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1951 Willys M-38 Sand Rod Dragster

Rear View
Harry Wagner | Writer
Posted November 1, 2009

Flatty's New Lease On Life

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 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.

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.

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.

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