From Mud To Rocks
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.