Part I: Assembling A Flatrod Chassis From Remnants
It really started about three years ago when we saw an artist's rendering of a flatfender Jeep hot rod on jalopyjournal.com. It seemed like a cool way to build an original-looking hot rod for a lot less money than working with a traditional Model A Ford. So we started collecting parts in the corner of the garage and yard that for the most part sat untouched for several years. We didn't want to spend any money, so these were the kind of parts that off-road Jeep enthusiasts simply throw away or recycle because they are deemed too weak for heavy off-road use. Ultimately we wanted a rat rod assembled with Jeep parts that was built the way a Jeep guy would do it. Since beginning the garbage collection, we had seen several real versions of flatfender hot rods done in different ways. While some had cool ideas and interesting lines, none of 'em looked like what we wanted. And that's kind of the point of building your own hot rod in the first place. Eventually we realized that we nearly had a complete hot rod Jeep in the form of a pile-o-parts. So we went to work assembling our flatrod with recycled Jeep junk. Keep an eye out for the next issue, where we'll slap the hand-me-down powertrain into our Sloppy Seconds project.
The first frame we started with (shown here in the background) came from Cappa's hammered '48 CJ-2A. It was a mess. There were cracks everywhere and it was about as straight as Ryan Seacreast. We spent a lot of time reworking it, but we eventually gave up and started over when Tech Editor Hazel offered up this relatively clean and more heavy-duty M38A1 frame. So for the second time, we went to work with the Miller plasma cutter and angle grinder to remove every unneeded bracket, butch-welded towhook, and hoopty fabwork.
We then went to work chasing down cracks. We ground them out with a die grinder and welded them up along with the excessive holes that had been drilled for who-knows-what reasons by previous owners. But by the time we were done we ended up with a frame that was nearly as good as new, only this one was free. That is, if you don't count the cost of a dozen abrasive grinding discs.
Some areas of the frame needed reinforcement plates added because the metal was torn pretty badly or simply missing. We used cardboard and a pair of scissors to make templates to trace onto 1/8-inch steel plate. These were then welded in place with a few plug welds and around the perimeter.
With the rear axle mocked into position it became pretty clear the frame needed to be clearanced in the form of a C-notch. If you're working with a Toyota, Nissan, or other common mini truck there are plenty of bolt-on and weld-on kits available. Obviously it wasn't gonna be that easy, so we made our own. We started by hacking the 2x4 rectangular tube bumper from the thrashed CJ-2A frame and recycled it to be used on the top of the M38A1 frame where the rear axle would be located.
We flipped the frame upside down for better access. Then we trimmed the frame for clearance with a plasma cutter. We reinforced the area with 1/8-inch strap steel and fully boxed and welded our home-made C-notches in place.
With the frame still flipped over and the C-notches cut, we located the stock '71 CJ-6 front springs that we pilfered from Hazel's Hatari! Project. The shorter CJ front springs helped us get the ride height we wanted and we mounted them on the outside of the framerails for an even lower stance. We started with stock early CJ shackles and shackle mounts and built brackets to attach them to the frame. The spring pivot mounts are made from heavy-wall boss tubing and 5/8-inch bolts that pierce the framerails. They are also reinforced on the inside of the frame and provide a post-style mount for the front of the leaf springs.
The full-width Ford 9-inch rear axle likely came from a '74-up F150 Camper Special. But this one had spent some time under Hazel's Willys truck until he yanked it out. The 9-inch is a pretty good find and features a factory nodular third member, 3.90 gears, and a limited slip differential that still seems to have some life left in it. We didn't even replace the gear oil. New spring perches with a spring-under set it right about where we expected.
Months earlier Hazel had pulled this Dana 25 from his Willys truck and dumped it in our yard. Using jack stands, we relocated it to the front of Sloppy Seconds. Wire was used to position and hold the suspension components in place so the brackets could be tack welded.
The radius rods feature some old 5/8-inch rod ends that we had lying around the garage. The mounts are made from heavy-wall tubing that pierce the frame. Grade 8 5/8-inch bolts cinch it all together. Once everything was positioned and tack welded, we disassembled the front suspension and welded everything up.
Sure, we could have used a true hot rod front axle with built-in drop. But we think it will look so much cooler with a rusty diff-cover-less Dana 25 up front. The best part is that our front suspension confuses most people. The spring flexes reverse of normal, so we flipped the leaf pack to the top of the main leaf. As the suspension compresses the axle pulls up on the spring and the spring gets shorter.
We wanted what is called hairpin suspension and a suicide axle up front. We located the engine and grille where we thought they should be and began mocking up the front suspension. Originally we wanted to use an early CJ leaf spring, but it was too long to be mounted transversely. So we started with some 36-inch universal hot rod radius rods (PN0236) from MAS Racing Products and then ordered a 29-inch leaf spring (PN91033130), spring-behind-axle brackets (PN91635010), shackles (PN91033323), and spring pivots (PN91633005) from Speedway Motors.
The transverse leaf spring mount started life as a spring plate for a trailer. We gusseted and welded it to our heavy-wall C-channel front bumper, which was previously the rear bumper that we cut off of the old CJ-2A frame.
Here is the front crossmember/bumper from the top with the spring mount in place. We had to notch the bumper to clear the pinion snout of the Dana 25.
These are all off-the-shelf hot rod suspension parts from Speedway Motors. We had to open up the diameters of the weld-on brackets to fit our Dana 25 axle tubes, but other than that, it's pretty straightforward to mix and match these parts with the Jeep stuff.