1. home
  2. features
  3. 1947 Jeep CJ-2A - Clattering Flatty

1947 Jeep CJ-2A - Clattering Flatty

Diesel Powered ’47 Willys

Verne SimonsPhotographerSue MajichWriter

Sometimes we get ideas for a project which really doesn’t seem realistic. They’re those projects that, in our heads, sound like a really cool idea but in reality are probably going to be difficult, time consuming, and cause lots of migraines. Bringing one of these projects to completion and ending up with a really bitchin’ vehicle, is something to be proud of.

Jake Johnson and his dad had this old Willys sitting around and decided to fix it up. They brought it back from the dead about 10 years ago. They got it cleaned up and useable, while keeping it in stock trim. For their purposes, a stock Willys would do just fine. After all, not everyone needs a full-on rock bouncer. While it had stiff suspension, horrible seats, and a go-cart-sized payload, it was still a Willys. Capable off-road and relatively reliable, it would be great for going out and exploring the local mountains or the rocks of Moab.

After wheeling it for a while around their home turf in Utah, a trip to Moab resulted in the engine finally putting in for retirement. The distributor shaft had seized in the flat-head four-cylinder engine. Jake was definitely not a happy person. So unhappy, in fact, that we can’t print some of the words used to describe the engine seizing. Then again, anyone who has been involved in motor-sports for any length of time will probably be familiar with mechanical failures and the language involved. Whatever the case—or language—something needed to be done to revive Jake’s Willys. After all, it was still a good vehicle, and even the most reliable of engines will only run for only so long.

Chassis
Starting in July 1945, the CJ-2A was the first mass-produced Jeep intended for the civilian market. It was based on the military MB, which was field-tested and proven on the battlefields of World War II. In both the European and Pacific Theatres, the MB proved that it could go nearly anywhere, all while carrying loads of troops and supplies. With the end of the war came a booming economy, thousands of troops returning home, and a surge of interest in the outdoors, camping, and off-road vehicles. As the only real options for four-wheelers were military surplus, Willys-Overland stepped up and designed the CJ (Civilian Jeep) especially for the civilian market.

Produced from ’45 to ’49, the CJ-2A was mainly intended as a work vehicle. Marketed to ranchers, farmers, and industry, it was available with an incredible array of options. Snowplows, front and rear power-take-off units, passenger front seats, and rearview mirrors were all available from the factory. What was not available from the factory was anything that could be considered comfortable. The factory suspension was just not designed for ride comfort. It was designed to get the job done and travel over rough terrain while doing so. In an effort to make his Willys a little more passenger friendly and help with off-road ability at the same time, Jake installed 1-inch lift Rancho springs and Daystar shackles at all four corners. The new springs and shackles would vastly improve the ride, but they would also flex better off-road and help to clear 33-inch tires.

Drivetrain
While known as a fairly reliable motor, the stock 60hp 134ci Go Devil engine is most definitely not a powerhouse. Between the weight and typical uses of a Jeep. they didn’t need a whole lot in the way horsepower. On top of that, the stock transmission, transfercase, and axles were just not designed for use with a big engine. While lots of horsepower can be a whole bunch of fun, it also has a habit of breaking parts. Working as a diesel mechanic, Jake gave a good look at the diesel options. With all of the various trucks and industrial equipment out there, he would also have a wide array of engines to choose from.

Taking into consideration that, at the time, the rest of the drivetrain was still stock, what was needed was a small and reliable engine. While doing his research Jake came across Overland Diesel, located in London, Ontario, Canada. Overland Diesel makes a kit that mates a 60hp Kubota 03-series engine to the factory T-90 transmission in the Willys. It reuses the stock clutch and pressure plate, with a specially machined Kubota flywheel. Since they were commonly found in Bobcat skid-steer tractors, the Kubota engines are easy to find and are very reliable.

When it came time to finally get his engine, Jake chose a Kubota V2203T diesel engine. He had looked around on eBay at some of the available Kubota 03-series engines, but ended up finding the V2203 locally. A guy he worked with had previously worked for a local trucking company and knew that they would probably have a good engine available. Sure enough, they had an engine sitting there that he could get. Originally out of a refrigerated trailer, it had light use and low hours. The only addition to the engine would need to be a turbo. While a good reliable engine, Jake knew that he would need a turbo for the engine to perform the way he wanted it to.

Body and Interior
Considering its age and how Jake uses it, his Willys is pretty damn good shape. Granted, he had to chase a little rust, install a set of homemade diamond-plate corner guards, and reupholster the seats, but it looks real good. There are several identifiers that distinguish the CJ-2A from the military MB. The MB, intended for the military and combat use, had no tailgate and the headlights were recessed for use with black-out covers. The black-out covers were necessary for night use so that Axis bombers would have a harder time hitting their targets. The CJ-2A, having been built for the civilian market, has a tailgate, flush mounted headlights, and the iconic seven-slot grille.

One of the ways that Jake makes use of the tailgate was to build a tray for the back that he can keep tools and a few small parts in. A piece of sheetmetal acts as a false floor in the back of the Jeep, and the tailgate keeps the tray and its contents both on and off the trail. Under the passenger-side seat is another storage space where he keeps some more small spares and a few tools. One of the beauties of a vehicle as simple as an old flatty is that you don’t need to carry a whole lot. The storage space is finished off by a center console of sorts that Jake put together to keep his tire pump in.

No matter how small, light, and simple a vehicle is, when you use it the way Jake is intending, the sheet metal runs the risk of damage. That doesn’t mean that it needs a ton of plate attached to it everywhere. A simple C-channel front bumper holds the tow rings, a Smittybilt XRC8 winch, and acts as the mounting point for the tow bar that Jake uses to move it around. For a vehicle as lightweight as an old Willys, it just makes sense to have the option to flat tow it rather than putting it on a trailer. The rear bumper is the factory bumper, a simple piece of plate with the factory drawbar as a recovery point. We have to agree with Jake on the rear bumper: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The body armor on this Jeep is kept simple and lightweight as well. Homemade diamond-plate corner guards help to reinforce the rear corners in case of contact with a trail obstacle. A piece of plate on each side acts as a rocker guard.

Protection for the passengers comes from a custom rollcage and a set of tractor seats. On an open vehicle like the Willys, a ’cage is a decidedly necessary feature for off-road use. Many miles have been driven and many rocks have been crawled over without a ’cage, but why take the risk if you don’t have to? A simple ’cage fixed to the frame just adds that extra margin of safety when Jake decides he wants to push the limits. The tractor seats are also a nice feature. The factory seats, aside from just being worn out, were not built for comfort. A lot of tractor seats, on the other hand, were. Jake made a good choice for the replacement seats in our opinion.

Since he wanted to keep the build simple, Jake left most of the rest of the interior alone. The few gauges come from Sunpro, made by Bosch Automotive Service Solutions. On something as simple as this flatty Jake just doesn’t need much. Battery voltage, coolant temperature, oil pressure, and boost pressure to monitor the turbo round the engine monitoring. Jake keeps an eye on his speed via the factory speedometer. It’s still working, so why bother changing it? Air conditioning comes from a combination of two things, the speed Jake’s traveling at, and the factory swing out windshield. If it’s a hot day, Jake can open the windshield a little and then just drive faster. Then again, it’s an open Jeep, heating and air conditioning is just not a huge concern.

Good, Bad and What It’s For
This thing was just built for the fun of it. Jake had a Willys sitting around with a bad engine, and he has experience as a diesel mechanic. Why wouldn’t he build a diesel flatfender? He can take this thing out to play on the rocks of Moab, turn heads when people hear that diesel rev up, and get awesome fuel mileage while he’s doing it. Being able to play on the rocks and get nearly 30 mpg while you’re doing it sounds pretty damn good to us. Sure, it doesn’t have much in the way of frills—no heater, no air conditioning, and a very basic suspension. We’d still quite happily cruise around in this flatty.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: ’47 Willys CJ-2A
Engine: V2203T Kubota diesel
Transmission: Borg-Warner T-90
Transfer Case: Spicer 18
Suspension: Rancho springs/Daystar shackles (front/rear)
Axles: Dana 30 (front)/Dana 44 (rear)
Wheels: 15x8 Pro Comp Rock Crawler Series 82
Tires: 33x10.50R15 BFG KM2
Built For: The fun of it.