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Mighty 1943 WWII Military Jeep

Posted in Features on June 8, 2016
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“When the war was at its hottest and the going got too steep, one thing that you could count on was the mighty little Jeep.” –Private Jesse Wolf, WWII Belgium.

The same holds true for this little Flatty, it tackles trails that some newer rigs step back and think twice about.

Jeff Petrowich from Ramsey, Illinois, and codesigner Steve Taylor created this little sleeper flatfender named “Bam Bam,” a ’43 Willys MB that is an intricate puzzle of parts and pieces from Jeeps long gone. Jeff purchased it as an incomplete project in October 2013. His vision was to have a vintage WWII Jeep that looked as close to an original stock MB as possible but one that could handle all the rigors of a daily driver. He wanted a highway vehicle that retained the stock flatfender off-road capability, yet what he ended up with is something far more special.

According to Jeff, he was looking for the reliability of modern fuel injection, disc brakes, and power steering. He says, “The vision was mine,” but in order to do a project like this he had to rely on his good friend Steve Taylor, a mechanic and Jeep enthusiast from Holliday, Illinois. During the initial planning of the project, Jeff’s part was much easier than Taylor’s. He just had to say, “I want this, and I want that.” Steve’s mission was to make it all fit and work, and he did a fantastic job. Bam Bam is powered by a 4.3L Chevy V-6 backed by a SM465 Muncie four-speed paired with a Dana 20 transfer case holding 3.15:1 TeraFlex Low gears. This is protected by a custom tranny mount and skidplate. The axles came from a CJ-5. The front is a Dana 30 narrow-track axle measuring 53 inches between wheel mounting surfaces, and in the rear is a Dana 44 centered-pumpkin axle measuring 54 inches wide. Both axles hold Eaton ELockers with 3.73 gears for good daily driver fuel economy. Bam Bam averages 16 mpg. Power steering comes from a reverse-rotation box out of a Ford Bronco, and it’s discreetly tucked inside the frame. Four-wheel power disc brakes and alloy front axle shafts round out the powertrain and undercarriage.

Jeff wanted to maintain his 80-inch wheelbase and the stock height, so he opened his CAD program and designed the leaf springs himself. The custom offset leaf springs built by St. Louis Spring Company allow for 26 inches of wheel travel. The front springs are 44 inches long with the spring pin located 18 1/8 inches from the front spring eye compared to the stock 36 1/4-inch spring. The stock rear springs are 42 inches long, but Bam Bam’s rears are 48 inches long with the pin 21 inches from the rear eye, all so the wheelbase and stock appearance are retained. Gabriel shocks finish off the suspension.

Because military jeeps didn’t originally have a rollbar and some events require one, Jeff fabbed one up. To keep with the original stock military appearance, he used 1 1/2, 0.120-wall DOM tubing. He made a special radius bender to get tighter radii and made the hoops in a "V" shape just like the original military top bows. Matched with the custom canvas top that Jeff made, it looks straight out of the ’40s.

Jeff found a WWII SCR-610 radio set, and the antenna is an original WWII MP-48 base. What you don’t see is the Cobra 29 CB radio hiding inside; the original telephone receiver is the CB mic. The unit also houses an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, but don’t be surprised if you roll by his rig and hear WWII radio chatter coming from inside. The dash sports a GPS speedometer made from an old marine unit; he made a sticker to go over the face to make it look like an original speedo.

The Jeep is able to cruise at 70 mph for lengthy distances and also has a better-than-stock resume off-road. It has been on several trails in numerous states, including the Black Hills of South Dakota; Ouray and Buena Vista, Colorado; Pine Grove, Pennsylvania; and most recently, the 50th Annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab where it was spotted easily handling some of the more difficult obstacles on Hells Revenge and Wipe-Out Hill.

In a recent conversation with Jeff, he imparted his thoughts on “it’s a Jeep thing.” He said, “I believe that the ‘Jeep thing’ occurs in a person when they make the life change from Jeep ownership to Jeep partnership. Your Jeep has the capability to take you where you want to go, but it needs your guidance to get you there. It depends on you to know its ability and know your own ability. It trusts you and you trust it to provide you with the tools you need to make it through the trail and through life. Sometimes you make a mistake, but it is how you rebound together that counts more. When you understand this, you understand what a ‘Jeep thing’ really means.” Truer words were never spoken.

The Vortec 4.3L TBI V-6 powerplant was transplanted from a ’91 Chevrolet. It shares the engine bay with a custom radiator and a power brake unit donated from a Chevy Nova.

Bam Bam runs a stock GM clutch hooked to an SM465 four-speed and a Dana 20 transfer case. They are protected by a custom skidplate crossmember. Check out the super-custom front leaf spring.

A reverse-rotation Ford Bronco steering box tucks nicely in behind the crossmember. Notice how high the drag link is for additional clearance and protection.

What looks like original factory soft-top bows is actually a fully integrated rollcage. With the windshield up and canvas soft top (which Jeff made) on, it’s difficult to tell the cage assembly is even there.

The military antenna is an original WWII MP-48 base. It feeds the signal to the SCR-610 radio set that has been converted to the CB/AM/FM/CD/MP3 head unit.

Taylor helped Petrowich with the Spartan no-frills interior. Major changes were an enlarged transmission tunnel to house the big four-speed and hanging pedals for the clutch and brake. Check out the hand throttle on the gearshift as well.

Bam Bam made quite an impression on the crowd by easily cruising up the hard side of Wipe-Out Hill in Moab. The wrinkled tires are military 7.50x16 NDTs instead of the stock 6.00x16 NDTs. Petrowich mounted them on reproduction combat wheels that were widened 3/4 inch to 5 3/4 inches for a wider footprint. Notice the faux hub and how it makes the Dana 44 axle resemble the original Spicer 23 military axle.

Conquering the Escalator on Hell’s Revenge in Moab, Bam Bam is not your average antique.

HARD FACTS
Vehicle: ’43 Willys MB
Engine: 4.3L Chevy V-6
Transmission: Muncie SM465 four-speed manual
Transfer Case: Dana 20 with TeraFlex Low 3.15 gears
Suspension: Customer-designed, special-length offset leaf springs, Gabriel shocks
Axles: Front: CJ-5 narrow-track Dana 30 with 3.73 Eaton ELocker; Rear: CJ-5 center-pumpkin Dana 44 with 3.73 Eaton ELocker
Steering: Reverse-rotation box Ford Bronco power steering
Wheels: Custom-widened 16-inch reproduction combat wheels
Tires: Military 7.50x17 NDTs
Built For: Trail and street

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