Off-Road Storage: Bestop Rack Install on a Jeep CJ

Aug. 05, 2010 By Jim Brightly, Photos by Jim Brightly and Jamie Nylander
Gear is held securely in the Bestop rack, even over the stair steps up and down the Moab Rim Trail.

I have a confession to make—I like tall Jeeps. Not the high-risers with 6-foot-high floorboards like some of the younger readers might prefer, but Jeeps that are raised 4 to 6 inches higher than OEM with taller tires to provide better off-road clearance and an improved ride. Therefore, my 1982 CJ-7 has a 4-inch Skyjacker spring lift and a 2-inch Skyjacker body lift, plus 35-inch Goodyear MTR tires. Fortunately, it still fits into my 6-foot 8-inch garage, but just barely.

Providing shade for the dogs, security for gear, and a place to strap down a shovel, the Bestop rack proved to be a valuable trail tool.

After moving to Arizona, I discovered our dogs—a coyote/terrier cross and Labrador/Great Dane cross—needed some protection from the hot desert sun (my wife and I sit under an aluminum-diamond-plate bikini top mounted to the Smittybilt roll cage) so I started looking around for a solution. I found it under the Bestop banner at the 4-Wheel Hardware website for less than $90.

When I drove a CJ-7 for the first time in 1976, having owned a ’74 CJ-5 at the time, I never would have thought it would be too small to carry everything I might need on a day’s trail, until I got used to a JK Unlimited and a Scrambler.

For Jeep’s JK, TJ, and YJ models, Bestop offers mounting kits along with the rack; but for CJ models, the only kit that works would be the receiver hitch bracket (which I prefer to use for a recovery strap hook). And, unfortunately, I couldn’t mount the rack on top of my rollbar because my garage door is too low, so I needed to mount it so its top is below the door opening and so that it provided shade for our dogs. Because of this, I took my CJ and the rack to Precision 4x4 in Kingman, Arizona. I did this because I knew Precision had a mandrel bender and could make up a custom mounting bracket for me out of raw steel tubing. I also wanted it removable in case we needed to haul people instead of dogs.

The first step is to lay out the rack on a worktable or sawhorses to make sure the newly designed bracket fits properly.

On our first trip with the mounted rack, we traveled several trails in the Moab area and the rack proved invaluable. With the use of some bungee cords and ratchet straps it hauled all our stuff, including our camp chairs, and provided shade for the dogs.

A mandrel bender is needed to build the bracket. You could also cut and weld the pieces together, but it wouldn’t look as professional.

The rack tray is made of thermoformed plastic, which is lighter than steel and has better impact resistance. It is 20½” x 41” x 3” and has recessed I-bolts near the four corners to anchor tie-down straps to hold cargo tightly and secure. With Bestop’s various mounting kits it holds up to 100 pounds of gear, and its rounded corners help prevent injury when bumped. I have no way to test it but the way it’s mounted in my CJ I’m sure it can carry much more than 100 pounds.

Now that everything is ready to be bolted together, each piece will have to be painted before attaching.

After checking the bracket against the rack, you’ll need to make sure it also fits the Jeep properly.

With the rack tray mounted, its top is level with the top of the rollbar, so the Jeep will still fit in our garage.

The bracket is bolted to tabs welded onto the center bar of the rollbar, and it can also hold bungee cord hooks.

Other tabs are bolted to the rear fenders, with the mounting bracket bolted to the tabs so that the entire rack assembly can be removed easily in case the backseat is needed.

Bungee cord hooks aren’t restricted to the factory-mounted I-bolts or the mounting tabs. The rack’s molded openings can also be used so that the load is kept secure on the roughest trail. Newsletter
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