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Twin Red Flatties

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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Twin red flatties
A lot of the time we feel like we are chasing ghosts. For a few days during the 2011 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, we were asked by many people if we’d seen the father and son flatfenders. Of course, we hadn’t, and when we finally did, we almost didn’t know it. We saw one flatty in a tire shop parking lot and while it was definitely nice, we decided there was just more chrome involved than we’d normally shoot. Plus it was very clean, and we were wondering if it really went wheeling. So, we went about our business until a van moved revealing the other flatfender to us. That’s when we went over to talk to the father and son team of Gerald M. Roberts and Gerald Roberts, Jr. (Jerry).

What we found that was not only do these Jeeps go wheeling, but they were built at-home over many years. The Jeeps have seen such trails as the Rubicon, Dusey-Ershem, Fordyce, and many around Moab, Utah. The two flatfenders are Chevy-powered, stretched 8 inches for more interior room, and have a slew of custom and functional modifications to make them better drivers on- and off-road. Once we got down to the nitty-gritty we knew we had to shoot these Jeeps and bring them to you.

Chassis
The frame is where it all starts. You’ll not find any flatfender here. The frame is custom-made from 2x4, 3⁄16-inch-wall square tube. The amount of time in this frame is incredible. The welds were all ground smooth and after the body mounts were added, it was coated in gloss black powdercoat. From the middle of the frame to the rear it was widened like a later Wrangler frame is and a 19-gallon Ford truck fuel tank with an internal fuel pump is tucked up high and tight within the framerails and all-but invisible under its re-appropriated Ford skidplate. The 4¼-turn lock-to-lock Cadillac-sourced four-bolt Saginaw steering box provides more precise steering control and the leaf springs are soft-ride 3-inch lift ’79-’85 Toyota springs. A Warn Mx-8000 sits out in front of the grille between the Warn auxiliary driving lights.

Drivetrain
Power comes from a GM 4.3L V-6 with throttle body fuel injection out of a ’90 donor mule. It’s cooled by a Fiero aluminum radiator. An engine-mounted York compressor provides the air for the lockers and the on-board air system. Across from the York is a Hehr Powerline 150-amp alternator. Power goes through a bellhousing from a ’65 Chevy pickup to the SM420 transmission. A Jeep Dana 300 is bolted up thanks to an Advance Adapters adapter and splits power to the front Dana 44 and rear Dana 60. The axles were both snagged from Chevy donors. Superwinch hubs were added to the Dana 44 and Summer Brothers chromoly axleshafts were added to the Dana 60. ARB Air Lockers are spun by 4.56 gears and send power out to the 35x12.50R15 BFG MTs wrapped around 15x10 Mickey Thompson rims. Front brakes are the factory ½-ton Chevy parts while the rear discs are pre-’87 Ford discs and they are pushed on by a Ford Mustang booster and master cylinder.

Body and Interior
The body is stretched 8 inches in the door openings to allow for easier ingress and egress. The cage is tied in through the floor and some isolating rubber mounts to the frame. It also serves as backup to the under-floor-mounted air tank. Custom retractable manually operated steps make the big leap up into the Jeep easier. The lever for the step pokes through the floor between the Flo-fit seats and the door openings. A tilt Chevy steering column and Denon head unit and 10-disc CD-player makes for a much better driving experience than would have been possible when this Jeep was first built. Painless Performance was used to wire the whole thing up with a wiring harness and fuse panel. Most of the gauges are Datcom electronic units with a VDO clock and VDO air temp gauge. A custom console houses the CB radio and ARB Air Locker switches within easy reach of the driver.

Hard Facts (Father)
Vehicle: ’52 Willys CJ-3A
Engine: ’90 4.3L GM V-6
Transmission: SM420
Transfer Case: Dana 300
Axles: Dana 44 (front), Dana 60 (rear)
Wheels: 15x10 Mickey Thompson Classic II
Tires: 35x12.50R15 BFG MT
Built For: Rockcrawling and exploring

Son
The big difference between the two Jeeps is the engines. While there was a throttle-body-injected engine planned for this Jeep, a deal came up on a multiport-injected engine from a later ’93. The rest of the drivetrain is the same, with the SM420, Dana 300, front Dana 44 and rear Dana 60.

Up close there are scores of minor differences but another big one is the underhood welder this one has in it. For all the rest of the specifics you can read the “Hard Facts (Father)” on the opening spread.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For
If you are going to build and wheel more than one Jeep, it makes very good sense to build them the same so that parts interchange between them. The use of 3⁄16-inch-thick tube for the entire frame is a bit overkill, but there will never be any breakage issues. We also like that simple leaf springs were used with simple and relatively inexpensive front Dana 44 and rear Dana 60 axles. We’d have tried to keep it spring-under, but that would have required custom springs and more cost, especially when building two of them. We’d have stayed away from the dual front shocks and a lot of the chrome as well but overall this is a pair of very capable and cool Jeeps.

Hard Facts (Son)
Vehicle: ’42 Willys MB
Engine: ’93 4.3L Chevy Vortec V-6
Transmission: SM420
Transfer Case: Dana 300
Axles: Dana 44 (front), Dana 60 (rear)
Wheels: 15x10 Mickey Thompson Classic II
Tires: 35x12.50R15 BFG MTs
Built For: Rockcrawling and exploring

Why I Wrote This Feature
I would have loved to have gotten a chance to build a Jeep with my dad, much less two. If I did have the chance, odds are good it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as cool as a pair of flatfenders. If I were going to build a flatfender from the ground up, I’d probably stretch it like the Roberts did here. The Chevy V-6 is one of my favorite engines for smaller, lighter, Jeeps, and the choice of transmissions and T-cases is also spot on.

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