Generally speaking, the best way to get your Jeep featured in Jpis to wheel it and be at the right place at the right time. Sending in pictures of your baby in the driveway all flexed out on a forklift might work, but it’s doubtful -- you’d need a pretty sweet rig to avoid the digital circular file. Somehow the Willys MB you see before you came to our attention not from on the trail, nor via driveway images emailed to the editor, but rather through a very different manner. Feature Editor Verne Simons was perusing the Internet looking for pictures of cool old Willys pick-ups for inspiration for his big, low project vehicle in this issue (“The Wicked Willys”), when an image of a very different and very cool Flattie (on a trail in Moab) popped up on the old digital Google screen. The photos lead back to an expedition forum, and Verne sent the poster of the images an email asking him to contact us. It turns out that the owner and builder of this lowrider MB on 35s, Brennan Metacalf, a resident of Durango, Colorado, was also a reader and fan of Jp.His inspiration for this Jeep came from our own flatfender projects, i.e., both Editor Christian Hazel’s ’53 DJ-3A and Verne’s ’49 CJ-3A. Fast-forward a few months and a few emails and Verne and Brennan had made arrangements to meet up in Moab during Easter Jeep Safari for a little wheeling and maybe even a little photography. Since photos speak a thousand words, follow along as we show you the highlights of this well thought out and functional lowrider Jeep.
Brennan, an engineer, started with a tired old '42 Willys MB he’d been wheeling for the past 10 years and a few ideas. The main inspiration for the rebuild came from images of Willys’ own 1⁄2-ton MLW-2 prototype: (milweb.net/features/willys_jeep.php).This slightly larger and bigger tire’d Willys has similar hood lines to Brennan’s MB, and Brennan says he was going for a look of a stock MB mixed 50/50 with the MLW-2 prototype pictures he had seen on the web. The plan started with Brennan designing a replacement frame built from 2x4x1⁄8-inch rectangular tubing and laser-cut 1⁄8-inch steel side plates that help tie the frame together, add strength, straightness, and suspension points. Remaining pieces of rectangular tubing were modified and used to make the front and rear bumpers and a couple of crossmembers. Once the frame was together, Brennan heaved the old beat-up body from his once-running MB onto the new frame and mocked up body mounts to hold the rusty old body in place.
A ’73 Warn Belleview winch wearing synthetic rope was mounted with the bottom of the winch and aluminum fairlead below the bottom of the front bumper/crossmember. Then Brennan fabricated a mount for a Saginaw power steering box along the driver side front frame rail. The box is a 4-bolt unit from a ’75 J20. The pump is a GM P-pump on a custom bracket. Both the winch fairlead and steering box are protected by the front leaf springs and front shackles. Speaking of the suspension, most of the work is handled by a set of four 1-inch lift rear CJ-2A/3A Superlift springs. The springs are pushed as far forward and backward front and rear, respectively, for the maximum wheelbase on the custom frame. The homebuilt placement and shackles gives the Jeep a stance of about 1⁄2-inch lower than a stock Willys MB and a wheelbase of 85 inches. That’s right, we said it’s lower than a stock Willys MB -- until you consider the 35-inch tires that the modified body cleanly clears. The shocks are cheap white 10-inch travel models to help keep cost down.
A ’69 Buick 225ci odd-fire V-6 was sourced from the Jeep before the rebuild and placed pretty high up between the custom frame rails. The engine now breathes through a tweaked Motorcraft/Autolite 2100 with 1.08 venturis and other mods we discussed in our feature story, “Off Your Carburetor -- Dirt-Tuning the Motorcraft 2100,” (Aug. ’13). The air plenum is a Spectre unit from Summit Racing. The HEI unit was sourced used at a junkyard from a ’75 or ’76 odd-fire 231 Buick car. The 21⁄4-inch into one 21⁄2-inch exhaust is home built from tubing and cut bends snaking around the shoehorned drivetrain and frame. Brennan placed the engine with the drivetrain bolted to the engine so he could ensure a nearly flat belly under the little Jeep. A rebuilt ’79 wide-ratio T-18 is bolted to the back of the V-6 with help from a Novak Conversions adapter. The T-case is a Dana 20 with Spicer 18 internals for maximum strength and is attached using the stock 4-inch-bore T-18 to Dana 20 adapter. Once in place, the rusty original body was dropped over the frame, engine, transmission, and T-case. Brennan cut open the floor to clear the higher drivetrain, but more on that and other extensive body modifications in the body section.
The front axle is a narrow-track Dana 30 from a mid-’70s CJ-5 that was located already holding 4.27 gears. Brennan added a Spartan locker to the 30, and designed his own front brake caliper mounting brackets brakes for a conversion for the formerly drum’d front axle. The caliper mounting brackets are designed to work with Tracker/Sidekick rotors and calipers. The rear axle is an early CJ-5 Dana 44 that was in the Jeep when Brennan bought it in 2003. Not being good at leaving well enough alone, Brennan designed spacers and had custom 30-spline flanged axleshafts cut by Dutchman to work with a home built full-float conversion. The conversion also uses spindles from Yukon that allow the larger 30-spline shafts to pass through them from the outside. This way the early Dana 44 is not only much stronger (than with the two-piece original axles), but now the width of the earlier axle would match the newer front axle. The Power-Lok originally found in the early CJ-5 Dana 44 was modified with 30-spline side gears and rebuilt to keep the tires spinning. The rear Dana 44 spins 4.30 gears. Tires are 35x13.50R15 BFGoodrich KX Krawler tires mounted on some used 15x10 steel beadlocks.
Body and Interior
Body modifications on the original MB fenders, tub, hood, and windshield are extensive, but somehow the patina is fairly well preserved. From the outset of the rebuild, Brennan’s plans included a high-line fender conversion. That meant cutting the hood, stretching it, and reworking the front fenders to fit the grille once higher up and slightly forward of stock placement. The raised drivetrain meant that the floor and transmission tunnel of the body was extensively reworked, and the tool box and under seat fuel tank were removed to help drop the seats down in the tub. Speaking of the seats, Brennan found a set of EMPI Race Trim low-back suspension seats that fit low in the tub snuggly. An Optima Red Top battery is tucked under the driver seat in the MB’s fuel tank recess. Next, Brennan removed the rear wheeltubs and strategically raised them several inches so the rear tires could have as much up-travel as the fronts. All this was done while still retaining the factory MB rear tool boxes, albeit with some new angled floors to help clear the 35-inch tires. Cuts in the hood and rear fender lips are all supported with 3⁄16-inch solid rod welded to the cut edges. XJ swinging pedals were modified to fit under the flattie’s dash and activate the clutch and brakes. Because of the tight packaging of the raised transmission, Brennan runs a hydraulic internal throwout bearing from Speedway Motors. Brennan is not totally happy with it, but clearance requires it. A clutch fork would literally be sharing space with the Jeep’s floor. Brakes are fed fluid from a dual pot master cylinder from a ’76 Chevy Monza.
Behind the seats a custom fuel tank designed by Brennan holds 18 gallons. He sent the plans for the tank to Boyd Welding in Florida who happily and relatively inexpensively burned the tank together and shipped it back. It holds plenty of fuel and still allows for storage in the “bed” of the MB. Not surprisingly, Brennan designed and built the rollcage in the little Jeep, but not until after designing and building his own tubing bender. The ’cage is bent out of 1 1⁄2-inch 0.120-wall DOM and matches the low-profile of the seats and lower MB/GPW windshield. The cage also sits a few inches lower than most flattie ’cages, and keen eyes will notice that the A-to B-pillar bars are pretty much flat, while in most flattie’s they slope up towards the rear.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Brennan built the flattie to be capable and drivable nearly anywhere -- including the road. Since we shot the feature, Brennan has driven the little Jeep on a 2,000-mile wheeling/road trip. He says it was pretty happy at 52 mph after regearing the axles to 5.38. Brennan sticks to back roads whenever possible to keep tailgaters at bay. The Buick V-6 started sharing water and oil via a bad head gasket and is currently getting a full rebuild that should allow a little more speed without changing the gearing. An overdrive would be nice, but it adds complexity to an otherwise simple Jeep and probably would not fit without further work on the floor.
Why I Wrote This Feature
I’ve been a big fan of flatties and low Jeeps with big tires for a long time now, and this MB combines both nearly seamlessly. I also dig the simple military look that was retained despite the fact that the Jeep was massively reworked. Brennan has used lots of cool ideas all in one small capable vehicle. He says he was influenced by Jeeps we’ve built, but truly, some of his ideas will find their way into my flattie.
-- Verne Simons
|1942 Willys MB|
|Engine:||’69 Buick odd-fire 225 V-6|
|Transmission:||’79 CJ wide-ratio T-18|
|Transfer Case:||Spicer 18 Suspension: 1-inch Superlift rear CJ-2A/3A springs|
|Axles:||Dana 30 (front); Dana 44 (rear)|
|Wheels:||15x10 steel beadlocks|
|Tires:||35x13.50R15 BFGoodrich KX Krawlers|
|Built For:||Southwestern trails, road trips, adventures, expeditions, and whatever.|