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Following Christian Hazel’s 1953 Willys Jeep Flatfender Build Through the Years

Looking back at some updates of this famous 1953 Willys flatfender build.

With some sudden free time on my hands, I thought it'd be a hoot to row back through of my public Facebook page and take a stroll down memory lane. Nowadays I post more to my @hbombindustries or @christianhazelofficial Instagram accounts, but since about 2010 when Facebook was the cat's meow with regard to social media platforms, I posted a lot of updates on my projects that never made it to the magazines or the Four Wheeler Network. In fact, some of the really early stuff I did when I was tech editor of Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road in the late 1990s and early 2000s and tech editor of Jp magazine from the early-to-mid 2000s was never digitized and put online. So unless you've been a longtime print magazine reader, you may have never seen some of these photos. Take a peek at some of the stuff that's up there, and if you like what you see, lemme know at christian_hazel@motortrend.com, and I can do a similar treatment for some of my other well-loved projects like my '85 Ramcharger, '71 CJ-6 "Project Hatari," '68 M-715, and others.

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Rubicon Trail

This was taken during a trip in the fall of 2007. The blue 4x4 I'm rolling up on was broken and couldn't move. I can't remember exactly what he needed, but I wound up welding him up with the onboard Mobiarc welder on the flattie.

Me and my oldest son on the Rubicon in my '53 DJ-3A.

Flattie to Moab

I'm guessing by how old my oldest boy looks this was taken during Easter Jeep Safari 2006. He used to fall asleep in his car seat and I'd have to drive the trail with my right hand holding his head steady while steering and shifting the SM420 with my left. This photo was taken by a Jp reader unbeknownst to me while coming down the entrance into Hell's Revenge Trail. He later emailed me the photo, which I've always really enjoyed.

I bought my '53 DJ-3A off an ad in craigslist back in late '00. I paid $800 for the rare 2WD DJ prototype. The VIN comes up as a CJ-3B blank chassis. As far as I know, it's one of three made in '53 before Willys started official DJ production in '56. The body is pretty much exactly as I found it with the exception of the rare front bumper and valence, rear bumper and continental kit, and side entry steps, which I gave to Rick Pewe.

Willys Flatfender Rollcage Build

I've actually got a full folder specifically on the rollcage build, but it was only the second project I did with my M-Tech Supply tubing bender. The 'cage was built with mostly 1.75-inch DOM with 1.5-inch DOM used for the dash and rear tub crossbars.

After stripping it down to the frame, I cut out 1/8-inch steel plating to fully box the frame. Cappa helped me set up the suspension and welded in my frame boxing plates since I didn't have a welder at the time. It sat on the new spring-over suspension with zero progress for about a year until I moved into my new house in mid-'02. The buildup lasted about a year, beginning with putting the body back on the frame and building an 8-point cage fully tied into the frame.
I eventually ditched the factory steering wheel. It's hanging on my garage wall today. I built mounts for the MasterCraft Sport suspension seats I bought for my Toyota 4Runner and never installed. They've served me well in this rig.

Willys Flatfender Frame Strengthening

Unlike some builds today, when I started building this Jeep back in 2000 I never even considered building my own frame. Instead, I used a sabre saw (yes, I was that patient) to cut out 1/8-inch steel plate to box the factory frame completely from front to back. The front and rear bumpers are 0.120-wall rectangular tubing, and although I kept the factory year crossmember, I cut out the front crossmember and replaced it with a section of 0.120-wall 1.75-inch sleeved with another piece of 0.120-wall 1.5-inch DOM.

You can see the fully boxed frame and radiator crossmember intended to provide radiator protection in a rollover. It also really stiffens up the front framerails.
The T-case crossmember/tranny mount underneath in primer incorporates a full 3/16-inch skidplate. The flange in the firewall is for the air cleaner since the 3.5L DOHC Shortstar V-6 I used has a rear-mounted throttle body. A silicone turbo coupling connects the throttle body to the firewall flange I built out of sheetmetal and some rear driveshaft tubing. A K&N air filter connects to the flange under the dash.

Unique Willys Flatfender Drivetrain

When I bought this 2WD Jeep it had an early '80s Camaro 305 V-8 in front of a two-speed Powerglide transmission, which I quickly removed. I originally got a 1970 Cadillac 500 and mated it to a SM465 and started to drop it in, but the 500 was gargantuan and heavy. I then switched gears, procuring a 4.6L Cadillac Northstar V-8 and mated it to an SM420 with a junkyard 2.8L Camaro V-6 bellhousings. When the Northstar clearly wouldn't work without major compromises in a traditional flattie layout like linking the front and rear suspension, pushing the axles to the extreme ends of the chassis, and more, I switched gears for a third time, trading the Northstar to Turn Key Engine Supply for one of its then-available 3.5L "Shortstar" LX5 V-6 engine packages. The Shortstar is tuned for about 260 hp and 260 lb-ft and weighs around 300 pounds with accessories. Centerforce custom-built a flywheel for me, and I used the same SM420 and Camaro bellhousing I had modified for the Northstar. The T-case was a Spicer 18 I built using a Dana 20 case.

Test-fitting the Shortstar to determine throttle body flange position on the firewall.
Before the T-case crossmember was finished. The initial build used an SM420 mated to the Shortstar with a 2.8L Camaro bellhousing. A Novak adapter mated the Spicer 18 Cappa, and I built up using a Dana 20 case. My Warn Overdrive finished it off.
The Wilwood triple master cylinders control the front and rear brake circuits independently as well as the clutch. I had to mount the reservoirs high up on the rollcage because the valve cover didn't let me mount them low enough to squeeze them under the hood.
Finishing up the wiring and steering linkage.
This is where I pretty much hit a wall and asked Cappa to come by and help me finish up the build. He built and routed the hard brake lines for me (thanks, Johnny!) and did an exceptionally clean job. We fired it up for the first time that day with no exhaust on the 3.5L.

Willys Flatfender Winch, Suspension, and Body

I've never found symmetry to be a huge necessity, so when the Saginaw power steering box wanted to be where the winch was, my solution was to simply offset the winch mounting spot toward the passenger side to make clearance. Like the tube crossmember I built in front of the engine, the winch mount is built from 0.120-wall 1.75-inch sleeved with another piece of 0.120-wall 1.5-inch DOM. I hole-sawed the longitudinal tubes and welded in heavy-wall tubing onto which the winch mounts. I used some 1.5-inch 0.120-wall DOM stitch-welded to the rockers and attached directly to the frame. The runners also serve as the rollcage A- and B-pillar mounts. The rear 'cage tubes tie directly to the framerails.

My winch mount is a couple of .250-wall 1.75-inch sections of DOM tubing with boss material welded in on a standard winch pattern. It's been my preferred winch mount design on several subsequent builds.
I offset the winch mounting location to the passenger side to provide more clearance for the steering box.
Just needed to mount the front fenders and install the new wheels and tires. I eventually ditched the 1.5-inch Superlift YJ springs for a set of stock rear Wrangler leafsprings to bring the height down.
Starting to come together.
I used a hole saw and air nibbler to make a clean cut in the fender for the exhaust to come through. I've run the same mangled Flowmaster since its first time out.
The initial build used front and rear low-pinion Ford 9-inch axles with 5.83 gears, a Detroit Locker up front, and a spool in the rear. Shafts are 35-spline with stock Super Duty unit bearing outers up front. I used standard 1310 U-joints and had to severely grind the yoke s to prevent binding, but it worked like this for a couple years 'til I had Tom Woods build me a custom double CV rear driveshaft. Eventually I had a new rear housing and shafts made for when I swapped the Spicer 18 for a 32-spline Dana 300 with stock 2.61 Low. I also put a True Hi9 centersection in the rear with a 35-spline spool and had to regear the front to 5.38 to match the new rear.
Last year the Shortstar started fouling spark plugs and stalling. Here's what it looks like under the valve cover. It turned out to be a simple $100 CPS sensor, which solved the problem.
Crunch! There goes that rare door. Oh well, it's a driver, not a show pony!