Flatfender in Disguise
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Bill Salka was wrong! Who is Bill Salka? Why was he wrong? And why would you care? Well Bill Salka is a guy who owns a flatfender, and despite being wrong he should be happy about being so. Why? Because the Jeep he thought was a plain-Jane 53 CJ-3A is not. It is one of the rarest military Jeeps ever built by Willys, the CJ-V35/U. The mistake is an easy one to make because these military Jeeps, built in 1950 for the Navy and Marines as radio trucks, were basically modified CJ-3As with snorkels, extended exhaust pipes, tailgates like the 3As of the time, and 6- or 12-volt generators to power radios. Only 1,000 were built, and Bill has one of em. As for Bill's registration of his CJ as a 53, the Jeep may have been sold as surplus around then and was thus registered as being built in 53. The olive drab flattie is very cool, but not only because it is one-of-a-thousand CJ-V35/Us, but because Bill spent time and money to build what he thought was a plain old 3A into a bitchin trail-ready resto-mod with lots of tricks and a few goodies.
Chassis & Driveline
To improve the looks and off-road capability of the old flattie, Bill slapped on a set of Rancho 2 1/2-inch springs along with some 1/2-inch shackles for a total of 3 inches of lift. This amount of lift works well with 32-inch tires without causing too much rubbing. One day when Bill was cruising a Jeep show he found a T-98 complete with the factory 134 four-cylinder adapters from an early CJ-5. He paid a price for this trick tranny, but it allows him to retain his original motor while gaining a much lower First gear. Speaking of Bill's engine, when the old L-head got too tired to drive, Bill paid a visit to Jack Clifford of Clifford Performance, of 6 = 8 fame. With the help and knowledge of Jack, the little four-cylinder mill was bored, balanced, and blueprinted in lieu of a reground cam, some stiffer valvesprings, and a Clifford header. Once the engine was back in the Jeep, the intake was bored about 38-percent larger and a two-barrel Weber carb was adapted to fit. The ignition system was upgraded by rebuilding the original distributor with newer Chrysler-style parts. Next item on Bill's to-do list involved swapping in an 80 Dana 30 in place of the original Dana 25. The replacement axle spins 5.38 gears and a limited slip, as well as disc brakes. What may be a factory original Dana 41 still lives out back, complete with 5.38 gears and a recently added Lock-Right. Bill also found and bolted on a Warn Overdrive to the back of the Spicer 18 T-case. As for the original PTO pulley that would have driven the Jeeps 6- or 12-volt generator, Bill still has it, although the generator itself was no longer in the Jeep by the time he bought it. Other improvements to the Jeep come in the form of a Saginaw manual steering conversion.
Body & Interior
The CJ-V35/U's body is in good shape and has been changed very little by time, or its owners. It still wears the naval plaque on the dash, the hood with a provisional hole for a snorkel, a tailgate, and the plug that the generator would be attached to above the single rear brake light. The Jeep also carries a very military-looking box in the back that may have carried radio equipment or parts. The only changes to the interior involve the addition of a rollcage, a center console, a CB radio, and the drivers-side seat has been stretched for a bit more legroom.
Wheels & Tires
Being from the school of using what you've got, Bill still runs the 15x8 American Racing slotted mags that were on the Jeep when he bought it. Around these rims Bill wrapped a set of four 32x10.50R15 Super Swamper TSL Radials.
Good, Bad, & What Its For
Bill has stuck with his original plan, which was to build a Jeep that looked about stock, but was vastly improved through a series of trick upgrades. His plan has worked, but since the L-head is difficult to build for more power and T-98s with four-cylinder adapters are so hard to find and expensive we know that this is not an easy setup to duplicate.
What We Think
There is no question that the improvements Bill has made to his rare military flattie are well executed and cool. Bill gave us the opportunity to drive his Jeep for a bit on the trail so that we could get a first-hand feel for the hot-rodded L-heads power and the improved gearing of the T-98. The Jeep definitely has added spunk from the engine and the gearing of the transmission adds a lot of control. We know that the T-98s First gear of 6.39 is a vast improvement over the original 2.79 First of the T-90. The T-98s Second gear is also lower, and thus better for off-road use. Bill's Saginaw manual steering conversion also works a lot better than the early Willys manual steering system which involves more drag links and pivot points than a county-fair Ferris wheel.