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Blast From The Past: 1949 Jeep VJ Jeepster

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 1, 2010
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We have been chasing a tan VJ around the deserts and wheeling spots of Southern California for over five years now. So when this tan Jeepster drove by where we were shooting a Willys pickup at the 2010 Easter Jeep Safari, Trasborg sent his girlfriend running, waving, and yelling to catch this one. As it turns out, it isn't the same VJ, and it was featured in another magazine, but that's OK-we shot it anyway.

This Jeepster was originally built about 15 years ago, when its owner Stan Williams was still single, and not long after it was featured in our sister magazine, 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine. Since then, Stan has made some minor tweaks and added full-width axles for more stability, but nothing else major has needed to be changed. Stan tells us that the only problem he had while building this Jeep was money, and he solved that problem by staying single while he built it.

Nowadays, Stan is married to Lori and they both enjoy cruising around the back woods and trails of Utah with the family in this Jeepster. Stan didn't set out to build an ultimate crawling rig, but he ended up having a very capable Jeep. He wanted something that would go where he pointed it without fear of breakage while he was getting there.

Like all vintage Jeep frames, the VJ frame is not the pinnacle of strength, so Stan swapped the tub onto a shortened International Scout Traveler frame with a wheelbase of 105 inches. Front and rear leaf springs are custom-length 21/2-inch-wide National Spring packs and restrained by Rancho 9000 shocks at all four corners. A 30-gallon Scout gas tank hangs behind the rear axle under the frame in the later CJ location.

The rocker guards are built from 2x3 and 2x4 rectangular steel tubing with some round tube that extends past the body to protect the front and rear flares. The stock front bumper has somehow survived the years, but the rear bumper was tossed for better clearance on drop-offs. A set of 35x15.50R15 Super Swamper Radials wrapped around black 15x10 steel rims put the power to the ground while some custom-spaced polyurethane bumpstops help to keep the tires out of the fenders front and rear.

Power comes from a swapped-in GM Goodwrench 350ci V-8 with an Edlebrock Performer intake manifold topped by a 670 cfm Holley Pro-Jection system and a K&N air filter. A Mallory ignition system lights the mixture off and power is then sent through an Advance 4 Wheel Drive-prepped 700R4 with Corvette servos and overdrive band. A Dana 300 modified with Tera-Low 4:1 gears sends power out through front and rear Tom Woods driveshafts.

The front shackle-reversed leafs have a high-pinion Dana 60 hanging underneath stuffed with 5.13 gears and an ARB Air Locker. Out back the GM 14-bolt also is in a spring-over configuration and is stuffed with a Detroit Locker and matching 5.13 gears. Both front and rear axles sport disc brakes that are leaned-on by a hydroboost master cylinder and dual-pot brake master cylinder.

Body and Interior
The body is replete with vintage aluminum trim parts, such as the fender steps and grille trim. Even the stock interior trim and gauges are all still present on this one. The stock "WO" horn button has been modified to fit the swapped-in AMC steering column. An Art Carr shifter allows control of the transmission while some junkyard-sourced seating takes the place of the long-gone stock stuff.

Heat comes from a stock heater with pool hoses that extend down the transmission hump to more efficiently get heat to the front and rear seat passengers. An aftermarket fuel gauge and voltmeter are located under the stock gauges on either side of some old-school analog Rancho shock level gauges. Below that are trans temp, oil pressure, water temperature, and ammeter gauges in a custom aluminum diamond plate mount. Below that an Aiwa DIN-sized CD-player and twin 12-volt receptacles make up in modern amenities what the stock interior lacked.

A home-built six-point cage protects the occupants and some collapsible nylon bags provide storage in the doors. Other neat period-correct touches like the hand-drawn "4x'49" and "Rockaholic" only add vintage flavor to this Jeep.

Good, Bad, And What It's For
The wide and long leaf springs are simple and work, but some simple work with a torch would get rid of the spacer washers at the frame end of the shackles. Stan also made the compromise of angling the shocks to fit longer shocks in a short space, which alters the effective valving, but can make it too soft for high-speed sections. Of course the spare tire is useless, but it is funny as hell, and the Jeep is trailered with a spare on the trailer, so it isn't a big deal. The rocker protection is hell-for-stout, and from the side of the Jeep looks exactly like what is needed to protect the sheetmetal. The only other thing we'd like to see would be a belly skid to protect that soft auto transmission pan.

Why I Wrote This Feature
I've said it once or twice: I like Jeepsters. But what I haven't said is that it is the VJ Jeepster that started me down the path. I first saw one down on the beach before I even had my first Jeep, and have wanted one ever since. I have since found out just how difficult a clean one is to come by, much less a clean one with all of the neat chrome trinkets. So any time I see one, I have to stop and check it out. This one was no different, but then I found full width axles, a tried-and-true build that has survived the years, and a driver who would point it at anything, and I knew this was a Jeepster that many of you would appreciate, too. It retains and improves on all the things that makes a vintage Jeep great: anvil-like reliability, timeless styling, and a go-anywhere capability.
-Pete Trasborg

Hard Facts
Vehicle: '49 Jeepster
Engine: GM Goodwrench crate 350ci V-8
Transmission: 700R4
Transfer Case: Dana 300 with 4:1 Tera-Low
Suspension: Spring-over (front and rear)
Axles: Chevy Dana 60 (front), GM Corporate 14-bolt (rear)
Wheels: 15x10 black steel
Tires: 38x15.50R15 Super Swamper
Built For: Because he always wanted one

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