Willys Jeep: The Hood, The Grille, and the Nasty Surprise

In Jeep by J Michel Metz6 Comments

After my adventures with the Vietnamese Auto/Flea Market and Sears store last week, I came back to the house and actually got a little work done on the Jeep.

I’m starting to feel anxious to actually start rebuilding the Jeep, but there is such a long way to go before that happens. One of the things that has been more frustrating than I was expecting was how long each individual nut and bolt take to get off. In some cases, it can take more than an hour of struggling to get the damn things to come off.

And there are a lot of nuts and bolts on this Jeep.

For the most part, that’s fine, because there are quite a few places to work on while the WD-40 is working its magic. Now, however, I’m starting to get to the point where the sequence for doing things is getting more and more important. Last weekend, for instance, I had two major goals (which I’m proud to say that I accomplished), and actually got some other important pieces done.

The first thing that I did was attack that freakin’ hood. Now, I’ve tried just about everything I can think of. Penetrating fluid (aka Liquid Wrench, WD-40, etc.), brute strength, massive crowbar, and even using a propane torch to expand the metal and loosen the screws from the nuts behind the firewall.

Even the glorious use of fire didn't help

Nothing worked. I had given up trying to get the screws out: the hinge was toast anyway and needs to be replaced, so there was no need to worry about preserving it. The hood itself and the body of the Jeep needed to stay intact, so I did have to be careful.

Yeah, I admit it. This thing scared me!

As I said, I’ve never used an angle grinder before, so I went through the YouTube videos about how to use one. I’m so glad I’m a bit of a research freak: They weren’t kidding when they say to wear protective gloves, eyewear, and thick clothing.

It gets hot. DAMN hot. Sparks everywhere. Take a look at what happened after just a couple of seconds of using the grinder to my safety glove:

What's that warmth spreading over my fingers?

Imagine what would have happened to my hand without them! As it was, I could feel it getting uncomfortably warm…

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before this is an entirely new learning experience for me. I learned, for instance, that unlike sawing wood with a circular saw (similar concept, I thought), I found it better to avoid long, sustained contact with the metal. What worked best for me was scoring the metal, which provided a groove for short, one- or two-second bursts of the cutting tool. Within a couple of minutes the hood separated from the hinges.

Free at last! Free at LAST!

Now it was time to turn my attention to preparing to free the engine from the engine compartment. After all, that’s why I went through that entire experience buying the hoist and engine stand, right?

(Oh, by the way, I went back during the week and returned the engine stand since a friend said he had a brand new one that he would let me borrow for as long as I needed it. Sweet!)

According to the Restoration book that I bought, it’s recommended to take the front “clip” off as one of the first things to do. The clip is the grille/fenders combination and, with luck, you can take the whole thing off as a unit.

I don’t have that kind of luck.

For one thing, the book is using a 1955 model as the example, and there’s just enough difference between the ’52 and the ’55 to make it a bit difficult to follow to the letter. The other problem is that the fenders on my Jeep are shot. At some point in its 60-year history, someone decided to both weld and Bondo (is that a verb?) the fenders to the frame and the body tub. So the nice clean picture of taking the grille and fenders off (the “clip”) as a unit was not happenin’.

Getting the front grille off was like singing that old song “Dem Bones.” You know, hip bone is connected to the leg bone,” etc.

In this case, there are a few bolts that need to be removed around the grille… and one screw.

"Screw" you, then!

No, that screw wasn’t put there by the factory. Some *@!(#%()) decided it would be a good idea to put in a screw instead of a bolt about 40 years ago or so, and as you can imagine this did not make me happy.

Who uses a screw in a place like this? Breathe… breathe…

Okay, I’m calm again.

It became obvious – very quickly – that getting to the screw and other bolts were going to be a lot easier if the radiator was removed. This meant, of course, separating out the radiator from the engine.

In order to do this, there are two hoses that attach the radiator to the engine, an upper and a lower. The upper one didn’t want to budge, no matter what, and then I found out that a little elbow grease can be too much of a good thing:

Oops! Don't know my own strength!

Yeah, something tells me that part is going to need replacing. Sure enough, looking at the upper hose connector at the top of the engine I can only wonder if those hoses had ever been checked.


Then it was time for the lower hose. Oh, and by the way, even if someone tells you that the fluids have been drained, check for yourself!


I could have sworn that the guy who sold me the jeep had said that all the fluids were drained. Earlier I had checked the gas tank and confirmed that, yes, it was indeed empty. In fact, it was so bone dry I was convinced it hadn’t seen petroleum-based products since at least Reagan was president.

Boy was I in for a world o’ hurt.

Given how difficult the upper hose was to get off (I had to cut it off with a boxcutter), I was experiencing similar issues with the lower. So, I started cutting into the lower, and found out that it wasn’t quite as bone dry as I was expecting.

Uh oh...

Racing around for the drip pan, I captured all of the radiator fluid (stupid! stupid!) and nursed my bruised ego as the radiator drained safely. Once that was completed it was actually surprisingly easy to take the radiator out from the Jeep.

Yeah, probably gonna need to replace this too.

With the radiator out of the way, I was able to get to the nefarious screw and get it off much easier than before. My hands are somewhat larger than many of the spaces the Jeep affords, so taking it out this way was a particular advantage.

Soon I had the two elements that were very important to me to get done, the hood and the grille:

Manly men, doing manly things, with men, in a manly aroma...

Lifting the grille off gave me such a rush – it’s hard to describe. For someone who, less than 2 months ago, didn’t know a master cylinder from a crank shaft, removing the radiator and grille and seeing the wide open engine bay was like an injection of testosterone. Time to go out and kill an antelope or something.

What a beautiful sight! Until...

Standing there, looking at my handiwork, though, I got a sudden sinking feeling. I knew there were going to be a risk of unpleasant surprises, and sure enough, I got one.

The Nasty Surprise

I took a gander closer at the front of the engine bay and saw the unmistakeable signs of a cracked frame.

You've gotta be kidding me!

As I looked around the frame, I started to realize that this wasn’t just a small crack, but rather quite a huge one. Taking the camera and moving it around the crossbar, I saw that it appeared to be going nearly all the way around.

Hmmm.. Duct tape and bailing wire, perhaps?

Looking even closer it began to get apparent that this was not a new thing. There is pretty strong evidence of a previous repair weld, though it doesn’t look like it was a very good one. It’s entirely possible that it was just a quick-fix, but I don’t know enough about welding (or cars, still) to be confident in such a determination.

Looks like a common trouble-spot.

After sitting down for a while and sulking that perhaps I bought a “donor jeep” I decided to get back to work. The next big thing is taking the engine out, and the frame off. Both of those mean disconnecting several wires.

This meant a lot of labels…

Labels, Labels

… which in turn helped me figure out exactly what some of the dash board functions actually were (the original labels had long since worn down to invisible)…

So THAT'S what that thing is!

… and fortunately for those extra small areas I was able to get a helper. 🙂

Helps to have a lovely assistant!

In truth, the wiring harness is completely shot. Getting underneath the dash and looking at the way it’s all hooked up, it’s clear that the entire thing needs to be replaced. In fact, it’s making me wonder just how stringent I should be for keeping the cables marked, since they’re really going to be going away anyway. I do have the service repair manual with the wiring diagrams (and thank god for that!), but for now I’ve been struggling with labeling worn out and frayed cables that – when I really think about it – may just be useless even as a reference guide, since it was so haphazardly put together in the first place.

Nevertheless it appears that I’m making progress. I’m hoping that with any luck, I may actually be able to take the engine out next weekend or, if I’m really lucky, maybe even tomorrow!

‘Cause, you know, that’s just the kind of luck I got. 😛


  1. Looks good, that crossmember will need to be boxed in to strengthen or cut out and replaced. No problem.

    Wires everywhere, gota love it. The beauty, NO SMOG!!

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