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A Hand-Me-Down CJ-3B Restored

This 1953 CJ-3B went from father to son and carries miles of memories

After a trip in the family Buick convertible in 1949, Larry Shank’s father Harry started looking for a better vehicle for exploring the back roads of Arizona and Utah. A CJ-2A was purchased in 1950, and the teardrop trailer was added in 1952. Harry decided to upgrade to a brand-new Jeep after the 2A was damaged in a flash flood. The new Willys F-head engine was introduced in 1953, so it was a perfect time to buy the new CJ-3B. For decades, this tandem took the four members of the Shank family on adventures with their friends throughout the American Southwest.

After his father’s passing, Larry was handed the Jeep and trailer, and in 2002 the restoration process began. The Jeep was the first to get attention and a greater challenge. Some parts and accessories were completely worn out and other custom mods (like the 6V/12V system) were almost impossible to recreate. Many parts his father used for upgrades and mods were not stock or well documented, so Larry spent many hours researching equivalent replacements. In the end, the Jeep received a new radiator, wiring, seats, tires, brakes, 12V electrics, and exhaust system, to name a few of the fixes. A friend of Larry’s helped apply the new Woodstock Green paint.

The original F-head engine was replaced by a ’55 Chevy 265ci V-8 purchased as a crate motor and installed in 1956. All the adapters and mounts were designed and fabricated by Harry (a Lockheed engineer at the time). It was rebuilt in 1980 to stock specs using the original Rochester carb, stock ignition system, and stock exhaust manifolds with dual 2-inch pipes and mufflers. During Larry’s restoration, the V-8 got a high-output alternator, electric radiator fan, and a complete rewiring using a Painless Performance wiring kit. The original oil-bath air cleaner looks stock but cleans air through a modern K&N filter.

Larry knew the original T-90 three-speed transmission (with a PTO that ran the Koenig winch the 3B came with at the time of purchase) and Spicer 18 transfer case needed rebuilding. Working with Ron Heitzman of Fresno 4 Wheel Drive Center, the pair pulled the entire trans/transfer/overdrive combo out for a full inspection. The transfer case needed a full rebuild and was upgraded with a newer and larger intermediate shaft. The very rare Warn 30-percent overdrive (added in the early ’60s by Harry) was in perfect shape, which was good because parts for that are next to impossible to find. The clutch was replaced, and while everything was apart, the T-90 was rebuilt, as were front and rear axles (now with 4.88 gears). Larry also rebuilt the 11-inch Mercury brake kit with a firewall-mounted single-chamber master cylinder that his father installed in 1960.

Harry Shank (and son Larry) had high standards for maintenance, and that meant, for the most part, the frame and undercarriage were in good shape and a thorough cleaning was all that was needed. Harry had mounted coil helper springs to the front leaf springs to help support the weight of the V-8 he planted in the engine bay. The old military-surplus bias-ply tires were exchanged for a new set of 235/75R15 Cooper STs when Larry did the most recent rebuild.

Interior/Body Harry the engineer loved gauges and custom accessories, so the 3B’s interior was loaded with dials and knobs galore. There is an aircraft surplus compass, altimeter, and inclinometer (nose up/down). A voltmeter and all the standard gauges (speedometer, temp, fuel level, oil pressure, and amps) are included in the dash array. There is also an engine manifold vacuum gauge, tachometer (belt driven from the generator), and a gauge adapted to monitor timing (a small "adjustment wheel" below the dash could be used to advance or retard the timing as you drove) to allow for varying qualities of fuel found during travels. Harry also modified a stock fuel tank and mounted it under the passenger seat so the 3B would have dual tanks.

The center of the dash featured a simple "swamp/evaporative cooler,” through which water was pumped into the tube on the top and then flowed down through the straw. A vent in the windshield in front of the cooler blew air through the straw and you got cool and wet. It worked great when driving faster than 35 mph, but was rough on the gauges because they also got wet.

Teardrop Tag-A-Long
The restoration of the Kenskill Teardrop was easier. It had always been stored in the garage, so it just needed a lot of TLC. Kenskill parts were available from the Teardrop Trailer Fix-It Shop. The aluminum skin is original and was cleaned using Comet cleanser with a Scotch Bright pad. The red paint was redone, as it had been every few years, with a fresh coat of Rust-Oleum paint, right out of the spray can. The axle was replaced with a new one that featured modern electric brakes. The Teardrop trailer is self-contained with an independent 12V system (charged by the Jeep generator while driving), 20 gallons of extra fuel, steel runners, trailer brakes, a suspension lift, and it carries a boat/outboard motor, and much more.

Neither the CJ-3B or the Teardrop is a perfect restoration. There is plenty of patina and imperfection to help retain their original character. That's the way Larry’s father would have wanted it. They are pretty simple by today’s off-road rockcrawling standards but are funky ’50s original. They received a lot of attention back in the day (Harry loved talking to people about his modifications), and they still garner a lot of attention today at the vintage car and trailer shows that Larry attends.

Why I Wrote This Feature
Who wouldn’t want such a vehicle so religiously maintained and filled with memories handed down to them for preservation and restoration from a beloved parent? It’s an awesome classic 4x4 to boot!

Hard Facts
Vehicle: ’53 Willys CJ-3B
Engine: ’55 265ci Chevy V-8
Transmission: T-90 three-speed manual w/PTO
Transfer Case: Spicer 18 w/Warn Overdrive
Suspension: Stock w/coil helper springs on front leafs
Axles: Stock with open 4.88 differentials
Tires: 265/75R15 Cooper ST
Built For: Camping in the American Southwest
Estimated Cost: $2,399 (original cost) and $10k-plus (rebuild)