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Project Hot Dog, Part 5

Front Driver Side View Mud
John Cappa | Writer
Posted December 29, 2005
Photographers: Christian Hazel

Editor Cappa's Rockwell-shod J-2000.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1973 J-2000
Engine: 1976 AMC 304
Transmission: 1976 FSJ T-18
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters 3.8 Atlas II
Suspension: Inboard-mounted spring-over
Axles: 1971 2 1/2-ton Rockwells front and rear
Wheels: 17x13 TrailReady bead locks
Tires: 21/49-17LT Super Swamper Iroks
Built For: Deep mud, big rocks, steep climbs, tall ledges
Value: $15,000

Normally, I avoid naming my vehicles. But I didn't have much say in the matter when Tech Editor Hazel came up with the "Hot Dog" branding of my $1,000 1973 J-2000 pickup. When we drove up to Oregon to purchase it, we quickly discovered it didn't have the AMC 360 V-8 it should have. The 360, Automatic, and Quadra-Trac badges on the side of the truck were still there, but this J-2000 had a 304, a T-18 manual, and a Dana 20 transfer case. I bought it anyway. Heck, we drove 1,000 miles to see it, so I wasn't exactly going to leave empty-handed. A few hours later we figured out the frame was bent in the middle. So there you have it: We had no idea what (drivetrain) was in it and it's bent in the middle. "Hot Dog" stuck.

It was about this time that Interco was claiming the largest DOT-compliant, light-truck tire, its 49-inch Irok. I figured these tires were perfect for my new pile and went to work figuring out the simplest, most cost-effective way to get them on there. Later, I added more items to the Hot Dog, pretty much blowing the no-budget big Jeep out of the water. Nearly the whole buildup is online at Jpmagazine.com, but here is the rundown of what I built and how it works.

Chassis
I shoved the truck into a smallish two-car garage and torched the suspension and axles off the frame. Up front I moved the axle centerline forward 4 inches and welded M.O.R.E. universal shackle-reversal mounts inboard on the bottom of the frame. Skyjacker 1974-1991 FSJ 4-inch springs, Rancho bumpstops, and RS9000 10-inch-travel shocks support and control the weight. I later added a torque arm to help control axlewrap.

I retained the steering box but drilled and tapped it for a ram assist. I eventually ended up with a custom 2-inch-diameter, 9-inch-stroke Howe ram and installed it on the factory Rockwell tie rod behind the axle. Using tapered washers and studs, I attached a WMS steering arm to the passenger-side knuckle. I built a drag link using high-misalignment rod ends and 1 1/8-inch heavy-wall DOM tubing and bolted it to the steering box with a late-1970s GM car pitman arm. I had to have the front-axle yoke machined for drag-link clearance.

The rear springs were also moved from the side of the frame inboard under the framerails. I used a new pair of stock 1973 J-2000 leaf springs fitted with urethane bushings and another set of 10-inch-travel Rancho 9000s and bumpstops. I also built a much-needed traction bar to control axlewrap.

Driveline
The AMC 304 recently received a two-barrel Holley 670-cfm Pro-Jection fuel-injection system. An ignition system and wires from DUI burn the fuel, and Hooker Super Competition headers blast the remnants through a homemade exhaust with dual 40-series Flowmaster mufflers. There are also Daystar urethane motor mounts, a Flex-a-lite electric fan, a Premier Power 160-amp alternator, and a K&N-inspired snorkel system. The rest is pretty much stock.

The pathetic (for my application) 304 power spins through a NAPA clutch and into a T-18 from a 1976 FSJ with a 6.32 First gear. Advance Adapters components were used to mate the tranny to an Atlas II transfer case with a 3.8 low gear. From there the power wraps through High Angle Driveline driveshafts front and rear. The front received a long slip joint to compensate for the shackle reversal, and both shafts feature 1410 and 1350 U-joints as well as heavy-wall tubing to fend off rocks.

The axles are straight off a surplus military 2 1/2-ton truck from Antelope Valley Equipment and Truck Parts. I flipped all four hubs outward, de-braked them, and installed USA 6x6 pinion brakes. I welded and smoothed the drain plugs and slapped Detroit Lockers in the carriers holding the original 6.72 gears. I changed the torn front-axle boots along with any worn seals and then bolted the axles into my truck with relocated spring perches.

Body and Interior
Early on, I ditched the camper shell and hosed the exterior with olive drab, right over the woodgrain stickers and everything. It's a 50-foot truck (looks good from 50 feet away). I fabricated some tubular rocker guards and a simple bed cage using DOM tubing and added an aluminum Tuffy Security storage box to hold tools and recovery equipment. I added a BJ's Off-Road Prerunner bumper to the front and topped it off with a Ramsey Patriot 15,000-pound winch. The factory rear bumper remains. I replaced the factory grille with one from an older Gladiator truck and painted it black, simply because the other grille was ugly. I later added dents to the roof and knocked out the windshield. Not on purpose, of course.

Inside you'll find dirt, dried mud, and rat droppings. There's also an uncomfortable reupholstered factory bench seat, a broken two-knob tape player, a Heidelberg beer-tap shift knob, and a trick skull cupholder that Hazel bought me at the parts store. The Pro-Jection computer is hidden and protected from water behind the glovebox door, and the Premier Power welder is under the dash on the passenger side next to the engine's relocated air filter.

Wheels and Tires
The existence of 21/49-17LT Super Swamper Irok tires was pretty much the whole reason for building the Hot Dog. I wrapped the monster tires around 17x13 TrailReady bead locks with 7 inches of backspacing. The combination of the 2 1/2-ton axles, the wheels, and the tires makes the Jeep 102 inches wide overall. Just the legal limit for the street!

Good, Bad and What's It For?
Obviously, my J-truck isn't very maneuverable. But sometimes it can drive right up or over many obstacles that smaller Jeeps have to go around. Thanks to the gearing, the 304 is plenty of motor for rockcrawling. In the sand and mud it would be nice to have a little more oomph. The suspension doesn't have a lot of uptravel; it really doesn't need it unless I'm planning to drive it fast over rough terrain. I wanted the truck to sit low and stable, so that was the trade-off. It still has plenty of droop and rides pretty smooth at speed over bumps and rocks smaller than a bowling ball. In all actuality, the tires alone provide more suspension travel than what most Jeeps come with from the factory. The truck really works well on steep ledges (up or down) that would cause short Jeeps to roll end over end. Large rocks and holes that swallow 35s are easily traversable. Plus, everything is so overkill I really don't need to carry spare parts (although I bent a tie rod in the rocks and had to weld a gusset to it for a trail fix). I'll probably build one using 0.250-wall (or thicker) 1 3/4-inch tubing.

The crawl ratio of 161:1 is just about right. However, I typically find that I'm between gears. Sometimes I'm either really revving in Second low range and not moving fast enough or bogging the engine in Third low range. A 3.0 Atlas may have been a better option. If I eventually put in more motor I'll be able to use Third and Fourth low range more often, making the 3.8 Atlas the right choice. I have my eyes out for a smoking deal on a running 401 or 360.

What We Think
It's a big truck, but it's also simple and relatively inexpensive. Once you get past the fact that it's not for everyone, you'll realize I built it because it's fun to drive. It's not necessarily better or more capable because it's bigger. It's just different, and that's what I like most about it.

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