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Everyone recognizes the Wrangler as the Blue Jeans of 4x4s. But truth be told, it would not have come to life without the Jeep Scrambler. Released in 1981, the CJ-8 was the prototype for Jeep’s sport-utility vehicles. However, it was severely misunderstood, despite marrying the history and future of the entire Jeep lineup together.
The Jeep Scrambler CJ-8 was a sport-utility vehicle regarded by the riding community as the forebearer of the Wrangler. Highly capable and versatile, this hybrid between a pickup truck and a long-wheelbase CJ-7 had quirky styling and rustic appeal reminiscent of outdoor fun in the ’80s.
Jeep’s first convertible, compact truck should have sold like hotcakes from the onset, right? Well, it didn’t. And not even former U.S. President Reagan can convince consumers of the advantages and collective worth of the wheeler.
Ironically, the CJ-8 has gained respect and become collectors’ fodder in recent years. Could it be due to vehicle owners growing more knowledgeable? Or is it because there are not too many Scramblers left in the market? Continue reading if you want to know the answers to these questions.
About the Jeep Scrambler CJ-8
The Jeep Scrambler CJ8 was 12th in a string of Jeep CJ models produced by Willys-Overland, Kaiser-Jeep, and American Motors Corporation between 1944 and 1986. These Jeep incarnations were small, open-bodied, semi-4WD off-road vehicles with flared fenders, fold-flat windshields, and trademark circular headlights. They were commercial versions of the WWII Military MB Jeep intended for agricultural and civilian use – hence, the designation CJ, which meant “Civilian Jeep.”
Preceding the CJ-5A and CJ-6A models, the Jeep Scrambler was first introduced on March 25, 1981, and was AMC’s attempt to be in the same ranks as Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler. These companies were already well-positioned to challenge the practical, compact pickup offerings of Japanese automakers. Meanwhile, Jeep only had the CJ-7s – too short to be categorized under the rapidly-growing segment.
A Decade Too Late?
The surge in popularity for compact pickup trucks began as early as the late ’70s. Japanese firms were the forerunners in this category. A handful of U.S. manufacturers were poised to take on the challenge – this included Ford with its 1971 Courier, Chevrolet with its Isuzu-built 1972 Chevrolet LUV and Chevy S-10, and Chrysler with its 1979 Plymouth Arrow, to name a few. However, their success was still no match compared to the competition, who essentially made the pickup trucks they distributed in America.
During this time, AMC was in the middle of establishing its offerings from being agriculture-oriented four-wheelers to off-road, sporty ones. It was a then-small company still licking its wounds from the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and the hostage of Iran (which adversely affected global oil production and export) in 1979. The automotive industry was generally doing its best to stay afloat and could not afford to splurge on R&D more than its negative finances allowed.
As a result, AMC introduced the CJ-8 Jeep Scrambler in 1981. Below is a breakdown of CJ8 production volumes per year (source: Wikipedia), including the 230 insulated CJ-8 versions the U.S. Postal Service ordered for its Alaskan mail routes:
Battling the “Big Three”
Despite entering the compact pickup truck scene ten years late, the Scrambler had a pretty good fighting chance against Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler. Not only was the vehicle reputably tough as nails, but it was also essentially the first American compact pickup truck. Some may find the following detail inconsequential. But unlike the “Big Three,” the Scrambler CJ-8 was not Japanese-built.
Of course, AMC still had to deal with increasingly stricter emissions controls, which meant being unable to go all out with development expenses or use unibody construction to shed some weight off the Jeep Scrambler and optimize its fuel consumption. Eventually, AMC realized it could just modify the CJ-7’s existing frame. And so, it did – giving birth to the only roadster-cum-convertible pickup truck in the ’80s.
1984 Jeep Scrambler CJ-8 Specs & Features
All trims have the option between an AMC 2.5-L/150 cu. in. I4-1V OHV engine (82-86 hp) or an AMC 4.2-L/258 cu. in. I6-2V OHV engine (110 hp, got boosted compression and a knock sensor in 1983). Both powerplants have 2-barrel carburetors and electronic ignition. But between the two options, the latter is reputably more durable despite the occasional missing hardware. For model years outside of 1984, the following power mills are available:
- 1981-1983: GM 2.5-L/150 cu. in. 4-cylinder Iron Duke engine
- 1981 (?): AMC 5.0-L/304 cu. in. V8 engine (150 hp, 245 ft-lbf)
- 1985: Isuzu 2.3-L/140 cu. in. diesel engine
- 1985: AMC 4.0-L./242 cu. in. I6 engine
Bore-stroke ratio for the 2.46-L engine is 98 x 80 mm (3.876 x 3.188 inches) and 95.25 x 98.93 mm (3.75 x 3.895 inches) for the 4.2-L engine. Engine displacement is 2,460 cm3 and 4,200 cm3, respectively. Both share the same compression ratio of 9.2:1. The top speed rating is at least 75 mph (120.7 km/h).
The 2.5-L Inline-4 AMC engine spews 82-86 hp @ 4,000 RPM horsepower, gas mileage of 23 MPG (EPA estimate)/28 MPG (HWY), and a maximum torque of 125 ft-lbf @ 2,600 RPM. Meanwhile, the 4.2-L Inline-6-AMC engine renders a higher power output of 110 hp but at the expense of gas mileage (EPA estimate/HWY: 18 MPG/27 MPG, 205 ft-lbf). The V8 engine provides the highest horsepower and torque. However, it was an option only during the first year of the CJ-8.
A synchronized Borg-Warner SR-4 4-speed manual transmission was standard. A Tremec T-176, Chrysler A-909 (2.46-L)/Chrysler A-999 (4.2-L) 3-speed automatic with a locking torque converter, or a Borg-Warner T-5 tranny with overdrive were optional. Part-time 4WD was dependent on the transfer case and manual-locking front hubs. An optional Trac-Loc rear differential offered additional grip when needed and helped offset the absence of the AWD Quadra-Trac system found in the CJ-7.
Tires, Brakes & Suspension
Stock tire sizes are P235/75 R15 radials on 15×7-size rims on all fours – earlier models used G78x15 (P215/75R15) tires. Recommended cold-tire pressure is between 193-241 kPa (1.97-2.46 kgf-cm2, 28-35 psi), depending on driving below or above 65 mph (105 km/h). Replacement tires may be similar or slightly larger than the 28-inch stock ones.
Low-drag manual front discs and rear drums complete the tire-and-wheel assembly. Multi-leaf front and rear springs mount parallel to the side rails of the Scrambler’s body-on-ladder frame.
Note: In case of emergency, you may use the Polyspare tire that comes with the Scrambler. It will require no more than 221 kPa (2.25 kgf-cm2, 32 psi) tire pressure and cannot be used for speeds faster than 50 mph (80 km/). Also, do not forget to upgrade your wheels and get a lift kit should you opt for a tire size taller than 30 inches.
The overall dimensions are 177.2 x 59.9 x 69.2 inches (4,500 x 1,521 x 1,758 mm – L x W x H), with its length only being 10 inches longer than the Jeep CJ-7. Cargo bed dimensions are 61.5 x 55.8 x 16.4 inches (1,562 x 1,417 x 417 mm), with a tailgate width of 34.5 inches/876 mm.
Both front and rear tracks are a little over 55 inches/1,400 mm. The front overhang is 23.5 inches/587 mm, while the rear is 50.3 inches/1,278 mm (including load) – perfect for the length of your wakeboard (view on Amazon).
Inside, the Scrambler is pretty spacious, offering over 39 inches/990 mm of head and legroom and 53.8 inches/1,366.5 mm of hip and shoulder room. A soft-top cover adds an inch of headroom, which taller drivers prefer.
However, the wheeler falls short in the cargo area, which is considerably less than the 6-foot rear bed offered by its counterparts and renders a slightly smaller 30.4-cubic-foot bed capacity.
Curb weight is between 2,200 lbs. and 2,950 lbs. (998-1,338 Kg.), while GVWR is approx. 4,150 lbs./1,882 Kg.
Standard features across all model years and trims include rearview mirrors, gas tank, and transfer case skid plates (view on Amazon), tilt steering wheel, and vinyl bucket seats. A polycarbonate hardtop, halogen fog lamps, power brakes, and AM/FM stereo radio are optional.
Depending on the choice of trim, a Jeep Scrambler could have a denim look or a “Golden Eagle” decal. Buyers can avail of either an SR or SL Sport package if they want to upgrade the look and functionality of their ride.
Jeep CJ Series Standout Packages
The Jeep CJ series had several trims since 1961 that catered to riders with different aesthetic preferences. Let us cover the select few that stood out for most Jeepers in this section:
Jeep CJ-5 Tuxedo Park
Kaiser-Jeep produced four (4) versions of this trim between 1961 and 1965, namely the Tuxedo Park, Tuxedo Park Mark II, Tuxedo Park Mark III, and Tuxedo Park Mark IV.
The last version, in particular, was claimed by Kaiser-Jeep as different from the “Universal Jeeps,” sporting chrome-plated bumpers, hood latches, a column shifter, two (2) wheelbase options, and various top, seat, and upholstery color schemes.
It looked to be the Jeep CJ’s take on a sport utility vehicle – a concept that later translated into the Jeep Commando.
Jeep CJ-5 Renegade
Before becoming a separate Jeep model, this trim first started as a package option. The 1970 version had black stripes, white-painted 8-inch rims with G70x15 tires, and other features found in the CJ-5 462. Meanwhile, the ’71-’72 Renegade II had bright alloy wheels, a 5.0-L AMC V8 engine, and a Trac-Lok limited-slip differential.
It was available in various color options, such as Wild Plum, Mint Green, Baja Yellow, Riverside Orange, and Big Bad Orange, and produced until 1983.
A marketing-driven trim offered from 1975 to 1986, the CJ-5 and CJ-7 Levi’s Package took advantage of Levi’s® renown as a clothing company. Most of the trim’s interior – like its jean-style dash padding, sun visors, padded roof, and Levi’s stitching on the seats – consisted of denim material or gave such an impression. On the cowl, there is a Levi’s badge above the Jeep lettering that makes the trim easily distinguishable.
CJ-5 and CJ-7 Golden Eagle
The Jeep Wrangler did have a trim with a similar label in 2003, but that was not the first package to carry the name. Marketed from 1977 to 1983, the Golden Eagle shared the same 5.0-L AMC V8 engine with the Renegade and was initially offered in Oakleaf Brown. It stood out largely due to the extravagant golden eagle decal sprawled on its hood.
Other standout features of this Pontiac-Firebird contender include:
- Wheel lip extensions and spoked steel rims.
- Body stripes.
- Chromed front bumper.
- Levi’s soft top (tan).
- A unique rear-tire carrier.
1982 Jeep Scrambler SR Sport Edition
Eventually called Renegade in 1985, this sporty package was equipped with a 4.2-L (6-cylinder) 258 cu. in. power mill, T-4 4-speed manual tranny, power steering, and power brakes.
It included wood side rails, air conditioning, hardtop half-cab, dashboard overlay, rocker panel moldings, black door inlay decal appliqués, spray-lined floors, and a trailer hitch.
It offered one of the rarest color schemes of the Scrambler – 2D Deep Night Blue with Slate Blue interior – plus an original Jeep window sticker.
1982 Jeep Scrambler SL Sport Edition
An upgraded SR Sport, this variation (later called Laredo in 1985) came with tan/black Cara-grain vinyl seats, under-hood insulation/lighting, pinstriped instrument panel, leather-wrapped passenger-assist bar and steering wheel, indoor carpeting, and chromed exterior.
These inclusions are on top of everything you can find in its SR sibling. And if these were not enough, it fashionably came in Black, which continues to be a hit with collectors today.
2003 Jeep Scrambler
Daimler Chrysler (formerly AMC, Chrysler) showcased this small Wrangler-based pickup truck at the North American Dealers Association in Chicago in 2003. Just like the ’81 Scrambler, it had a convertible layout and a small cargo bed integrated into its framework.
The only striking differences between this and the ’80s model are:
- The striking red body paint.
- The crude-looking rear bed.
- The absence of wood side rails.
Unfortunately, this concept version did not make it to the end of the event nor see the market.
2019 Jeep JT Scrambler
The Scrambler-designed Gladiator Rubicon is one of six concepts made for the Easter Jeep Safari event in 2019. It re-creates the ’80s CJ8 stripe kit but with a modern feel, using Punk N’ Metallic Orange and Nacho stripes on the body sides and hood.
Included in the retro-stripe package are Katzkin Amaretto Brown leather seats (with orange and dark gray embroidery), 37-inch tires, a Freedom top in vintage amber, and a slew of other performance parts and mechanical upgrades.
U.S. Postal Service Model & CJ8 Overlander
Both versions received the “world cab” steel hardtop, troop seating, full-length rear windows, automatic transmission, and a hinged barn door designed to be opened on the curbside. Two hundred thirty (230) units of the right-hand-drive (RHD) mail-carrier versions were utilized in Alaskan mail routes.
Meanwhile, less than 200 CJ8 Jeep Scramblers were sold in Australia (references for Venezuelan sales are obscure). Most of the trims’ features carried over to the 1996 Jeep Wrangler SE postal service models.
There is a bit of contestation among Jeep enthusiasts around the U.S. Postal Service trim having a soft-top cover, despite early promotional photographs depicting the Jeep Scrambler CJ8 in this concept or pre-release form. A documented citation for the full-length soft top as an AMC-authorized option is obscure (if not non-existent) and has yet to be established.
1983 CJ-8 Scrambler
Although not an official trim on its own, the ’83 Jeep Scrambler made its way to history books because it was one of two prized Jeep possessions of the 40th U.S. president, Ronald Regan. He specifically had a Sky Blue Scrambler with a 4.2-liter V6 engine backed by a Borg-Warner SR-4 4-speed manual transmission, alongside a PTO-equipped 1962 Jeep CJ-6.
Reagan primarily used the former as a shuttle service for his staff and dignitaries who occasionally visited him in his 688-acre Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, California.
Cost of a Jeep Scrambler CJ-8
The MSRP of the Jeep Scrambler ranged from $7,288 to $7,588 for standard open-bodied models and a little over $8,300 for hardtop versions. These figures do not include getting an SR or SL Sport package, which would cost an extra $799 or $1,999 on top of the base price of the wheeler.
If sold today, Scrambler CJ8s would have a value of at least $21,933. And true enough, used Scramblers currently sell for $21,995-$95,000 in North America, Europe, and Australia, with an average resale value of $25,400.
|Year – Trim – Model Number||List Price||Retail/Trade-In Values|
|1981 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler||$7,288||$5,575 – $19,700|
|1981 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler (Hardtop)||$7,922||$5,575 – $19,700|
|1982 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler||$7,588||$5,675 – $20,000|
|1982 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler (Hardtop)||$8,392||$5,675 – $20,000|
|1983 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler||$6,765||$5,850 – $20,200|
|1984 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler||$7,563||$6,025 – $20,500|
|1985 – 1986 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler||$7,282||$6,100 – $20,500|
Outside the U.S., the pricing of secondhand CJ8s stays pretty much within the above range. For example, CJ8 Overlanders in Venezuela – many of which have unique badging, roof racks, aftermarket fog lights, and tinted windows – sell for 150,000 Venezuelan Bolivar or $23,900. Anything below $20,000 would probably be open-frame trims, while those above $60,000 are often professionally restored and equipped with modern tech and suspension.
Buying a half-naked trim may require you to shell out at least another $700 to have an optional bikini top, mesh windbreaker, and a full-length softcover. Soft/bikini tops, roll bar tops, and windbreakers or wind stoppers like a Bestop Black Denim Windjammer (view on Amazon) currently cost $61-$200. Conversely, prices of complete replacement skins fall between $140 and $1,150.
Timing vs. Pitch – What Went Wrong?
The Scrambler had a lot going for itself at the time of its launch. It may not have been the very first truck Jeep made (it is actually the 5th if you count from the 1947 Jeep Willys-Overland 4X4), but it was the first of its class. It flaunted a functional rear bay, removable hard/soft top, distinct styling, and a 103-inch wheelbase – all factory-assembled.
The CJ-8 was a retro-futuristic concept – a convertible, compact pickup that was timely but, at the same time, hinted at a near-future sport-utility 4×4 segment.
So, why did it not click?
According to Jeep savants, the Scrambler developed a bad wrap due to biased media coverage of its rollover tendencies. The lack of thoroughness and fact-checking by some reporters effectively led to a waning in consumer confidence in the CJ-8 and the Jeep CJ series as a whole.
Although later news surfaced disproving earlier safety concerns and detailing how rollover tests were conducted, the damage was already done.
Others say the way AMC marketed the Jeep Scrambler was too ambitious, if not unrealistic. The 4×4 could have had better sales success if it were presented as a “compact pickup truck with real off-road capability.”
However, it was pitched as a sporty, versatile vehicle to the buying public who, at the time, limited the use of a pickup truck to farm work, long-distance driving, and weekend trips to the beach.
Activities like Overlanding and boulder-crawling in Moab were still foreign concepts, even for long-time Jeep owners.
Price competitiveness was also an issue. With its price beginning at $7,288, people had hoped the Scrambler had more practical features like 2WD/4WD options and would be an overall better-looking vehicle. But instead, buyers felt they got a mediocre truck – too fancy for the import-pickup market and too meh for the Jeep CJ series’ avid following.
And then, there are circumstances. In hindsight, 1981 was an unforgiving year for car sales – largely due to preceding events. No matter how successful, no automaker could have prevented the oil embargo from adversely affecting economies globally. The Jeep Scrambler CJ-8 was simply at a disadvantage from the get-go.
Ultimately, all these factors (plus AMC’s inability to keep up with the competition) contributed to the failure of the Jeep Scrambler in the marketplace. Moreover, any chance of the vehicle at redemption was permanently crushed by its successors – the Comanche and the Jeep Wrangler.
Stellantis N.V. is currently the 6th largest automobile manufacturer worldwide and is the maker of the Jeep Scrambler CJ-8. The 113-year-old industry giant traces its humble beginnings to Willys–Overland Motors, an American firm founded in 1908. Specializing in Military Jeeps and agri-vehicles, Willys eventually ventured into the production of commercial vehicles.
Shortly after, the American firm went through numerous European company acquisitions and mergers to expand its market reach and grow its product offerings. These actions have resulted in Stellantis, a multinational corporation with a portfolio boasting of powerhouse automotive brands like Alfa Romeo, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, and Chrysler – among others.
Conclusion – Jeep Scrambler CJ-8 Review
The Jeep Scrambler only made up approximately 1.9% of combined Jeep CJ units sold during the series’ 43-year lifespan, with less than 28,000 units built between 1981 and 1986. At the time, very few understood the true handiness of the Scrambler as a hybrid vehicle that can both withstand difficult riding conditions and still serve as a trusty workhorse.
It was not until after the Jeep Scrambler ceased production that people started to realize its value. This positive reception continues, thanks to the painstaking efforts of the Jeep CJ’s growing following – including professional outfitters who spread the word about the richness of the Jeep CJ8 Scrambler history and take the lead on extensive restomod projects highlighting what’s to love about the once ignored four-wheeler.
Finally, the Jeep Scrambler is being given the appreciation and reverence it deserves.