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Panel Hack, Part 2

John Cappa | Writer
Posted July 1, 2002

Whackin’ an’ a-Choppin’ at Our Fullsize Jeep

Step By Step

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  • The 38-inch Dick Cepeks would just barely fit in the front after we removed the bumper and lower forward half of the fender. We certainly weren’t able to drive it anywhere like this.

  • We used a wire and a Sharpie pen attached to the center of the axle to draw a radius on the fenders, although most of the cutting was done on lines drawn freehand. You can make sure all the fenders are cut the same by taking measurements from doorjambs and bodylines.

  • Before.

  • During.

  • After.
    The finished job looks similar to the front fenders on an M-715. We only needed to trim a small amount from the inner wheelwells. At full stuff with a spring-over and the correct-length bumpstops (3 inches longer than stock) the 38-inch Cepeks just barely rub.

  • The rear wheeltubs on Wagoneers are huge. The smaller half is hidden behind the interior side panels. Unfortunately, this is where they taper down to the side of the body to create the small fender opening. Later models aren’t plagued with such small wheelwells.

  • We removed part of the tub and figured we could cut and patch the remaining part to create a new outer wheeltub. We ended up just cutting it out and leaving a small opening. No big deal for us, the openings are inside the body panels so we’ll be protected from tire-flung debris. For nicer interiors and wetter climates we would recommend sealing this area with metal or plastic.

  • When you cut in as far as we’ve marked here you remove much of the structural integrity of the rear portion of the body. We recommend installing an interior rollcage that also supports the body if you trim your fenders as much as we have.

There are two things that bother us about our FSJ: The wheel openings aren’t big enough and the vehicle is just plain heavy. We decided to do some trimming of sorts in both of these areas.

We wanted big tires with bombproof sidewalls while still maintaining tolerable road manners. So we decided on the newly redesigned Dick Cepek 38/15.50-15 F-C Kevlar tires and had them mounted on 15x10 Mickey Thompson Classic II wheels. These are some huge meats and we expect our factory axles to chuck their internals, so we plan on some axle upgrades. Anyway, the tread on the Cepeks is deceptively non-aggressive compared to many of the other tires out there that are available in this size, however, we’ve found that the Dick Cepek Kevlar tires bite and grab better than many of those so-called aggressive tires. They should work way better on slick and wet surfaces too because of the small sipes in the tread. Once we get some more miles on the Cepek 38s we’ll give you a full tire test. For now, here’s how we lightened and cut up our FSJ.

Trimming the Fat

Generally gravity is not your friend when you’re climbing hills and ’wheeling. So if you can make your Jeep lighter it should technically climb and ’wheel better right? The easiest and least expensive way to make something lighter is to remove stuff. So we threw our FSJ on the chopping block to lop off some gut. The first to go was the unused back seat (70 pounds). It seemed kinda stupid to have one anyway, you can’t look out the rear side windows of a Panel Delivery—it doesn’t have any. Next to go were the chrome front and rear bumpers (30 pounds each). We’ll build something more protective and hopefully lighter to replace them later on. Having become accustomed to open and soft-top Jeeps we felt like we could deal with whipping out the Sawzall and butchering the top right off, but then Jp Features Editor Verne Simons noted that no one would know it was a rare Panel Delivery. Good point. The top stays for now so we can watch the cringing faces of Jeep collectors when we grind and bang the window-less top on rocks and obstacles. But we could live without the tailgate and rear glass (110 pounds). By simply unbolting a few parts we took 240 pounds off of our FSJ. It’s not down to fighting form just yet but we’re getting there.

Whack Attack

Slightly trimming fenders to help clear bigger tires or installing later model or even M-715 front fenders on an early FSJ isn’t a new idea, but it takes some real nerve to cut out enough metal to go from dinky 31-inch tires to monster 38/15.50 rounders. Few vehicles accept fender trimming as well as fullsize Jeeps. After doing some initial measuring, we figured we could fit up to 40-inch tires and still maintain the front inner wheelwells to keep mud and junk out of the engine bay. Our ’66 Panel has essentially the same body layout as all of the fullsize Jeeps (later models have larger fender openings than our early FSJ). It has a spring-over with stock springs up front and flipped shackles in the rear. This provides about 5 inches of lift all around. The inner wheelwells in the front are practically at the hoodline, giving us plenty of room for fender cutting. Out back it’s a little tighter but the large wheel tubs are easy to modify and cut. Check out the captions for the full details.

— Panel Hack - Part 1


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