You may recall that very early in the build process, I decided that I would leave the mechanical bits in their current configuration, only fixing and replacing as necessary in order to use the CJ as a trail Jeep until time and money would allow for a full rebuild. This meant doing something about the sad state of the original rusted body.
At the time, living in Omaha and working in chemical sales to the fiberglass industry, I had developed a friendship with the owner of a small fiberglass shop. He offered to help me with the project, and I jumped at the chance. We began by cutting out the worst of the cancer from the floorboards, which left some sizable holes but the majority of the tub structure intact. Surprisingly the fenders, hood, and windshield frame were all in decent shape with only minor surface rust. So we turned the body tub upside down and used fiberglass mat and a polyester resin to lay down a base layer using the tub itself as a makeshift mold. We applied the resin and catalyst, hand-rolling the mat until it was saturated. While it began the curing process, he used his equipment to spray additional chopped fiberglass strand into the tub, followed by more hand-rolling. The material cured overnight, and by morning the body tub had a rigid layer of material reinforcing it. We finished by spraying the body in several coats of industrial white paint.
As it turned out, the CJ remained in this state until years later when it caught the eye of my buddy in Ohio, with whom I would end up trading for the 1970 CJ-5 Renegade rolling chassis.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I was on my way to Columbiana, Ohio, to pick up a brand new fiberglass body from 4-Wheel Drive Hardware. I had experience with fiberglass bodies from 4WDH, having installed one on my 1983 CJ-5 project. I was very pleased with the quality of the fiberglass parts. They were strong, lightweight, good looking, and bolted in place with no issues. The bodies are crafted using high quality Owens-Corning fiberglass and premium resins, and they are reinforced in key areas, such as steel plate embedded within the firewall and wood inserts at critical mounting points in the tub floor. In the pictures below, you can clearly see these reinforcements in the tub floor. I had acquired a steel CJ-2A grill and an inner and outer windshield frame set, so the fiberglass body parts consisted of the tub, hood, and fenders.
The first task I took on was to coat the underside of the parts with a reinforced undercoating, which I painted on using a small roller and brush. I did this to provide some additional protection from tire-flung stones and trail hazards, but also for additional sound deadening and insulation. With this complete, it was time to do an initial test fit of the body tub onto the CJ-5 rolling chassis. There is only a 1" difference in wheelbase between the CJ-2A and CJ-5, and the frame designs were remarkably similar in 1947 and 1970. However, this body was never installed on this frame from the factory, so there would definitely be some adjustments required.
After setting the body tub in place, I did a once over, captured some measurements, and made notes on items that might need addressed later. The body tub didn't come with pre-drilled mounting holes, which was preferable since this was a custom installation. This left me the freedom to move the body tub around to find the ideal position, and then mark the tub through the frame mounting holes for later drilling. Once I had settled on the final tub location, I slipped long placeholder bolts through the holes into the frame to maintain the correct position. This was helpful when positioning the fenders and grill in relation to the tub.
There was no small amount of trepidation when preparing to drill the final holes to connect all of the body parts - even though I spent many hours trying to anticipate and consider all the variables involved in such a custom build, there are inevitable unknowns that will rear their heads. Unanticipated changes can tend to have a cascading effect on various parts of the design. I had to determine a level of comfort, and once I reached it, trust that I had done enough due diligence that I could adapt to any surprises. And this turned out to be a solid approach. Yes, there were adjustments to be made. I didn't end up settling on the final body height above the frame (body mount thickness) until very late in the build. This was due in part to swapping radiators midway through the build, resulting in the hood not clearing the radiator cap. Another adaptation: I had to switch to a low-profile air cleaner assembly, mounted on the carburetor, that would clear the hood. But in the end, there were no show-stoppers, and the changes to the overall plan were relatively minor.
When test fitting the grill, I found that I needed to use improvised brackets on each frame rail to achieve the proper fitment with the fenders. Because I ended up using a replacement OEM Dauntless radiator with its relatively narrow dimensions, I was able to make use of the original fan shroud on the flatfender grill. The grill did require some minor trimming in a few spots, and as mentioned in the Engine topic, I welded in two cross braces to which I mounted the electric fan.
I found a reproduction fabric hood welting kit on the Kaiser Willys Auto Supply website. For those of you not familiar with this original part, it's a thick 3/4" woven fabric strip that installs along the top of the grill with 15 rivets, and it creates a seal/cushion between the hood and the grill. I purchased additional welting to use between the sides of the hood and the fenders, to prevent rubbing that could damage the paint due to body flex when off-road.
To mount the hood, I installed an original CJ-2A hood hinge, and drilled the cowl using the hinge holes as a template. To secure the hood, I purchased a set of Kentrol black stainless steel hood latches, positioned them, and drilled the mounting holes. Kaiser Willys also supplied the wood OEM-style hood block kit, which supports the windshield when folded forward, and the grill-mounted footman loop used to strap down the windshield.
The various headlight mounting parts proved to be challenging. I had gotten a pair of headlight buckets and adjuster mounts with the rolling chassis. These turned out to be later model CJ-5 parts from the 1970 Renegade which are a smaller diameter with different mounting hole alignment. I found a pair of aftermarket buckets on eBay which required mounting hole adjustments but fit well. With a little modification, I was able to adapt the adjuster mounts to fit the buckets. I cleaned, sanded, and painted these parts before installation. For the small parts such as adjustment screws, headlight retaining rings, and new trim rings I again turned to Kaiser Willys.
For the front turn signals, rather than the standard clear lights, I decided to go with amber lights from a CJ-3B. I fabricated mounting brackets to position these in the stock location.
The finishing touch for the grill was a hood welting kit, also from Kaiser Willys. This is an OEM-style woven cloth strip that is installed along the top ridge of the grill with rivets. It keeps the top of the grill and the underside of the hood from rubbing against one another and chafing the paint. Installation was simple - align and mark the original hole locations on the welting, drill a small hole at each mark to accommodate the rivet, and rivet into place.
The original CJ-2A windshield is a two-piece design, consisting of the inner and outer frame. The inner frame (that houses the glass) pivots outward to provide ventilation. There are also rubber seals that mount between the inner and outer sections, and a large seal that mounts to the bottom of the outer frame. These parts can all be sourced from 4-Wheel Drive Hardware. My windshield frame had the latches that secure the windshield to the body when in its upright position, but I was missing the body-mounted halves of those latches. Aftermarket latch kits are available, but they're not cheap. Luckily, I was able to source them on eBay without having to purchase the full kits. It's an interesting feeling refurbishing and installing parts that are over 70 years old - thinking about what they've been through throughout three-quarters of a century gives you a real sense of automotive history.
For the windshield glass itself, again Kaiser Willys was my go-to supplier. They provide correct size auto safety glass panels that sandwich inside the inner windshield frame. The final touch for the windshield was a set of electric wiper assemblies that included the motors, arms, and wiper blades. These can be sourced from a number of suppliers as individual components or full kits. Note that the original driver side wiper motor on the CJ-2A was vacuum operated, and the passenger side unit employed a manually operated handle!
The original CJ-2A did not come with fender flares - they weren't necessary because the skinny non-directional tires fit completely within the wheelwells. With my aftermarket wheels and wider tires, the tires protrude from under the wheelwells about 2 inches. To keep the tires from flinging rain, dirt, and mud inside the Jeep, I wanted to install a set of fender flares. I purchased a set of Omix-Ada CJ-5 flares from 4WD Hardware. While these had the correct curve for the flatfender tub, they were several inches too long. I carefully measured, cut, and shaped the ends to fit and installed them with the installation hardware supplied. The result is a set of flares that looks factory installed and offers a practical benefit.
One thing I decided pretty early was that I wanted to replace the original through-the-floor pedals with firewall mounted hanging pedals from a late model CJ. Several factors led to this decision. First, the original pedals mounted through the floor to a frame-mounted pivot assembly. This required frequent lubrication, and due to the amount of flex permitted by the original frame and body, it was common to experience some binding of the pedal linkages while off-road. Second, I planned to upgrade the brake master-cylinder to a dual reservoir, firewall mounted unit. Lastly, I planned to use a hydraulic clutch master/slave-cylinder arrangement in place of the original mechanical linkage. So the use of a late model CJ pedal assembly made a lot of sense.
The biggest hurdle was the significant difference between the tub designs at the juncture of the floor and firewall. The flatfender body tub has a much shorter firewall from the cowl to the 45 degree slant of the floor transition. I had to cut away the unneeded lower portion of the mounting bracket to fit the firewall, and I also had to cut away a significant portion of the brake and clutch arms and re-weld the shortened arms at a modified angle to fit. This process was time consuming, as several variables had to be considered - the throw of the arms had to reach the end of motion just before contacting the floorboard, the pedal swing needed to be matched to the depth of the master cylinders, and the pedal height had to accommodate my leg movements comfortably. After several attempts, I finally achieved the correct positioning.
On the opposite side of the firewall, I had to ensure proper clearance for mounting the brake and clutch master-cylinders. I also had to very carefully mark and drill the mounting holes so that the bore of each cylinder was appropriately lined up with the pedal linkage mounting point. This was particularly tough with the clutch master cylinder - it may be small, but with the inward bend of the body, the space was very limited, and it was a snug fit. I used adjustable rod kits to achieve the correct length for the linkage. After painting the pedal mounting plate and pedals, I installed two new rubber pedal pads that I sourced from 4-Wheel Drive Hardware.
For the accelerator pedal, I again turned to Speedway Motors. They offer a Lokar billet aluminum throttle pedal assembly that was made to mount to a 45 degree surface, and it also included a throttle cable bracket that mounts to the underside of the tub. The bracket provides a perfect mounting point for routing the throttle cable down to the arm on the underside of the pedal.
Overall, this setup is well packaged (after the above modifications) for the flatfender, and will support modern upgrades to the brake and clutch systems, along with avoiding the issue of binding of the original mechanical linkages off-road.
With the pedal assembly in place, it was time to turn my attention to placement of the steering column. There were three key interior components that had to be precisely placed in relation to each other, from an ergonomic perspective, for the cabin to be workable and comfortable: the pedals, the steering column/wheel, and the seating. The placement of any one of these could affect the other two significantly, so again there was much trial and error before finalizing any of them. I felt that the place to start was the pedal assembly, as it had the fewest obstacles, variables, and risk. Next was the steering, because I didn't think I could finalize the seating without this in place. Finally, since the mounting brackets for the seats and center console would be completely custom, I had the most creative freedom with it.
With space at such a premium, I needed a tilt steering column to ease ingress and egress. I could have sourced a column from a salvage yard, but it would be tough to find something with the right period "look" for the flatfender (i.e. no plastic trim panels) and it wouldn't be customizable. Speedway Motors to the rescue once again - they offer all metal, brushed finish steering columns that can be ordered in custom lengths and with various options. The part I ordered was 33" in length, with a 2" outer tube, and a GM-style wiring harness and pigtail that will plug right into my fuse block. Speedway Motors also offers several styles of mounting brackets that made installation super easy.
Just like the brake and clutch pedals, the lateral placement of the column was somewhat dictated by the steering linkage from the bottom of the steering shaft to the steering box itself. The width of the Dauntless V6 and headers had to be taken into account, as I had to leave enough clearance to route the steering linkage without binding. For the linkage itself, I used a combination of Borgeson and Speedway Motors steering joints and steering shaft sections. The shaft protruding from the bottom of the column is standard 3/4" DD shaft, and the kit from Herm the Overdrive Guy included a steering joint to match the spline count of the Ford power steering box input shaft. Borgeson has an excellent tech section on their site with all kinds of guidance for building a safe and effective setup, which I relied on heavily.
For the steering wheel, I went with a Grant Performance Series 677, which is a basic 3-spoke, 16" diameter design that looks at home in the old Jeep. I mounted it using a Grant GM-style adapter.
The final interior component in this mix was the seating. The original seats were little more than steel frames with minimal padding and a canvas covering. Since I intend to drive the flatfender as often as possible, I wanted more comfort, support, and safety. While I love the retro look of low-back seats, they give up a lot in the safety department in the event of an accident, which is a concern for a daily driver. I used the "Super Seat" style of bucket seats in my previous CJ-5 build and found them to be very comfortable and supportive, both on road and off. This common design became popular in the 80's and 90's as a replacement for OEM Jeep seats, and today it's still produced by several manufacturers. I selected a set from Rugged Ridge in black denim, which is cooler than vinyl and stands up well to weather and dirt. These seats have an adjustment knob on the side offering unlimited adjustment for finding the perfect position. They also have an adjustable/removable headrest for comfort and safety, and they are very affordable.
For the center console, I went with a Series II Security Console from Tuffy Products. This all steel console is full of features, including a sealed 10 tumbler double-bitted security key lock, robust latching system, inner tray, huge storage compartment, dual cup holders, arm rest pad, and a locking compartment to mount a stereo or CB radio. As lockable interior storage space goes, you can't beat Tuffy consoles.
I wanted a strong, simple bracket for mounting the seats and the console to the tub. After mocking up multiple seating positions, I found the best compromise of height, depth, and seat rake. There is very little legroom in a flattie, and I found that raising the seat mounting point and increasing the rearward cant of the seat made the most of the space. Once the position was determined, I took multiple measurements from all angles before sketching out some possible bracket designs.
Going with the "simple is better" motto, I used angle iron and plate steel to create a one piece mounting frame that spanned the width of the body tub, and bolted to it in six locations. The center section is lower to accommodate the Tuffy console, with the seat mounts raised and drilled to match the bottom of the seat frames. I didn't bother to incorporate a seat slider on either side as the seats will always be in the rearmost position. Once I had all the pieces tack welded together, and the mounting holes double and triple checked, I final welded the bracket as a single piece. I coated the bracket in POR-15 chassis coat to prevent rust and corrosion due to the open environment and weather exposure.
For the gauges, I decided it would be wiser to create a single sheet metal dash plate in which to mount the gauges due to the difference in the thickness of the fiberglass vs. the original metal dash. (This will also make access for maintenance and repair much easier in the future.) To facilitate this, I used pictures of the original CJ-2A gauge layout to create a template for the mounting plate, cut a rectangular hole in the dash, and drilled out the mounting holes. Then I used a hole saw set to make the individual gauge holes in the dash plate. In the end, I have a single component consisting of the dash plate and gauges that bolts right into place on the dash.
For the gauges themselves, I wanted a period look and feel that wouldn't be out of place in the flatfender dash, but also needed to keep the price reasonable. (Dedicated gauge sets can easily run up near the $1000 mark!) Because I would need a mixture of electrical and mechanical gauges, I sourced a combination of AutoMeter and Sunpro units in the right combination of size, style, and type to suit my needs. The result is a cohesive look in a traditional style that didn't break the bank.
It was necessary to drill the appropriate holes through the firewall for the gauge hook-ups. I again used a picture of the original firewall holes to correctly locate the pass-through holes based on my engine and electrical configuration. At the same time, I drilled the hole for the main wiring harness pass-through as well as the fuse block mounting holes.
When it came to the paint color, I wanted to go with an OEM Jeep color so I honed in on colors in the tan palette of which there were dozens over the decades. Although it's not a military Jeep, I like the industrial, military-ish look of the tan colors, especially with the black wheels, accessories, and top. After seeing a number of late model Wranglers and Gladiators with the "Gobi" color (Ditzler PPG paint code 945600), I really liked the look and decided it would look great on the old flatfender.
I contacted a local shop, D & D Automotive in Marysville (937-642-0900), based on the recommendation of a trusted friend. Dean Bressler has decades of experience in paint and auto-body work, and he agreed to take on the project. The body tub, fenders, and hood are gel-coated fiberglass so the only parts that were original steel were the windshield frame and the grill. The grill was in very solid shape and had cleaned up nicely when I originally sandblasted it. The outer windshield frame was a different story altogether. It still wore its latest blue color with at least three colors underneath. It had a lot of surface rust and prior body work and there were all manner of holes drilled into it from various soft top installations. This required the most TLC, but when Dean was finished, this 70+ year old part looked fantastic.
I couldn't be happier with the final result - the color and finish are outstanding, and really give the old flatfender a modern industrial look.