October 11, 1954 – Willys/Jeep CJ-5 begins production

In the world of rugged off-road vehicles, few names command as much respect and admiration as the Jeep CJ-5. With a storied history stretching back over three decades, the CJ-5, first the Willys CJ-5, than the Jeep CJ-5, is a true icon of American automotive ingenuity. It was on this day in 1954 that the model began rolling down production Lines. Let’s take a closer look at its history.

The Early Days of Influence: The story of the Jeep CJ-5 begins with the influence of the Korean War and the corporate handover to Kaiser. The CJ-5 was conceived to replace its predecessor, the CJ-3B, but the older model continued to be produced, setting a precedent for the CJ-5’s longevity. This rugged vehicle’s knack for survival would become a defining characteristic, marking it as one of the most enduring models in automotive history.

1967 Willys M38A1

Jeep CJ-5 Engine Options

An Injection of Diesel Power: From 1961 to 1965, the CJ-5 and its sibling, the CJ-6, offered a unique option for enthusiasts – a British-made Perkins 192 cubic inch Diesel I4 engine. With 62 horsepower under the hood, this powerplant provided a formidable alternative for those who craved more muscle in their off-road adventures.

The Advent of the Dauntless V6: In 1965, Kaiser Jeep made a game-changing move by securing the license to produce the Buick 225 cubic inch V6 Dauntless engine. With a commanding 155 horsepower, this engine was introduced to address concerns about the original 75 horsepower Willys Hurricane engine being underpowered. This shift marked a turning point, propelling the CJ-5 from a utilitarian workhorse to a high-performance off-road beast. To sweeten the deal, power steering became an optional feature. It’s no surprise that the Dauntless V6 engine garnered widespread popularity, with nearly three-quarters of CJ-5s sporting this powerhouse by 1968.

AMC buys Jeep

A Transition of Ownership: Kaiser Jeep to AMC: In 1970, Kaiser Jeep underwent a significant transformation when American Motors Corporation (AMC) took control. This change ushered in a new era for the CJ-5, as the Buick engine was phased out after the 1971 model year, finding a new home in various GM vehicles. The “Trac-Lok” limited-slip differential replaced the “Powr-Lok” in 1971, and power take-offs (PTOs) were no longer on the menu. AMC began to reposition the Jeep, marketing it less as a universal utility vehicle and more as a sporty, performance-oriented machine.

1972: A Year of Revamp: The year 1972 marked a significant milestone in the CJ-5’s evolution. American Motors introduced their own engines, prompting substantial changes to the vehicle’s body and chassis. The original Willys 4-cylinder engine made way for AMC’s Torque Command straight-6 engines. This upgrade bestowed the entry-level CJ-5 with the power that was previously only available with the Buick V6. The standard engine became the 232 cubic inch straight-6, with the 258 cubic inch straight-6 becoming standard in California. A new addition to the CJ-5 engine lineup was AMC’s 304 cubic inch V8, elevating the power-to-weight ratio to a level comparable to V8 muscle cars.

1974 Jeep CJ-5 Renegade. By Christopher Ziemnowicz – CC BY-SA 4.0

Chassis and Drivetrain Transformations: To accommodate these new engines, the wheelbase was extended by 2.5 inches, and the fenders and hood were stretched by 5 inches, bringing the firewall two inches closer to the rear. A new box frame was fitted with six cross-members, ensuring enhanced rigidity. A larger fuel tank was relocated from under the driver’s seat to under the rear, nestled between the frame rails. Further enhancements included the availability of a dealer-installed radio in 1973 and the introduction of air conditioning in 1975. Electronic, breakerless distributors replaced breaker-point Delco distributors across the engine lineup, and a catalytic converter was added to models equipped with the 304 V8.

In 1975, as the CJ-5 transitioned into the 1976 model year, substantial changes were made to both the frame and body. The frame transitioned from a partially open channel/boxed frame with riveted crossmembers to a primarily boxed frame with welded crossmembers, enhancing stability and safety. The body tub adopted a more rounded design, and even the windshield frame and angle saw revisions, making tops from the earlier era incompatible with the 1976-1983 CJ-5 and vice versa. The rear axle was also switched out in 1976 from a Dana 44 to an AMC-manufactured model 20 with a larger-diameter ring gear but a two-piece axleshaft/hub assembly.

End of the line for the Jeep CJ-5

1977 and Beyond: In 1977, the frame underwent another round of improvements, becoming a fully boxed unit. Power disc brakes and the “Golden Eagle” package, featuring a tachometer and clock, were introduced as options, alongside air conditioning.

1979 model. By Christopher Ziemnowicz – CC BY-SA 4.0

The Final Years: In 1979, the CJ-5’s standard engine became the 258 cubic inch I6, now featuring a Carter BBD two-barrel carburetor. From 1980 to 1983, the CJ-5 came standard with a “Hurricane”-branded version of the GM Iron Duke I4, paired with an SR4 close-ratio four-speed manual transmission. The 258 cubic inch AMC straight-6 engine remained available as an option, with the transmission changing from the Tremec T-150 three-speed to a Tremec T-176 close-ratio four-speed. The Dana 30 front axle endured, though the locking hubs were redesigned.

As we look back on the incredible journey of the Jeep CJ-5 and the 603,303 produced between 1954 and 1983, we celebrate a vehicle that evolved to meet the needs of adventurous drivers. From its military origins to its transformation into a high-performance off-road legend, the CJ-5 remains a symbol of rugged endurance and innovation. It has left an indelible mark on the world of off-road vehicles, inspiring generations of outdoor enthusiasts to explore the great unknown with confidence and style.

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