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Finding an L-134 Engine and Getting It Started

Verne’s 1946 CJ-2a, part 3.

Last time we showed you some stills and a video from the day that we bought our 1946 Willys Jeep CJ-2a, which has much more recently earned the nickname "Tink" here. We bought the Jeep a few years back and as we type, the flattie is a runner and driver. We thought you all might like to follow along as we took what was a disassembled basket case of a 1946 CJ-2a back from its former existence of rotting in a field. You may remember that the Jeep, while pretty complete, lacked a few fairly essential items, namely an engine and radiator. Here's the tale of how we came across a maybe running 134ci L-head Go-Devil engine for our flattie, bought it, got it home, installed it, and eventually got it running.

Truth is, not long after we got Tink home, we began to clean and disassemble the Jeep. We knew we wanted to fix the floors (which were rustier than we'd hoped), check the frame for cracks and other damage that may need repair, and collect parts to rebuild the existing axles, transmission, and transfer case, check out the brakes, steering, and more. We knew we would need a radiator and had discovered that the fuel tank we had was past a point where it would have made sense to repair it, so we started the search for good used parts. We also put out feelers in our "old-jeep-guy" cohort looking for a good L-Head 134 Go-Devil engine.

We Found a Good L-Head Right Up the Road

Our buddy Drew Norman runs a Jeep restoration business called The Jeep Farm LLC, so he was one of the folks that we let know we were on the hunt for an L-head, a radiator, and a fuel tank. Right out of the gate Drew admitted that he had an L-head that he'd taken out of a restoration project that he believed would turn over if not run, and his customer would probably be willing to sell the engine. We headed down to check it out. We were able to confirm that the engine did turn over, but it wasn't quite ideal, either. The block had a tag saying that the cylinders were .080 over and the mains .020 under. That means it wouldn't be rebuildable if the engine wouldn't run without adding sleeves to the cylinders at least. Another setback was that it had rained recently and the ground where the engine sat was too soft to use a lift on. So we had to wait. We talked Drew down to $600 since neither he nor we knew if the engine was much more than a large, heavy paperweight.

Next Step, Make Room for the L-Head Engine

Since we couldn't get the engine back to our shop right away we decided to carry on with other aspects of the project. The floors and hat channels were a bit more rusty than we had hoped, and at some point we'd committed to replacing them. That meant sourcing some 16-18-gauge steel and a bunch of cutting and grinding. We'll get into that more deeply in a future installment of the build series, but for now it meant stripping the body off the frame. The frame with axles would make for the perfect engine stand to check to see if the engine we'd just acquired was a runner.

Our L-Head Comes Home

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Once the ground at the Jeep Farm had dried out enough to harvest our dubious engine, we ran back down there to grab it from Drew. Once we got the engine home we decided to see if we could get it to turn over, maybe check a few things out, run a compression test (which might indicate engine health), and eventually get the engine mounted in the Jeep frame that we were using as a rolling engine stand. The engine seems to have come out of a pretty early Willys truck or wagon, so there are a few things that, while they might work, aren't quite correct for a 1946 CJ-2a. Course, as they say, beggars can't be choosers, and we're trying to be cheap as beggars on this project. One thing that we thought would work but we ended up not using was the truck/wagon starter shown in this video. Although we eventually went to the correct starter (with an electronic solenoid), this starter with a little work helped us verify that the engine was a runner.

Our $600 L-head is a runner

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Once we got the starter sussed out and the engine at least mostly mounted in the Jeep's chassis (with some help from our son), it was time to get some old-Jeep-guy buddies together and see if we couldn't get the engine running. On hand for our "starting an old engine party" were our good friends Mike Tarvin and Earl Colton. Both of these guys know old Jeeps inside and out and are both a huge part of the reason we want a stock(ish) flattie in the first place. Mike is a semi-retired truck driver/musician/computer company CEO, and Earl is a Phoenix-area Jeep and military vehicle legend. One hell of a team to have on hand to fire an old engine. The end result is that the distributor is rusted solid in the block, but it doesn't seem to matter. The L-134 from the Jeep Farm is a runner making well over 30 psi at idle.

What's Next for Our 1946 CJ-2a?

Here's a teaser of what's to come. We still have to rebuild the drivetrain on this old Jeep and fix a bunch of rust. These teaser photos will give those in the know a hint to one of the period-correct but not quite "correct" modifications I made to Tink while rebuilding the Jeep.