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John Cappa's Garage Project GPW

Posted in Project Vehicles on June 30, 2015
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Some people can build an entire Jeep with a credit card in a few days; others take weeks, months, and even years. The planning for the Garage Project GPW pretty much started in January 1994, the day I bought my first Jeep. It was a ’48 CJ-2A that already had quite a few modifications. I quickly learned what worked and what didn’t, both on- and off-road, at least for me. Rather than undo the somewhat elaborate (for the time) and expensive (for me) modifications that I made over the years, I made a mental note whenever I found minor faults that I wanted to correct. Fast forward nearly two decades later and I started compiling parts to build what I considered to be the perfect (well, at least perfect for me) flatfender Jeep.

I had acquired a complete rust bucket Jeep CJ-3A for free. The second owner of the Jeep was told it ran by the first owner, although he’d never seen it run. About that same time, then feature editor Pete Trasbrog had come across a free basket case CJ-2A with a body that had been molested beyond repair. By my standards, it was essentially a rolling frame. Pete didn’t want it in his yard, and the idea was that there might be some parts in the rolling pile that I could use on the first free CJ, which later became my S#!tbox Derby contender. So, I took the whole mess home. I didn’t use much; I pilfered the fuel tank and a few other odds and ends. I chopped up the body bits and gave them to scrappy. That’s what I call the local guy that collects steel and aluminum in the most beat up truck you have ever seen. The CJ-2A rolling frame sat in my yard for several years while I worked on other projects like my Recycled J-2000 and Sloppy Seconds Jeep rat rod.

In the back of my mind, I always kept Soni Honegger’s Rock Spider flatfender as the Jeep I’d like to own. I even asked some of his friends if they thought he would sell it. It’s not at all an overbuilt Jeep. It features a pretty cool link suspension with what looked like modified Land Rover arms and coils at all four corners. It typically rolled on 33 or 35-inch tires. It had a V-6 engine, a Dana 30 front axle, and a Dana 44 rear axle. It wasn’t at all extreme—it was very unassuming but extremely capable in Soni’s hands.

The first things I bought for my flatfender were the Land Rover radius arms. Once people heard I was collecting parts, they were quick to try and offload whatever they deemed unusable. David Freiburger of Hot Rod fame had a GPW body tub he was trying to clear out of his yard. It appeared to be thoroughly picked over like a rotting carcass in the desert. Any cool bracket or gauge that wasn’t welded in place, bent, cut, or destroyed had been removed, but it was a real GPW tub. I later found a few Ford F script bolts that David must have missed. Anyway, I traded a Power Tank for the body tub and dragged it home. I sold the S#!tbox Derby CJ but kept the windshield frame for my project. A buddy sold me a pair of ’74-’79 Narrow-Trac FSJ Dana 44 axles. I kept the front one, but I gave the 6-lug rear axle to then freelancer Verne Simons for his flatfender. I had access to a free ’73 FSJ 5-lug Dana 44 rear axle on my buddy’s property in the desert. A brand-new ’02 GM 4.3L V-6 crate motor showed up on Craigslist for an unheard of price in Arizona near Verne Simons’ house, so I made a road trip to visit Verne and pick it up. I traded a Ford 9-inch Yukon Grizzly Locker for a used GM SM420 manual transmission, and I can’t even remember where my Spicer 18 transfer case came from. All I knew for sure was that the parts pile was growing and I needed to get started building my Jeep. Shortly after I actually broke ground on the frame, I switched from editor of Jp magazine to editor of Four Wheeler. That was when I stalled. I wasn’t sure it would be a good fit for the Four Wheeler readers. I kept pecking away at the Jeep on and off for two years, but I didn’t want to spend any real money on it, thinking I would eventually scrap the project. I was immersed in Four Wheeler’s fullsize trucks, new vehicle tests, and Top Truck Challenge.

After becoming a freelancer in February of 2014, I had a lot more time on my hands. Pete Trasborg then became the editor of Jp and asked me to finish the Garage Project GPW. I agreed and got to work again. The frame (Feb. ’15), suspension (Mar. ’15), transfer case (Apr. ’15), and axle (May ’15) stories can be seen online now at fourwheeler.com, but there are more stories on the way. I’m working on the rollcage, and I’ll add seats and interior bits that you should be able to read about online soon and in the Sept. ’15 issue. Most of the heavy fabrication is done, and I’m making real progress. I hope to have it running and driving by the end of summer or early fall in 2015 so I can start chasing the bugs out.

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