A Jeep Evolution: The CJ5, CJ7, and JK Rubicon

August 28th, 2020 by

A red 1970s Jeep CJ-7 is parked in the snow.

Jeep models have evolved tremendously over the years, providing drivers with a truly unique experience that would be hard to come by under other brands. Throughout the history of Jeep, there have been many stand out models, but few have made a mark quite like the Jeep CJ5, CJ7, and JK Rubicon. These are versions of the Jeep SUV that prioritize off-road mobility and, in many ways, provide a driving experience that is incredibly honest to the Jeep brand narrative.

The history of these models and the differences between them are fascinating. Because of that, our team at Orange Coast in Costa Mesa, CA, has put together this brief comparison of some of Jeep’s most trail-ready vehicles. From the 1960s to today, we’ll walk through history and give you a complete perspective of the evolution of Jeep flagship models, and potentially inspire you to join in on the journey of Jeep.

The Origins of the Jeep Brand

Jeep can trace its history all the way back to the early 1940s during the height of World War II. The term ‘Jeep’ actually came from the US Army and was used as a slang term for their lightweight 4×4 vehicles. The brand, Jeep, started out making military vehicles for the Army during the Second World War, but once the conflict came to an end, Jeep shifted into the civilian market.

They entered the civilian market with a desire to create vehicles that would be able to go anywhere and do anything, giving the average person the kind of versatility that the US military had enjoyed on the battlefield. While the Jeep models of yesteryear are very different from the ones of today, a lot of the essential characteristics have remained the same. From the rugged mobility to the boxy and quirky exterior chassis, the Jeep look has been consistent since day one.

The Jeep CJ5

An orange 1950s Jeep CJ-5 is parked in the grass in front of trees near Costa Mesa, CA.

The Jeep CJ5 first hit the road in 1964 but had been in production for the military as far back as 1954. This model was the latest in a line of CJ series vehicles that dated back to 1944 with the CJ-1. The CJ5 was a simple, open-air, two-door SUV that underwent several changes during its run from 1955 to 1983. Some of the first models utilized a big 3.7-liter V6 engine, which provided a reasonable 155 hp. A smaller engine was also available in the Jeep CJ5, and it took the form of a 75 hp, four-cylinder engine.

Jeep CJ5 experienced a drastic change in 1972, adding in a beefy 5.0-liter V8 engine into the chassis of this rugged SUV. In order to make room for this bigger engine, the Jeep CJ5 had to expand the wheelbase to 76 mm, resulting in a much broader stance. As technology advanced, so did the features onboard the Jeep CJ5. In 1973 a radio was first made available in some models, and in 1975 an air-conditioning system was added. The Jeep CJ5 steadily advanced with the constant march of automotive technology, but eventually fell out of the spotlight. And in 1983, the Jeep CJ5 was officially discontinued to make room for the ever-popular CJ7.

The Jeep CJ7

During the height of the Jeep CJ5, Jeep unveiled a more modern update to their tried and true classic, the Jeep CJ7. The Jeep CJ7 looked a lot like the Jeep Wrangler models that crowd the roads today, with its larger wheelbase, classic round headlights, and impressive ground stance. This 2-door Jeep SUV first hit the road in 1976 and was a popular pick for the adventurous driver for years to come. Even today, Jeep fanatics huddle around the CJ7, a bonafide classic within the Jeep family history.

In terms of performance, the jeep CJ7 used a variety of 3 to 5-speed manual transmissions and a 3-speed automatic transmission across its lifetime. In typical Jeep fashion, the CJ7 offered a classic 4×4 drivetrain making it particularly versatile when taken off the pavement. A variety of engines were packed into the Jeep CJ7, including the famous 5.0 AMC 304 V8 found in the Golden Eagle edition, and the 4.2-liter I6 found in the Limited trim option. The Jeep CJ7 had a short run in comparison to the overarching story of the Jeep CJ5. Ten years after the Jeep CJ7’s initial release, it would be discontinued, shelved to make room for more modern versions of the Jeep flagship SUV.

The Jeep Wrangler JK

Two Jeep models, and orange 2000s Jeep Wrangler JK and a silver 2000s Wrangler JKU, are off-roading on a trail in the woods.

By the new millennium, the Jeep CJ series had become a part of Jeep’s brand history. While many drivers continued to praise this era of the SUV, manufacturers had moved on to bigger and better things. And during the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, those bigger and better things turned out to be the Jeep Wrangler JK. The Jeep Wrangler JK introduced a lot of changes for Jeep flagship models, including a four-door model for the first time ever. The Jeep JK series also came with an off-road tweaked Rubicon trim that could provide truly superb off-road performance thanks to a slew of additional gear.

Three major powertrains make up the Jeep Wrangler JK Series, one of them being a 2.8-liter diesel inline-4 that could output 160 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This powertrain was an ideal choice for off-road enthusiasts due to the level of torque output. A 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 was also available in the Wrangler JK Series, providing a robust 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This engine spec was a go-to for anyone who wanted a seamless blend of both on and off-road performance. Lastly, a 3.8-liter V6 was also available in the Wrangler JK Series, which offered up 202 hp and 237 lb-ft of torque.

While impressive in many ways, the Jeep Wrangler JK series would eventually be replaced by the phenomenal Jeep Wrangler JL Series. That said, the Jeep Wrangler JK series would have a rather extensive run from 2007 to 2018. Just like models of the past, the Jeep Wrangler JK adapted to changing technology, and at its end, offered features that are still considered fresh and fulfilling today.

Purchasing a Jeep Brand Model at Orange Coast

This is only a fraction of the Jeep story, and in its unabridged version, is long and filled with many faces and characters. Today, the Jeep brand continues to provide a rugged driving experience that other manufacturers simply cannot live up to. From models like the utility-centric Jeep Gladiator to the continued classic Jeep Wrangler JL series, the Jeep brand continues to be unique in every way, and you can experience all the modern models in our showroom.

At Orange Coast, we pride ourselves in sharing knowledge with our customers, and when it comes to Jeep model history, we have a lot to share. From the early days to the vehicles that populate our new inventory today, there is a lot to discover within the Jeep brand. And if you’re looking to drive home in a new model, our team of dealers and auto experts are here to walk you step by step through the process so that the car you buy is one that is fully equipped for your next adventure.

Posted in Jeep Models