Sometimes features sit in our digital library far, far longer than they should. It’s no one’s fault; just the way things work sometimes. Such is the case with this 1946 Willys CJ-2A that currently belongs to Jeff Mello of Danville, California. Yeah, you might recognize the orange flattie because it graced the cover of our magazine a year back not long after we shot the feature (May 2013). The Jeep was on the cover for good reason: it’s a great looking Jeep. We shot the feature on this Jeep at the 50th Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari in 2012, which is fitting because this Jeep really could have been at the first Desert Safari fifty years earlier. In some ways, it’s a shame that we did not run this feature sooner because of the story behind the vehicle, but at the same time almost every old Jeep has a story like this with different people coming in contact with the vehicle and then moving on. This one is special because most of the past 68 years this Jeep has been in contact with close friends and family of the current owner Jeff Mello. That means we know what happened with this Jeep about as well as any old flattie. The key to the story, Jeff, has good reason to love this flattie. Back when Jeff’s father (Ron Mello) was 9 years old in 1951, his best friend’s father, Johnny Silveira, bought this 1946 Willys CJ-2A. Ron and his friend, Dave Silveira (Johnny’s son), spent their formative years in this flatfender exploring the mountains and valleys around Danville, California. This helped Dave and Ron develop a strong love of Jeeps, and not surprisingly, the stories of Dave, Ron, and the Jeep are many. This love and knowledge of Jeeps was then passed down to Jeff.
Jeff is a true Jeep nut with many Jeeps currently in his collection including several race and trail Jeeps. So while we’ve been sitting on this feature and feel bad about it, the truth is the orange flattie you see here is timeless and it ain’t going anywhere. It’s owned by a person who loves it and doesn’t want to modify it. He wants to enjoy it and preserve it as part of his family’s history. But let us not forget that a Jeep like this is also part of every Jeeper’s history because it represents what Jeeping used to be, the innovation that brought us to where we are now, and evidence that what is old can still work.
The chassis of the 1946 Willys CJ-2A is relatively stock with a Saginaw power steering conversion using parts from a Ford Pinto. Other frame modifications include some massaging to both the front and rear shackle hangers. Also, like many flatfenders with power steering, the front tubular crossmember was removed and replaced with a stout steel plate version that serves as a radiator support. Hanging off the back of the Jeep’s frame is a tire rack that carries a five-gallon Jerry can that was plumbed as the fuel tank during our photo shoot. Otherwise, the stock Willys frame has lasted throughout the years despite the years of use and enjoyment.
The ’58 283ci Chevy V-8 was swapped into the flattie in 1961 by Johnny while Dave was serving Uncle Sam in Vietnam. The engine swap was a surprise as Dave wanted to swap a V-8 in his Jeep but was called away to war before he could complete the project. To surprise his son when Dave called home on his birthday, Johnny stretched the phone cord out to the barn so Dave could hear the 283 V-8 purr in its new home. The Chevy V-8 still breathes through the Rochester two-barrel carb that presumably was bolted on for the engine swap and wears old school M/T (Mickey Thompson) valve covers. The Jeep still exhales through home-built fenderwell headers bolted to glasspacks just like it did when the engine swap was completed. The adapter holding the Chevy to the T-90 seems to be homebuilt, which fits with Jeff’s memory of Johnny never buying anything that he could build himself.
Somewhere along the way, a Warn Overdrive was added to the Spicer 18 and still rests between the rails helping the little Jeep head down the road. Jeff reports testing the Jeep at more than 80 mph, even with the low axle gearing and smallish vintage tires. Jeff bought the Jeep a few years back after Johnny passed away and it sat in a barn for about 25 years just like it is—a time capsule.
The rear axle in a 1946 Willys CJ-2A should have been a Dana 41 from the factory, but somewhere in the Jeep’s past, the lemon-shaped Dana was swapped out for a later Dana 44 with 5.38 gears and two-piece axleshafts. Up front resides a like-geared (and possibly original) Dana 25 wearing Dualmatic locking hubs. Both axles have open differentials, but the Jeep still goes remarkably far down the trail thanks to the V-8 and flexible frame and suspension. Speaking of the suspension, the ’46 wears a set of soft, 2-inch–lift 8-leaf military-wrapped springs of unknown origin with some trick bolt-on home-built U-bolt skidplates. Shocks are from Gabriel up front and Sears and Roebuck Company on the rear axle.
Body and Interior
The body of the CJ-2A is relatively stock with some additions, repairs and small modifications from over the past 68 years, as would be expected. The hood louvers were punched by none other than Jack Hagemann Sr., a true artist and master metal shaper from hot rodding’s early days (Google the name and you’ll see what we mean). At some point in the 60’s, Dave got involved in racing and installed the rollbar and front ‘cage using some of the ideas and techniques he learned on the track. At the time, running a full ‘cage in a Jeep like this was uncommon at best. The seatbelts in the Jeep are vintage aircraft style belts picked up somewhere along the way, and the seats are out of a ’67 or ’68 Camaro. The Jeep started as a dark blue color (as seen in the vintage photos) and was painted orange in the late 70s. The only truly modern equipment sits behind the seats where Jeff mounted a Power Tank to fill tires after time on the trail.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Dave and Johnny reportedly took the flattie on 26 Jeepers Jamborees starting in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s with Jeff’s father joining them in his own Jeep (a red ’67 CJ-5) several times later in the ‘60s and in to the ‘80s. The Jeep has been to Moab, all kinds of trails throughout California’s Sierras Mountains, Southern California, Baja, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and everywhere in between. The Jeep was built to go wheeling with family anywhere, anytime.
The Tale of the Jeep and Mr. Macedo’s Tractor
One tale from the ‘60s that involves Dave, Ron, and the Jeep worth relating here revolves around a friendly neighbor named Mr. Macedo. It seems Ron and Dave went out and got the Jeep fairly well stuck in the creek near Mr. Macedo’s ranch. They then decided Mr. Macedo probably wouldn’t mind if they borrowed his tractor to get the Jeep out without asking. Once the tractor was on scene, the boys managed to get it stuck and break the steering knuckle. Their solution to this predicament was to harness up some of Mr. Macedo’s horses (again without asking), ride them into town, buy replacement parts for the tractor, and head back to the stuck vehicles. They then used the horses to yank the Jeep free and then used the Jeep to free the tractor. They then repaired the tractor, cleaned everything up, and put everything back in its place, and apparently Mr. Macedo was never the wiser.
Why I Wrote This Feature
This early civilian flattie is a time capsule of Jeeping’s past. It was cool a long time ago and it still is. It worked off-road when off-roading was in its infancy and it still does. Preserving the past is important, but so is enjoying things as they were. Old Jeeps don’t die; they live in our memories. Unfortunately, Johnny Silveira and Ron Mello are no longer with us, but their memory, teachings, and love remains alive in their stories, this Jeep, Dave, Jeff, the rest of their family, and friends…
Vehicle: 1946 Willys CJ-2A
Engine: ’58 Chevy 283ci V-8
Transfer Case: Spicer 18 with Warn OD
Suspension: 2-inch–lift, 8-leaf leaf springs
Axles: Dana 25 (front), Dana 44 (rear)
Wheels: 15x8 Jackman Steel Spokes
Tires: Tripper 10-15LT
Built For: Wheeling with family 60 years ago and today