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Frame-off restoration, part 1

We kick off a complete vehicle restoration project, starting with a full disassembly and clean up

Here, in the Machinery and Shop section of Grainews, we regularly detail different kinds of equipment repairs, and we’ve even gone as far as taking a step-by-step look at how to give a farm truck a major facelift. But in this new series, we’re going to take that idea a step further. This time we’re taking a pretty comprehensive look at how to bring back something close to original showroom quality to an old machine by doing a “frame-off” restoration, tearing it down to its basic components and rebuilding it.

This is the first article in a series that will follow that project all the way from teardown to final paint. To demonstrate the process, we’re working on a 1952 Willys Jeep.

Why a Jeep? Well, in the 1950s, the Jeep was marketed to farmers as a one-of-a-kind, combination pickup truck and tractor. There were even PTO and three-point hitch options available for it, although this old Jeep was never equipped with either — as far as we know.

While the Jeep never really could compare to a dedicated farm tractor and it couldn’t do what a pickup of the day could, it was — and still is — a heck of a lot of fun to drive. And the little “flat fender” Jeep has a lot in common with other older farm machinery. Its systems are pretty basic and easy to understand. And with its simple design, the steps involved in bringing it back to life are typical of any restoration, whether it’s an old truck, classic farm tractor or antique implement.

Getting started

To really do a good job of restoration, the body has to come off the frame, hence the term “frame-off.” The Jeep’s simple body design only has six major sections: two fenders, grille, hood, windshield and body tub. They can all be separated and are light enough to be lifted off by hand.

To make things even simpler, the Jeep was a non-runner when it arrived and had no electrical system in place, so there were no wires to remove. If there had been, we’d probably just cut and tear them out. Sixty-plus-year-old electrical systems are a fire waiting to happen.

Although the Jeep’s simple design made for a really straightforward teardown, getting all those old nuts and bolts to come apart wasn’t easy. In fact, we used up about four cans of penetrating oil and spent hours in a painstaking disassembly process significantly slowed down by extensive rust and corrosion. But that’s pretty typical of a restoration.

Once we had the Jeep stripped down, it was time for a thorough frame cleaning to find out exactly what problems needed to be addressed. It’s tough to evaluate components when they’re covered with decades of dirt and grease build up.

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A small tractor with a bale spear attachment on the front-end loader made an ideal substitute for a forklift to move the frame to a pressure washer for a good scrubbing. After that, the frame made the trip back to the shop for a date with a sandblaster (we used glass-bead media, not sand), which took the frame down to bare metal. An angle grinder with a flap disc was also put to use preparing the surface on some parts.

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As expected, we found previously unnoticed trouble spots once we could make a detailed inspection. One frame rail was damaged above a rear spring hanger, which required welding. And the transmission support crossmember bolts had been replaced previously with some that were too small. As a result, it was loose. Finding gerry-rigged or substandard repairs is also typical in a restoration.

With the necessary repairs properly made, it was time to protect the frame from further rust and make it look respectable again. To do that, we started with a pair of chemicals from Eastwood (eastwood.com) designed specifically for auto chasis restorations.

The first, Eastwood’s Rust Converter, was brushed on (it can be sprayed, too). It lays flat, even when brushed, so there are no visible brush lines. Next, the Rust Encapsulator product was sprayed over top to further resist rusting and act as a primer for chassis paint. However, the Rust Encapsulator can be used as a top coat if you want to leave things at this stage. And it has a pretty nice look on its own. It left a matt black finish on the frame. Strictly speaking, though, chassis should have a slightly different semi-gloss look.

After all those hours spent turning the Jeep into a big pile of rusty parts during the disassembly phase, it was good take the first step toward rebuilding it. Next time we tackle the axles.

Scott Garvey is machinery editor for Grainews. Contact him at [email protected]

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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