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Hazel's '53 Whatchamawhoozit

Front Passenger Side
Christian Hazel
| Brand Manager, Four Wheeler
Posted May 20, 2005
Photographers: Alan Huber

The Jeep in which nothing makes sense

It all started with a genuine Warn overdrive I found during a trip to the junkyard. Mind you, I didn't even need anything in particular that day, but like some weirdo, I used to cruise the self-serve auto recyclers like some people browse online ads. I spied a Scout with way too many shifters and it caught my attention. Back then I was working at 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine and was sort of a Jeep greenhorn, being more interested in Dodge, Chevy, and Ford fullsizes than anything with a seven-slat grille. I needed to call the office and ask if the Spicer 18 and overdrive was worth the $90 the boneyard wanted. I think you know the answer.I should mention here that I'd never torn apart a Spicer 18 and couldn't for the life of me understand why it wouldn't separate from the T-90 tranny once the four T-case-to-tranny bolts were removed. Long story short, I paid my $90 and carted my Spicer 18 home complete with Warn overdrive, three shift levers, and a T-90 mainshaft sticking out of it.

The Jeep as it entered its cocoon state. I later ditched the Superlift 1.5-inch YJ lift springs in favor of some stock YJ rear leafs to bring the stance back down to Earth. I honestly can't remember what I did with the centered, flanged Dana 44 rear.

The Flatfender
At that time Cappa still had his legendary pile of moveable trail metal we loosely called a flatfender. It was awesome, as was Cappa's total disregard for its well-being, and to a guy used to wheeling a fullsize, it seemed like it could go anywhere. Then came our then-boss Cole Quinnell's 14-Day Flattie. While it wasn't worn and tattered like a 20-year-old pair of blue jeans, it was cooler than my Ramcharger and made the overdrive on my garage shelf burn that much hotter in my pocket. I started looking at online ads for a Jeep to put it in. I stumbled across an ad on the Internet for a $400 flattie. The ad said, "1953 Willys CJ-3A, Chevy V-8 conversion, doesn't run, needs work, $400 OBO." The whole escapade was outlined in the story, "Sucker!" in the May '01 issue. I remember my then-boss Rick Pw's final words to me before Cappa and I headed out to the seller's house in the middle of the night with a trailer. "Just make sure it doesn't have doors." As you can tell from the photos, it did.The next day, Cappa and I carted my new pile over to Quinnell's house to try and get it running, but it just wouldn't turn over. Had the engine fired, I probably would have just stuck a T-case and front axle in it and wheeled the snot out of it with a Chevy engine and the centered, flanged Dana 44 rear that came with it. It didn't, so I proceeded to tear the Jeep down to the framerails for a complete buildup. I envisioned a replacement small-block Chevy, a Dana 44 for the front, a spring-over using YJ springs, and an SM420 tranny. That's not what happened.

The cage was the second thing I built with my bender, and it's probably my favorite part of the whole Jeep. It took about two days to build, plus a full day of sanding to make it shiny before spraying on the clearcoat.

The Rick Pw/Freiburgian Effect
It's loosely known throughout the automotive world that 4-Wheel & Off-Road Editor Rick Pw and Hot Rod Editor-in-Chief David Freiburger are buddies and have some weird rules about what's cool and what isn't when it comes to building Jeeps. Mind you, neither practices what they preach. They just spout the doctrine that brainwashes others. Regardless, at one point in time they had talked Cole Quinnell into putting a 500-cube Cadillac big-block into his 14-Day Flattie. Cole went out and snagged the queen-mutha Caddy engine of all time, a 400hp/550-lb-ft monster from a '70 Eldorado. He didn't use it, but somehow I got talked into how cool it would be to replace the dead 305 in my flattie with this engine. (Note: It should be said that at this time Freiburger, Pw, Cappa, and Quinnell all ran Chevy 350s in their Jeeps.)So it came to be that I cut out the Chevy motor mounts on my framerails and headed down to the Hot Rod magazine workshop to pick up a 550-lb-ft engine I would later hop up to nearly 600 lb-ft to run in front of a Spicer 18 T-case rated to handle about 200 lb-ft. The die was cast for the flattie that didn't make sense.

You can see how far forward I needed to position the drivetrain for throttle-body and exhaust clearance. I could have turned the throttle body around to the front and built custom headers so I could lay the drivetrain back. However, that would require relocating the power-steering pump and make for a much shorter rear driveshaft -- not feasible with the low-pinion 9-inch rear I used.

The Buildup
About one week after bringing the '53 home, I had it stripped down to the framerails and gave away all the stuff deemed not-trail-worthy to our resident Jeep "junk" collector, Pw. He took all the rare but worthless stuff like the 60/40 bench seat (with the 40 on the wrong side), the Continental kit and factory bumper and valences, the 2WD front axle (which got stolen after he left it outside), and a collector's fortune in other stuff. But at the time I was working in a one-car garage in a town house with communal rules and regulations, and I had no room for memorabilia. Then, to light a fire under the build, Cappa built a low-pinion Currie hybrid Ford 9-inch front axle with F-450 outers for my Jeep, outlined in "All-New 9-Inch" (July '01 issue). It worked. The next weekend I was cutting out a 3/16-inch plate with a Sawzall to box the framerails. I didn't have a welder, so I had to trailer the chassis 150 miles to Cappa's house so we could burn in the plates and hang the Wrangler springs using a modified M.O.R.E. shackle-reversal system and chrome-moly shackle hangers. With the suspension done, I threw the body back on the frame and started gathering drivetrain pieces to swap in my stupidly huge and powerful engine. Some time in between getting the 500 ready for installation and actually doing it, the project lost steam and the Jeep became a garage ornament for about a year.

The 3.5L Shortstar was the standard engine in Oldsmobile Auroras. I worked with Centerforce to build a flywheel for this engine, so now there's a part number if you want to duplicate it. The bellhousing is a standard Camaro 2.8L 60-degree unit that only needed notching for the starter to fit. A Novak adapter mates the junkyard SM420 to the Dana 20/Spicer 18 hybrid T-case.

The Domino Effect
By the time I got back into working on the flattie, I had resigned myself to the fact that the Caddy 500 belonged more in my Ramcharger than in my flatfender, but I still had a Cadillac bug up my butt. I called up GM Goodwrench and ordered up a 32-valve Cadillac Northstar V-8. This plan proved to be as well thought out as the big-block 500 plan because once the engine arrived, I realized that in order to make the transverse engine work in a rear-drive configuration, I'd need to four-link the front and rear suspension, notch the firewall, and somehow figure out how to make a 10-inch-long rear driveshaft work at a gnarly angle. However, I was already mired in the land of multivalve aluminum engines, so I changed gears once again, trading in the Northstar to Turn Key Engine Supply in Oceanside, California, for a ready-to-run 3.5L V-6 Shortstar with a wiring harness and computer.I mated the Shortstar to a junkyard SM420 with a 2.8L V-6 bellhousing out of an '82 Camaro. The bellhousing just required a little trimming for the starter, and all but one of the bellhousing bolt holes lined up. No biggie. Then, we had our long-since-committed intern, Tim, fill a Dana 20 case with Spicer 18 internals. We topped it off with the junkyard Warn overdrive that started the whole shebang in the first place and then started positioning the drivetrain in the engine compartment for motor mounts.Unfortunately, the transverse V-6 couldn't be pushed back far enough for the oil pan to clear the front axle under full compression, as the factory exhaust wraps around behind the engine and the throttle body is in the way. I compromised and built bumpstops that severely limit uptravel but keep the axle out of the oil pan.With the engine mounted, there was no way the master cylinder could go back on the firewall because the huge dual-overhead cam valve cover was right in the way. To cure this hiccup, I had to mount my master cylinders so high on the firewall that the reservoirs needed to be routed to the rollcage crossbar. No big deal, except that in cold weather the hose I used sweats brake fluid, which has since stripped a lot of the paint off the dash and floorboards and made a general mess of things.Then came the cooling system. The inlet and outlet on the Shortstar are on the same side of the engine, with the inlet on the lower front and the outlet the upper rear. I needed to braze-weld muffler tubing together and get pretty creative with a bunch of different shapes and sizes of radiator hose to make the system work with a standard crossflow aluminum radiator. Finally, there's the coupe de grce -- the rear axle. Somehow when I ordered the housing and shafts, there was some confusion, and I didn't exactly wind up with a pinion that was centered enough to use in a centered-driveline configuration or offset enough to use in an offset-driveline configuration. The offset angle, coupled with a steep vertical angle from the spring-over, caused so much driveline vibration at highway speeds that the T-case pinion nut actually walked off on the Jeep's maiden voyage, taking out the output-shaft splines in the process. That's right -- the Jeep I built to use the overdrive, which started the whole buildup, couldn't be driven fast enough to engage the overdrive. Talk about stupid.

What to do Next
It's true no project is ever done, and this one probably never will be either. Cappa is on my case to ditch the rollbar-mounted reservoirs, and I've found some that may work. We'll fill you in when we get there.Also, the limited uptravel on the front suspension bothers me a bit. While the low bumpstops make the flattie unbelievably stable coming down stuff, they're a bummer at speed in the sand and in washes. Moving the front axle or drivetrain is out. We've been told you can't cut and weld the oil pan on a Shortstar or Northstar, but we may look into this a little further. Dry-sumping would be a last-ditch effort, but I don't think it would be worth it.Finally, the rear driveline angle has always bothered me a lot. I've had Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts build me a really nice dual-double-cardan driveshaft that solved the problems, but I'd like something simpler under there. I'm currently exploring options for another 9-inch rear axle using the new True Hi9 centersection and a centered Dana 300 T-case built to the hilt. That's right. I'm actually going to ditch the T-case and Warn overdrive that started the whole silly buildup.

Final Touchy-Feely Thoughts
People have gotten on my case for building up what looks to be a rare Jeep. The VIN tag comes back as a '53 CJ-3B blank chassis. The doors are definitely factory, and the body doesn't have the same lines in front of the front fenders as a regular flattie. Some have speculated that it's some kind of DJ prototype and is probably worth upward of $15,000. In the end, I don't care about the value, although at its current build state, I'd put its value at much more than that. I didn't want another belly-button flattie. The paint on my rig looks like dog snot, but when I pop the hood it looks like a spaceship landed under it. The Jeep works really well off-road and draws enough attention to make me feel like I did a pretty good job building it. Now if I could just get another buddy to build a flattie to go wheeling with.

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Hard Facts

Vehicle:
'53 DJ-3A
Engine:
'01 DOHC 3.5L {{{Oldsmobile}}} Shortstar tuned to 270 hp/270 lb-ft
Transmission:
'63 Chevy SM420
Transfer Case:
Dana 20 case with Spicer 18 gears and Warn overdrive
Suspension:
Stock Wrangler rear spring packs front and rear with spring-over, front shackle reversal, rear traction bar, Bilstein 5150 shocks
Axles:
Currie Enterprises Ford 9-inch/F-450 Dana 60 hybrid, 5.83 gears, Detroit Locker, 35-spline inner/ 30-spline outer shafts, Wilwood four-pistion brakes (front);
Currie Enterprises Ford 9-inch, 5.83 gears, full spool, 35-spline shafts, TSM disc brakes (rear)
Wheels:
15x10 American Racing with OMF scalloped bead locks and Domes
Tires:
35x13.50-15 BFG Krawler TA/KX
Built For:
All the wrong reasons
Estimated Value:
$35,000

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