Question: I have a '62 Willys CJ-5, which is cool to drive but it is slow and rough-riding. What kind of options do I have to make it more driver-friendly?
Can I take my body and graft it to a Wrangler frame and drivetrain? I'd like to dump all my old drivetrain but can't afford Dynatrac 60s front and rear.
What options can you share with me? What kind of donor drivetrains can work?
West Haven, UT
Answer: Well, there are a couple of reasons that your CJ-5 rides rough. The wheelbase is 80 inches and the springs are very short and stiff and most likely pretty much worn out to the point where every little bump puts the axle on the bumpstop. As to being slow, well, the four-cylinder engine only puts out about 75 hp, and the 5.38:1 axle gearing pretty much limits top speed to the 60 mph range.
Now with that said, let's compare it to a leaf-sprung Wrangler, which has a wheelbase of about 94 inches. To start with, you would have to apply a "stretcher" to the CJ's body for it to fit. Fourteen inches is a lot of stretching. Even at that, you would find many other differences in frame design, clutch and brake pedal location, and the like that would make a body swap pretty difficult.
As to the springs, the Wrangler YJ springs are much longer and wider than those on the CJ-5, which definitely makes for better ride quality. So, the Wrangler springs can be adapted to fit the CJ-5 with some special spring mounts and some modifications to the frame.
To even make it better, reverse the shackles on the front springs-that is, put the solid mount up front and the shackle at the rear of the spring. This allows the axle to slightly move rearward upon making contact with a solid object. I believe that Mountain Off Road Enterprises (970/625 0500, www.mountainoffroad.com) has the pieces that can be made to work.
As to power, the Wrangler TJ came with either-depending on the year-a much more modern and powerful four-cylinder, the long-running 258ci six, or the 4.0L six. So this brings up engine swaps. There is not much point of putting in another four-cylinder. The inline sixes are possible, but their length doesn't make for a practical swap. Popular swaps for the early CJs used to be the carbureted Buick 225 V-6, but age has caught up with availability. So that leaves the Chevy V-8 and V-6 swaps, which are common and quite doable.
OK, you could swap out the complete drivetrain, engine, transmission, transfer case, and rearend, which a lot of people do. Maybe if you found a YJ that had been wrecked, body-wise, but the running gear was still salvageable, it would make for a good candidate. But before you lay out the cash for an engine swap, consider adding an overdrive. Herm the Overdrive Guy (www.hermtheoverdriveguy.com) offers rebuilt used Warn overdrives. Advance Adapters (www.advancedadapters.com) has the new reproduction of the same unit under the Saturn name. As it can be used in all the gears, even low-range four-wheel drive, it turns your three-speed trans into a six-speed and in effect changes your final drive ratio from the previously mentioned 5.38:1 into the 4.10:1 range. Besides that, it's fun to shift that many times!
Question: I'm 17 years old and I bought myself an ex-Forest Service K-20 Suburban with a 305, TH400, and NP203 combination for plowing. My NP203 already has a part-time kit installed but I would like to replace it with an NP205. Would I need an adapter to make it fit with the TH400, or does it just bolt right up? How much would a used NP205 be at a local salvage yard?
Redondo Beach, CA
Answer: Yes, you're going to need a new adapter to mate the 205 to the TH400 transmission. You're also going to need a 205 that came from a TH400 transmission, as the input gear has to be 32-spline, not the 27-spline version of the TH350 or the 10-spline version of the SM465 manual transmission.
Price of the transfer case? Depends on how good of a "wheeler dealer" you are and even the particular salvage yard. The adapter needed will most likely equal the price of the transfer case.
Take a look at www.offroaddesign.com. There is some really good information on this Web site on transfer case selection, as well as other stuff that will apply to your Suburban. You might also want to consider instead of just a 205 swap to do the doubler transfer-case conversion. This will give you some great variability in low-range gearing.