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Jeep Body Basher's Buyer's Guide

Posted in How To on January 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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Jeep Body Basher's Buyer's Guide

Whether your Jeep body is beaten by use and abuse or it just lost the fight with cancer, many of us have thought about buying a replacement body tub. It is a big purchase, and there are many factors to consider when weighing the options. Everyone is fairly familiar with the pros and cons of a stock Jeep steel body tub-but once you start talking aftermarket steel body tubs, things change. Start talking about rust-proof aluminum and fiberglass options and things change even more. Only you can decide which one is right for you. Here are some of the pros and cons of each body material type and some specifics from various manufacturers.

Steel
Used Jeep tubs are a known entity, but what about replica steel tubs? A little known fact about replacement tubs is that there is only one manufacturer and it is based in the Philippines. The quality control of the tub as it comes off of the boat leaves quite a lot to be desired, and the price you pay will typically reflect just how much work the reseller has put into it to make it right. As we all know, there are many differences over the 70 years of Jeep production, and unless you do your homework, you might end up with fitment issues. Once you get the tub installed, it will behave the way your stock Jeep tub always has.

Flipping a steel reproduction body over shows you the view you've come to know and love in all those hours of wrenching on your broken junk. All the factory body mounts and stampings are present. That means anything you have bolted to your junk now should move right on over to a new steel body without having to do a ton more work.

Pros:
• Easy to weld if damaged
• No electrical grounding problems
• No rollbar mounting worries
• Looks just like stock

Cons:
• Can still get cancer and rust away
• Once bent and repaired it's more likely to rust

Willys Overland Motors
Every steel body is born in the same hospital in the Philippines. Willys Overland used original bodies and frames to get correct specifications and built jigs off of them. The company corrects the incoming mal-formed bodies to OE specs. The company adds brackets and moves holes so it will bolt in just like your stock body did. Willys Overland tells us that 11/2-inch variance on hole locations, body channels, and other items is expected of the incoming bodies. The company adds emergency brake brackets on late 5's, 7's, and 8's. The company is so particular that it has separate MB and GPW bodies, three different CJ-5 tubs, CJ-2A (with or without tool cutouts) and CJ-3A (different bodies), CJ-3B, '72-'75 CJ-6, and two different CJ-7 bodies. The tubs are made from 18-gauge steel which is the same gauge as original. The company also offers new and used fenders, grilles, hoods, tailgates with logos, and windshield frames. Information: Willys Overland Motors, 888/265-5337 willysoverland.com

Rugged Ridge
Rugged Ridge also offers 18-gauge body tubs but they are sold under licensed agreement with Chrysler. There are minimal firewall openings in these tubs, depending on the model. Typically there are holes for the steering column and brakes but you will likely have to locate and drill holes once you get the tub. The cowl on the later models is stamped for the factory heater intake. The bodies are E-coated, which means they are electrically charged and dipped in huge vats of coating that is also charged. This dipping process results in better rust resistance than any stock CJ tub ever had. Rugged Ridge offers bodies for every short-wheelbase Jeep built from 1942-1986. The company also does body panels for YJ and TJ, hoods, fenders, logoed tailgates, grilles, windshield frames, and doors. Information: Rugged Ridge, 770/614-6101, ruggedridgeoffroad.com

Aluminum
While Land Rovers and HMMWVs have successfully used aluminum bodies for years it hasn't been until relatively recently that aluminum replacement tubs have become available for our Jeeps. As with the other body materials, there are both pros and cons to aluminum. Like fiberglass, the aluminum will never rust. A self-etching primer will be needed to get paint to adhere to the aluminum. There also needs to be a barrier between regular steel and the aluminum body or electrolysis will occur. Aqualu suggests stainless steel mounting hardware. By using rubber body mounts, there should be no problem between the body mounting bolts and the body tub itself. You can use an old inner tubing to create rubber gaskets for under the seats and rollbar. Unlike fiberglass, there is no electrical grounding issue with aluminum.

Here you can see the difference between a fabricated firewall and a stamped or molded firewall. This NASCAR-looking cabin is very easy on the eyes. The angles are all calculated to mimic stock, and while Aqualu did its best to make all the factory components work; know that there might be some additional labor required to make them fit. This is true of all aftermarket tubs regardless of material, but the stamped and molded tubs look so, well, normal.

Pros:
• No problems hooking up electronics
• Won't rust
• Pound per pound, it's stronger than steel

Cons:
• Difficult to weld if damaged
• Paint can be tricky
• Electrolysis is a concern

Aqualu
Aqualu is the only game in town for aluminum Jeep bodies and has been in business for 19 years. All Aqualu bodies are 0.156-inch-thick which is about three times thicker than steel. Pound for pound aluminum is 30-percent stronger than steel. The body mounting pads are a 3/16-inch-thick 6061 T-6 extrusion and the tub attaches using through-bolt style mounting. The company offers body tubs for the CJ-2A, CJ-3A, CJ-3B, CJ-5, CJ-7, and CJ-8. The company also offers a bobbed CJ-8, a truck cab, and a truck box. All factory components can be bolted back in, but you will have to cut and drill holes. Aqualu has been using a couple of its bodies on-road every day for 10 to 15 years, and has had no electrolysis problems so far. All the factory components such as doors, windshield, roll bar, and so on can be bolted back into the Jeep. There is a scribed template for the steering column, pedals, brake master cylinder, and clutch master cylinder. The radius of the corner of the body is the same as the stock radius, so aftermarket armor can still be added. While you might expect these aluminum tubs to be way lighter than stock, they are in fact only slightly lighter than the OE steel tub due to the thickness of aluminum used. Information: Aqualu Industries, 888/765-6714, aqualu.com

Fiberglass
The big attraction with a fiberglass body is that it will never rust. In the past, however, some cheap fiberglass bodies have given it a bad rap for not being able to take a hit. All the company reps we spoke with were confident in the strength of the bodies with regards to trees and rocks. Plus fiberglass is easier to fix than a steel body. The companies also mentioned that if you are contemplating or need body armor on your steel tub, it would be a good idea to put it on the fiberglass body as well. One of the downsides to a fiberglass body is that it is more difficult to add electrical components, since fiberglass won't conduct electricity. Grounding blocks can be used in the rear and front of the Jeep to make this problem a little easier to deal with.

This shot of the firewall of a 4WD Hardware body clearly shows how you can figure out where to drill and cut for whatever accessories you are going to mount. This is typical of fiberglass bodies.

Fiberglass itself isn't strong enough for the forces that a Jeep tub normally sees, so the companies sandwich reinforcements directly into the fiberglass. Some use wood, some use steel. Which is better is as subjective as apples versus oranges. You can drill and tap the steel, but if water gets in there, it might rust. However, you need to through-bolt the wood and even the best hardwoods can eventually rot if exposed to water. Even with these concerns, in wet climates a fiberglass body is expected to last at least three times longer than a steel body.

Pros:
• Will never rust
• Better insulation properties than steel
• Takes paint just like steel
• Easy to fix when damaged

Cons:
• Need to run ground wires to complete circuits
• Should tie even the stock cage back into the frame for safety
• If hit when really cold out it might be more likely to break

Kentrol
Kentrol offers Jeep body tubs for short-wheelbase '55-'06 Jeeps including CJ-5, CJ-7, CJ-8, YJ, and TJ. The tubs are built as two pieces, then put into a jig fixture where they are fused together using fiberglass. There are steel plates for body mounts, door hinges, hood hinges, the steering column, and the pedal mounts. The steel is 12-gauge-thick in the firewall and 1/4-inch-thick for body mounts, tailgate, hood, and door hinges. There are no steel reinforcements for the seats. The company recommends 2x2-inch by 1/8-inch-thick steel plate or 21/2-inch diameter fender washers for distribution of load. There is no steel where the rollbar contacts the tub, but the company offers frame tie-in kits for rollbars. Overall the tub weighs about 50 pounds more than other fiberglass bodies on the market, but it is still about 75-100 pounds lighter than a steel tub. The body is single wall and varies from 1/8-inch-thick to 1/4-inch-thick. There are no holes in the cowl for the heater. The company suggests making a template to transfer locations from the original body and includes instructions on how to do so. The company also offers windshield frames, one-piece front ends, hoods, cowl-induction hoods, scoop hoods, tailgates, fenders, and grilles. Information: Kentrol, 330/549-2235, kentrolinc.com

4WD Hardware
The 4WD Hardware body is a true double-wall construction with Styrofoam insulation between the inner and outer walls. It is made from GP polyester resin and chopped strand fiberglass with the highest quality knitted fiberglass reinforcements. This special material is also used in the construction of hockey sticks and snowboards which are constantly getting beat-on. Nida-core honeycomb reinforcement for body mounts backs up the sandwiched carbon-fiber mat. There is 14-gauge steel embedded in the firewall for the steering column and hanging pedals. The steel is pre-templated for easy drilling of mounting holes ('76-'95 models only). Door, hood, and tailgate hinges are meant to be through-bolted. The bodies also have Nida-core seat mounts and front and rear floor reinforcements. There is a deluxe replacement body available for the CJ-7 and the CJ-8 which includes threaded inserts for the fenders and the dash. These kits include the tub, two front fenders, a hood, a body tub mounting kit, a hood safety latch, and an installation DVD. The company offers body tubs for the '55-'75 CJ-5, '76-'83 CJ-5, CJ-7, CJ-8, and the YJ. Information: 4WD Hardware, 800/333-5535, 4wd.com

Shell Valley
Shell Valley has 40 years in the fiberglass business. The company's body tubs consist of two 3/16-inch-thick layers of fiberglass. The cowl, bottom of the windshield, and perimeter is one piece, then it's flipped upside down and the inner panel which consists of the floor and inner walls is dropped in. The firewall is then a third piece. This construction results in a dual-wall tub that is very stout and provides added insulation against the elements. The standard body has some Kevlar in it. The Kevlar body is a standard fiberglass body with an extra layer of Kevlar sandwiched between two layers of fiberglass. The heavy-duty tub has an extra layer of fiberglass on top of the Kevlar mat. The regular body has Kevlar where the pedals mount, and in the hinge and door latch areas. The floor gets gel, fiberglass, plywood (flat areas), hardwood blocks, and then fiberglass on top of it. A steel tub weighs about 500 pounds, the Shell Valley equivalent weighs 250 pounds. Plywood under roll bar mounts makes them about as solid as stock. The company suggests rubber body mounts but warns against aluminum body-lift pucks. Shell Valley also offers hoods, fenders, one-piece front ends, tailgates, and windshield frames. You have to cut all your own holes as there are none precut. The company offers three different CJ-5 tubs as well as tubs for the CJ-7, YJ, and CJ-8. Also available is a colored gel coat which is more durable than regular paint. There are nine standard gel coat colors and custom-match colors are available for a small additional fee. Information: Shell Valley, 800/356-9198, shellvalley.com

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