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1,400 - Day Flattie - Custom 1949 Jeep Willy's CJ-3A Flatfender

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 27, 2006
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For starters, any green Jeep is cool. Well, not any Jeep. That is to say, not any green Jeep. Kelly green isn't really that cool. And we're usually not too crazy about electric-neon green. Also, we're sort of borderline on that bluish-green-metallic-puke color they used in the '90s. But we guess a Jeep that's painted one of those colors could technically be cool. OK, let's clarify. We're pretty much saying that any Jeep that is slathered in olive-drab-green paint is cool, unless it's got a bunch of nasty trinkets and bad engineering. Then it wouldn't be that cool. Just the color would be cool.

So before we get any more confused, what we're really saying is that David Learman's green Jeep is cool. Yeah, we're comfortable with that.

We spied David's flattie from across Dump Bump during the '05 Moab Easter Jeep Safari and instantly dug it. It sort of reminded us of our old boss Cole Quinnell's 14-Day Flattie. After briefly talking to David, we learned he made the trip to Moab from his home in North Tonawanda, New York. We didn't look at a map, but that sounds like a haul to us. He also told us he jokingly dubbed his '49, the 1,400-Day Flattie because it seems like it took that long to build.


While we're usually pretty sharp, it took us a few glances to realize that David had stretched his '49 a full 12 inches. David built his own frame that added 6-inches in the door opening and 6-inches in the rear wheelwell opening to stretch the wheelbase out to 94 inches. It's a really smart trick that keeps the stretch job from looking overly exaggerated. The result is a flattie that looks more stock than altered.

David began by hanging a pair of Tuff Country 2-inch lift rear YJ springs with a shackle reversal onto the front of his home-built frame. The 2-inch spring soaks up the weight of the V-8 and heavy drivetrain without giving the Jeep a nose-down attitude. Out back, a pair of stock five-leaf rear Wrangler springs was hung in a spring-over fashion. Like most spring-over suspensions using Wrangler springs, the rear suspension requires a traction bar to keep the pinion yoke from destroying itself from axlewrap -- David built his out of solid stock. A Rancho RS9000 shock at each corner keeps the suspension dialed to the terrain.

Hanging from those springs is a Dynatrac Dana 44 front axle sporting an ARB Air Locker, 4.56 gears, and alloy axleshafts. Apparently, David is a man of patience and finess because he's able to keep the front axle alive with 36s and a manual tranny. We'd just have a large pile of fragmented U-joint parts, so our hat is off to him.

Out back, a Currie 9-inch axlehousing plays host to a Currie High Pinion centersection full of 4.56 gears and a 35-spline spool. Out on the axle ends are a pair of parking-brake equipped Explorer disc brakes. Up front, stopping is via Wilwood aluminum calipers.


The entire drivetrain of the Jeep came out of a'71 Chevy 3/4-ton pickup. How's that for simple? Like Cole Quinnell's 14-Day Flattie, this drab Willys sports a hot Chevy 350 V-8. David built the 355ci engine himself, with 9:1 pistons, iron Vortec heads, and a Comp Cams Xtreme Energy cam with a split 200/208 degrees duration and a 0.472/0.480 lift on the intake and exhaust, respectively. Topping the small block is an Edelbrock Performance manifold with a Holley TBI Pro-Jection system. A pair of Advance Adapters fenderwell headers sends the fumes out the sides. The engine was slung in the frame using M.O.R.E. bomb-proof motor mounts and a bit of custom fabrication.

Backing the hot small block is the '71 SM465 transmission that was rebuilt by David's dad, Richard Learman. A Zoom clutch was added to the resurfaced flywheel for extra gription.

Finally, a massive NP205 T-case hangs from the factory Chevy adapter. The whole shabang is suspended from the framerails with a custom miter-cut crossmember built by David. It's ugly and hangs low, but it's only temporary. A pair of custom 1310 driveshafts by Denny's Driveshaft connects the T-case to the axles.

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Like we said earlier, the big trick to this lengthened flattie is the fact that the entire stretch job was not performed at the same location on the body. Unlike some we've witnessed, with overly exaggerated door openings, or hugely built front fenders and hoods, David chose to divide the stretch job, putting two 6-inch sections in the door and wheelwell openings. The results are clean and help preserve the original flatfender body lines.

After cutting the tub, adding an MB grille, and welding in the extra 6-inch sections, David's dad, Richard, once again lent a hand by capably spraying the olive-drab paint. This ain't no spray bomb job and looks killer in person.

A very nice rollcage was built by Mosher Customs in New York, but David mounted the Bestop seats, AutoMeter and VDO gauges, and set up the steering himself using a column out of an '89 Cherokee. Under the dash is a stainless steel air tank from a military aircraft that is fed compressed air via the engine-driven York unit. An aluminum Army surplus fuel tank and Jerry cans mount in the rear


Because the Jeep sees terrain varying from Moab's slickrock to the snot-slick trails of Paragon Adventure Park in Pennsylvania, David chose to go with a set of iron-strong Super Swamper SXs with fully siped treads. The tires provide good traction in the rocks, yet the big lugs don't let him down when the obstacles get muddy. The bigish 36x12.50-15 size is right at home on the lengthened chassis.

For wheels, a set of 15x8 Weld Stonecrushers offer up a nice 3.5-inch backspacing to keep the tires out of the suspension while the Champion bead locks make losing a bead nearly impossible.


There were so many cool trinkets and features on David's '49 we really can't list them all. You have to see the rig to appreciate the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail. From the onboard air system that uses a converted York compressor, to the hand-built aluminum radiator fan shroud, to the cleanly plumbed Wilwood master cylinders on the firewall, the Jeep screams pride of ownership. Lots of thought went into each modification, from the extra plating on the mount for the AGR steering box to the way David submerge-mounted the Warn 8274 winch for a better center of gravity and better airflow through the radiator

The big-ticket thing we got hung up on (no pun intended) was the way the stock Chevy drivetrain hangs way below the framerails right in the way of trail obstacles. But David informs us that he already has an NV4500 and Atlas II T-case ready to be installed with a new crossmember to improve the ground clearance and give a much better crawl ratio.


We like flatties of all shapes and sizes, but most of the stretch job ones have left us gagging. We're on board with David's execution, though. It allows for a much longer wheelbase for more stable climbing and interior room without being gaudy. In short, we dig it because it's a small-block powered flattie sprayed olive drab that actually manages to stand out from the crowd of other O.D. green, small-block powered flatties.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: '49 Willys CJ-3A
Engine: Chevy 350, Holley TBI
Transmission: SM465 four-speed
Transfer Case: NP205
Suspension: Tuff Country 2-inch Wrangler springs, spring-over and shackle reversal (front); stock Wrangler springs (rear)
Axles: Dynatrac Dana 44, 4.56 gears, ARB Air Locker (front); Currie High Pinion 9-inch, 4.56 gears, 35-spline spool (rear)
Wheels: Weld Sidewinder 15x8 with Champion bead locks
Tires: 36x12.50-15 Super Swamper SX
Built For: Enjoying the outdoors and for the sake of building stuff
Estimated Cost To Build: $25,000

PhotosView Slideshow

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