Apr 11 2010

New Hood Blocks (and a rant on SAE measurement)

One of the items that was part of my first parts order was a new set of white oak hood blocks.

They aren’t anything special really, just some blocks of wood attached to the front end of the hood. They serve two purposes on the CJ-3A. The first is to keep the hood sheet metal from rubbing against the windshield frame. The second is to keep the windshield frame, and sometimes more importantly the windshield wiper arms, from rubbing against and digging into the hood sheet metal.

Now, keeping with my theme of going as original as possible, I also attached the new blocks using the exact screws used by Willys-Overland in 1950. This presented me with a nice learning experience: the SAE system of identifying screw parts.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve really (and I do mean really) disliked the SAE and Imperial¬† system of measurement. The idea of creating a system of measurement where units aren’t in base 10 (like our numbering system), don’t have direct correlations (like why are inches divided into 16ths, but there are 12 inches in a foot?), and seem so arbitrary as to be just plain stupid (seriously, 5280? feet in a mile?!?!?!??, why not 5296.2 feet if we are just going to make stuff up??).

Luckily, it seems that screws and washer sizes, while still insanely arbitrary, have a system to them. This system doesn’t apply uniformly (of course not!), but instead there is different “sets” of sizes. All of that is a really long way of saying that my frustration with SAE measurements and sizes should be totally and completely thorough by the time I’m done with this rebuild.


Apr 8 2010

Why I Bought a 60 Year Old Vehicle

Since I purchased the 1950 Willys, and even before then when I started my search, a lot of people have asked why I even wanted a vehicle like that. Some saw it as a cool idea, but not really worth seeking one out as fervently as I was. To answer that question, we need to start many years back…

Dad Sitting in Charlie

Back when I was younger, I used to go and visit my grandfather in Lassen County in northern California. He owned a few dozen acres up there, and had a lot of cool older vehicles that he used to keep the place running. His main working vehicles were 2 International pick-ups, a 3-wheeled electric golf cart, and my personal favorite was a 1947 Willys CJ-2A Jeep named Charlie.

When I was 11 or 12, my dad put me in the driver seat of Charlie, and I learned to drive. There was something unique about learning to drive in a then 45(ish) year old vehicle. Unlike learning to drive in a modern car, I had to not only learn how to turn the thing, look around me for traffic, and watch for things I shouldn’t hit, but I had to learn to drive a no-power vehicle. Charlie had plenty of power for its 2200 pound self, but each component on it was completely manual. No power steering, no power brakes, no power clutch, no power anything. If you wanted to stop quicker, you pushed the pedal harder. Need to make a sharper turn? Better start spinning that wheel a little faster before you run into the tree.

It was during those first few driving lessons (once I could get the thing to go from one place to another without stalling too much) that I fell in love with the little guy. He wasn’t much to look at. His red paint was chipped in several areas revealing several layers of previous colors and repairs. Dents marked his aging sheet metal, and welded modifications served as an all too evident reminder of it’s working-class status. When it was parked in the car port, small drips of oil would mark the dirt below it, and cold mornings would give it some trouble starting. But, once the 60 horsepower ‘Go-Devil’ engine fired up, you knew it was ready to take you wherever you needed to go and assist you in any job you needed to perform that day. It also let off this smell which reminded you that you were driving a machine made to work. Some combination of gasoline, oil, grease, and dirt that identified the multi-decade road this vehicle had traveled.

It has been some time since I’ve seen the scared face of Charlie, fought to get it started on a cold morning, or smelled his unique odor, but I’ve never lost my love for the little guy. When I would see an older Willys or Jeep vehicle driving down the road, I’d immediately be brought back to the summers on my grandfather’s ranch in the mountains. The smell of gas and oil mixed in with a little grease, dirt, and a number of years of work caused me to be transported back to that car port with a wrench in my hand and some spare parts pulled out of a water-logged box in the rafters to do a repair.

My sister and brother posing with Charlie

Only a few days ago, I brought home my own Willys, newer than Charlie by a few years, but still with many of the same characteristics. Walking into my own garage now, I’m greeted by a wall of smell not unlike the smell I remember from 13 years ago. My Willys has a little oil leak, takes a while to get going on cold mornings, and rattles and squeaks not unlike an old shopping cart. The sheet metal has plenty of scars and dents, each with a unique story that will never be told I’m sure.

My CJ-3A may have a new path ahead of it, away from that of a working vehicle and instead be put through a complete restoration, but I do it not to remove it’s history, but hopefully to preserve it. These vehicles are the direct descendants of the little 1/4 ton truck that helped win World War II. My little guy never saw any combat or even use in a military capacity, but there is no denying the visual cues and and homage the slightly newer model pays to its older brother.

I guess all of that is a long way of saying that I don’t expect everyone to understand why I purchased a 60 year old piece of scared and rusted metal, or why when I walk out into my garage a little smile appears on my face. The vehicle may not be much to look at, nor have the modern accouterments most have become accustomed to, or even be able to sustain speeds higher than 40 MPH in most cases, but it just seems as though it is part of who I am.


Apr 5 2010

First Parts Order

I’m officially starting the rebuilding and restoration process now with my first parts order. It wasn’t much, just a few necessary pieces to keep things running well while I plan out my total restoration.

Today I purchased a new set of spark plug wires, a new distributor cap and distributor rotor, a new side mirror and rear view mirror, a new pair of hood blocks, and a new ignition switch. Nothing ground breaking or amazing, just a few odds and ends.

I’ve also put out some feelers to see what the cost difference would be from replacing the body parts that need replacing versus replacing the whole tub and body as one new piece. Unsure which way I’m going to go, but it’s also a long ways off.


Apr 5 2010

First Drive and Mechanical Work

Just finished getting the new guy registered, title transferred, taxes paid, and put on the insurance. After getting back, I took it out for a drive around the neighborhood. I tested the low gears and 4-wheel drive and it all works beautifully.

After stopping by the house to grab the registration and insurance info (that’s all I need is to be pulled over on my first drive), I took it out to a gas station sufficiently far to get a good drive. After putting in 8 gallons of gas, I drove it over to the parent’s house.

We found that there is a small, but persistent, oil leak somewhere. Not quite sure where it’s coming from, but it certainly is there. Also filled the tires up with air. They were down to 8 PSI instead of the recommended 20-21 PSI. We also adjusted the carburetor to idle a little lower and run a little leaner. It runs much better now, in spite of leak.

I’ve got to say though, it was a whole lot of fun to drive around in the old guy. The looks were great, and everywhere I went people wanted to see it and know more about it.


Apr 4 2010

Initial Pictures

I took some pictures of the initial jeep and some problem areas on the body. They can be seen at the Flickr page. My goal was to document some of the initial starting points so I can get an idea of what my focus will be on the body restoration.


Apr 3 2010

Willys CJ-3A Is Finally Home

After 8 hours, 200 miles, and tank of diesel later, the Willys is home.

Overall, the pickup went ok. The newly rebuilt starter looked great, went back in with minimal effort, however the thing just would not start. After doing some troubleshooting, we traced it down to a possibly bad, although recently replaced, coil. After a trip down the street to the auto parts store we bought a new coil and got it installed.

Unfortunately, there still was no starting, and more importantly no spark. We traced down the wiring under the dash, which was hardly helpful. The wiring was converted to 12V, but using whatever wiring was available, so tracing a white cable or a red cable from one side to the other would be useless since it might be blue or black by the time it gets to that side. After a while we found one cable that was coming out from the firewall and the ammeter. Unfortunately, it was connected to anything else, so the circuit was never completed, hence no spark.

After getting it attached properly, the start turned over and the thing started right up. There is plenty of work to be done still. The electrical will all be replaced, lots of body work, the engine, transmission, transfer case, axles, etc. all need to be dismantled and rebuilt. All in all, it’s probably going to be a nice 2 year project. I figure I’ll start with some of the body work, get some of the accessories put back to normal, and hopefully by the winter be ready for my tear down.


Mar 29 2010

Newly Purchased Willys Jeep

Happy to report that I am the proud owner of a 1950 Willys CJ-3A ‘Universal Jeep’.

On March 28th I made the 100 mile drive with my dad, brother, and nephew to take a look at a Willys that has been posted for about a month on Craigslist. It certainly needs work, but is functioning well, seems nice and solid, and is a perfect candidate for a restore. I wasn’t able to bring it home yesterday like I had planned, however. The starter was beginning to fail on Saturday and failed completely yesterday. Fortunately, the seller, who is an all around good guy, was willing to get the starter rebuilt and we have scheduled for me to come down again and pick it up this coming Saturday.

So what’s first?

Well, I am planning on driving the thing around as much as possible and as much as makes sense for a couple of weeks. I want to get a good feel for the old vehicle, figure out what needs urgent attention and what can wait. Eventually I want to do a complete rebuild and make the thing perfect, as if it was just purchased form the dealer.

I’ve already identified some body parts that will need to be replaced, mainly the floor boards and the passenger side tool box will need replacement. They are rusted through in those areas, so that will need to be done at some point.

Update: I removed all the other posts from the blog. They just didn’t seem to fit with what I want it to be now.