Irwin Arnstein's

1947 CJ2a Willys Jeep

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21 December 2005

From Irwin:

         When my brother’s neighbor T.J. generously gave me his old 1959 1-ton truck, I felt that I ought to do a good job with it and show it to him. As you could see on my Gallery page, it brought T.J. a bit of pleasure to see his truck ready for another 46 years of work. A few months later (and I think after his wife got on him to clean the place up) he gave me his 1947 CJ2A Willys Universal Jeep.


         When I got the truck, I had no idea that the Jeep would soon get so lonely that it spoke to T.J. about rejoining its old compatriot. I wasn’t so keen to do the jeep but when my brother offered to help, I decided "Why not -- if it wasn’t a complete junk pile."

         The driveline had to be operable. We pulled the jeep out of the mud with the 1-ton after removing the obligatory tree growing through it and began trying to figure out if it was worth saving. I told my brother that I didn’t want to have to break the engine open and T.J. assured us "it ran when I parked it." Uh oh! (Red flag! Red flag ~~ Editor)


         Sadly, the fairly decent light truck on/off road tires were incapable of holding air but I had some take offs from my car that got the job done.

         We pulled the ‘heep’ into the driveway to start in on it. We changed the various kinds of goo that an engine needs and let it sit for a good two weeks with a combination of liquid wrench and engine oil in the jugs to loosen up the rings. The good thing about a Jeep is that they have oil bath air cleaners and huge oil filters so they’re made for tough duty. The heep had also been converted to 12-volt electrics.

         When we first barred the engine over, you could feel the rough spot on the crank. But by spinning the engine by hand, the crank soon smoothed out and since the heep could be hand-started, it was easy (for a change) to bar over. Of course, fire ants had moved into the air tube between carb and air filter, into the alternator (they came streaming out like you wouldn’t believe) and later on, I found out that they had somehow even moved into the master brake cylinder. Plenty more lived in the detritus on the floorboards. But, being a little vehicle, it didn’t take too long to clean up. But it was a sad day in ant-dom history.

         We finally got the engine loose, the trash toted, a few air holding old tires, a battery, and enough wiring to operate the coil and the starter and we started cranking the Jeep up. Cranked just fine but wouldn’t start. I decided to go on a wild goose chase with ignition timing because it had fuel, it had spark, but it weren’t running. What’s up with that?

         We found there wasn’t much compression so we pulled the head (quite easy on a side-valver) and saw the valves were sticky from old goo. So with a bit of carb cleaner and liberal use of a block and a hammer, we got the valves going up and down. The head was put on and it still didn’t start, until, my brother touched the choke valve -- and the heep fired right up. After burning off the top cylinder lube I put in, it ran unbelievably well. It didn’t smoke or blow oil. I looked up at brother Richard and said "Well crap. Now we gotta fix it!"

         We then got the brakes and hubs sorted out and drove it around the block and that was that. It was too good to trash or part out. Everything worked ok. Amazing.

         The '59 brought the Jeep home and I immediately photographed it and started disassembly. I told my brother right off I wanted to Zebra stripe it but he wasn’t too crazy for that as he wanted the original Luzon Red. I told him the body was too stinky and the stripes would hide the many years of use, misuse and abuse. And as I was doing the work and buying the paint, he soon saw the logic of it.

         The body was very flimsy and so light that the two of us easily lifted it off the frame. I ground down at least five knotted cable wire wheels knocking the crud off the frame and body. I also removed about 20 pounds of dirt and sand out of the frame (and off the engine / driveline). We then spent a few Sundays welding in replacement body braces and floor panels. My experience gained welding on the '59 1-ton came in very handy.

         I also made myself some copper spoons that prevented most burn throughs when welding in the new panels. Amazingly, with a few sheet metal corrugated braces welded in, the body became pretty strong. I also found a bed frame on the side of the road that was also cut up and welded into the body for strength. In this picture, my brother is welding in the tool box bottom that lives under the passenger seat.

         I got some chassiskote paint for the frame and welded in 1/8 plate where the frame was rotted out. I had black engine paint for the engine and we were finally on our way to putting the Jeep back together.

         The only problem I have found with the engine was that the rear seal leaks on shut down but a pie tin is currently catching that mess as I decided not to mess with it yet. We also replaced the motor mounts because they were torqued. They were torqued because the transfer case brace had been jerked about by tow chains when trying to free the Jeep from some bog. The transfer case brace was unsqouze with an old 30-ton jack press and my bench bender dollies at the local railroad museum.

         So it was welding, welding and more welding -- fixing the various holes that were put into the body. There was an odd religious ritual such that whenever a new accessory was added to the vehicle, a new hole had to be drilled and an old one preserved. The rear wheel wells had over 10 holes a piece. Other places had more and I started calling the heep "the colander" instead.

         My homemade copper welding spoon came in very handy as it would soak up the excess heat and allow holes to be filled in with a backing patch. I think I ended up putting about 25 lbs of welding wire into this vehicle. There were also some huge holes behind the step plates and under the spare tire carrier. The spare tire carrier hole was amusing since someone had sealed it with bondo-backed 1 x 4 wooden block. I can do a little better than that -- not much -- but a little.

         When the body got better, I then painted the frame and the bottom of the ‘tub’ (the body) so they could be reassembled for final painting. It was a good two months welding the body back together. There were tail gate repairs, fender braces to recreate and a new battery pan to be welded in. Body braces were often ripped or rotted. All previous repairs and customization was done with big ugly stick welds. So if you wondered why I hadn’t been posting much on the forum lately, well this ought to answer that question.

         I then slapped on the white. Layed tape for the stripes and then sprayed on the black.

         One of the nice things about doing the old Jeep is that it's very simple. No doors, windows, turn signals, roof, heater, a/c, power anything, or even two taillights. I did add the second taillight, tho. I created my own modern style fuse box. One of the funny things was that T.J. had added a military style tank a few years ago and we decided to go back to the original smaller neck civilian tank. There was a huge demand for the old tank and it went for nearly $200 on eBay (when I hoped to get $25). That was twice what I paid for the replacement tank. We finally caught a break on something.

         After the black was sprayed on, we peeled off the tape and ta-da, we have our zebra stripes!

         Then it was minor mechanicals like adding shocks, making battery holders, and other small details. Other than wiring in the alternator wrong -- after the ignition switch which I finally figured out -- all went well. I bought the duplicolor spray on truck bed liner for the floor to cover a multitude of sins and put in replacement original seats that we had eBayed. I tried to make seat covers and might have been able to do some if I kept at it. But mine were ‘stinky’ and so I got new Beachwood Canvas made ones that finished off the vehicle.

         The old Jeep is a bit bouncy and a bit squirrelly with the 83 inch wheel base. It’s also so slow. The data plate sez it will go 60 mph max but I doubt if I will take it over 40.

         These Jeeps also came with 9 inch drums so the brakes aren’t very good. Once I started driving it a bit, the water pump and oil pump gave up the ghost. Repairing the water pump was the easiest one I have ever done. The oil pump, which is on the driver’s side of the engine, is supposed to be easy. But, mine was glued in with engine muck so it took a pitman arm separator to get it out. The oil pressure went to 0 the minute the engine warmed up which is why it was replaced. It probably still had fire ants in it.

         I went with the original style military non-directional tires which are good in mud and snow and not so great on ice and wet streets. The tires made the heep quite a bit taller, eliminating curbs and speed bumps as a concern.

         It was a fun project -- that is when I wasn’t cussing it. And for an unexpected project, it turned out rather well. It is fun to drive and I have already had a few people drive up and ask for a card to see if I would paint their's like this. Perhaps it wasn’t such a silly paint job after all.


         A number of friends have demanded to be put on the list should I ever decide to sell it and one of those is a historical re-enactor and movie extra / stuntman. I told him that it wasn’t getting painted back to army green, but zebra stripes instead, and he replied, “No problem. I’ll re-enact Doktari instead!”

Irwin Arnstein
Bolter # 2288
Garland, Texas

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