Willys Jeep: Porkchop’s Undercarriage Makeover

In Jeep by J Michel Metz3 Comments

Here in SillyCon Valley, a rainy day is a rare occurrence, so where I would normally be out working on Porkchop or Badger I needed to find alternate Jeep-related activities. Since I have left the blogging updates for too long, I decided to take the opportunity and try to catch up on some of the work I’ve been doing on Porkchop, and also update what I intend to do next.

When I reassembled the axles and frame for Badger, I put together a video of the process, and it seemed the people liked it. So, I’ve put together a short video (just under 3 minutes) to show some of the work that has been done for those who just want to get to the “good stuff.” If you’re curious about the rest of the story, read on below.


In reality, there are some very good before and after pictures already posted for Porkchop’s rear suspension. However, therein lies the problem – I really only did work on ‘the de-rusting’ and repainting late in the process, and even then I only worked on small patches. When I started working on Porkchop, I only wanted to get it into a running state. Initially I had only really wanted to redo the brakes, so making it look nice wasn’t exactly a priority.

In fact, I was okay with that. Porkchop is a 1952 M38A1, so it’s understandable that it’s going to be quite a bit beat up underneath. I was expecting it to look ugly.

Oh, the trouble you will cause...

Oh, the trouble you will cause…

Ugly was just the start, though. When I started looking closer, I began to think that other things were going to need attention as well.

I was right. I was already expecting to replace the brakes, but saw immediately that the suspension was completely rotted through.

Uh oh...

Uh oh…

For me, once I started finding things that were unsafe (even potentially unsafe), I started getting those “well, while I’m here…” ideas floating around in my head. Originally, though, I wasn’t really too concerned about making Porkchop look pretty. I just wanted to make him safe.

In no universe can this be considered "good."

In no universe can this be considered “good.”

Thing is, you never really know how much work something is going to be necessary until you start. In this case, Porkchop’s passenger side front brake and suspension turned out to be a nightmare. After I wrote that blog, things went from difficult to panic-worthy.

See, I fixed the leaf spring and the brake, but had completely forgotten about the bump stop.

The future bane of my existence.

The future bane of my existence.

The bump-stop is a piece of rubber that sits on the frame and protects both the frame and the axle from colliding when driving over bumpy terrain. At first, I thought it was going to be relatively easy. Simply unbolt the bump stop, swap in a new one.

Easy, right?

Wait, where's the rest of that right bolt?

Wait, where’s the rest of that right bolt?

Nope. Never, ever get comfortable with the thought that, “All I have to do is…”

There it is. Oh %*&!

There it is. Oh %*&!

Sure enough, the bolt broke inside the frame, which was a blind hole (that is, no nut on the other side, as the frame has been boxed off).

Because of the limited space between the axle and the frame (because of the replaced leaf spring, which was difficult on its own to install), I had a great deal of difficulty getting into the space in order to 1) drill out the bolt and 2), tap the hole for a new bolt. Ultimately, I had to remove the leaf spring, which destroyed the threading for the U-bolt holding it to the frame and forced me to purchase a new one, do the work, and then put everything back together. Again.

Words cannot describe the relief of finishing this one little job.

Words cannot describe the relief of finishing this one little job.

It was a very frustrating experience. At that point in time, I had only changed one leaf spring out (3 to go!), and only two brake drums. Because of the problems with the brakes (and the master cylinder), it had taken me a very, very long time to get to this point. 11 months, to be specific.

Why so long? In addition to the learning curve, I was unprepared for the time I needed to expect the arrival of parts. Sometimes more than 2 weeks, which would put certain things on hold. Weather and work schedules also played a part (sometimes I have to travel on weekends). Then there was the issue with the brake drum and those damn screws. Upshot – even so early in the to-do list I was getting anxious and impatient to get Porkchop working. After all, I had bought it to be a running Jeep so that I could work on Badger.

So, I didn’t care how it looked. I just wanted it running. Then something happened. I took a step back and saw what I had done.

It looked good.

Not bad...

Not bad…

I knew that the undercarriage was letting down the work that I had put into the brakes and leaf springs, and I began to resolve that at some point in the future I would fix that. For now, I’d put that as a “weekend” project (as if all of this wasn’t done on weekends anyway) for some time in the future.

Famous last words.

It came time to move onto the passenger’s side rear. By this point I was getting a bit better and more proficient at the leaf springs, so it wasn’t taking me nearly as long to finish that job (don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy). Once I got the old one off, I scratched my chin and realized that if I was going to eventually restore the undercarriage it would be more difficult to do while the leaf springs were attached.

While I'm here... (famous last words)

While I’m here… (famous last words)

I figured that I could at least do the parts that were going to be directly connected to the leaf springs on the frame as well as the inside of the wheel well. My initial plan was to use some leftover POR 15 from earlier work on the trailer, but I hadn’t stored it properly and at this point it had become useless.

I found a substitute for the rust dissolver part, and got to work preparing the metal.

Paint this on using foam brush.

Paint this on using foam brush.

To my surprise, it worked quite well.

It actually works!

It actually works!

Once it was rinsed off, it was ready to be primed and painted.

You missed a spot...

You missed a spot…

As you can see from the final painting, it looks much, much better than before… mostly.

Huge improvement... for now.

Huge improvement… for now.

Even with the huge gaps and patchwork applicatoin, I was okay with this. After all, at the time I just wanted to get the parts that wouldn’t come off easily to be done. I knew that I would “go back” at some point in time and fix it, but at least the parts around the new leaf spring assembly wouldn’t have to be done over again.

Then, finally, I had the last leaf spring to do on Porkchop. Unlike the other side, though, I was far more thorough with the cleaning and painting, spending the necessary time making everything look good that was part of that wheel well.



There was no question that this was what it should look like.

Now that's what I'm talking about!

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

But here’s the problem. The rear of Porkchop’s driver side looked like that, but the front looked like this:

Son of a...

Son of a…

Now, when I started doing this I was very happy with the way that looked. Not only because of the fact that I had accomplished something I had never done before (replace brakes and leaf springs on a vehicle), but because it looked so much better than it was.

Now, though, it was painfully obvious that I should have spent the right amount of time along the way to fix, clean, and paint each stage. I don’t know how much consolation I can give myself that it was more impatience than laziness, but the bottom line is that the work still needed to get done.

Bracing myself for the work that needed to be done, my wife and I rolled up our sleeves and spent an entire weekend – 10 hours each day – preparing Porkchop for his makeover. Using POR 15’s Marine Clean, Prep and Ready, and POR 15 (which had arrived by this point) Rust conversion takes a long time, but the end results are always stellar and well worth the time (in my opinion).

[If you decide to go this route, by the way, do not cheat. Follow the instructions to the letter and keep close eye on the timing. It’s a hute pain but the last thing you want is to screw this up.]
Never, ever skimp on the masking, no matter how tempting it is.

Never, ever skimp on the masking, no matter how tempting it is.

I even spent several hours underneath Porkchop cleaning, preparing, and masking.

Yup. Everything and anything that wasn't steel was masked.

Yup. Everything and anything that wasn’t steel was masked.

There were a lot of bits and pieces, too.

More masks than a Halloween ball

More masks than a Halloween ball

When I say hours, I mean hours.

Need to stop that before it goes any farther

Need to stop that before it goes any farther

As much of a PITA as it was, it came out looking really nice.

Come and have a picnic under Porkchop!

Come and have a picnic under Porkchop!

It’s hard to overstate how bad the surface rust was.

Just one look, that's all it took...

Just one look, that’s all it took…

This is why I spent so much time paying attention to get every nook and cranny of the undercarriage.

It just feels right

It just feels right

Why spend so much time underneath? For me, the obvious reason was that there needed to be protection against the creeping rust problem. For a 60+ year-old Jeep, Porkchop only had minor surface rust damage to the frame (the hat channels are a different story – I will have to figure that out later).

The other reason, though, is a bit more practical. Have you ever seen someone restore a car or Jeep and it looks really pretty at first glance, but they have completely ignored or avoided everything underneath? Maybe it’s me, but it seems that someone who really cares about restoring their car would do the whole thing, not just what’s immediately obvious. When I finish Porkchop, I don’t want someone glancing underneath and thinking that I’m a ‘poser,’ I guess.

Next Steps

My intention has always been to drive Porkchop while I was working on Badger. For it’s part, Badger is the restoration project, at least it was supposed to be that way.  When I got Badger (dear lord it’s been almost 3 years ago now) I knew it was going to be a “frame-off” restoration, but Porkchop was never supposed to be.

I still haven’t finished the brakes for Porkchop, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to. Both the brakes and the steering are critical safety components, and I want someone with more experience to do that for me. I have all the parts, but I don’t have a lift, and that has been a major obstacle in completing the brakework (more than I expected it to be).

The tires were more than 20 years old, and so I’ve had them removed from the rims and the rims sent to get sandblasted and powder-coated at the same place I had Badger’s done. This time, though, they’re going to be done in Olive Drab, which (with luck) will match the authentic Marine Corp Olive Drab paint that I’ve used on Porkchop. Once I get the rims back and new tires put on, it’ll be off to get the brakes and steering done.

I’m hoping, but honestly not really expecting, that once those pieces are finished then Porkchop will be drivable. I have no doubt, though, that something else will be found that may prevent it from being road-worthy, but there’s no point in worrying about that now. I’ll cross that bridge, etc.

I love when hard work pays off.

I love when hard work pays off.

For now, though, I’m happy with the way that Porkchop is looking. The leaf springs are done (finally!) and I did not cheat or skimp on dealing with the underchassis rust. There are still pieces underneath that need to be addressed, but anything that I’m intending to keep has been sorted out and the rust situation addressed.


Feels like a milestone.

Feels like a milestone.


  1. Pingback: Willys Jeep: Operation Porkchop | J Metz's Blog

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