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Greg’s 1956 DJ-3A Makeover

• CATEGORIES: Features, Reader Stories

Greg tells me that a few years ago he was half-heartedly looking for a flat fender when found an old, modified (or perhaps more accurately hacked up) 1956 DJ-3A for sale. He bought it and began a complete refurbishing of the jeep into something he could dependably drive on-road and off-road. He credits Randy Ellers, his boys, and eWillys for a variety of the ideas he employed in his rebuild. The real credit goes to Greg himself, as it looks like he’s done some great work on this rig.

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Greg writes, “I had been seeking a flat fender Willys off and on for several years, and had taken to surfing several jeep sites on the net in search of a suitable candidate for my goals.

I wanted something that I could keep true to the character of the Willys, but improve on the dependability and capability over time. When I found my jeep, the condition of the body is primarily what attracted me. The body was in better than typical shape for its age and I thought it would be a good start point for my vision. In fact I thought it would be roadworthy enough to make it a long term project while having fun jeeping it as I enhanced things.

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As purchased, it was a 1956 DJ3A body on a late CJ3A chassis with an owner built roll cage, Vintage 8000# Ramsey winch, 10.50 x 31 Michelin tires on 7×15 wheels. After service as a runabout delivery vehicle in/around Auburn, AL, it eventually became an unlicensed farm vehicle for many years. Evidently the original hard top can be credited with limiting typical rust damage.

Shortly after I got it, I rebuilt both the three speed and transfer case. I also found a full set of 4 NOS 11” brakes to significantly improve stopping power. Soon after, I discovered the engine block was cracked so the search for acceptable re-power was on. Ultimately the Chevy 4.3L Vortec and TH350 transmission got the nod.

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Over the course of the past 5 years or so, I’ve essentially gotten the jeep close to where I want it both in character appearance and performance. I’ve had it on a few club and Jeep Jamboree events and to date it continues to impress me. While it doesn’t have the creature comforts or modern flex suspension of the newer jeeps, it still does rather well on the trails, and we have loads of fun with it.

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Frame, Suspension, Body:
Boxed Frame
Superlift 2.5” lift kit (springs, shocks, bushings). Owner fabricated shackles.
Saginaw power steering (slow ratio), mounted via Advance Adapter mount and spud.
Herm Tilford beefy tie rods, flipped to the top of the spindles via GOFERIT.com tie rod inserts.
Hanging pedal setup to actuate the CJ7 power brake booster & master cylinder.
1973 Toyota Landcruiser tail lights
1947 CJ2A windshield w/ aftermarket electric wipers
10 gallon DJ fuel tank in the rear and a minimized (6 gallon) CJ tank under the drivers seat. Fuel from the CJ tank is auxiliary fed to the main rear tank.
Homebuilt rear bumper & spare mount
Bestop Tiger top for winter jeeping and an old Army shelter half modified by my wife for a summer bikini top.

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Interior:
Beachwood seat cushions and covers.
Notched rear wheel houses and extended seat frames for 3” greater legroom.
Homebuilt brake pedal (Willys pattern, but wider like a modern auto trans brake pedal) & modified Willys gas pedal to utilize modern chevy blazer cable linkage.
Vintage Sears Allstate turn signals
Owner fabricated roll cage.
Seatbelt Planet belts.
RightChannelRadios.com CB setup.
Late 60’s DJ5 Steering column (in order to retain functional horn button).
NOS Hyster fork lift horn (cheap 12V alternative to Willys jeep horn, and it sounds just like the original).
Aftermarket heater (summit racing).
Ammo can fabbed console & cup holders.
1961 Willys truck parking brake handle to operate the transfer case drum brake, while the original DJ brake handle operates the rear parking/emergency brakes.

Wheels & Tires:
12.50 x 33 Goodyear MTR kevlar Wranglers on 8 x 15 mid sixties Ford truck wheels

Axles:
Front Dana 25 with a D27 Power-Lok differential and stock 5:38 gear. Vintage Dualmatic locking hubs.
Rear Dana 44 with a NOS Power-Lok differential and stock 5:38 gear. Vintage Selectro locking hubs.
Rear floating axle kit from Herm Tilford (30 spline axles).

Engine & Transmission:
2001 Chevy Blazer 4.3L V6 (fuel injected, computer controlled). Mounted via Novak-adapt.com mounts.
Gearstar TH350 Stage II automatic (currently has a 1800rpm converter, I think 2000-2200 would be better), Lokar shifter.
Twin stick Spicer 18 transfer case (1.25” intermediate shaft, 29 tooth drive gear).
HermTheOverdriveGuy.com ATV over drive.

Offroad & Safety gear:
Viper Max widespool 5000# winch, with 65’ synthetic rope.
Hi-Lift jack
Home made skid plates to augment the original transfer case plate.

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21 Comments on “Greg’s 1956 DJ-3A Makeover

  1. Joe in Mesa

    Wow: really well thought-out and nicely executed. I hope it’s OK to steal a few of those ideas 😉

  2. Mark S.

    The tires and wheels are the perfect size for the jeep, gives it just the right look. I especially like the look of the deep stamped steel wheels.

  3. Greg

    Thanks Joe & Mark,
    Any ideas you care to use would be a compliment. Yep, these wheels are harder to find than you might imagine, they provide the precise character I was looking for though.
    vr
    Greg

  4. James D

    Greg,

    I don’t come on eWillys that often anymore (partly because I’m so busy with school and I sold my CJ3a a year ago – Sorry Dave..) but I LOVE your Willys. I enjoy reading reader’s builds and yours is one of my favorites this year. I like how you managed to keep the body mostly stock and retained the iconic Flatfender look. Keep up the good work!

    James

  5. Greg

    James,
    Thanks, I really appreciate it. When I started my search and subsequent build, I was still concerned how it might work out and be accepted among the jeeping community. One of my main goals was to retain the Willys personality to the maximum extent while making it more capable and dependable. I’m not entirely done with it yet, but for the most part it is about where I want it. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and for sure there are a few things I would have done differently but again it is working great at the moment.

    Again, I have to credit Dave and eWillys with the spark that caused me to put dreams into motion. Watching his early progress with his jeep, along with all the info he floods this site with have been priceless.

  6. mmdeilers Post author

    LOL @ James … no offense taken 🙂 Hopefully we’ll see you this spring/summer during out trip to Colorado.

  7. Randy

    VERY nice work Greg. Seeing the outcome of your efforts makes me glad I was able to provide some incentive and possibly some information that may have helped you out along the way. I could tell from our correspondence that you were looking into every little detail of your build before you got in the middle of it. It’s pretty rare to see a Jeep built with so many well thought out modifications that were integrated so well.

  8. Colin Peabody

    Greg-
    I you haven’t already sent it, could you send me the serial number on your DJ3A, it should start with 56337 followed by a 5 digit production number. I will include it and any photos you can send in our DJ3A serial number database that Glenn and I are putting together. You can send the info to me using my email address: colins60vette@cox.net I won’t release any thing without your permission. We use it primarily for reference materials.
    THX, Colin

  9. Kenny

    Greg – GREAT looking Jeep! I am currently working on a 71 CJ5. I have been on the lookout HARD for a set of wheels like the ones you have on your Jeep….without any luck. Was wondering if you had any details on how you located yours. I have been searching based on the Kelsey Hayes wheels used on the Renegade I jeeps in 1970. Any help is appreciated. Again, great looking Jeep!

  10. Greg

    Thanks Kenny,
    I recall these type wheels on the 70’s CJ jeeps. I always thought they looked great. I can also remember when owners would unceremoniously replace these wheels with aftermarket wheels. Undoubtly most wound up on the recycle heap over the years.

    I found my wheels in Missouri. As best I can recall they were on Craigslist. The previous owner was actually trying to sell the vintage tires that were mounted on the wheels. I only wanted the wheels though. He had them on a 4wd ford truck. I don’t know what they were original to. I had been searching for awhile when I found these.

    You might look at mid-sixties & up ford, dodge, & perhaps IH 4wd trucks as a potential source along with the jeep.

    Additionally, there are a few aftermarket companies who can build these wheels to order.

    Good luck in your search, hold out for what you want, they will look great on your CJ5.

    Greg

  11. mmdeilers Post author

    Those all-steel rims pop up every so often on Craigslist or eBay. The biggest problem is that the search terms ( such as steel rims, steel wheels, jeep rims, Ford steel rims) bring up all kinds of results. It can make these rims difficult to find online for that reason.

    Kelsey Hayes made one version of these that appeared on Renegades: http://www.ewillys.com/2013/07/05/4-kelsey-hayes-rims-on-ebay/

    – Dave

  12. Kenny

    I literally just missed on a set by two days. Had been looking at them since July and just wasnt able to get the money until Christnas….and I was too late. Devastating. Really hoping some turn up….I’m a little heart broken! Well…A LOT.

  13. Greg

    Kenny,
    I’d actually like to find another set myself, I have a ’57 Ford truck I’d like to use these same wheels on. As Dave says, keep an eye out on eBay and Craigslist, they do occasionally pop up. Good luck in your search, I hope you find a set.
    Greg

  14. Greg

    Kenny,
    There’s a pair on eBay right now. Less than 24 hours remaining to bid. Just a pair though, not a full set.
    Greg

  15. Paul

    Great job Greg, do you have a more detailed build online anywhere. My build is very similar , and could be tweaked with some of your ideas, like the seat setup, and gas pedal.

    Paul

  16. Greg

    Thanks Paul,
    No, unfortunately I don’t have another post detailing the build. I do have a few more pictures in various stages of the construction. Plus, since I pretty much mapped it in my head as I went along, I can provide any particulars you might desire.

    Really all I did on the seats is section the lower frames, and add a 3″ addition of 1″ tubing. This allowed me to maintain the original mount points at the front portion of the frame. I discovered later that the exposed leading edge of the drivers side fuel tank was irritating to the back of my legs. So after I modified the tank, I really could move or eliminate those 3″ extensions on the drivers seat. Of course the most advantageous aspect of the seat relocation is due to notching the rear wheel houses, which actually allows the seat to move aft. The additional leg room made a vast difference in comfort.

    Oh, you might notice that I also moved the passenger seat left towards center as well. Originally these jeeps had passenger seat more outboard than the drivers seat. I moved it inboard for two reasons; aesthetics (so both sides mirror each other), and also I wanted my passengers a little more tucked into the vehicle body. This change may require bending your 4wd shift lever inboard also.

    The gas pedal mechanism is a donor piece straight from the 2002 Chevy blazer. I just took the blazer plastic pedal and shaved it down a bit so the Willys pedal could affix over it. Of course I eliminated the bottom floor hinge on the Willys pedal, rounded the contour to match the top and tacked/blended it back together. Looks like it was meant to be there.

    If you plan on running an automatic transmission, you might notice my brake pedal too. I drew the pattern from the stock pedal on a piece of heavy sheet metal. Then punched the raised diamond patterns from the back side with an old Phillips screwdriver and hammer. Then I welded that piece to a heavier stock which was affixed to my hanging brake pedal arm. It too looks like it could have been an original item.

    Anyway, if you like shoot me an email address and I’ll share any other thoughts you may require.

    I’m still working on it too.
    Greg

  17. Paul

    Thanks Greg. It’s pferrari@bestpetroleum dot com

    Love to see a picture of the gas pedal

  18. Tyler

    Greg do you know the backspacing or frontspacing of those wheels? looking to replicate the look on my 72 cj5. I can order 15×8 with 3″ backspacing for 108 a wheel. i’m thinking yours are at 4″ deep but wanting to confirm.

  19. Greg Turberville

    Tyler,
    I originally thought my wheels were mid sixties ford truck wheels but as it turns out they are Kelsey Hayes 8×15” wheels specific to a ‘70 or ‘71 Renegade (as I understand it).

    I’d have to measure the wheels to get you a precise back space, but I’d be willing to bet they are about 3”. Definitely a deeper outer dish than backspace.

    I really like them, but you are limited to the brake size you can run with these. Aftermarket wheels allow more latitude.

    Hope this helps.
    Greg

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