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Cross-Country And Back In A Diesel Flatfender

Posted in Features on October 12, 2016
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Photographers: Daniel Buck

Daniel Buck picked up his ’46 flatfender as a project. Through the years, there was no specific plan during the build, but Daniel recounts that it was more like going through phases. Two things didn’t change though, he wanted it to be a comfortable daily driver and a mild wheeler. A cross-country trip, and back again, is nothing to scoff at for any driver and even a brand-new vehicle. Thousands of miles to drive, adverse weather to endure, and mental preparedness are only some of the hurdles. For Daniel, a Long Beach, California, resident, the end of that journey was his cousin’s wedding in North Carolina. He had driven cross-country before and enjoyed it, so the wedding was a great reason to do it again.

Mechanical Mayhem

The ’46 Willys underwent a multitude of modifications. A Kubota V2203-DI 2.2L inline-4 direct-injected diesel was dropped in, and an adapter plate by Overland Diesel was used to connect it to the T-98 four-speed transmission. The factory floor-pedal mounts were kept, but the clutch linkage was changed to cable to replace the factory rod linkage. Being an industrial generator/pump engine, modifications to the diesel included adjustments to the injector pump and governor, and a non-intercooled turbo was added. The turbo wastegate was set at 15 psi, and Buck says he can get 30 mpg while running between 55 and 60 mph.

Underneath the Willys is a Dana 18 T-case (with the parking brake removed) feeding power to a narrowed front Dana 44 sporting a 4.10 limited slip and a rear Currie Enterprises 9-inch housing a 4.10 Yukon Zip Locker. The rear axle was located 2 inches farther rearward than the stock axle position to increase the Willys’ wheelbase, and both axles are hung from the frame (which was boxed in strategic locations) with 2-inch lift springs from Atlas. A Ford Ranger steering box works the links to the 15x6-inch Wheel Vintiques rims wrapped with BFGoodrich 33x10.5R15 KM2 rubber.

Trek Prep

Not only did the trip require making sure the Jeep was mechanically sound, but prepping for the trip meant Daniel had to put miles on it. “I started taking it on longer and longer trial runs,” he explained. He started taking it farther and farther away from home. After putting several 200-300 mile trips on it, Daniel felt confident about it.

Some trail testing out at Cougar Buttes in Johnson Valley, California, gave Daniel a little extra confidence, and a few new dents in the sheetmetal. “Learning the jeep, figuring out what I wanted to change, breaking parts, replacing or upgrading them, and ultimately coming up with a combination of parts that worked the way I want them to was the outcome of all the early trips.”

Moab Or Bust

The first long distance trip was to Moab for the unofficial Friday Flat Fender Fun Run. Daniel and his friend, Greg Margison of Overland Diesel, put just less than 2,000 miles on the diesel-powered CJ-2A, and it performed flawlessly with zero mechanical breakdowns. Daniel did learn, however, a few things were needed.

First of all, some sort of softtop and a heater were a must. A couple mornings of snow packed in the Jeep on his way eastward made that clear. Shortly after arriving in Raymond, Illinois, to see another friend, Jeff Petrowich, the two began building some custom pieces the ’46 flattie. In addition to the top and heater, came along a set of fabric half-doors that significantly reduced the amount of wind entering the tub of the Jeep.

Daniel’s next stop was his cousin’s wedding in North Carolina. However, before leaving Moab, lots of time was spent rearranging, finding the right position. Toolboxes, spare parts, and extra battery-cage modifications topped the list.

Daniel Buck has a list of many more modifications he intends to do with his diesel Flattie and plans to keep driving it anywhere he can. There’s even an Alaska trip in the works, possibly for 2017. That’ll be a great time to test out the newly added heat and custom soft top. If you see Buck and the diesel Flattie chugging down the road, be sure to give him a wave. He just might show up in your town, wherever you are.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: ’46 Willys CJ-2A
Engine: 2.2L Kubota V2203-DI
Transmission: T-98 4-speed Manual
Transfer Case: Dana 18
Axles: Dana 44 of unknown origin, 4.10 gears, limited slip (front); Currie Enterprises 9-inch, 4.10 gears, Yukon Zip Locker (rear)
Suspension: Atlas 2-inch lift leaf springs
Wheels: 15x6 Wheel Vintiques 41 Ford Truck Replicas
Tires: 33x10.50x15 BF Goodrich KM2

Daniel has no idea what vehicle the Dana 44 came out of, but it fit very nicely under the front end of his flatfender after being narrowed.
The Currie 9-inch center section was designed offset to account for the rear output of the Dana 18 transfer case.
The Kubota 2.2L diesel was squeezed into the engine compartment, with the help of some motor mounts and a T-98 bellhousing adapter plate from Overland Diesel.
When Daniel was driving the CJ-2A through the mountains of Colorado, the turbo exhaust did get a little hot, but he didn't have to slow down very much. He was able to keep the T-98 in fourth gear (1:1), and the Willys held at about 50 mph up most of the climbs.
Underneath the CJ-2A you can see the custom crossmember Daniel made to support the Dana 18 transfer case and the custom exhaust system. The frame was boxed in strategic locations for strength.
While in North Carolina, Daniel decided to put a piece of plexiglass behind the seats in an effort to keep rain spray at a minimum. It helped, but only a little.
Daniel stopped to see a friend in Illinois, and just for grins, they put the CJ-2A on a forklift and flexed it a bit. The rear shocks were too short, but he already knew that. At a later date, he will need to make taller mounts for the rear shocks.
The rear of the custom “bikini” top was tapered to allow better access to the ammo can storage boxes in the rear tub of the CJ-2A.
The custom rollcage was built from a combination of 1 3/4-inch drawn-over-mandrel (DOM) and hot-rolled (HREW) steel tubing.
Jeff designed and built the good-looking fabric-framed-with-steel-tube half-doors for the ’46 Willys.
If you've never seen one of these signs, Daniel would say that you need more road trips.
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