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1953 Willys CJ-3A: Sharp & Dangerous

1953 Willys Cj 3a
Pete Trasborg
| Brand Manager, Jp
Posted August 1, 2012

A survivor with a side of Tetanus

Before the wussification of America, things were made out of steel. Coal was dug out of the Pennsylvania ground and traveled by rail to huge mills in places like Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and other regions of the Midwest where it met up with iron ore mined from the Great Lakes area. It was loaded into open-hearth Bessemer blast furnaces and turned into shiny ribbons of steel to be molded and shaped into things like napkin dispensers, picnic coolers, kids’ toys, and especially automobiles. They were solid, made to last the test of time, and gave no quarter for the sake of safety. If you jabbed yourself on a sharp corner or scratched your wittle finger, tough luck. That’s the price you pay for durability. And that’s why unlike most of the plastic crap that’s pooped out of an extruding machine nowadays, these steel survivors are still kicking around today.

Adam Shultz found one of these steel survivors in farmer’s field in rural Wisconsin. It had sat outside in the rustbelt and, although a little weathered, still has a lot of use to give. Shultz did a mechanical overhaul, added some stuff he had laying around to get it going, and the end product is just hard not to like. It’s held together by rust, tech screws, bailing wire, ingenuity, and a big heaping of hope, but when we first saw it at the 2011 Easter Jeep Safari, we knew we wanted to shoot it. When we found it again with an equally dilapidated trailer at the 2012 Easter Jeep Safari, we laughed, shook our heads, and took a few more pictures.

Big tires? Nope. LS6 V-8 engine? Nope. Rollcage? Surely, you jest. But what it lacks in whiz-bang parts it more than makes up for with more character than a Benny Hill skit and a can-do attitude that allowed it to wheel all over Moab, Utah, two years running. In fact, the spec sheet reads like a what-not-to-do of vehicular repair. And kind of like listening to Howard Stern, we found ourselves just wanting to see what it said next: “Fuel tank = Jerrycan”; “Exhaust = flex tube-to-muffler found on a highway shoulder”; “other custom bodywork = custom-aged hickory tailgate.” Sure, you might contract tetanus just by walking by it, but this little Jeep is a good time on wheels.

The stock frame is still present, despite trying to get away from the Jeep numerous times. When we first shot it, it was welded back together at about 18 different spots. That resulted in a somewhat goofy wheelbase spec with the driver-side wheelbase coming in around 81 inches and the passenger-side wheelbase measuring closer to 79 inches. This might be the reason why the tires rub in the rear on the passenger side. The front suspension has the stock rusty springs with newer shocks, while out back equally rusty rear stock springs are helped along with a pair of air-charged shocks good for about 11⁄2 inches of lift. The original body mount felting is long gone, so Adam has a whopping 1⁄4-inch body lift thanks to some 1⁄4-inch-thick rubber. As for skidplating, the factory shovel-shaped belly skid is there along with the factory grass shield on the driveshaft.

It all starts under the hood with a Kaiser Supersonic engine. It looks (and basically is) just like the flathead four-cylinder Go Devil Willys Overland produced, but was actually made by Kaiser from 1952-1954. Adam hand-honed the engine 0.020 inches over, ground the main journals on the crank 0.010 inches under, and had to go 0.020 inches over on the connecting rods. Once that was all done, it was reassembled with a set of Sealed Power bearings. A hand-honed, three-angle valve job got the valves sealing in the block again. Compression ratio is guesstimated at or near the stock 6.8:1 even though both the head and block had to be decked flat again. The little engine draws air through a Carter carb, the points still are the heart of the distributor, and exhaust exits through the factory exhaust manifold, some flex tube, and a 2-inch-diameter exhaust in front of the rear axle.

The first year we saw the Jeep, Adam had some issues with the transmission and since it was field-fresh, we weren’t too surprised. For the second year we saw the Jeep, the factory T-90 three-speed and Spicer 18 with the 11⁄4-inch-diameter intermediate shaft and 2.46:1 low range were both rebuilt. Just as well too, considering that trailer the Jeep is now dragging around.

Power goes down to the factory rear Dana 44 through a freshly greased driveshaft. The rear axle is still spinning the stock 5.38 gears, but the spider gears have been welded up to create a poor man’s spool. Up front the Dana 25 has a Lock-Right that must be hell to turn with that manual steering. Front and rear drum brakes got the once-over with new wheel cylinders and shoes and a set of N78 Buckshot Mudders put the power to the ground.

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