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Building a Willys MB Jeep from Scratch

Discussion in 'Military Vehicle Restoration' started by George Patton, Aug 4, 2013.

  1. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    After nearly two years of work, I am pleased to announce the newest addition to "GP's Motor Pool". A few years ago, I started collecting parts to build a Willys MB (hence the title "from scratch" -- I did not start with a complete vehicle to restore). In late 2011, after I accumulated most of the major components, I started to seriously work on it.

    I apologize for the quality of the photos. I took most of these on my Blackberry after I was finished working on it for the day. The beginning of the built is a little light on photos since I didn't anticipate sharing these with the WW2F. Anyway, moving on....

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    This was the first batch of parts I got. Out of this package, I got two good axles, a "rebuilt" engine block (more on this later) and a good radiator. This also supplied me with a couple spares -- including a trashed T84A transmission (unfortunately not salvageable), a good T90 transmission, worn out Dana 18 T-Case, what used to be an MB frame and a CJ tub. None of the parts on here were matching, and the entire bundle was from a fellow who gave up building his own MB. The guy was a bit of a hacker, and I spent a lot of time fixing the numerous things he did wrong.

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    I settled for a reproduction tub made by MD Juan in the Phillipines (more on this later...):

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    I did rebuild the original grille that came with the 'package' to the point where it looks as good as new. I traced down an original windshield frame and rebuilt it as well (replacing the glass and wipers, of course). After a fresh coat of olive drab:

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    Next up was the frame. I tracked down an original August 1944 frame and cleaned it up a bit (among other things, sandblasting it and removing a plate that was welded between the front cross-member and the bumper). After a fresh coat of plate, attaching the front axle and the leaf springs:

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    After doing a lot of this 'minor' work in my own shop, I moved to a friend's automotive shop because I needed some heavier tools and equipment. Occupying a corner of the shop - and only being a minor source of annoyance - I started to put everything together. I picked up some reproduction split rims ("combat rims") and new tires that came out to just over $300 a piece, and bolted these on first to get them out of the way. Next up was the steering box and steering column. These were all original, and also dated 1944. All I did was replace the bearings. I picked up a late war steering wheel somewhere along the way and added that. Next was the engine block:

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  2. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    The guts of the engine were like new (again, this was supposedly "rebuilt"). Before torqing the head down, I bolted on the manifold, carburetor, water pump, oil pump and fuel pump. Looking inside the four cylinder, 60hp "Go Devil" engine:

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    Before completing the engine I attached a rebuilt 1942 T84A transmission and a rebuilt Dana 18 Transfer Case. Here's a picture showing this and the other side of the engine:

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    After adding the oil filter, starter and generator, the engine looked good to go:

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    With the engine, transmission and transfer case in, all that was left were the propeller shafts :

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    So far so good, right? That's what I thought. With the chassis complete, it came time to fire up the engine. Oil pressure was reading around 40 PSI, and the engine temperature seemed to be reading OK. Then, something started to leak. I cut the engine and walked to the passenger side. The damn water jacket was cracked and pissing out antifreeze! With a good knife I quickly found out that whoever rebuilt the block patched a 4 inch long, 1/2 inch high crack with JB Weld. On top of that, they ground it flush with the rest of the jacket and painted over it so that you couldn't see it. I'd like to get the name of the shop that did the rebuild and give them a piece of my mind. Needless to say, this was a major problem. After talking to a welder, I was told that it was unrepairable. So, after months scrounging dozens of parts and pieces of hardware, I was faced with reversing everything I did. Out came the engine:

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  3. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    After spending some time on the phone, I tracked down a rebuilt complete engine (circa December 1944) from a respected military vehicle restorer. I decided to keep the old engine for spares, even though the parts alone are probably worth over a thousand bucks. Owning military vehicles, you learn that spares aren't easy to find for the parts that commonly break. The next day, after a two hour drive and loading up my new engine, I drove back to the shop to bolt it in. Its surprisingly simple to replace an engine once you have all the parts -- two bolts on the front, and four bolts on the back that attach the bell housing to the transmission. After three hours of work and a fresh coat of paint for the entire drivetrain, it once again started to look like a Jeep:

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    Now came time to test it. With the entire chassis up on blocks, the engine was fired up. This time, no leaks. Shifting through gears was done with no problem, and the transfer case worked well. Confident that everything worked as it should, it was lowered to the ground:

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    Now came the time to make it look like a MB -- putting on the body.
     
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  4. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    The tub was loaded onto a trailer, driven down, and strapped onto one of the hoists while the chassis was rolled under it:

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    The plan was to simply lower it down onto the chassis, which should have been a half hour job. Instead, naturally, the MD Juan reproduction tub didn't fit properly. The bottom didn't sit right on the machine gun mount on the frame, so a lot of fine adjustments were needed.Finally, it looked like a Willys MB:

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    The next day, the jeep was back on the hoist so the tub could be securely bolted on:

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    Adding on the fenders was a lot of work. As you might expect after the experience with the tub, they didn't fit right and required a lot of effort to get on:

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    With most of the body on, here's a look at the engine compartment:

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  5. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Most excellent. I can't wait to see the finished machine.
     
  6. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    With everything on except for the windshield and hood, the wiring was the next step. As advertised, the tub did have a "complete wiring harness" installed. Unfortunately, it was installed wrong. Turning the key produced an instant short. Tracing this down was difficult, as there were several other problems encountered along the way. After spending almost a complete day working on the electrical system, it was fixed:

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    Next up was adding the hood and windshield. Again, the hood was a reproduction that required some fitting. Since it was made of sheet metal, this was minor compared to the rest of the build. It wasn't much of a problem:

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    After this, there were just a few minor things that needed to be done. As of 9pm on July 31st, the jeep was, for all intents and purposes, finished. Here is is two days later (the sign was someone's idea of a joke):

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    After adding the spare tire, back seat and canvas roof, it was time to roll it outside and drive it back to the "Motor Pool":

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    I was surprised by how well it handled on the road. The fastest I had it going was about 50mph (downhill). A few rattles had to be fixed, but no major work was required. Once at the Motor Pool, I realized that a Willys MB doesn't look right without a jerrycan on the back. Keeping with the best WWII traditions, I liberated a German jerrycan for it from one of my other trucks.

    Here it is after a nice 'country drive' (again, apologies for the crappy Blackberry photo):

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    ---
    There you have it. After several years, and probably 200 hours of work, I have finally completed building a Willys MB. I hope everyone enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed working on it. There were a lot of headaches, but it was a fun project when I look back on it.

    Although the serious work is done, a few things are still on the 'to do' list. I need to find some accessories -- things like an axe and shovel to strap on the side and a fire extinguisher for under the dash. I'm considering mounting a M1919 or M2HB (I know, not standard issue, but the ones on Rat Patrol had it!) on the back, but since deactivated examples are currently selling for more than $5000, I think that will have to wait for a while. I'm considering a M1 Thompson scabbard for the side, though, since I have a nice replica hanging on my office wall as I type this. At some point I'll also need to find a replica M1 Garand for the rifle rack under the windshield (I wouldn't put my 'real' one in there, as it would hack up the stock -- not to mention the legal issues that it would cause). Finally, I have to decide on unit markings.

    In the next few days I'll take it out for a proper photo shoot.

    Thanks for following.
     
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  7. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Brilliant stuff, GP.
    Love the idea of building from scratch, and while appreciating the work you've put in, it's also always fascinating to be reminded how simple the Jeep really is. Truly superb design.

    I'd say the one accessory missing is a nice M16 half-track. Bet you could manage one of those...

    ~A
     
  8. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Thanks Jeff and Von Poop.

    I was impressed by how simple the Jeep went together. Although I have several other military trucks, I never considered myself very 'mechanical'. The biggest challenge with this project was tracking down the parts and waiting to get them. This is 1930s technology, and even small parts (like the rotor for the distributor) have to be ordered from specialty suppliers. Even with express shipping, it still takes between three and four days to get even a small part. After that, you attach the part, move onto the next step and realize that you need another $5 specialty part that takes another few days to ship. Once you have everything, building a Jeep is a fairly straightforward task!

    A M16 would be nice, but I didn't get a very good reaction when I informed the guys at the shop that I'm considering an M3 Halftrack. I've never had anything tracked besides a Skid-Steer, so I think it would be a lot of fun. But I guess that reaction puts it on ice for a while....
     
  9. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    That is truly a work of art (and love). The fact that you built it from scratch has me dumbfounded. I wouldn't even know where to begin. Well done!
     
  10. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    Great job and looks like a lot of fun.
     
  11. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    The jeep looks excellent. I wished that I was near you so that I could cajole you for a ride around the block in it.

    If you are looking for unit markings, may I suggest 30-R-HQ-8? If memory serves me correctly, that is the ID for the maintenance section jeep in the 30th Cav. Recon Troop. The man I wrote my book about rode in that jeep from Kerkrade, Belgium to just outside Malmedy on 16 Dec 1944, although they did not paint the actual numbers on the vehicles. By the time they got to Malmedy, his R pants leg was frozen stiff because the jeep was so full, there was not room for his leg inside the vehicle. The jeep had a air-cooled .30cal on a pedestal in the back.

    See the attached picture of several men from his troop. I think the photo was made in Germany in 1945 and only one man is identified. He was Lt Thomas Harvey. As you can tell, that jeep was loaded.

    I know where an M2 or M3 halftrack (in less than prime condition) is. How far are you from eastern Kentucky?
     

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  12. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Thanks Lou. Once you have the manual, there isn't much to it (assuming the parts work). As I hinted before, most of the trouble with this project was finding parts and fixing parts that broke. The nice thing is that the MB is all mechanical (it goes without saying that there are no fancy computers or electronics like you find on the newer vehicles). And as such, if something breaks, its relatively simple to narrow it down.

    Thanks. Its a lot of fun to drive. Its not as rough as you may think. A lot of MB owners complain about comfort (or lack thereof) , but I was driving it for about two hours today and had no complaints. The speed is rarely a problem on the country roads here, as the speed limit is rarely above 70km/h.

    Surprisingly, I haven't gotten too many looks in it. Maybe my area is already saturated with sightings of me driving military trucks.

    Thanks Jeff. I'll keep that number in mind. Usually they painted the unit markings on the front and rear bumpers. This wasn't the case for that particular jeep?

    As some might have guessed, the Ardennes Offensive is one of my favorite areas of study. Right now I'm flipping through my books looking for pictures of jeeps during the battle. If one catches my eye, I might very well copy the markings and stick a copy of the picture in the glove box. While this may sound wrong to some, when you have no detailed history on any part of your vehicle, and the parts are a mix of NOS, rebuilds from different years and reproductions, there really isn't much to go on. I think copying markings from a photo is better than making up your own, and better serves as a tribute to the men who fought.

    On the halftrack -- Eastern Kentucky isn't much of a drive (9 hours or so, maximum) the biggest issue right now is space. My garage is nearly 100% full with vehicles and parts. There's an M37 truck for sale near me at a reasonable price, but I have no where to put it. If there's interest, I'll add some pictures of my other military trucks. None are WWII (earliest is 1957, latest is 1992), but some might find them interesting none-the-less.
     
  13. Cas

    Cas Member

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    Great result, are you putting any markings on it ?
     
  14. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Alan, I was just throwing a number out, I figured you had a good Canadian number in mind.

    No, his unit, the 30th Recon Troop of the 30th ID didn't paint ID numbers on their vehicles, other than the specific serial number that was already on the vehicle. I have photos of some of the other vehicles in their troop and their are no numbers on the bumpers or front. He said it was because of the nature of their job; they did not want the Germans knowing who they were. They also did not wear any insignia either.

    I've not asked him but I wonder if this was the same jeep he used in Normandy. They were changing a tire one afternoon when a sniper starting taking pot shots at them. Mr. Marion and his helper got finished, jumped in the jeep and drove off, but they forget to secure the .30cal mg on the pedestal. Instead of the gun traveling in a horizontal position, the barrel was sticking up in air. In their haste to get away from the gunfire, the soldiers drove under a low railroad trestle and caught the mg barrel on the timbers, bending it back into a "J." The troop's supply sergeant was not too happy when Mr. Marion brought the weapon back, seeking a replacement.
     
  15. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Definitely. I just have to figure out exactly what unit to mark it as. I already have the stencils for the stars.

    Right now I'm leaning towards one of the armored divisions (maybe the 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored, the first unit to break the seige of Bastogne) or one of the reconnaissance units. I'd like something with an Ardennes connection. That being said, an inordinate number of the Jeeps up here are marked as "E Company, 506th PIR" (due to the popularity of Band of Brothers) -- so I'm not going to mark it as yet another Airborne Jeep.
     
  16. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Yeah, get those pictures up - already intrigued by your Hummer thingy.

    And on the halftrack; no matter what your mates say, those old hulks sat waiting restoration are only gonna get rustier and more expensive the longer you wait ;).
    (I have been told that M-series 'rubber band' tracks are the most worrying expense though).

    Glad to hear the Jeep won't be yet another BoB marked machine.

    Go on, Lou - you know you want to. You can operate a spanner, and I'm sure your Moderator wages from here mean you're practically a Millionaire so you can always get a man in to sort it. :dazed:
    Jeeparts
     
  17. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    If only, Adam, if only. My Moderator wages do have me in the upper tax bracket, though. :rolleyes:
     
  18. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Finally, here are some decent photos of it. I took the liberty of watermarking these, hope no one is bothered too much.

    For the record, this is somewhere in Northern France in the Summer of 1944 (and not a field north of Burlington, Ontario on Monday August 5th 2013). ;)

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  19. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    A few with the windshield down:

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    And a few more on a dirt trail:

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  20. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    I like the rims better than those white things that were in the original photo.

    Are you going to paint a serial number on the turned-down part of the hood?

    If you get some mud on it, be sure to take some pics of that, too.
     

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