Willys Jeep: Steering Through Obstacles

So, this is where the frustration is starting to set in. At the moment, it’s raining – hard – and it’s the one day in the past 3 weeks that I’ve actually got time to work on the car over a two week period, and I’m dying to get working on the Jeep.

In the meantime, I thought I’d update the blog on where I am so far.

Gas Tank

For once, something actually came out easy. Unlatching and removing the fuel tank was a piece of cake, and took literally less than 2 minutes. As you can see from the photo below, it’s dry as a bone and probably hasn’t seen any gasoline in many many moons.

Taking the tank out was remarkably easy

However, while I knew that the floorboards were going to have to be replaced, I wasn’t quite sure exactly how bad it was until it was removed:

What lies beneath

An even closer look shows the metal disintegrated so badly that you can see the oak supports in the hat channels peaking through:

If you look carefully you can see the wood support struts

Without question it looks like the entire front footwell section of the tub will need to be replaced.

Electrical

Removing the wiring was a bit of a joke. After trying to keep as much as possible intact (not for keeping, I knew that it was going to need to be replaced anyway, but rather for knowing where things should go when recreating the wiring when putting things back together), the wires and insulating cloth would disintegrate in my hands.

It stell meant that some of the rusted screws wouldn’t quite let them go easily, however. The light switch (below) took considerable amount of time to jostle loose enough to disconnect from inside the dash.

Disconnecting the Light Switch

Even so, I want to try to keep some original parts, though I’m not really sure what is original on this Jeep any more and what isn’t.

Trying to salvage whatever we can

What actually came loose looked like something out of a bad comedy from the 80s…

They all look like this, or worse

All in all, there wasn’t a single connection that could be salvaged.

Welcome to the Electrical System

When all was said and done, there was only one wire that I couldn’t disconnect, and that is the water temperature gauge:

At the moment, this is the only piece of cabling left in the Jeep that is preventing the tub from coming off (though sadly, not the only thing keeping the tub on altogether). The bolt to the engine block will not budge, no matter what I try to do to it.

I’m going to cut the cable a few inches away from the engine block and try to see what I can do with the engine on a stand instead, because at least that will allow me to focus on other things while I mull this one over. It is a shame, too, because the temperature gauge looks like it was in really good condition (and before you ask, no, it can’t be disconnected from the gauge itself – apparently it’s a one-piece item).

Fenders

I’ve always known that the fenders were going to be problematic. Whoever owned the Jeep before apparently had decided to weld and Bondo the fenders to the frame and tub, despite the fact that from what I can tell, that’s not the way Jeeps were supposed to be built.

Fenders are now practice fodder

Using my new cutting tool/angle grinder unit, I managed to saw through the hat channel that had been connecting the fender to the frame.

If you look closely you can see a wood block in the hat channel

There are supposed to be bolts connecting the fender to the frame, but those are nowhere to be found since it’s been welded on now. Eventually those are going to have to be cut off as well.

Bondo and torn metal

The condition of the tub and it’s connections to the fenders is hopeless. In the shot above you can see that the “lip” that folds around the front of the tub that would attach to the fender has been Bondo’d and the top half has been disintegrated. The lower half of the lip probably needs to be completely reconstructed somehow.

Bondo Galore

I think the step is still in good condition, despite the amount of Bondo that had been applied to connect it to the fender.

At least I can practice grinding now!

Now that I have the fenders off, though, I can use them to practice grinding, as I’ve not actually done that yet, and I’d rather practice before running the risk of damaging something that could be salvaged. Even now, I’m still at a stage where I’m not sure how good the original parts are or are not, although it is fortunately obvious what should be tossed altogether.

Body and Frame

I suppose the good news is that the more I take off the frame, the more I realize that it is still in relatively good condition (despite the terrible crack I found when removing the radiator).

Although, as you can see in the picture below, there is some pretty significant damage to one of the support struts connecting the tub to the frame inside the engine compartment:

Strut Damage

(You can also see the terrible damage done to the connecting lip from the tub to where the fender had been. As it turned out, the fender had not been attached to that lip at all, and I suppose the Bondo on this side was a Hail Mary to keep it all together in the first place).

Nevertheless, it did feel very satisfying and gratifying to finally get the fenders off. It was good to feel like something was being accomplished.

This... is... progress!

Steering

So, aside from the water temp cable, the only thing keeping the tub on at the moment is the steering wheel. I thought it would be easy (famous last words). All that’s really required is a screw that’s holding the wheel onto the steering shaft…

Or so I thought.

Turns out the 1.25″ nut came off like a champ with the impact wrench (yeah, that never stops being fun to use). The wheel, however, will not budge one inch from the shaft. I bought a steering wheel puller set from Harbor Freight, but the damn thing didn’t come with any instructions, and there’s no one who has taken the time to video themselves using one in a situation like this.

What situation is that?

Well, for one thing, there’s nothing to connect it to. The central shaft is not threaded, and the steering wheel puller appears to, well, need something to pull. There are no extra holes to use to connect the pulling rods to, so there’s no way to create counter-rotational pull to separate the wheel from the shaft. Maybe I’m making it harder than it needs to be, but I had my friend Rob over and quite frankly, both of us were stumped.

So, we decided we’d try to disengage the steering column from the gearbox, and oh-what-fun that turned out to be.

So much for "No Grease!"

Now, Walck’s 4-Wheel Drive has some Jeep Restoration manuals, and coincidentally at the same time as I was trying to do this, they happened to publish a restoration guide specifically devoted to steering.

From the steering guide:

To keep the box working its best, be sure to use heavy weight gear oil in the box, not grease. We cannot stress this enough.

Do not use grease in your Willys Jeep Steering box!

(They happen to mention this four or five more times, in fact).

As you can see from the photos above and below, it appears that someone didn’t quite get the memo.

Grease everywhere

This is where the steering issue is at the moment, actually. The column can’t lift high enough to get the coupler off, which is preventing the column from being withdrawn through the very small hole in the tub.

So, I’m stuck for now.

Considering My Options

As I said at the beginning, I’m starting to get a bit disheartened and discouraged. I’m realizing that less and less of the Jeep can be considered ‘original’ as it appears that over its 60-year life cycle it has turned into a sort of FrankenJeep.

With all the problems I’ve been having, I’m trying to figure out what I should do next. I had kind of gotten it into my head that I wanted to restore a jeep back to the same time period and with as many original parts as I could. I’m not really sure that’s possible, given the state of the Jeep as I’ve found it. Since it’s not even completely disassembled, I don’t know what other surprises lay in store.

Here are the options, as I see them (for the moment):

Continue As Planned

There is still a lot of good material in this Jeep. The frame, most of the tub, the windshield frame, the tailgate, and the engine all look to be in decent quality – or at least salvageable. Thing is, I’m not experienced enough to know just how good the quality is of the remaining parts. I’m still going to have to get much of these fixed/welded/etc., and for the time and money it might just mean lower quality for more money for the sake of having more original.

There is the issue with the registration, however. The Jeep is currently titled in the state and that information is bolted onto the existing tub:

Wear the registration badge with pride!

It is a huge pain in the ass to deal with that from the state, and I honestly don’t have a clue as to what it would mean if I were to get a replacement tub – would I have to re-register it all over again? Would it be considered a 2012, not a 1952? How much can you replace on a car and still have it be considered an ‘original’ car or properly titled? I honestly have no idea, and am open to advice here.

Replacement Kit

I have been seriously contemplating simply buying a whole new tub kit, though that will cost upwards of about $3600. I currently need a brand new floor as well as considerable welding work for the front of the tub. But if you look at the cost of the floor panels, the fenders, step panels (possibly), hat channels and welding costs, maybe it would just make sense to get a whole new kit. Considering the cost of a tub alone is around $2400 and the front floor pan and fenders combined come to another $1100, why not? After all, you’d get a new windshield frame, hood, tailgate on top of all of it at no additional charge.

It’s very tempting.

Change My Goal

I could keep the FrankenJeep idea, of course, and just abandon the ‘original’ ideal and do a modded Jeep.

Yeah, I could barely even finish writing that sentence. That’s not what I want to do.

So, after looking at Jeeps for sale (and wondering whether I should buy another donor Jeep or use this one for parts) I can see that I still have gotten a good deal on the one that I have, compared to what others are trying to sell theirs for. I still have to answer the question of how I want to handle these hiccups, but until I get that damn steering wheel off it’s going to be a moot point.

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