I just wanted to share the story of my 1954 Willys M38a1 now that I am finished with it – well, almost finished. Are we ever completely finished with them?
My wife ran across my M38A1 on her way back to Clemson University back in May 1997. She knew that I had been looking for a WW2 Jeep, but of course she only knew it looked like an old Jeep. She called and told me about it – so I took off to look at it. It was located about 35 miles away. It was located on a small dealer lot. It cranked right up and drove, so I bought it and drove it home at 40 mph almost all the way! When I reached my house I hit the brakes to turn in my driveway – there weren’t any! So I let her roll on to the next drive which I pulled into and drove SLOWLY back to my house! That was my first experience with an old Jeep braking system with no heat shield.
I drove her around the field next to my house a few times, but never ventured back onto the road with her. The next March (1998), I tore her down for a frame up restoration. I sent the rolling chassis, body, hood, grill and fenders to the sandblaster (who always put my project at the end of the line). I got some of the parts back over the next 3 years – but I wasn’t pushing him either, because I had other projects going on at the same time.
Life intervened and I got married and bought my own house in 2001 – so the Jeep was put on the back burner. In 2004, I started building a new shop to work on my Jeep and Farmall Cub. In 2005, we found out we were going to have a baby, so I jumped on restoring my Cub and Jeep. I finished the Cub, and got the floors and back panel replaced on the Jeep. I also got the engine, tranny and transfer resealed with new gasket sets and put back in the frame. By that time my daughter had been born.
Finally, in November 2011, my daughter asked me when I was going to work on the Jeep – so I ran with that idea! I got the body tub sandblasted and sent to my Brother’s body shop for body work and priming. I had everything back together in April 2012 when I decided to go to the Denton, NC Steel Soldiers rally. This gave me the steam to finish her up. When I got home from the rally, I got her fired up and moving for the first time in 15 years. I poked along until I heard about the Steel Soldiers Georgia rally coming up in October. I had to finish her and take her to that rally! I pushed and pushed and finally finished her up enough to drive the trails and convoy at the rally. I had not even taken her on more than a 10 mile trip at one time. At the rally, I drove about 60 miles of trails and offroad (mostly low range), and about 45 on road. It was a great feeling, but I considered this a test to find her weaknesses so that I can make improvements.
Now, with 2 Georgia Steel Soldiers rallies and 1 Denton show under my belt, I am enjoying the Jeep and making improvements along the way. I have since rebuilt the steering gear, upgraded to a breakerless distributor and solid state regulator and rebuilt the carb. I have also installed a military radio antenna and base that is hooked up to a CB in the glove box. I have a military radio and mount ready to be installed when the weather warms up.
This has been a great journey and have met a lot of good people in the process. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. I learned a lot along the way also. My daughter loves going for rides in the Jeep, and she has even driven it around the field a few times (in low range with the hand throttle out a couple of clicks).
I started a blog about my Jeep’s progress back in November 2011 that covers, step by step, everything that I dealt with along the way – and is still being occasionally updated as I work on her (it is Winter now, so I don’t get out there much): www.wilfreeman.wordpress.com