob, glass bead , Traditional NJ silica as well as coal slag & finally Dupont Starblast this is a metal media we like to use once we complete a job we will do a pass with starblast to clean the surface and make it ready for epoxy primer. The end result? A clean shell, ready for minor touchups here and there. We specialize in finding rust-free bodies. Or, if it ends up being too far gone, we just swap in a brand new, factory-licensed steel body. I do the paint-stripping on the chassis and the steel body. That way, there are no surprises. You’ve got to know what you’re up against, right?

The CJ-7 Jeep Chassis & Body Work

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  Once the paint is gone, and the masks are off, my gloves go on, and it’s cutting and welding time. In some cases, where the chassis is in enough of a good shape, I get to fixing it. But, sometimes, these things are far too gone to be repairable. In those cases, out goes the old one, and I order a brand new one. These brand-new chassis are factory-licensed products, manufactured with modern technology, modern steel, thicker steel, and high-quality welding. All this means that the new chassis will provide a stiffer ride, and you’ll feel more planted on the road. Steel bodies get the same treatment. After we strip down the paint, I asses the situation and start with repairs usually a few bumps and bruises and some improvements and extra spot welds where the door striker to the quarter panel is factory fusion-welded ( a weak spot on all Cj-7s ) we make sure we re-weld and reinforce . Once the bodies are ready we urethane prime, Block and seam seal with 2 part 3m seam sealers. It is very important to remove the old outdated single-stage sealer and replace it with a modern sealer. CJ-7s are made for fun. And, most on the market have seen some action, and have seen some rough weather. When there’s too much catching up to do, I go with a brand-new, Mopar factory-licensed steel body, we can go with a steel body that has the Jeep logo stamped on the steel. These steel bodies come in complete with the nose package, tailgate,  and windshield frame. With thicker steel, more spot-welds, these new steel bodies are up to 40% stiffer than the originals. This means sturdier grip, better handling, and less road noise.

Primer & Bedliner

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  Once I get all the steel work in place, it’s time to seal the chassis and steel body. I use high-quality urethane-based primer and cover every square inch of the metal. This ensures that the steel is completely protected from the elements. I also go a step further. I’ve had tons of experience with bed lining. PalmBeach Customs is a licensed Reflex Bedliner Dealer, at the top of the class with the other well-known brands, and it looks spectacular. It has the right ruggedness without looking unrefined. The Bedliner goes on the bottom side of the steel body. I also apply the Bedliner on the inside of the CJ-7 Jeep. The floor, wheel arches, tub, and tailgate get a nice coat of Bedliner.

CJ-7 Jeep Custom Paint

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  Once I’m done with the rough stuff, it’s time to get painting. My favorites? Light blue, red, cherry-red, dark green and gray. But, I can spray-paint any color clients want. The paints I use are urethane-based and ecological products. I apply 4  coats of the base to get a solid cover of paint. Then, within 15 minutes it’s time for the clear coat. Here, I go with 4  coats of high solids urethane clear to get a high-gloss cover that protects the paint beneath and looks spectacular. All our projects get ultrafine wet sanded up to 5000 grit than a 3 stage buffing with Foam Pads for a Mirror finish. We can mix up any custom color you can think of, if by any chance you don’t find any  “just right” for you.

Marriage, baby

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  Next in, comes the assembly. Bolting on the suspension onto the chassis, and all the mechanicals. It’s the time when things stop looking like a pile of metal stuff, and start looking like a vehicle again. There’s a special satisfaction when I bolt on the 15 inch rims with rugged tires on. I usually push the chassis and mechanicals for a few feet. Not sure why. I know the wheels will turn. But it’s a ritual. It’s like I’m proving myself, and proving the chassis, that… hey, you’ll be a car soon! The automotive industry has a special moment when the car steel body gets mounted onto the undercarriage. It’s called a marriage. This is the pivotal moment when, if you ever wondered if these parts will ever get together into a functioning car, after the marriage, there’s no doubt. This is a vehicle. It’s the iconic CJ-7. There’s something special about this moment. It’s the first time when you see the two major components together, bolted down, inseparable. This is the time that I usually take a longer break, pull up a chair and just look at this CJ-7 in the making. I’ve literally sat in that chair, in front of that chunk of metal thousands of times. About 2100 times, actually. That’s how many car restorations I’ve handled in the past 40 years. But every single time, I’m not sure what it is, but I savor that moment. It’s like seeing a newborn baby.

Wires, wires everywhere

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  With the mechanical parts all in, we finally have a car with an engine, gearbox, chassis, steel body. But, you need wires, and hoses, and sensors. And all that stuff. Otherwise, the thing won’t run. Bolting on all the electrical components, switches, gauges, wiring it all up properly, it’s a tedious job and it’s a detail-oriented work. All of our dashes are completely restored with all new paint as well as gauges. I sometimes spend hours working up those wires. There are tons of little details that go into this. Making sure the headlights are in place and wired to the right switches. Making sure the horn works. Making sure that indicators are wired to the proper position. Finetuning the brake switch… Then there’s plenty of work around the gauges. Speedo, battery level, oil pressure. All key components and I spend days making all this work properly. Because most of these components are hidden, sometimes I feel like I’m toiling away and all that work will not be visible. It’s perhaps the least exciting part of a car restoration project. But these steps are critical for a functioning and a safe vehicle. So I’m not cutting corners here we install Painless wiring harnesses, Everything must be organized properly, and I even apply some anti-corrosive solutions on metal contacts and wiring, so there’d be no unwanted surprises, ever.

The CJ-7 Interior Restoration

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  Fixing up the interior is perhaps among the top 5 things I love about restoring CJ-7 Jeeps. Because it gets done quickly, and every single thing I touch, gets daily attention from figure owners. Prepping the Tuffy lockbox, setting up the stereo, connecting the rear speakers, sometimes adding a custom steering wheel that’s leather-wrapped is a highlight of the day. Then there are the seats. I’m installing modern ones, usually leather-wrapped seats with 3-point seatbelts for the front, and waist-belts for the back seats. But either way, bolting them down, especially if it’s a light beige leather, makes my day. It’s probably the natural feel of leather. Or it’s probably the light color that reminds me of the freedom that CJ-7s stand for. Whatever it is, it’s enjoyable. Every time. Each and every Jeep hits the trails beaches and backroads!

Let’s polish some metal

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  With the last interior touchups and checkups of all the mechanical and electrical components, I finally have a built truck. About 90 days to get here, it’s a labor of love. Except the wiring maybe. But at least the wires aren’t heavy. With the building work complete, it’s time to do plenty of polishing and buffing. The last clear coat that sealed the paintwork needs a lot of elbow grease to shine. If you’ve ever seen a painted car before polish, you can see that it’s all there, but something’s missing. And that’s the shine. Newly painted cars will have the color consistency, but won’t have the shine needed for a vehicle to become a head-turner. This is why I take my time buffing and polishing. We wet sand from 1500 grit up to 5000 grit, then use a 3-stage buffing to give a mirror finish. My guys and I usually spend hours and hours on this final stage of the build. But it’s so rewarding to spend just a few minutes on a small part of the bodywork, and then stand aside to realize that it’s quite a difference you’ve made in such a short time. The thing is, there’s plenty of bodywork to polish, and to make sure you get the right amount of polishing on the entire surface so that you get the same color consistency and same shine wherever you look.

Restored CJ-7 Jeep Photoshoot

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  And finally, once the CJ-7 is built, some 90-120 days later, it’s a head-turner. I have a sweet spot I like to take my builds to snap a few photos of them from different angles. I used to haul my $900 Sony camera, but now, my iPhone does great pics, and it fits in my pocket. Good thing is, I’m in sunny Florida, and I don’t have a problem finding an hour of the sun with just the right intensity to make eye-popping pics before the client comes to pick up their new dream ride, or we load it up in a truck and send it Nation-wide.

Bonus Stuff: Some CJ-7 Customization Options and Pics

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  From options, you can pick practically anything you touch:

  • Body Type: hardtop and soft top available, with matching doors,
  • Engine: A stroker 6-cylinder  or the V8 with a Performance Pack
  • Any color you wish
  • Any interior/seat design you wish
  • A Tuffy lockbox with a Sony stereo
  • Rims are also to your choice
  • Matching tires too
  • A Customization Pack of other goodies (hush hush, secret stuff, only for folks who’re really interested… and for the action-takers, it’s freeee!!!)

Practically, you can get a stock build or a fully customized CJ-7 Jeep.

Who’s doing all this CJ-7 Restoration Work?

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Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options.  It’s me, John Russo, a few camera-shy bodyworks, paint, and interior wizards, and my daughter Jamie Who was responsible for getting me into the Jeep Craze starting when we had to build her First Vehicle The joy of my life. She helps out when she’s around visiting her old man.   So there you have it, folks. I hope this blog post and all the pics I’ve uploaded made you smile, helped you unplug for a bit, and gave you a reason to be optimistic. It will get better. I promise. I’ve been through several rough spots. I lived through 4 recessions with my business. We will survive. We will prevail. Because we’re a strong nation. Devoted to our country. Hard-working, loyal, can-doers. We can do this! We’ve beat insurmountable odds and came out winners. Please share this blog post. Help me spread some positive vibes.

P.S Click here If you’d like to find out more about the Palm Beach Custom CJ-7 Jeep Build options. 

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