One reason that Jeeps have been popular with the DIY type for years is not only because they are capable, but also because they are relatively simple and easy to work on. Many early Jeeps were so simple they not only lacked A/C, cruise control, a radio, and speakers, but many came from the factory without a heater. Burrr. If you are hot, crank the A/C. Don’t have A/C? Take your top down, roll down the windows, ditch the cardigan, and drive a little faster. Sure it stinks, but most of the time being hot is bearable. Being cold? That just sucks. You can put on more clothes, shiver, do some jumping jacks, or wear a sleeping bag like a poncho and pray you don’t get all hypothermic. The problem is the options for getting warm are limited. It’s not like you are gonna start a campfire in your Jeep (don’t do this…it should be obvious why, but if you are not sure, just trust us and don’t do it). Having a heater in your Jeep in the winter is epic and people have been retrofitting aftermarket heaters into older Jeeps for years. Don’t want a modern aftermarket heater to ruin the style of that retro Jeep? Luckily for you, we found an easy to install retro cool…er, warm hot rod-style heater from Summit Racing that will fit an old Jeep.
Another problem with staying warm is that even if you have a heater, but no top or doors, even scalding heat won’t do much, as it drafts out with the passing wind. So to trap the emissions from our newly installed heat source we got in touch with Bestop for one of its classic black vinyl CJ-5 Bestop Supertops with full doors. The installation of both the heater and top was super easy. Follow along as we hit the highlights of these two wintertime “must-haves.”
Step By Step
1. Here is the retrotastic heater we got from Summit Racing (PN SUM-991101-1, $149.95). Unlike some swap meet score, this heater has the looks of an old-school heater, but brand new electronics and a leak-free, brand-new heater core. The heater mounts just like the old-school heaters with three bolts, and the inlet and outlet of the heater core pass through the firewall.
2. To mount the heater, use the supplied template to mark the mounting holes and passages for the heater core fittings. Before you start drilling, be sure to check that both sides of the firewall are clear where holes need to be drilled.
3. When installing the heater, it’s important that you get the flow of the coolant input and output correct. Otherwise, the efficiency of the heater can be compromised. Summit also sells several heater duct kits so you can run defrost ducts up to the windshield. Here you can see the new heater coolant lines we installed on our ’56 CJ-5.
4. We decided to mount the supplied heater switch to the dash in a hole that had been drilled for some other accessory at some point in the past. The switch is roughly in the middle of the dash, so driver and passenger can easily reach it and adjust the speed. There are four settings, Off, Low, Medium, and High. Wiring is pretty simple. We followed the included instructions and spliced in a 7.5-amp fuse to the supplied wiring.
5. Once the heater was installed, we took the Jeep out for some testing. The heater blows hot when the switch is turned up to three. It’s almost too hot. Even without one of the duct kits, you can close or open any of the three hinged doors to direct the hot air.
6. We know we don’t have to tell you what Bestop is or what it makes. It builds the best soft tops for just about any Jeep that ever wore a soft top. We ordered up a black vinyl soft top for our ’56 CJ-5 (PN BST-51595-01, $910.00). This top comes with all the fabric part of the top, plenty of mounting hardware, and an easy-to-use (and install) frame. Our top also came with two-piece doors with zip-up windows.
7. Installation of the top is pretty easy with the supplied directions from Bestop, but it does take some time. The instructions recommend installing the top on a warm day and you should let the top sit in the sun for a little while so the fabric and vinyl will be flexible and easy to work with. The fabric, and especially the clear windows, are very sensitive to temperature. If it’s really cold outside, be very careful folding down windows, as they can become brittle and crack easily.
8. Just because this top fits on an old Jeep does not mean it uses Stone Age mounting techniques to hold it on the Jeep. Quite to the contrary, our Supertop uses plastic strips sewn to the vinyl that slip into aluminum channels just like on a much newer Jeep’s soft top. Velcro, heavy-duty zippers, and snaps also play an important role in keeping the top up and tight while keeping the rain, snow, and sleet out.
9. The top comes with provisions for CJ-5s that have a tailgate like our ’56, where the rear window engages a small channel on the tub and snaps that go along the top of the tailgate. If your CJ-5 does not have a tailgate, there is also a tailgate retainer bar to secure the bottom of the rear window.
10. It takes time and patience to adjust the doors so that they fit the CJ-5 door opening, seal at the top, and close easily. The Bestop instructions come with some helpful tips to getting these things to function properly. There is an adjustment on the door side of the lower hinge, and you can mess with the door latch and catch moving them fore and aft and in and out on the Jeep. We also found that slightly bending the upper and lower hinges forward or back helped get our doors to fit just so and to close fairly easily.
11. The doors feature these nice map pockets and a small elastic strap with a snap on the end so you can roll up the window when it is down. You can just let the window hang down when it’s not up, but it will then get caught between the lower door and the body of the Jeep every time you get in and out, scratching the window. Also, the doors that came with our top are two-piece, so you can pull the upper half off as the day gets warmer to let more air in, but still protect your lower body from the cold and or water, snow, or mud that might (and should) get splashed up from your tires.