I Just Bought This 1954 Willys Jeep But Towing It Home With My 112 Horsepower Jeep Truck Was Rough

I really, really need to get off Facebook Marketplace. Buying cars is an addiction that, on Thursday, struck again in the form of a 1954 Willys CJ-3B — arguably the first “ugly Jeep” — that I simply could not resist even though I have way too many projects as-is. Here’s a look at my new flatfender Jeep, along with what it was like towing the thing in a 112 horsepower truck with a four-speed manual and insanely tall 2.73 gears.

OK, OK, so I didn’t really need the Willys I spotted whilst browsing Facebook Marketplace, but in my defense, I’ve wanted to own a CJ-3B for many years. It’s the first Jeep that the world pretty much unanimously decided was “ugly” (but charmingly so), with its hilariously tall grille meant to fill the space between the frame and the new-for-1953 high-hood needed to clear the new “F-Head” engine.

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Honestly, the CJ-3B is a bit of an odd duck. We all are pretty familiar with the World War II Jeep; it and its CJ-2A and CJ-3A (all three shown below) successors have a lower hood than my 1954 CJ-3B because under their hoods were “L-Head” engines known famously as “Go-Devils.” The Go-Devil motor made only 60 horsepower, but thanks to a long stroke, it cranked out 105 lb-ft of torque.

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Around 1950, the Go-Devil engine’s chief architect, Delmar “Barney” Roos, brought a new, more powerful motor into this world. Called the “Hurricane” or “F-Head,” the engine featured intake valves in the cylinder head, and exhaust valves in the engine block. The old Go-Devil had both sets of valves in the block. Here’s the L-head from the WW2 Jeep, as well as the CJ-2A and CJ-3A:

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You can see that the cylinder head is really just a lid for the cylinders, as well as a place to thread in spark plugs:

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And here you can see that the new Hurricane “F-Head” engine has only the exhaust valve in the block:

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The intake valves (and still the spark plug holes) are in the head:

S L1600 (1) CopyImage: nos_usparts (eBay)

This basically allows air to enter and then exit the cylinders in a less tortuous path, meaning the engine “breathes” a bit better. I like to use the analogy of a syringe (but without a needle in it). If you pull the plunger back normally, the plunger (or piston) moves freely. But if you cover the nose of that syringe even part of the way, pulling that piston becomes difficult. Think of the new F-head as a less obstructed syringe-nose; it allows the piston to move with less obstruction, and the result is more power. 25 percent more, to be precise.

The actual figure only jumped from 60 to 75, but percentage wise, that’s fantastic. If your V6 Toyota Camry were to get a 25 percent increase in power, the added horsepower would actually eclipse the total horsepower that the Willys F-head makes! (In other words, you’d gain more than 75 ponies). Torque also jumped from 105 to 114 lb-ft.

The new and revolutionary motor didn’t actually begin life in a civilian CJ; its first application in a convertible Jeep was in the new-for-1952 Willys M38A1, the very first “high-hood” “Universal Jeep”:

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Some Jeep historian is going to have to explain this to me, because I don’t understand what happened next. Willys develops a brand new, more powerful engine and, to fit it, they design a beautiful vehicle with rounded fenders, a cool bulge in the center of the hood, and a less slab-sided profile. But instead of making this vehicle available to the public, they give the sexy Jeep to the military, and what do they build for civilians who want the new Hurricane motor? They just take their CJ-3A and slap a tall hood on it, adapt a grille that reaches higher, raise the windshield, and make a few other adaptations that ultimately yield what many considered the ugliest Jeep of all time at that point:

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I, actually, have always loved the wacky, lovable look of the The Last Flatfender, and I also love the vehicle’s historical significance. No, it wasn’t much of a wartime instrument like the World War II Jeep or even the M38A1 (the military version of the CJ-3B was the M606, but it wasn’t hugely popular), but in some ways the ‘3B brought Jeeps to more countries around the world than any Jeep up to that point. Obviously, the World War II Jeep created the brand and made its way all around the globe, but the CJ-3B was a true globetrotter that brought huge volumes of 4x4s to every corner of this planet.

Look at old Mahindras or Mitsubishi Jeeps, and you’ll see that those vehicles were able to build their names thanks to license-built CJ-3Bs. Motor Trend discusses this in its article about the first “ugly-Jeep”:

Licensed CJ-3Bs were built by Mitsubishi of Japan until 1998, and Mahindra of India was still building them in the ’00s, making the CJ-3B style the longest-running Jeep model of all time. The CJ-3B was a popular export-market Jeep, and militarized versions were exported as the M-606. You may think it’s ugly as sin, but the CJ-3B was a pivotal part of Jeep history.

Anyway, this one here was for sale near Pasadena for $7,000. I managed to get the price down to $5,900. It doesn’t run, it’s missing a rear bench, and the body appears to be a bit of a bastard-child of other Jeeps (the spare, for example, should be mounted of the rear quarter panel; that tailgate is likely from an M38 Willys — also, I’m fairly sure that’s a nazi jerry can on the back). But otherwise, the Jeep is in amazing shape. The body is rock-solid, the front seats and shifter and steering wheel all looks nice, and a number of the underbody components appear to have been refreshed recently based on their new paint.

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Willys Controls

You may notice in the photos above that there are four shifters. One is for the T90 three-speed manual transmission, one is for 2wd/4wd, one is for low range/high range, and the rear one pointing straight up and down? That’s a PTO drive.

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The PTO can be used to power a number of implements mounted to either the front or the rear, but in my case, it’s just used to power a Sears winch mounted between the front bumper and grille.

To pick up the Jeep, I had to use my Jeep J10, since I have no other vehicle with towing capability. I snagged a U-Haul trailer from Van Nuys, then drove about 25 miles east on the “134” highway (which is incidentally the displacement on the Willys’ “F-Head” motor in cubic inches) until I reached the Jeep. Loading the Willys was easy, since it’s the seller’s driveway was a bit elevated above the street, meaning all I had to do was park the trailer on the street and extend the ramps onto the driveway, and then the path onto the U-Haul was largely flat. A bit of a shove with the seller’s help, and the relatively lightweight Willys was perched on the trailer, ready to head back west.

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The drive from Pasadena to Van Nuys involves some long, steep grades. They’re not Rocky Mountain-esque, but they’re significant, and that’s a problem because the Jeep J10 can barely propel itself down the road, much less itself plus a 2,200 pound trailer and a 2,300 pound Jeep. Add a 300 pound axle in the bed and probably 200 pounds full of tires, and my Jeep was having to move 4,200 pounds worth of its own weight plus 4,500 pounds worth of stuff.

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To give you an idea of why this is a problem: My Jeep J10 makes 112 horsepower. Yes, it also makes 210 lb-ft of torque, but it’s horsepower that gets you up a grade (though low-end torque lets you do it at reasonable RPMs). 112 horsepower moving 8,700 pounds is absurd; a tiny Hyundai Elantra has more horsepower than that!:

To go up a certain grade with a certain trailer at a certain speed in certain conditions requires a certain amount of horsepower. That horsepower figure is calculated via a process known i the industry as “gradeability.” It basically takes into account the steepness of the grade, the weight of the vehicle and trailer, and any friction working against the power of the engine — friction like aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance.

The friction factors are represented by what are called “coast down coefficients” or “ABC coefficients,” and to establish them for an unladen vehicle, you just drive the vehicle at a certain speed, and then you put the car in neutral and watch the velocity versus time curve. This will give you a good idea of how much friction acts against the car.

Anyway, the exact nature of the grade, the ABC coefficients of both the vehicle and trailer, environmental conditions and more all go into establishing how much horsepower is required to ascend a grade with a certain load at a certain speed, and I can tell you straightup: Going up those Pasadena grades in my J10 at 70 mph with 4,500 pounds worth of junk requires more than 112 horsepower.

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I know this because, in fourth gear, the Jeep wouldn’t accelerate at all, and if I did get the machine to 70 mph in fourth on a downgrade, the vehicle would decelerate once I hit an up-grade. The insanely tall 2.73 gearing meant that the engine was spinning really slowly when the vehicle was driving quickly, and at those low RPMs, the machine just wasn’t making nearly enough power to get the vehicle up the grade.

Downshifting into third brought the vehicle closer to its 112 HP @3200 peak at 70 mph, but even then there was just no way to sustain 70 mph.

I had to climb the grades at about 40 mph in third gear (which has a 1.46:1 gear ratio vs fourth gear’s 1:1). This required less horsepower than climbing the hill at 70mph, and luckily it brought the engine RPM close enough to the power peak; I did have to downshift into second (2.29:1) a few times when speed dropped below 30, and that wasn’t great. That AMC inline-six under the hood does not like to rev, and when it does, it sounds like an animal is dying. It screams!

Jeep Tow Ts (1)

I am a man with a lot of mechanical sympathy, so to hear that motor cry out for dear life was tough, especially since I’m fairly sure doing so exposed some kind of engine or transmission mount problem. Under heavy load, the Jeep made a weird grinding sound, almost as if the engine’s fan was rubbing against the shroud or something.

Img 8735The jerrycan has German writing on it.

I held that shifter with a sweaty palm, feeling the vibrations through it, listening to that grinding noise append a screaming motor, and watching California traffic blast past me on the left as I slowly ascended the grade. I watched my temperature gauge like a hawk, but it held steady. I’d replaced my entire cooling system myself back in 2020, and I’d rebuilt the transmission and filled it with good, heavy-duty fluid. The engine oil I had changed a year prior, but I’d only driven about 1,000 miles. I knew the Jeep could take the abuse, but my god was it slow and violent. In some ways, that was a good thing, because the brakes are terrible and could really use a rebuild.

If you could only keep six of these, which would you keep?

-1985 Jeep J10
-1966 Ford Mustang
-1954 Willys CJ-3B
-1991 Jeep Wrangler YJ
-1994 Jeep ZJ 5spd
-1958 Nash Metropolitan
-2011 Nissan Leaf
-1942 WW2 Jeep (w/dead motor)
-2021 BMW i3S Galvanic Gold
-2014 BMW i3

— David Tracy (@davidntracy) June 12, 2024

In the end, it was hot and stressful, but the ol’ machine dragged its grandpa from Pasadena to Van Nuys, where it now sits. Once I get it running, I’ll park it behind my BMW i3S in my Santa Monica garage. None of my other vehicles fit, so this CJ will give me a chance to have a fun weekend cruiser along with my excellent commuter.


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