Sandwiched between the old CJ series jeeps and the newer Dodge-built incarnations, the long wheelbase CJ-8 is regarded by many as the most perfect of overland 4x4s made in the country. We simply call it the Scrambler.
Back when Kaiser made Jeep, they introduced the CJ-5 in 1954 on the heels of the Korean War with experience the company learned from its wartime M38 series vehicles that served the military in that conflict. Perhaps the company’s most enduring design, the ‘5 remained in production more or less unchanged other than in upgraded engines for some three decades.
Then in 1976, with AMC taking the reins, they stretched the wheelbase of the Cj-5 10 inches and rearranged the road springs and suspension accordingly. This new, longer Jeep, the CJ-7, proved so popular with the public that powers in charge decided to stretch it once more in 1980– and the CJ-8 was born.
Adding yet another 10 inches to the wheelbase, the new model Jeep was now 103-inches long. This allowed the traditional rear cab of the vehicle to be cut back to the Korean-war size body and created a short pickup truck style overhang bed, roughly 24×53 inches in dimensions, with shallow wall sides and a working tailgate. This bed seems small but it allowed 1,500-pounds of payload to be carried in its 30-cubic feet of new-found space.
Powered by the then-standard 4-cylinder 151 cubic inch engine, or with an optional 6-cylinder 258, the hubs could be manually locked to set up a reliable 4-wheel drive.
An instant rock crawler due to its longer wheelbase, and often pressed into work with outdoorsmen who used the mini-bed to haul camping gear in and deer out of narrow forest logging roads, the CJ-8 picked up the traditional nickname of “Scrambler.”
It became so iconic in the early 80s that no less a personality than Ronald Regan owned one that he used as an off-road capable get-around on his California ranch during his presidency.
Getting your own
With AMC tanking financially due to their losses on their passenger cars (Gremlin ring a bell?), Chrysler picked them up for a song in 1987. However, the previous management had already thrown the baby out with the bathwater the year before and closed off the Scrambler line.
In the short half dozen years of production, just a 27,792 sweet little CJ-8s were born. Add to this were a few all-covered versions made for the Alaskan Postal Service and some of the same sold in Australia as the Overlander, and that’s all there ever was.
These vehicles today have exploded in popularity as, even for a classic off-roader, they can still deliver when needed and have a certain panache that haven’t been matched since. In fact, there are two different Scrambler owner groups in the country who worship this long-wheelbased workhorse.
Which means if you can find a CJ-8 you like, for a price you can live with, there really is no bad deal on one.