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It’s Not A Jeep: It’s A GPW

Posted in Features on September 15, 2016
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When it comes to building a project, there are many ways to skin the cat…ahem, Jeep. With so many paths, that generally makes each Jeep pretty unique, even if it doesn’t appear to be that different at first glance. Gary Ammon’s flatfender stood out at the 2016 Hi Desert Roundup held near Barstow, California, because it was moderately built, had clean lines, featured unique half doors, and it got the job done off-road. Now, the Jeep isn’t actually a Jeep. It’s a jeep. More specifically, it is a ’44 Ford GPW. Ammon is a life-long Jeep enthusiast, and he picked up this GPW because of its historical significance, and he wanted something to use for camping in the Sierras and to explore the deserts.

Body Beautiful

When he purchased the GPW, Gary had a long list of things that needed to be done. It had sat for years, parts were in milk crates, a large portion of the driver side sheetmetal had been cut out, and there were bullet holes all over the vehicle. Thankfully, Gary’s father had recently retired and was a body/fender man. He had the skills and time to help get the sheet metal back in order. Gary’s father stopped counting the bullet holes somewhere around 100.

Somewhere along the line, a CJ-3B windshield found its way into the mix. To get even more style points and, more importantly, increased visibility, the glass opening in the frame was cut bigger. To keep clean lines, the original pieces that were cut out were flipped and switched, then welded in. All it needed then was a custom piece of glass. The half doors on Gary’s GPW are possibly the most intriguing eye-magnet on the entire vehicle. He custom built them himself for a unique and functional look.

Power Plentiful

With all the bodywork done, the flattie was taken out on the trails. Unfortunately, Gary quickly found out the GPW didn’t really fit his needs, as there just wasn’t enough power. Through a friend, he learned of a gentleman that had a ’30s Ford project he was building into a street rod and had lost interest in the project. A low-mileage ’80s Buick 3.8L V-6 and TH350 transmission ended up being a big score from the encounter. An adapter was put on the back of the trans for the T18 transfer case and then the whole assembly was dropped in. After years of use, Ammon still hasn’t needed to even take the valve covers off.

Running Gear

A front Dana 30 with a Detroit Truetrac and a rear Dana 44 with a Detroit Locker from a CJ-5 that Gary built years ago are now underneath the GPW—both run 5.38:1 ring-and-pinion sets. To aid with flat towing, Ammon modified the rear axle to full-float status, using Moser ’shafts and stock Jeep hubs and spindles. Warn locking hubs make flat towing a breeze. The front axle has the stock Dana 30 disc brakes, and the rearend features 12-inch drums.

The suspension under the GPW was also donated by Gary’s old CJ-5. It’s a 3-inch Rancho Suspension lift kit with Gabriel adjustable shocks on the front and Rancho shocks on the back. The spring and shackle mounts were modified to accept the 2-inch wide CJ-5 springs. Power steering comes from a junkyard swap out of a fullsize Chevy truck, and the GPW is shod with 15x8 1/2-inch old-school white-spoke wheels and 33x12.50R15LT Goodyear MTR rubber.

Details, Details

The Ford has many creature comforts as well. There’s a tilt and telescoping steering column out of a Cadillac and a Vintage Air heater system. For seating, Gary again sourced the local junkyard and found a pair of Camaro buckets that now wear Pep Boys covers.

On his previous Jeep, he had dealt with frame cracking at the main eye frame mount of the leaf springs. After welding up the cracks and bracing it multiple times, he decided he had enough. He built custom swivel mounts to allow the springs to rock side to side. So, of course, he put these in right out of the gate on his GPW.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For

Overall, Gary’s Ford GPW isn’t a high-end, show-stopping rockcrawler. It is, however, an amazing all-around vehicle with tons of smiles per gallon, all for less than total build cost of $3,000. Sure, the 33-inch tires may mean the GPW requires some rock stacking here and there on the trail, but isn’t that part of the fun?

Why I Wrote This Feature

Gary Ammon’s ’44 GPW is cool, it’s capable, and it was pretty darn cheap to build. Think about it: what’s not to like about that? Insert applause here for a unique and creative build.

Gary Ammon and his teammate tackled the potato race at the High Desert Roundup. Later that day, Gary and his GPW would go on to win the Balancing Act game for automatic transmission vehicles.
The custom-built swivel spring hangers save the frame from cracking under lateral stress. This also saves Ammon from having to spend time welding when he could be out wheeling instead.
The GPW was painted with an ’80s-era Honda Slate Gray color. Ammon added the graphics to the doors to make them appear shorter.
The interior of the Ford doesn’t have many frills: a pair of junkyard Camaro seats, a Cadillac steering column, and a few other minor upgrades.
The back seat may not be huge, but if anyone wants to get a ride and shotgun has already been claimed, this is what you get. Better than hanging off the spare tire.
The massive windshield confuses the beholder at first glance. It looks like it came from the factory assembly line that way.
The custom-built half doors were created using a steel tube structure that was then wrapped with sheetmetal. Ammon added the stripes because without them, the door seems much bigger than it really is, which might be because we aren’t used to seeing a flatfender with half doors.
Manual locking hubs on the full-float Dana 44 rear axle allow for easy flat towing. There is no need to mess with disconnecting driveshafts or hoping you have the vehicle in the right sequence of gear positions.
A Buick 3.8L even-fire V-6 was dropped in to give the little GPW the oomph it deserved. Topped with an air filter from a Z28 Camaro and a Motorcraft 2100 two-barrel carburetor the little engine has been a great addition to the vehicle. The V-6 also saw its stock iron exhaust manifolds shaved down for frame and steering clearance, and a Mazda A/C pump was used as an air compressor to inflate tires and run air tools.
Though not a flexing machine, the trusty leaf springs and custom swivel spring mounts allow the GPW to twist up and handle business.
The short wheelbase can be a hindrance and a blessing. The GPW is quicker to come off the ground when the front is flexed, but it gets beyond obstacles faster.
Damping is handled by a set of Gabriel adjustable shocks up front and Rancho shocks in the rear.
The Dana 30 front axle and the Dana 44 both originally came from a CJ-5 Gary built years ago.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: ’44 Ford GPW
Engine: Buick 3.6L V-6
Transmission: TH350 3-speed automatic
Transfer Case: T-18
Suspension: 3-inch Rancho Suspension lift with CJ-5 springs; Gabriel adjustable shocks (front) and Rancho shocks (rear)
Axles: Dana 30, 5.38 Detroit Truetrac (front); Dana 44, 5.38 Detroit Locker (rear)
Wheels: 15x8-1.2-inch white spoke
Tires: 33x12.50R17LT Goodyear MT/R
Built For: Mountain camping and desert trails

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