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Panel Hack, Part 1

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John Cappa | Writer
Posted May 1, 2002

Cutting Up a Rare Classic for Wheelin’

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  • When looking for a bargain beater FSJ, never, ever, ever take the vehicle by itself. Insist on taking all the leftover and spare parts. We scored an extra grille, a box of spare trim parts, bumpers, wheels, and all kinds of good junk. The previous owner of our FSJ delivered the vehicle stuffed to the gills with this stuff.

  • We replaced the tired springs with brand-new springs from Eaton Spring that actually came with the Jeep when we bought it. Then we added some Rancho bumpstops to keep them from collapsing again. It still flexes well and even rides nice. But we’re not done with the suspension yet.

  • The ’63-’70 Wagoneers came with the less desirable and leaky closed-knuckle Dana 27 front axle. The later models have the stronger open-knuckle Dana 44. The 44 can be swapped into the older models with little difficulty. Watch out though, some later wagoneers have the differential on the driver side. There are also a few IFS Wagoneers out there with a Dana 44 centersection.

  • Our Panel came from the factory with a spring-over in the rear. Ours had been lifted by unbolting the springs and flipping the shackles over. It sits about level now but the rear pinion angle is way off. We’ll be fixing that.

  • Over the years Jeep used many different engines in the Wagoneers including the 232 inline-six, an AMC 327, and a Buick 350. AMC 360s and 401s can be found in the later models. Our Panel originally came with a 327. Somewhere along the way this Chevy 283 V-8 was swapped in.

  • Some rough driving and hillclimbing resulted in our battery puking acid all over the engine compartment. After cleaning it up we popped in a dry-cell Optima Blue Top to avoid a repeat performance.

  • The leaky backing plate and two-piece axles are bad news on our Dana 44 rear axle. Summers Brothers makes one-piece shafts to replace this stuff if you plan to throw on some horsepower and big tires. Later-model Wagoneers have stronger flanged Dana 44s and even later models run a flanged AMC 20 rear.

There is nothing more disturbing to a classic-car buff than a guy that takes a torch and Sawzall to a vintage rig. But as off-road enthusiasts at heart, it is impossible to leave a vehicle in the original configuration, much less restore it to stock. We have no use for a collector car, but a long wheelbase like our ’66 Jeep Panel Delivery with a V-8; now we’re talking climber, bogger, dragger, beater. It should be able to handle it all, and for a cheap initial admission price. A Panel Delivery is essentially the same as a Wagoneer except it doesn’t have side windows, just panels. The ’63-’91 fullsize Jeeps (FSJs) are cheap for lots of reasons, like rust problems, poor gas mileage, gross emissions, and in some cases a lack of power and reliability. That’s not to say that there aren’t some jewels out there but for the most part FSJs are inexpensive. We were able to pick up our pseudo-rare one-of-445 ’66 Panel for $800. And it runs!

Thousands of FSJs have probably spent their lives toting the kids and camping gear to the mountains and maybe even over moderately difficult trails like Golden Spike and Hell’s Revenge in Moab, Utah. But the real joy of building one of these rigs is that almost no one takes them on really hardcore runs. When most people see a fullsize rig on Sledgehammer or Upper Helldorado, the heads turn, and even more so if it’s a vintage rig like our Panel. Mostly because they won’t know what it is. So here’s our rig, some of the mods we’ve made, and some FSJ tips that might be helpful if you’re looking to build a beater. Keep your eyes out for the next issue where we’ll get into some junkyard axles and bigger tires and wheels.

— Panel Hack - Part 2


Rancho Suspension
Monroe, MI 48161
Holley Performance Products
Bowling Green, KY 42101
Mallory Ignition
Cleveland, OH 44144
Eaton Spring
Detroit, MI 48216