This page is dedicated to the build of my 1947 CJ-2A. I’ll document the build-up from conception through completion with installments and pictures as I build the flatfender from a bare chassis.
First, a little history is in order. From the time I purchased my first Jeep in 1988, I began reading everything I could get my hands on related to Jeeps and four-wheeling. Very early on I became intrigued by the early flatfenders, both military and civilian. I decided that at some point I would purchase an early CJ and build it to be exactly what I wanted.
A previous job required Gina and I to relocate to Omaha, Nebraska, where we lived for two years. With the move to Omaha, I sold my Wrangler Sahara YJ and for a short time I was Jeep-less. I got the fever for a new project, and decided that I would seek out an old flatfender if I could find one. I found one in my price range (cheap!) and called to get more information. After an hour on the phone, I was sure this Jeep was meant for me. Only problem – it was located in Maxbass, North Dakota, just a few miles from the Canadian border! So after discussing it with my very gracious wife, I got the okay to go pick it up.
It was going to be a long round trip, but I optimistically decided I could make it in a long 3-day weekend with some time left for relaxation. To spare you the details, suffice it to say that 1400 miles, four days, and one hellacious North Dakota blizzard later, I pulled into my driveway white knuckled, bleary eyed, and pumped full of caffeine. But I had successfully flat-towed my prized 1947 CJ-2A home, and exhaustion couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm!
The body of the ’47 CJ-2A was rough, with the typical gaping holes in the floorboards. The brakes were shot, and the top looked like it was pieced together from random tin and rivets. But it ran and drove (mostly), and I started planning my build-up. Over the next eight months I inspected, plugged, drained, cleaned, and refurbished. I decided that I’d temporarily build the CJ into a trail rig that I could enjoy until time and funds allowed me to complete the build the way I wanted. However, before I could finish the initial build, I was transferred back to Ohio, and the flattie was relegated to a back corner of the garage.
Fast forward about ten years, and the flatfender still occupied a place in the garage. I had built several Jeeps in the interim, but for one reason or another I had never gotten back to the old Willys project. Through the years and multiple Jeeps, I’ve refined my idea of the perfect flatfender, and I’m much more aware of my needs, preferences, and the type of four-wheeling I enjoy. I’ll share the reasoning behind my build strategy, my parts selection, and the order in which I proceed. Hopefully we’ll learn a few things together and you’ll enjoy following the project. Feel free to shoot me an email with comments or questions – I’d love to hear from you.
I've split up this build according to each major component area, with each getting its own topic. For details on a specific component area, click "Build Topics" and then select the desired link below.
When I took ownership of the CJ-2A, it was no longer in its original configuration. It still had the original closed-knuckle Dana 27 front and Dana 41-2 rear axles, both with the original 5.38 gears. The T-90 three-speed transmission and Dana Model 18 transfer-case were also original. The transfer-case was equipped with the optional rear power take-off (PTO) and driveshaft running to a gear situated at the rear bumper. But the original L-Head 4-cylinder engine had been replaced with a 70’s era Ford 2.3L from a Pinto (a popular 70's swap for flatfenders). The problematic Ross Cam & Lever steering had been replaced with a rack & pinion steering unit and steering column (also from the Pinto). Rear coil spring mounts had been fabricated and coils situated between the leaf springs and the frame to act as overload springs – this gives you some idea of the hard life it led during the many years it was owned by a farm co-op.
When formulating my build plan, there were a few key factors to consider. First, the four-wheeling I do is almost exclusively trail riding, meaning a good mixture of hard-packed dirt, light mud, hill climbs, off-camber sections, rocks, creek beds, and tight forested trails. I don’t go looking for mud bogs, and I’m not into competition rock crawling. I don’t need gobs of horsepower, a sky-high suspension lift, or super long travel coil-over-shock components. A capable, well balanced, all around trail Jeep is what I’m after. Next, I like to drive my Jeep on the street – daily driving and to and from the trail. So reliability, safety, drivability, stable handling, reasonable fuel economy, and comfort are all considerations. Obviously, interior room is not a top priority or I’d choose another vehicle! That being said, I do like to outfit my vehicles with the equipment and utility features to allow extended trips into the backcountry, so careful planning will be required to accomplish this. Finally, I like a good looking Jeep. I know plenty of four-wheelers who don’t give two shakes about straight sheet metal or decent paint, but I’m not one of them. There’s no reason that a trail rig has to look like a beater. To keep the flatfender looking good, I’ll install solid body protection, plenty of skidplating, and stout bumpers.
When considering my needs and preferences in light of the equipment on the CJ-2A, I came to realize that this is not the drivetrain I needed. The 5.38 axle gears and three-speed transmission are not conducive to highway speeds. The Dana 41-2 10-spline rear axle shafts are somewhat marginal for strength, locker choices are very limited, and parts availability is becoming an issue. Up front, I’m not a big fan of the higher-maintenance closed-knuckle design, and would prefer a newer open-knuckle Dana 30 in place of the Dana 27. And while the Ford 2.3L is a good engine with lots of aftermarket support, I’d prefer to stick with an original Jeep powerplant.
Okay, you purists may want to cover your ears – you might find this part offensive. I have a friend who had been interested in the CJ-2A since we met, and he just happened to have a rolling chassis and some (awesome) miscellaneous parts lying around. After thinking it over long and hard, we did some horse trading and I ended up with a 1970 CJ-5 Renegade chassis with a Dana 44 rear axle, an original Dauntless Odd-Fire 225 V6, a Dana Model 18 transfer-case, and a very solid frame. To sweeten the deal, he included an open-knuckle Dana 30 front axle and backing plates to convert to disc brakes. In the meantime, I picked up a Muncie 4-speed transmission with a killer granny gear. I plan to install a new CJ-2A body onto these underpinnings to build a stout flatfender that I’ll enjoy for decades to come. Yeah, it won’t officially be a '47 CJ-2A, but I won’t tell if you won’t…