For the most part, a car’s success and acclaim in never planned. A manufacturer can do its best to make a great vehicle, but once the car leaves the factory, all there is to do is hope the people love it. The closest a car maker can come to controlling the fanfare is keeping the production number low (cars like a rare Ferrari or the new Ford GT, are made in small numbers, creating a level of desire, intrigue). And that’s exactly why the CJ-5 Super Jeep is such a lovable car — its rarity, its cult status, its very existence — its the result of a mistake.
In the early ’70s, American Motors Corporation, the new owners of Jeep, originally sold the CJ-5 with alloy wheels, but complications with the wheel supplier led to a temporary shortage. Luckily, there was a surplus of steel wheels on hand, but customers were going to need some incentive to buy the Jeep with the lesser wheels. AMC, however, came up with the idea to stick the 5.0-liter V8 from the Javelin up front and offer funky, unique paint jobs with matching interiors — to make a hot rod out of it, essentially. AMC only made 300 CJ-5 Super Jeeps by the time a new shipment of alloy wheels came back in; the “special edition” beefed-up four-wheeler was no more.
1973 CJ5 Super Jeep Specs
Engine: 5.0-liter inch V8
Torque: 245 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 2,469 pounds
Of the scant 300 production Super Jeeps that were made, an unknown number are left in existence. Few, if any, are in as immaculate condition as the one in the Jeep Collection at Omix-ADA headquarters, just north of Atlanta, Georgia. And, even more incredibly, Omix-ADA owner Al Azadi threw me the keys to to take it for a spin. “These cars were meant to be driven,” he said. “Not collect dust.”
First, it’s the paint that catches your eye. It does an incredible job of being awesomely inspiring and terribly depressing all at the same time. The metallic sheen, flowing streams of read and blue and giant stars immediately puts a smile on your face — but you know no car manufacture would dream of doing that today, and probably never will again.
On the road, I realized I was doing a sort of dance with it, leaning into turns, over the passenger seat or out over the road through where the driver’s door should be as Jeep arched in the opposite direction. It was nearly as involved a drive as a motorcycle is a ride. They call that character.
Then there was the throttle. It was more like working a marine engine across a calm bay; you can’t just stomp on the gas and expect it to take off. It requires a patient easing into the throttle — letting the boat build up speed. But once it’s in its power band, that 5.0-liter V8 sings with a visceral bellow and growl, something that’s long been missing from modern cars.
Granted, none of the Jeeps in AMA-Omix’s collection have license plates, so I couldn’t take it beyond the private road outside the HQ). But I drove it just far enough to know that I want one, now — badly.