As the saying goes, no project is ever really done. Over time, it is not uncommon for Jeep owners to make changes to meet their own unique needs. This can include anything from adding another row of seats to accommodate a growing family to cutting fenders to accommodate growing tires. When Todd and Deb Zick purchased their yellow '47 CJ-2A fourteen years ago, they lived in Fargo, North Dakota, and initially set the Jeep up for mud running. Since that time, the Zick family has relocated to Rapid City, South Dakota, where they are active members of the Black Hills 4Wheelers club. In fact, Todd has been the chairman of the widely-popular Dakota Territory Challenge for the past three years, so it is only natural that his "Wild Willys" has evolved to withstand the rigors of infamous South Dakota trails such as Hal Johns and Kong.
When Todd bought the flatfender, the body was atop a Suburban chassis, the springs were hard-mounted to the frame at both ends, and it was set up for farm implement tires. Todd kept the Suburban frame, but reinforced it with three crossmembers and a huge belly plate. The entire suspension and drivetrain have been revamped several times over the years to meet the demands of harder and harder trails. Three years ago, Todd ditched the leaf springs he had been running and replaced them with Rubicon Express 51/2-inch TJ coil springs and Rancho RS9000 shocks. The springs are mounted outside the frame to allow enough length for the proper spring rate and articulation, while still keeping the overall height manageable. On top of the front coils, threaded spring buckets allow Todd to fine-tune the ride height. Triangulated four-links were designed front and rear with three-foot-long lower links constructed from 2-inch, 0.500-wall DOM tubing filled with 1.25-inch-shank, 1-inch-bore rod ends used in conjunction with high-misalignment spacers. The uppers were made from 1.5-inch, 0.250-wall DOM tubing with Daystar Poly Flex joints at the ends. The exceptions are the front upper 3/4-inch rod ends to clear the radiator support at full stuff.
Triangulated front suspensions create enormous bumpsteer with traditional steering boxes and drag links, so Todd ditched the mechanical linkage for a full-hydraulic orbital valve setup. The orbital is mated to a single-end, 2-inch-bore, 8-inch-stroke hydraulic ram from an agricultural application that is mounted behind a unique guard on the tie rod. This combination allows Todd to turn 39-inch Super Swamper TSLs on TrailReady aluminum beadlocked rims no matter how bound up in the rocks. Todd and Deb have been running the same set of tires for years, but Todd added more biting edges with a grooving iron last spring and hopes to get another season out of the Swampers before having to buy a new set of tires.
The first time Todd wheeled in the Black Hills, his Willys had a carbureted 350 small-block Chevy and an NP205 transfer case. The lack of gear reduction and stalling at odd angles made the Jeep unmanageable in the rocks. Now, a bone-stock 350 with throttle-body injection provides simplicity, good low-end torque, and the ability to run at any angle. The engine is topped with a York compressor that has been converted to deliver onboard air for the ARB Air Locker, airing up the tires, and running pneumatic tools. Power from the small-block is routed through a TH350 three-speed automatic topped with a Lokar shifter. The heavy NP205 was replaced with a smaller, more compact transfer case that still retains cast iron, gear-driven construction. The venerable Dana 300 Todd selected has been upgraded with every part in the JB Conversions catalog. These include 4:1 gears that are more than twice as low as the NP205's stock 1.96:1 gearing, 32-spline front and rear output shafts, and twin-sticks for the front-wheel-drive maneuverability necessary on South Dakota's notoriously tight trails.
Up front, the Dana 44 axle seems undersized when taxed with 39-inch Swampers, but Todd has had good luck with the combination of an ARB Air Locker, 5.38 gears, Yukon chromoly axle shafts, and Longfield 300M U-joints. The Longfield joints don't use needle bearings and are thus prone to wear, but Warn hubs keep them from spinning when the Wild Willys is headed down the pavement. In the rear, a Ford 9-inch from an F-150 was added after the housing was shaved for more ground clearance and reinforced with a 3/8-inch plate. Full-floating Chester axleshafts are 31-spline at the carrier and 24-spline at the housing ends. When he was still living in Fargo, Todd bought the second True Hi9 third member in production from the manufacturers at Weivoda Auto, located just down the road. The third member uses 5.38 Richmond gears, a full spool, and is still going strong after all these years. Weivoda also machined the housing ends and drive slugs for the full-floating conversion on the rear axle. Stopping power comes from the a hydroboost system and disc brakes that use the same 1/2-ton Chevy rotors, calipers, and spindles at all four corners.
Body and Interior
When Todd converted to coil springs, he stretched the wheelbase on the Willys out to 101 inches. To accept the longer wheelbase, six inches of sheetmetal were added to the hood and fenders, and another four inches were added to the rear fenders. The longer front end provides plenty of clearance between the HEI distributor and the firewall, solving a common problem on most flatfenders with GM V-8s. To access the engine, Todd built fenders that attach to the hood and grille, complete with inner fenders. The entire front end then tilts forward for access to the engine compartment.
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the windshield frame is actually from a CJ-3A, not the original 2A. Behind the glass, occupants are protected by RCI plastic bucket seats and a six-point rollcage that Todd fabricated himself. The floors were replaced with expanded metal for better visibility, and the transmission hump is made from diamond plate. The rear fenders were notched to move the seats back, and more diamond plate is found in the form of a tool box that spans the distance between the fenders. Under the box, a 14-gallon aluminum fuel cell feeds the small-block. Todd and Deb even added a spare tire mount on the back of the cage to carry a fullsize spare for runs that require it, like the Dakota Territory Challenge.
Good, Bad, and What's It For
Todd and Deb's Jeep works wonderfully in the technical rocks of South Dakota, but with no sway bars and a tall ride height, it can get light in off-camber situations. Deb maintains that once you get used to how the suspension reacts it is very predictable, a claim she backs up by driving the Jeep to work during the week. Also, their 13-year-old daughter Abby Jo has become so attached to the Wild Willys since she started driving it on the trail last year that both she and Deb have claimed it as their own. Seeing the writing on the wall, Todd is currently in the process of building a TJ so he will have something to drive in the future.
Why I Shot This Feature I was really drawn to the owner-built parts on this flatfender, from the tilt front end to the coil suspension. There aren't many components on the Jeep that Todd didn't build himself, and he isn't afraid to try new ideas. He is also humble enough to admit when they don't work and go back to the drawing board to improve his Jeep. After fourteen years he has the Wild Willys pretty dialed in, and the combination of big tires and little sheetmetal work great on his home turf in the Black Hills. -Harry Wagner
Vehicle: '47 CJ-2A
Engine: 350 TBI Chevy V-8
Transmission: TH350 automatic
Transfer Case: Dana 300 w/ JB Conversions 4:1 gears
Suspension: Triangulated four-link (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 44 (front), Ford 9-inch (rear)
Wheels: 15x10 TrailReady beadlock
Tires: 15x39.5-15 Super Swamper TSL
Built For: Crawling in the Black Hills