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Our restoration project moves to the body shop

Attention turns to the main body sheet metal 
on our longterm Jeep rebuild

We’ve rebuilt the suspension, driveshafts, axles and brakes, installed a new clutch and even fixed a bullet hole. Now, we can begin to see the finish line off in the distance as our Jeep restoration, Project CJ3A, works toward completion. It’s finally time to turn our attention to the main body tub. Once this is repaired we move into the paint shop and then, thankfully, final assembly. Project CJ3A has been sitting in the workshop for several months and we’re getting anxious to see it finished.

We knew the Jeep body was in rough shape, but when we removed the fuel tank, which is under the driver’s seat, and the toolbox that is the base for the passenger seat, there wasn’t much sheet metal between us and the ground. Fred Flintstone might have been happy with a vehicle that had no floor, but not us. The body tub was well and truly a basket case. It required days and days worth of work to save it.

We considered just ordering a completely new body (roughly US$3,000). Somehow, though, that didn’t seem right. We wanted to restore the Jeep, not replace it. So in true Grainews style, we traded hours of labour for reduced parts costs. We set to work cutting out the rotten parts of the body and replacing them with shiny new steel. We ordered some new, preformed repair parts and hand fabricated others.

As we cut out the rusted floor we had to be careful not to take out too much metal at once. That would have risked losing the correct shape of the body, meaning we’d lose the proper dimensions because it could deform without enough support.

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That would be a disaster, because the rebuilt body would then end up twisted and the body mounting points wouldn’t match the chassis. Therefore, we were careful to leave some structural components in place as we cut others out for replacement. Although, the severe rust meant the structural body parts were already feeble at best — even before we fired up the plasma cutter. Replacing one part at a time helped minimize the risk of distortion and paid off in the end, leaving our restored body with the correct dimensions.

To double check everything was true, we test fitted the body on the chassis before we fully welded in the floor structural supports. And as we suspected the whole thing needed a little tweaking to get all the bolt holes to line up. That wasn’t surprising, because we were using aftermarket replacement parts on a 60-plus-year-old vehicle. There was bound to be some deviation from the original factory specs. Once everything was right, we fired up the welder and burned all the parts permanently into place.

In all, we had to hand form a dozen or more sheet metal patches to weld in after cutting out sections of the body that looked like Swiss cheese. Some of them involved complex shapes, so it was a time consuming process.

We ordered two new floor pans from our parts supplier. We could have created them ourselves, but because so much of the original body was rusted away and someone had jerry-rigged repairs in the past, we didn’t know exactly how engineers originally intended them to mate with the rest of the body. Getting properly formed replacements gave us that information, making their cost money well spent.

After all the new sheet metal was welded onto the body, we turned our attention to covering the weld joints with body filler to ensure the paint will look smooth and even over the repair. But we only want a very thin layer of that, and only where we absolutely need it. Filler isn’t meant to be a replacement for metal.

A couple of days of block sanding left the repair joints looking smooth and even. Then we rolled the body into the paint shop. We’ll show you how that went next time.

About the author

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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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