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1951 Willys M-38 Sand Rod Dragster

Posted in Project Vehicles on November 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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Like most fads in the automotive world, the "rat rod" craze has gotten out of hand. This trend started with guys cobbling together junkyard vehicles that performed well, even if they looked a little rough. Now there are fat-wallet car buffs spending tens of thousands of dollars to have someone build them a new vehicle that looks like a rat rod, which defeats the whole purpose.

Editor Cappa has been slowly working on his "flat rod," which you can read about in this issue and on jpmagazine.com. It remains true to the original concept, with Cappa performing all of the work in his own garage with rusty Jeep parts he has lying around from past projects and garbage Hazel just dropped off in front of his "Guns Don't Kill People, I Do" trespassing sign. And Kaitlyn DeRuyter's '51 M-38 was built in the same vein. Steve Perkio bought the Jeep from O&R 4Wheel Drive in Bloomington, California, twenty years ago, before his niece, Kaitlyn, was even born. Steve ended up purchasing another Jeep for the sand dunes, but after a few trips Kaitlyn and her father, Jake, became addicted to the sand and the M-38 got a new lease on life.

Chassis
The foundation for the flatfender is a postal Jeep frame, which is fitting since this Jeep is two-wheel drive. The DJ mail Jeep frame is boxed most of the way back, making it stronger than a stock CJ or M-38 frame. It also has the rear spring hangers mounted outboard of the framerails to withstand the heavy loads of all those Sears catalogs, and the added stability is useful in the sand as well. Handling is further improved with the 97-inch wheelbase, which is 17 inches longer than stock.

Up front, a set of QA1 coilovers that allow external compression and rebound adjustments are used in conjunction with a Perks Tube Works panhard bar and four-link comprised of 0.120-wall, 1-inch chromoly tubing and 3/4- x 5/8-inch FK chromoly rod ends from McKenzie's in Anaheim, California. The coilovers are mounted on a hoop built in front of the grille. Out back, another custom four-link from O&R 4Wheel Drive built from 0.250-wall, 3x4-inch box tube and Competition Engineering brackets. Eventually, coilovers will be installed on the rear axle when funds allow, but until then the stock DJ leaf springs hold up the rear. It just goes to show how the true rat rod methodology means that a lack of funds doesn't necessarily translate into lack of fun.

Drivetrain
A 383-cube small-block Chevy built by Orange Engine sits between the front fenders. The stroker is topped with aluminum heads, a GM Performance Parts Bowtie aluminum intake, and a Holley 600cfm carburetor. The 11:1 compression requires a 50/50 mix of pump gas and 110-octane race fuel to keep detonation at bay. A stock Chevy HEI distributor lights off the fuel, and a Mallory rev limiter keeps Kaitlyn from floating the valves. Spent gases flow through Camaro headers that somehow squeeze between the Postal framerails, and then dump straight out after passing though collector-mounted baffles. A Ron Davis crossflow aluminum radiator fits between the headlights and keeps the engine cool while making four-second passes at the sand drags or playing at Glamis all day long.

Power is routed through a Powerglide two-speed automatic set up with a trans brake to help reach the converter's 5500 rpm stall speed before launching. Bensons Transmission in Bloomington, California, built the transmission with hardened shafts and upgraded clutch packs. The Spicer 18 transfer case is long-gone and a scatter shield and driveshaft safety hoop are the only hardware behind the transmission.

The driveshaft connects the 'glide to a Dana 60 rear axle fitted with 4.88 gears, 31-spline Dana 44 shafts from a Postal Jeep, and a disc brake conversion using Samurai calipers and rotors. Lower gears would make the Jeep even faster, but the 4.88s are Dad's way of making sure that Kaitlyn doesn't get too crazy. The larger ring and pinion of the Dana 60 were necessary to withstand the shock loads that the trans brake and paddles create, but the smallish axle shafts don't seem to have any problems holding up to abuse. An open differential is used so that if a shaft does break at the drags, it won't put the Jeep into the wall.

The front axle uses standard Dana 30 knuckles in conjunction with a CNC master cylinder and brake pedal. The Postal Jeep tubular beam axle was retained, but the knuckles were flipped to put the steering behind the axle. A Vega steering box was attached to the frame behind the axle.

Body and Interior
Most of the attention paid to the body consisted of "custom" graphics laid down over the primer paint job with a silver Sharpie pen. The body is still surprisingly straight and rust free for being 60 years old, particularly given the amount of time that it spends near the ocean. The factory gas tank was ditched when the wheelbase was stretched and replaced with a 14-gallon tank from AeroTanks and a 3-gallon tank that sits on the front bumper to keep the tires on the ground when Kaitlyn launches the Jeep.

Inside, Perks Tube Works constructed a cage from 0.120-wall, 1.75-inch tubing that connects to the chassis in six locations and also acts as the framework for the Beard Super T1 suspension seats. The rear fenders were cut to allow the seats to be mounted farther back in the tub, and DJ Safety 5-point harnesses and wrist restraints were added for safety. Atop the cage, a pair of HID lights aid the factory headlights to let Kaitlyn safely play after the sun goes down, with the only other illumination coming from the 5,500 RPM shift light on the 5-inch Auto Meter Monster Tach.

Good, Bad, and What's It For
The sand drags consist of bracket racing, where being consistent is more important than being fast. This allows Kaitlyn to be competitive without her father having to dump a ton of money into the Jeep. There is plenty of room for improvement in the future as funds become available.

Why I Featured It
Most sand "Jeeps" evolve into vehicles with independent front suspension and fiberglass bodies with air-brushed headlights. Kaitlyn's flatfender may end up like that some day, but for now it still retains the battered, vintage Jeep sheetmetal. The money that was spent went into the drivetrain and safety gear, not pretty paint or chrome widgets. That is the essence of what a Jeep is supposed to be: functional first and foremost. -Harry Wagner

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