Restore An Old Jeep
Article by Mark Trotta
Looking for an old car or truck project? With the aftermarket today, there has never been a better time to restore an old Jeep. From WW2 models of the 1940s to the CJ Jeeps of the 1980s, there's plenty to choose from !
Early Flat-Fender Jeeps
Loved by both collectors and enthusiasts alike, WW2 Jeeps and post-WW2 Jeeps are simple to work on, fun to drive, and make great restoration projects.
- CJ2 Agri-Jeep (1944-1945)
- CJ2A Jeep (1945-1949)
- CJ3A Jeep (1949-1953)
- CJ3B High Hood (1953-1968)
Read: Willys Jeep History 1945-1953
In 1953, Kaiser Motors purchased Willys-Overland and changed the name to Willys Motors. One year later, the Jeep CJ5 debuted.
Read: Kaiser-Willys Jeep History 1954-1969
American Motors Corporation purchased Kaiser-Jeep in 1970. Through the next 17 years, the Jeep CJ was offered in an wide array of trim packages and special editions.
Longer CJ Frame
For 1972, A new box-frame, featuring six cross-members for rigidity, was lengthened by 3" to accommodate American Motor's six-cylinder engine. Fenders and hood were also lengthened. The CJ5 wheelbase (hub to hub) was now 81" and the CJ6 wheelbase measured 101". Transmission choices were upgraded to a T14A or T15 three-speed, or T18 four-speed manual transmission.
Read: CJ Jeep History 1970-1986
CJ5 vs CJ7 Jeep
The CJ7 was longer and wider than the CJ5, and was built simultaneously from 1976-1983 (CJ5 production ended after 1983). The larger CJ7 has better overall handling and better driver/passenger comfort.
Body/Chassis: What To Look For
Like most old vehicles, Jeeps were prone to undercarriage and body rust. Look carefully at the frame, brackets and body parts. Jeep frames have been known to crack around the steering box and suspension mounts. Correctly-done repairs by a competent welder are acceptable, but could be costly. Also check the front and rear cross-members and spring hangers. These can usually be repaired, but if not, complete replacement frames are available, but they're not cheap nor is the shipping.
Depending on the shape of the rest of the vehicle, you may want to remove the body from the frame and strip the frame down to bare metal.
Willys Jeep 4-Cylinder Engine
The Willys L-134 four-cylinder engine displaced 134 cubic-inches and produced 60-horsepower. This was a flathead engine, meaning the intake and exhaust valves were in the block. Many early Jeeps left the factory with no oil filter. A common upgrade is to add a remote oil filter canister.
Read: Willys Jeep Oil Filter Canister Installation
In 1950, the L-134 flathead engine was replaced by the F-134 engine, which kept the exhaust valves in the block, but the intake valves were now in the cylinder head. By allowing use of larger valves, and raising compression slightly, power output increased to 72 horsepower.
The F-134 was first installed in Jeep trucks, and in 1953, was fitted to CJ-3B models. Due to the engine change, the hood and fenders were redesigned on the CJ to accommodate the taller engine.
Jeep V-6 Engine
Producing nearly double the horsepower of the 4 cylinder engine, the Buick-designed "Dauntless V-6" was offered in 1966. The compact V6 configuration fit well into the tight Jeep engine compartment.
The Jeep V6 engine produced 155 horsepower at 4000 rpm. Net torque was 235 at 2400 rpm. The engine's firing order, 1-6-5-4-3-2, is known as the "odd-fire" pattern. A heavier flywheel was used to increase torque, and also help dampen vibrations of the odd-fire design.
Jeep 258 Six
First introduced in 1971 in J-series pickups and Wagoneers, the AMC 258 six-cylinder engine was fitted in CJ Jeeps in 1972. The cast-iron block featured seven main bearings and was lightweight and durable.
For 1981, weight reduction included an aluminum intake manifold and plastic valve cover. You can retro-fit a steel valve cover in place of the plastic one, but the back bolt hole needs to be drilled and tapped out or it will leak. After Chrysler's buyout of AMC in 1987, the 258 engine continued in production through 1990.
Read: CJ5 Engine Swap Choices
Jeep CJ5 304 V8
From 1972 through 1981, the 304 V8 motor was offered as a factory option, with the best performance years being 1972-1978.
Back in the seventies, Jeep engineers were struggling to meet mileage and emissions standards. One thing that helped was substituting taller gearing in the axles. Although this reduced engine rpm at highway speeds, it hurt performance. Before you install larger tires, find out what your axle ratios are.
The idea of putting a V8 in a Jeep CJ was not new. Enthusiasts had been doing it for years, and many aftermarket companies offer installation kits to fit a small-block Chevy into a Jeep.
Read: Engine Swap Basics
Jeep CJ Axles
Installed in CJ models from 1976 through the mid 1980s, the two-piece axle design of the AMC Model 20 are OK for stock use. However, you may want to upgrade them to handle any significant performance mods. Many CJ owners replace the two-piece shafts with the stronger one-piece style, or weld the tubes for additional strength. Model 20 axles found in larger Jeep vehicles are sturdier and are a common upgrade.
Aftermarket Jeep Parts
The demand for reproduction Jeep parts has generated a cottage industry of aftermarket suppliers. Here's a short list of three I have personally dealt with.
Jeep Parts Suppliers
KaiserWillys.com - Good catalog, great customer service. Free shipping over $100. Always my first call for old Jeep parts. Located in Aiken, South Carolina.
Walcks 4wd Jeep Parts - Family-owned for over 40 years, boasting over 10,000 items in stock. Free shipping on orders over $150. Located in Bowmanstown, Pennsylvania.
Willys Jeep Parts - They offer reprints of obsolete manuals, plus they have lots of small, hard to find stuff no-one else seems to bother carrying. Located in Yuma, Arizona.
Jeep Sheet Metal
Nearly every Jeep body part is available in the aftermarket; hoods, windshield frames, tailgates, front fenders, front grille, dash panels, etc. You can even by a genuine factory-approved replacement Jeep body.
With the exception of doors and fenders, proper welding techniques are required to repair body panels correctly.
Read: Best Welder For Automotive Projects
Having a shop manual that covers your year and model is invaluable. You'll end up referring to it over and over again.
Buying An Old Jeep
Early Jeeps have a short 80" wheelbase, so they wouldn't be a first choice for a street-driven vehicle. They also have low (high numerically) axle gearing. However, they are a good choice for Saturday night cruises and modified off-road use.
Unless you're willing to pay shipping charges or travel out-of-state, find a Jeep project that's in your area. Look carefully for frame and body rot - repairing or replacing rusty metal gets costly.
If you have a choice of two Jeep projects to choose from, pick the one with the better frame, running or not, with or without a body. The frame is the most important part. Beware of old hunting Jeeps or farm Jeeps. These have usually spent all their life outdoors and were certainly neglected.
The best Jeep to restore is up to you and what you want to do with it. Please note that classic Jeeps restored to original condition (or close to it) consistently sell for more than customized Jeeps. Properly restored Jeeps will always get top dollar when sold.