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1949 Willys CJ-3A

Front Passenger Side
Christian Lee | Writer
Posted April 1, 1998

Bill Douglas’s 1949 Flatfender

Step By Step

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  • The CJ-3A retains its factory axles. The Spicer 25 in front has a Lock-Right locker and Warn hubs, while the Spicer 44 in the rear is full floating with a Detroit Locker and Warn hubs. Bill chose the full-floating system so he could drive (or at least tow) it out of the boonies in case of axleshaft breakage. It also allows him to flat-tow the Willys to and from the trail without removing the rear driveshaft.

  • Powered by the original 134ci flathead four-cylinder with a Carter W-O single barrel carburetor and an Autolite points ignition, the flatfender still operates on a 6-volt electrical system. Bill rebuilt both the original T-90 transmission and the Spicer model 18 transfer case in addition to installing a new clutch, front brakes, and U-joints.

  • The tub maintains its factory gear with the stock black vinyl seats, factory replacement gauges, a steering wheel from Beechwood Canvas Works of Island Heights, New Jersey, and a Willys heater. Only necessary extras have been installed including a Smittybilt full rollcage, three-point seatbelts, a fire extinguisher, and a Midland CB radio powered through a voltage booster from Antique Automobile Radio of Tampa, which enables it to operate with the 6-volt system.

  • During Bill’s weekend test runs, he found a need for more improvements. A custom emergency-brake drum skidplate was installed in addition to the factory plates already under the oil pan and the transfer case. A rear pintle hook was added to bump the rear end and spare tire/gas can holder away from steep departures, and the front bumper was cropped 11 inches to allow the flatfender to make an angled approach onto tall ledges.

  • The body of Bill’s 1949 looks brand-new and, believe it or not, much of it consists of the original sheetmetal. Replacement parts were used for the passenger-side floor board, floor framing, and both rear taillight panels. A patch panel was fabricated for under the passenger-side door and quarter panel where the spare tire was originally mounted. Bill dismantled the Willys and used PPG Deltron Corision Olive Green to paint each body part separately.

  • Installing an M38 tailgate facilitated moving the spare from its passenger-side mount to the rear, as well as installing a 5-gallon gas can. The Willys rolls on Denman 6.00-16LT tires wrapped around factory 16x4.50 Kelsey Hayes wheels, and it uses 9-inch drum brakes on the front and rear.

  • To achieve the desired ground clearance, Bill lifted the Willys 2 inches using custom springs from Midwest Spring in Denver along with Con-Ferr shackles. Greaseable bolts were made from the factory spring-pivot bolts. Monroe gas shocks were installed in the front and rear to complete the job.

Willys started building 'em in 1941 as relief to the war effort; Bill Douglas of Englewood, Colorado, started building his flatfender more than 50 years later as relief to his four-wheelin' efforts. Bill says the CJ-3A was well designed and over-engineered from the factory. For that reason, he kept to the basics and only changed from stock what he found limited the already-capable classic's abilities.

Originally purchased from a Willys Overland dealer in Denver, Bill's '49 saw duty giving sightseeing tours in Central City. Central City Pioneer was painted across the hood and down the sides when he bought the Jeep in July 1994. Bill began the restoration immediately, focusing at first on mechanical aspects and towing it to the mountains for test runs every weekend.

Eighteen months later, Bill unveiled his project at the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, completing the final touches only two days before he left to attend the event. Since that time, Bill and his Willys have tackled all the 4-plus-rated Moab trails in addition to Holy Cross, Old Tincup, and many other Colorado trails.

What's next on Bill's list? An '82 Scrambler with body mods and a turbo-charged Buick V-6.

"I’ll put my Willys away so maybe it will last another 49 years," Bill says. Considering the time and care he’s put into it, we figure it’ll see 150 without a worry.