February 03, 2022
Jeep’s recent launch of the Gladiator pickup was by all measures a success. It not only caused Jeep fans to get on the waiting list for a new truck, but also spurred interest in Jeep’s other, long-discontinued pickup: the CJ-8 Scrambler. Less than five years ago, you could find a Scrambler on the used market for a few thousand dollars, but now you can expect to pay upwards of $10,000 for a used CJ-8, if you can even find one.
Kyle Smith, maker of the Bird Buggy hunting vehicles, was a Scrambler fan well before the recent rush on the iconic Jeep truck. He learned to drive behind the wheel of CJ-8 that his grandfather had purchased new off the lot back in 1982. Smith also grew up around Scramblers, which were extremely popular as bird-hunting rigs on the quail plantations of southwestern Georgia.
In 2020, Smith combined his business of building bird-hunting specific vehicles with his love of Jeep CJ-8s in a collaboration with Ball and Buck, a hunting company known for its dedication to high-end apparel and accessories. The plan was to offer a truly custom resto-mod Scrambler, eliminating as many of the original’s inherent flaws as possible while still maintaining the classic Jeep appearance and experience.
The Ball and Buck Scrambler starts with a stripped frame that is then sandblasted and epoxy primed before being reinforced in some of the traditionally weak points (robotic welding in the ’80s was lacking). The frame gets fitted with an Old Man Emu YJ suspension, which makes for a much better ride, while also modestly increasing the stock ride height approximately 2.5 inches. Buyers can also choose between Detroit Truetracs or ARB Air Lockers, and the original front Dana 30 and rear AMC 20 axle housings are replaced with much more robust versions (Dana 44 and Ford 9”) in the diesel and Chevy V8 versions.
Speaking of power options, Smith offers three upgrades: an original, but upgraded, 4.2 inline six-cylinder engine; a Chevy 5.3 LS series V8; or the Cummins R2.8 turbo diesel crate engine. The latter two offer significantly more power and torque than the original six-cylinder engine and require upgraded transmissions, offered in both automatic and manual.
Opening the door reveals where the Ball and Buck collaboration really comes to life, with the company’s signature, old-school camouflage accenting a handstitched leather and canvas interior. The dash gets an upgrade, complete with hand-turned brass knobs, including the transmission and transfer case shifter handles. The Scrambler’s three classic gauges are still there, but have been fitted with Dakota Digital for more accurate and more modern readouts. The radio was moved to the console and is available with amp and speaker upgrades as well. The exterior is available in four color options: Coronado Sand, Everglades Green, Chesapeake Gray, and Sutton Black, with signature brass badges on the A-pillar and along the plane Sinker Cypress sideboards running along the bed.
While a modern driver may not want to give the Ball and Buck Scrambler the same kind of beating the stock CJ-8s were accustomed to, we’re sure the resto-mod can take whatever the new owner dishes out. Even if that’s just a proper quail hunt at one of the many plantations around Kyle Smith’s Georgia workshop.