4×4 Feature: 1979 Jeep CJ5 “Tank Killer” Was Built Like A Warthog

Tank-Killer-1AJohn R. Purser had been into four wheeling since high school, but the story of his 1979 Jeep CJ5 didn’t really begin to take shape until after he had been in the U.S. Air Force for 14 years, and worked as a crew chief on A-10 Thunderbolt II for 6 of those years. He was part of the Flying Tigers out of Pope AFB. The Flying Tigers have a long history and Purser is proud to be a part of it.

He was gifted the Jeep in 2008 with an unfinished small-block conversion. The drivetrain had no crossmember so the transfer case was almost touching the ground. The previous owner had welded in 2-inch blocks between the spring perches and the frame. It’s a wonder he never rolled it in the first couple of years wheeling.

img_0273xEventually he did an axle conversion, removed the blocks and stretched the rear 9 inches. Purser feels that the LS swap is by far his greatest accomplishment with the build. He came from the racing world, but really knew nothing about Jeeps in the beginning. Purser thought throwing a 4 barrel carb on the small block would be great, but if he drove the rig up a curb, the carb would flood and the motor would die.

He finally decided on an LS swap and fuel injection, but could not afford to have a shop do the swap. Purser was convinced he could do the job; after all, he can work on 10-million dollar aircraft, why not LS motors. So he studied build threads, YouTube videos, LS manuals, and asked questions for months.

A buddy sold him the 5.3L V8 for $350, but it ended up costing him a heck of lot more to put the motor in himself. That was because of a few hurdles (Purser says don’t trust anything that says “universal LS motor mount”) along the way, but he also wanted to make sure the motor was built for serious rock crawling.

Purser says it can climb very steep angles, on its side, and even motor downhill, and the motor doesn’t hesitate! He also elected to run a single exhaust with the LS conversion, and does not regret it a bit. The motor is so quiet at idle that the first couple of days running it, when he let off the throttle, he thought the motor had died because it was so quiet. He would then step on the throttle and it revved right up.

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Purser was gifted the Jeep, and it had a few problems to say the least, but with a lot of work and a 5.3L V8 transplant, the 1979 CJ5 began its journey to becoming today's Tank Killer.

He is now comfortable with the capability of the rig, even though Purser still has very big plans for the build going forward. He designed and painted the Jeep with tiger teeth and nicknamed it Tank Killer after the A-10 aircraft nicknamed Warthogs or Tank Killers that he worked on for years in the Air Force.

The paint job was something he had in my mind from the very beginning. People can’t believe it’s not a pro job, but it was all done by spray can and free hand. He has people stop him in parking lots so they can take pictures of the rig–it’s kind of funny.

Purser believes the finished product speaks well to his Flying Tiger heritage and his 4 Wheel To Heal Organization. He has seen others follow suit with their paint jobs and often has people ask if they can paint their rig that way. It just goes with the territory of creating something cool, and he doesn’t mind and appreciates the attention it brings to the organization.

The 1979 Jeep’s exterior uses a CJ grill, Blue Torch Fab stinger hoop and grill hoop, and a Blue Torch Fab full-width conversion front bumper and stretch rear bumper. The wheel wells are treated with a front and rear comp cut kit from Blue Torch Fab. KC HiLites are perched on the windshield, and generic LED bulbs are used in the headlights and taillights for extra pop. A modified firewall, custom dash, replacement floor pans and Line-X sprayed-in the tub round out the body treatments. A Warn 8000-pound winch is perched on the nose.

The tiger teeth paint job was completely hand done with spray cans and a taped-out stencil that Purser designed himself. It draws crowds wherever the Jeep goes.

The aforementioned LS swap is a 5.3L Vortec that gained a Wayne Hartwig CM re-flash and programming, wiring harness by Wayne Hartwig and Dave Medley, 135-amp alternator, modified air filter, and Champ oil pan with internal baffles. The engine was built and modified by Purser, Zack Russack and David Pendergraph. C6 Corvette exhaust manifolds were used to pipe out to a single Flowmaster muffler with a modified tail pipe made to look like that of a WWII P-40 warbird. A custom RCI 18-gallon fuel cell with MP12 and MP13 fuel pickups gets the gas to the motor.

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Tank Killer received a CUCV military truck Dana 60 axle for the front end.

A trans swap was also initiated using a rebuilt ’72 Turbo 350 with a new flex plate and spacer; the kickdown cable was removed, and a B&M shifter installed. An auxiliary transmission oil cooler was mounted to the front of the engine radiator. An NP205 transfer case from a ’72 Chevy Blazer and Tom Woods custom driveshafts are used to split the power to the axles.

Purser’s Tank Killer sits on some hefty axles. Up front he swapped in a 1984 CUCV military truck kingpin-style Dana 60. Out back he beefed things up with a 1984 CUCV military truck 14-Bolt full floater. The big axles carry 4.56:1 ratio ring and pinion gears; the front also features a limited slip device, and the rear end has a Detroit Locker. The axles are also modified with BTF pinion protection, solid diff covers and axle breathers.

The brake entire system also received upgrades such as a power brake booster, 50/50 proportioning valve, custom brake lines and speed bleeders. As well, the front axles got Shawn Miller brake disc brake conversions and the rear received a Blackbird disc conversion.

When the custom spring-over suspension lift was all said and done it came in at around 6 inches and combined 1.5-inch arched YJ leaf springs with an add-a leaf CJ spring in the front, and a flipped XJ stock spring pack with an extra XJ main leaf spring with the eyelets cut off in the rear. Purser used Bilstein 5125 shocks front and rear on Ford F-250 towers with Daystar poly bushings all the way around.

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The steering system from the top begins with a Flaming River wheel and tilt column, Borgeson steering shaft, and a high-steer kit with a custom drag link and tie rod. A PSC gear box with a PSC hydro assist helps direct the re-centered two-piece H1 wheels. These wheels are 16.5 inch rims with double beadlock TWF rock rings and PVC inserts and custom valve stems. The wheels have a 3.5-inch backspacing, and have 42-inch bias-ply Interco IROK tires wrapped around them.

The interior of Tank Killer is somewhat Spartan as you might expect, but it does have the necessities. A custom roll bar surrounds Corbeau XRS Seats and a fully functional gauge set featuring an Auto Meter speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, voltmeter, oil pressure gauge, trans temp gauge, and water temp gauge; all hooked up using a Painless Performance wiring harness.

Tank Killer's rear end reveals its custom exhaust system and the CUCV military truck 14-bolt full-floating axle; the 5.3L V8 crowds the Jeep's engine compartment.

And Purser likes his tunes, so the CJ is wired for sound with a CD Player and 6-inch Alpine speakers in a Tuffy speaker box. In addition, he had a local shop called 12 Volt Guy build a custom 4 Wheel To Heal panel in the dash to mount switches to operate the winch, dual radiator fans, CB, stereo, rock lights and the interior lights for Tank Killer.

3 Jeeps Offroad made The 4 Wheel to Heal vinyl panel for Purser. That’s his way of giving back to and honoring the guys and gals he served with and that came before him. He built the Jeep not only to get into the woods and have fun with, but to take wounded Vet’s out four-wheeling and expose them to the pleasures of off-road exploration that he grew up with and loves.

Off Road Xtreme can’t think of better reasons to build an off-road vehicle–tinker with something mechanical, have lots of fun, enjoy the great outdoors, and share that joy with others!

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About the author

Stuart Bourdon

Growing up with a passion for cars, trucks and motorsports made it natural to seek a career in that direction. An education in photojournalism, a love of the outdoors and years of exploring the waters, deserts and mountains of Southern California led to working on boating, outdoor, RV and off-road vehicle enthusiast magazines. Off Road Xtreme is the newest adventure in his life-long love affair with vehicles of all types.
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