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It might not be pretty, but this Detroit Diesel-powered Jeep is the pride of the family

Posted in Features on October 28, 2015
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The CJ3B Jeeps are often the butt of jokes for looking “different” from typical flatfenders. Introduced in 1953, the CJ3B has a hood that is 4 inches taller than a CJ3A in order to accommodate the taller Hurricane engine that replaced the “Go-Devil” mill in the CJ3A. Nicknamed “high hoods,” CJ3Bs were more powerful than their predecessors, yet retained the utility that civilian Jeeps were quickly becoming known for on farms and ranches all over the country. Six decades later, Mark “Bug” Ragan’s high hood fits that same basic premise. It packs a big engine under the hood and serves more as a tool than a toy.

Chassis

Rather than using a flimsy stock C-channel frame, Bug started with fully boxed frame rails from Advanced Frame Works (now known as Throttle Down Kustoms) and built his own crossmembers. Living in the California desert, he didn’t even bother painting the frame, and it has only gained minor surface rust after a decade of use. The new frame is made from super strong 2x4x3/16-inch box tubing and came set up with a shackle reversal that accepts YJ leaf springs. Bug originally ran stock YJ leaf springs over the axles (front and rear) with gas-charged shocks off a Super Duty. The YJ springs were longer and wider than the stock CJ springs, and provided more articulation and a smoother ride. Unfortunately they weren’t up to the task of supporting the weight of the engine, so Bug replaced them with 3/4-ton Chevy springs. The suspension makes enough room for 36-inch Super Swamper TSLs mounted on 16x10 chrome spoke wheels.

Bug set the frame up to accept a Saginaw power steering box in place of the weak Ross cam and lever steering. With the springs above the axle it can be a challenge to run the drag link to the middle of the steering knuckle without it contacting the passenger side leaf spring during full droop. Bug solved that issue by running the drag link to the tie rod in an inverted “T” configuration and placing both the tie rod and the drag link above the knuckles where they are safe from harm. Dynatrac steering arms make this possible and provide a clue about the axles that are found under the Jeep.

Drivetrain

Rather than a Hurricane four-banger, Bug’s Jeep gets power from a three-cylinder engine. The 3-53 Detroit Diesel has three inline cylinders, each displacing 53 cubic inches. Since this is a two-stroke engine, a gear-driven Roots-type blower provides pressurized air through cored passages in the engine block and ports in the cylinder walls. The injectors are fired through a rack that is mechanically tied to the camshaft. While they were commonly produced with iron blocks, this particular engine has an aluminum block (from a marine application) and saved Bug approximately 100 pounds. Still, the “little” engine is no lightweight at over 800 pounds, nearly double what a 4.0L engine weighs.

In order to keep the drivetrain length reasonable, Bug used an SM420 four-speed manual transmission that is short, strong, and simple. The vintage transmission routes power to a new transfer case, which is an Atlas II from Advanced Adapters. The gear-driven transfer case is fully synchronized (unlike the transmission) and has a 4.3:1 low range ratio. Both axles are high pinion Dana 60s from Dynatrac that are 60 inches wide, use 4.10 gears, ARB Air Lockers, and 35-spline chromoly axleshafts. The front wears Warn premium hubs, while the rear axle is a full floater with Dynatrac spindles and disc brakes.

Body and Interior

In front of the faded-yellow grille, a Warn M9000 winch spans the frame rails. The roller fairlead mounts above the box tube bumper that is integrated into the frame. Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings keep the squeaks down between the old tub and the new frame, and boxed tub rock sliders sit under the tub to keep the rockers from getting prematurely wrinkled. Bug added subtle LED lights inside the front fender and built a rack out of box tubing and expanded metal that he had lying around.

Inside, the high-hood CJ3B was updated with a GM tilt steering column and hanging pedals that use CNC reservoirs for the brakes and clutch master cylinder. Parts store gauges monitor the engine’s vital signs, and Bestop seats keep Bug and his wife Lindsey comfortable. Their kids Abbi, Thomas, and Michael fight each other (and the dog) for space in the rear of the Jeep, or lie on the carpeting that has been zip-tied to the top of the custom six-point rollcage from WFO Customs. Why buy a bikini top or carpet kit when there are Dynatrac axles and Atlas transfer cases to buy?

Good, Bad, and What It’s For

Bug mainly uses his high-hood Jeep around his property to shuttle kids and pull stumps, but the Jeep has made several trips over the nearby Rubicon and Fordyce Creek trails without issue. The drivetrain is overbuilt and has more in common with a tractor than a Jeep. The Detroit Diesel leaks, but not enough for Bug to be worried about it. “They all leak,” he commented.

Why I Wrote This Feature

I actually showed up at Bug’s property to shoot a feature on his brother’s stunning Cummins-powered Dodge Power Wagon. I didn’t think much of the Jeep jungle-gym with kids climbing all over it until he fired it up and I heard the unmistakable clatter of not just a diesel engine but a two-stroke diesel. That was all it took for me to take a closer look, and the more I saw of this Jeep, the more I liked it.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: Jeep CJ3B
Engine: 3-53 Detroit Diesel three-cylinder diesel
Transmission: SM420 four-speed manual
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters Atlas II
Suspension: Spring-over with leaf springs and Ford Super Duty shocks
Axles: Dynatrac Dana 60 with 4.10 gears, ARB Air Lockers, and 35 spline chromoly axleshafts
Wheels: 16x10 chrome wagon wheels
Tires: 36x12.50-16LT Super Swamper TSLs
Built For: Hauling the entire family anywhere they need to go
Estimated Cost: n/a

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