A page featuring the rebuild and refurbishment of the body tub and sheet metal of a 1950 Willys CJ3A "Universal Jeep". Scoll down for latest updates.
I've got a running, driving CJ3A chassis now, but the body tub, while certainly a winner in the "patina" department, has structural problems. A new reproduction tub would take care of business, but I just want to spend my own labor, not big bucks, so I'm going to see what I can do with some sheet metal and time.
The damage is severe enough that I deem it's not practical to patch; it will be easier to cut the entire tub apart and replace floors and sides with new metal. I can handle mostly flat sheet steel with simple bends.
So, armed with drill bits, sawzall blades, electric cut off wheels, and chisels and hammers, I spent a couple hours taking the tub apart. I sanded some panels to find signs of spot welds, then drilled them out:
It didn't take long to blow apart the rear half of the Jeep. The
driver side wheel house and tub side weren't held on by much. It was actually "freeing" to take the tub
apart and somehow makes the tub repair
seem more manageable.
Some parts are reusable such as some brackets and braces, and I
actually want to keep the wheelhouse tops despite their hammered
condition. I intend to beat them back into shape as much as I can,
patch them, and weld 'em back in. I think the well used (yet cared for)
look will be "cool".
I purchased two sheets of 4 X 8 18 gauge sheet metal and 24 feet of 1" X 2" rectangular tubing.
I decided to make all the panels at one time. I made tons of measurements of the original stuff, then made some drawings at 1:12 scale and printed them out so I could lay them out on a 4x8 grid....to most efficiently cut out all the metal I'm going to need.
With the metal on the floor, I drew up all my panels and started cutting all the metal out. I bought a sheet metal shear from harbor freight to handle the many feet of cutting the 18 gauge metal. It was well worth it.
Most of these new panels need to have flanges and lips bent into them. And despite the thick 18 gauge stuff it can be done with wood forms, clamps, snips, and hammers. Soft wood will disintegrate when trying to hammer 18 gauge metal around an edge, but I have some scrap South American ironwood which is super hard, and forming edges works well.
I started with the easy panels such as the rear valence piece. Note how I marked dashes for the 90 degree bends I need to form:
All the bends were made with simple straight boards and clamps except for the center "C" shape. I made wood forms out of southern yellow pine and hammered that flange separately:
The finished panel:
The side panels were more challenging. The most tricky part was the radiused surface back corners. I was going to bend them over a handmade form, but then I decided to try a small set of slip rolls I had access to. It was a bit awkward to do myself, but they came out great.
I was very careful to mark the beginning and end of where I wanted the curve to be. You can see the marker lines I made to indicate the start and finish of the curve area. I made a template to get the radius right too.
The bottom flange of the rear curve was made by folding the flange
over a hardwood male and
female form. I slit the flange-to-be to
avoid wrinkles when it gets folded over. The slits close up when
hammered over, and wouldn't weld up nice that way. I'll open the slits
up with a cutoff wheel which will make for an smooth, clean weld which
is easy to grind smooth.
For the huge wheel opening, I spliced three pieces of this ironwood together (with a couple softwood pieces to tie them together) and sandwiched it to one piece of plywood cut to the same wheel arch shape. I tapped the metal over the hardwood edge. For the tight radius corners, I again slit the metal to avoid wrinkles. I'll weld up the slits later and grind them smooth.
I happened to be scrapping a 2000 Dakota with a decent bed floor, so
I cut out the complete bed floor, cut out a strip in the middle to get
rid of extra length, then welded the two halves together so I could
keep the tapered "beads" on the forward and rearward ends of the floor.
I also cut down the width and bent in flanges on each side. You can see
the splice near the left edge in the picture, and you can also see I
had to do small repairs from drilling out spot welds from it's old home
on the Dakota. Lots of work, but it's definitely going to be a tough
floor when installed.
I got all the panels fabricated in a few weeks.
I couldn't help but mock up the tub with the parts I made.
I flipped the front part of the tub upside down in order to measure
and fabricate the front floors and "hat channels". The hat channels
serve as braces for the floor pans, and the originals were mostly gone.
There was just enough left for me to dimension them, and duplicate them
with rectangular steel tubing. Here I've overlayed them to test their
The tubing was tacked together and then grafted with an original center section piece that is curved for the "hump" of the trans tunnel.
With everything new or otherwise disturbed, I needed to re-establish the position of all these parts to the frame. The front fenders were installed and from those I was able to set the correct fore/aft position of the cowl part of the tub to the frame. The front floor tubing was adjusted, mounting holes were drilled, and the assembly was temporarily bolted down.
The vertical cowl braces were rusted away, so I made some new sections with some 16 gauge and welded them in. The bottoms are in the same plane as the braces, and the cowl was a little less wobbly!
I folded the flanges and toe board bends into the front floor pans and started to test fit them to the Jeep.
I could now position the floor riser onto the front floor pans. The forward edge of the riser is 39.75 inches from the back face of the rear crossmember (same plane as the rear of the body tub should be.)
I spent time assembling the rear floor parts into one subassembly. I
used the same rectangular tubing to make two cross braces for the
floor. The centerline of the rear brace is 14.375 inches from the back
edge of the rear floor.I primed the parts and plug welded it all together. The braces were simply edge welded.
I welded ends onto the braces to seal them from the weather. I also welded tubes for the body bolt holes to seal in the insides as well as prevent crushing from the bolts.