Weird Is Where It's At
Somehow, I knew without looking that the Oddball Vehicles story would be assigned to me. Aside from my Wranglers, I don't think any of my vehicles have actually followed convention. There's something inherently satisfying in owning and building a rig that is off the beaten path, both literally and figuratively. Granted, aftermarket support is often lacking and a fair amount of creativity is called for to make stuff work, but in the end, you'll have a head-turner that people will want to talk to you about at the gas pump-whether you want them to or not. Since there are so many oddballs out there, here are some of the highlights, along with my humble opinions.
Sure, a flattie isn't exactly an oddball, but the '41-'45 MB and GPW jeeps are not as common as they once were and are nowadays considered something special. In stock form, the drivetrains aren't anything to write home about. Small Dana 25 front and Dana 23 rear axles with 4.88 gears, a rather weak T-84 transmission, and a Spicer 18 T-case with an anemic 3/4-inch-diameter intermediate shaft and 1.97:1 Low aren't the stuff of ripping longevity off-road, and the 60hp 134 L-head won't win you any performance contests on-road. The bodies are what really make these jeeps stand out, with smaller headlights, 9-slat grilles, dash-mounted gloveboxes, rear-fender tool compartments, tool indents on the body-tub sides, military grab handles and taillights, and other cool trinkets. If you're looking for a trail hero, be prepared to swap out some drivetrain components. Otherwise, leave the stock NDTs on it and put some effort into restoration and light off-road excursions.
Again, flatties aren't oddballs, and they do enjoy relatively strong aftermarket support-you can still buy replacement body tubs and frames, headlight switches. and e-brake cables-but you don't stumble across them for sale every day. The early CJ-2As up to 1949 have an oddball Dana 41 rear that's getting hard to find parts for and a two-piece windshield frame that can loosen and rattle. In the old days, it was considered an upgrade to swap on a later one-piece windshield frame from a 3A, so don't get confused if there are mismatched parts.
The standard engine was a 63hp L-head 134 which, when coupled with the 5.38 gears, gives decent around-town gumption. However, don't plan on highway speeds unless you live in a flat state like Florida; any hill saps speed. Regarding the transmission and T-case, the venerable T-90 three-speed and Spicer 18 with 2.43:1 Low were the only options.
Front axles were Dana 25s across the entire production run. Some very early 2As used the Dana 23 rear axle before changing to the better Dana 41. The Dana 44 was phased in for the '49 model year and featured a 10-spline pinion as well as coarse 10-spline, two-piece axleshafts. Upgraded floater kits with 30-spline shafts are available for the Dana 44, and later Dana 44 ring-and-pinions can be installed. If you're looking to retain the stock drivetrain in your wheeler, go for a 3A because it came with the better parts-or you can try to find a '50-'52 M-38 military flattie. These were basically militarized CJ-3As with cool features like a cowl-mounted battery, glove- and toolboxes, and the good 3A drivetrain.
For 1953, Willys took the 3A and made the hood, grille, and cowl taller and the windshield shorter to accommodate the new 75hp, 134-cube F-head engine. The F-head retained the in-block exhaust valves of the Go Devil flathead that powered the '41-'53 flatties, but enlarged and moved the intake valves above the block for better performance. Aesthetically, 3Bs are usually a love 'em or hate 'em proposition. Drivetrain-wise, the 3B shared the same T-90, Spicer 18, and axles as its 3A predecessor. Nowadays, 3Bs fetch slightly lower prices than their low-hood cousins. The taller hood makes engine swaps easier. For example, a 2.5L injected Wrangler engine is a really nice fit under the hood. Most body and mechanical parts are still readily available.
The short FC-150 shared the same 81-inch wheelbase as the CJ-5, while the longer, wider FC-170 enjoyed a more realistic 103.5-inch wheelbase on wider track axles. Engines ranged from the 134-cube F-head, to the 226 Hurricane flathead six-cylinder, to the underpowered (but unique) 85hp three-cylinder Cerlist diesel.
Transmissions could be a T-90 or the excellent T-98 four-speed, with the Spicer 18 coming in as the only T-case option. Axles ranged from the CJ's Dana 25/Dana 44 combo in the FC-150s to wider closed-knuckle Dana 44 fronts and Dana 44 or Dana 53 rears in the FC-170; dual rear-wheel models got a Dana 70.
As for living with the FC, you sit on top of the front tires, so the ride is pretty bumpy and steering is funky. The shorter FC-150s actually employed a rear-bumper-mounted counterweight to keep the rear tires on the ground during hard braking with no load in the bed. If you're shopping for an FC, make sure the dash is complete and that the seats and other unique FC trinkets are there because they're getting scarce. The body metal before the front tires and aft of the cab are notorious areas for rust and rot in these trucks, as are the bottom of the doors. No patch panels are being made these days, so be prepared to make complicated patch panels if necessary.