Building Myself a 1957 CJ-3B

by Gary McCourt, Brantford, Ontario


This is a great story from Gary (who goes by "zambonimb" on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board) about his nine-year (!) restoration. For anybody who has been needing a little bit of motivation to get going on a project, this will show you that almost anything is possible with a welder and some patience! -- Derek Redmond

Before... and after

1957 CJ-3B 1957 CJ-3B

I always wanted a Jeep. Actually, you could say that my first vehicle was a Jeep -- when I was 4 years old, my father won a Jeep pedal car in a gas station contest which he gave to me. It was FINA blue with white wheels and windshield and it was magical. It stayed at my grandfather's farm and I drove it at every opportunity. Ultimately, the body rusted off and my grandfather nailed the frame under an old wooden railroad station sign, with the metal steering column and steering wheel sticking up through a hole. It served that way for many more years, carrying my brother and I down Grandpa's hilly driveway at breakneck speed. When the wheels rusted through, though, its day was over.

My father and his brother bought an early CJ-2A just after the war. They were given a deal by the Pontiac dealer in town because the Jeep had fallen off the train as it was unloaded and had bent the front bumper! They used it on the farm to pull the hay wagon and to haul milk cans to the dairy, as well as an everyday driver. My father told of arriving home with the engine compartment packed with snow on wintry days and was very proud of the Jeep getting to places no other vehicle could. My uncle George got the Jeep from his brothers and drove it daily until his passing in the early 1990s. It was a legend in the family.

In October 2009, Tom McAffee of Tobermory, Ontario advertised the remains of a '57 3B on The CJ3B Page. It had been used for parts for his restored 3B and he didn't want to scrap it. I made an offer for the hulk which Tom accepted and a friend and I dragged it back to my home in Brantford, Ontario. It was an all day trip and it was dark when we reached my place -- we unhooked the trailer and called it a day.

1957 CJ-3B The next morning, when I was preparing to roll it off and return the trailer, I noticed that there was an address still visible over the right rear wheel -- "1746 Eglinton Ave." I was thunderstruck! I e-mailed Tom and he replied that my Willys had originally been bought new by Arnolt's Garage in Toronto. It was the same Jeep that I had driven by many times when I lived in the big city, and the paint colour clinched it for me. Sometime in the late ‘60s, the Willys had been repainted in a Firebird blue/green colour that was quite distinctive. I now owned the very vehicle I had driven by... some 40 years later!

The driver's floor is actually a road sign

1957 CJ-3B The old Willys was in tough shape. There were no fenders or hood, no grille or radiator, and there was just enough of the body tub to take some measurements from. The steering column and box were present as were the original, oil-caked transmission/transfer case, but the engine was long gone. However, I was happy to have the rusty remnants of a 3B and I figured it would give me a start at building one. It would just take a little work! I parked it in front of my shop and walked by it for a year before I made a start. During that year, I did meet some nice people and found some parts that I would need for the project, including an NOS windshield frame and radiator that came from a defunct W. Virginia Willys dealership. I also got an NOS windshield glass in the original mouse-chewed box!

1957 CJ-3B A road sign was screwed in place for the driver's floor! I straightened it and hung in on the wall as a souvenir.

1957 CJ-3B In October of 2010, I attacked the 3B with a 4-1/2 inch grinder and some cutting discs, reducing the tub to its basic components. Of course, I took photos and made measurements of everything. I didn't throw away anything, though, until the new tub was built.

I checked the frame for level and squareness. The rear crossmember was bent so I straightened it because I was going to build my tub using the frame as a base.

1957 CJ-3B I bought two 4' by 8' sheets of 18 gauge cold rolled steel, laid out the panels and started with the bed floor. I borrowed an old Brown & Boggs bead roller from a friend, clamped it in my worktable vise and rolled out the strengthening beads. The process left the floor panel pretty bent and twisted -- I had to use an oxy-acetylene torch to shrink the ends of the beads to get it flat and straight again.

Once I had the ribs in, I measured and cut the width of the bed floor and bent the flanges on either side. I made the front and rear risers, punched a hole every inch and then clamped and plug welded the three parts together. I now had a bed floor!

1957 CJ-3B I then cut out the blanks for the rear quarters. I scribed the wheel openings and bent them by hand using a regular visegrip, little by little, and finished them off with hammer and dolly. I find clamping the panels to a flat surface like a workbench helps to control warpage. I also chose to leave the top bends along the sides of the tub as separate pieces that I later welded on.

1957 CJ-3B All the welding was done with a Lincoln MIG welder run on household power, .023 wire and Argon/CO2 shield gas. Straight bends were made in a sheetmetal brake or by clamping the metal between two pieces of angle iron held together with vise grips and clamped to my work bench. All welding surfaces were coated with weld-through zinc primer. That is the light gray showing along the edges of the panels in the photos. Although my Willys will probably never see road salt again, I did pay attention to modern rust preventative measures as I built it.

1957 CJ-3B Once the wheelhouses were fabricated, I cut and formed the tail light panels, clamped them in place and used some end cuts of 16 gauge metal to make the tailgate opening reinforcements, being careful to square everything up. Holes were punched every inch or so, weld-through primer sprayed and then the plug welds were made, being careful to skip around to stop heat from building in any one area and causing warpage.

Tailgate graft

1957 CJ-3B My friend Don Hull gave me an old tailgate that came on the 3B that he built (see My 1960 CJ-3B: A Rebuild Diary on CJ3B.info.) It was from a later model and had a large Jeep stamping as well as a sizeable dent caused by an errant trailer tongue. I cut that section out and I butt welded the center section from a tailgate with a rotted hinge area in its place.

It took some doing and some careful alignment and welding, but it gave me a solid tailgate that looks quite original.

1957 CJ-3B I saved all the brackets from the original tub as well as the gas filler. I sandblasted them all and welded them to the new tub.

Floor and cowl supports

1957 CJ-3B

The original cowl supports had their bottom sections replaced before the new lower cowl panels (200K JPEG) were welded in place. You can see the shortcut that I took with regards to the floor hat channels -- I used some recycled pieces of 1x2 inch steel tubing I had scrounged that worked very well. Not original, but strong!

By April 2011 both floors were done (200K JPEG) and tunnel repairs almost done.

1957 CJ-3B This photo was taken in May 2011 when I rolled the Willys outside and sat in the driver's seat for the first time. The seat (and its mate) is another kind gift from my friend Don who bought new seats for his 3B. The grille that is visible in the photo was purchased from a young fellow, Matt, from Fergus, Ontario who shares our affliction! He advertised it on the Jeepkings site here in southern Ontario. Between that site and Kijiji, I was able to meet some nice folks and find many of the parts I needed. That was definitely one of the best parts of the restoration/build experience!

1957 CJ-3B Next on the agenda was the fabrication of the tool box. The only part of the original that I kept was the Jeep script (160K JPEG) which was carefully cut out and welded to the new box. I initially thought I would be able to use more of the original but, in the end, it made more sense to build new.

You will notice that there is a long gap between May 2011, when the tub was essentially complete, and the end of September 2012 when work began again. I had some medical issues that presented through the summer andf all of 2011, which finally resulted in bowel surgery at the beginning of February 2012. Recovery was slow. I did venture out to my shop in March but a couple of pleasant hours working on the Willys caused my stitches to rip open and I found myself sidelined for the duration. The ban was implemented and enforced by the medical folks AND my wife... so it was really effective!

1957 CJ-3B I sort of puttered around until November, and then I pulled the tub off the chassis and stood it on end (240K JPEG) in front of my '78 Cherokee while I began work on the crusty but basically solid frame.

Live and learn

1957 CJ-3B I bought a 10-gallon pressure sandblaster from Princess Auto and proceeded to clean the frame. It took two days and many bags of blast medium. I vowed afterward that I would never do that again. What a filthy job that is -- it is well worth paying someone else to do it. I learned later that a shop a couple of miles away would have done it for $150 in an hour or so. Oh well, live and learn!

I straightened the front bumper and made a replacement rear crossmember from a piece of 4" square tubing from a boat trailer that a friend had modified. I used carriage bolts that I welded in place of the original rivets.

1957 CJ-3B I painted the frame with a thick brushed-on coat of rust paint. I have had good luck with it on my '64 MGB which has been on the road since 1992. It is durable, easily touched up and, if I have to do some welding down the line, I can just grind it off easily. And it flows out really nicely!

Through the winter and spring of 2013, I worked on the chassis with the goal of having it running and driving before I finished the body. At this point, the Willys started costing me money as I had to order new mechanical parts. The original springs were in poor condition so new ones were bought along with U-bolts, shackles, seals etc. 

1957 CJ-3B The steering system was rebuilt and new tie-rod ends were installed, while the front knuckles were dismantled, cleaned and resealed. A company in Hamilton relined the brake shoes and turned the drums and blasted them clean. I bent new hard lines and flex lines, bought new wheel cylinders, a new master cylinder and S-lines at the front. I put in DOT 5 silicone brake fluid, which has given me excellent service in my MG. The differentials were both flushed clean. Neither showed any appreciable wear, so both were resealed, painted and given new universal joints and bearings.

1957 CJ-3B I bought a good running engine from Terry's Jeep Farm in upstate New York. It came out of his friend's 1958 CJ-6 with 38,000 miles. Apparently, it had been used to haul apples to town among other duties until the body rusted away and Terry saved the engine. When I finally fired it up, it ran very nicely with very little smoke, which was not a surprise. When I pulled the pan, it was very clean and it did look like a low mileage unit. Thank you, Terry, and RIP.

I did very little to the engine beyond cleaning and painting it. It did require a new water pump as well as ignition parts and wires, and a new Solex carb and a GM alternator were installed because the original carb and generator were not included. I converted it to 12 volts at the same time, although I am using the 6-volt starter with no problems so far. I will probably install a Toyota starter down the line.

To the end of the driveway under its own power!

1957 CJ-3B One happy owner/builder! This photo was taken on July 4th, 2014 -- the day I drove the chassis up and down my driveway for the first time... and a few dozen times after that! I even drove it across the road to visit my neighbours, Earl and Joe, who had known I was concocting something in my shop but hadn't known exactly what. It was an exciting day. The only damper on the day was the very leaky transmission and transfer case. At that point, I simply drained both and turned my attention to completing the body work and paint preparation.

OK, I didn't dive right in. In fact, it was April 2016 before I got back to work on the Willys. What happened? Life, I guess. Lots of things got done, around the house and on my other vehicles, including a bunch of work on my '86 1/2 Nissan King Cab pickup that I've owned since new, which currently has 629,000 kilometers on it and is still going strong and looking good.

1957 CJ-3B So, all fired up in April 2016, I did some finish welding and grinding on the underside of the tub and then seam sealed everything prior to brushing on a good thick coat of rust paint. Oh, and I bought a gallon of old school solvent-based urethane paint that my Carquest store had in the back of a shelf. I colour matched an area of original President's Red found under the transmission tunnel to a fleet colour chart for International Red found on "corn-binder" trucks and farm equipment and it is amazingly close!

1957 CJ-3B When the underside paint had dried, I set the tub back on the chassis and started some final fitting. In the rear, I drilled and mounted the tail lights, as well as some reflectors up higher to increase visibility. The drawbar was long gone so I decided to mount some bumperettes from a CJ-5 and to place the licence plate between them. Of course, this meant fabricating a holder which included a light. Although not visible in the photo, I also made a couple of rear top bow brackets and drilled holes to mount them instead of welding them on. That way I could paint the area properly rather than just blowing some paint in.

1957 CJ-3B Windshield frame and hood fitted. The grille and the hood were mounted so the windshield frame could be bolted up. The brackets I had been sent turned out to be for an earlier model, possibly an MB, so new brackets had to be fabricated so the windshield frame would fit properly. I then fitted the wiper motor and the rearview mirror so the frame would have all the required holes. The windshield frame, brackets and rims were then taken to the powder coater.

1957 CJ-3B It got exciting because I had the new tires, Toyo AT2 radials size 215/85/16 mounted on the freshly coated rims on the way home from the powder coater -- the first exterior parts to be completed!

1957 CJ-3B Meanwhile, the fenders were worked on. They were in rough shape, seriously warped and work-hardened from many repairs over the years, so I ended up cutting out the flat parts and replacing them with new steel on the driver's side and doing a bunch of shrinking on the passenger side. A skim coat of body filler and they looked good.

I had the grille, spare wheel and tailgate blasted and epoxy primed and, on one of the last warm days in early November, managed to epoxy prime the two fenders and the hood. I kept working on the tub, doing some shrinking, hammer and dollying, and finally a thin coat of filler.

By the end of November, the preparation of the tub for primer was complete and I looked around for a spray booth that I could borrow. The one I had sort of counted on turned out to be unavailable, which took a couple of weeks to find out. My back up guy asked me to call him the day after Christmas, which I did. He said, “How about tomorrow?" You bet, I said! My friend Colin was free to help and the tub got to the booth the next day.

Everything is in primer!

1957 CJ-3B  The better part of that day was spent priming. I arranged for a rental cube van to carry the freshly coated tub home the next day, and, with the help of friends Colin, Ralph and Don, the tub was soon back home and ... all ONE colour for the first time in my ownership! The rest of the winter was spent block sanding and re-priming.

By May 5, 2018 the Willys was ready for some real colour. I once again tried to secure a spray booth but, this time, everyone was really busy. I debated with myself and decided to use my tent garage to spray all the inside parts of the Willys while I waited for a booth to become available. Then I would mask up those areas and paint the outer panels in a booth. At least, that was my plan.

The weather was predicted to be warm and dry with a light wind on Monday and Tuesday, April 30 and May 1st, so I blew off the pieces and taped the outer panels and got ready for Monday. On the Sunday, we had a severe windstorm that tore my tent garage apart! I spent Monday re-erecting it and, on Tuesday morning, set up the tailgate, grille, fenders and hood, mixed the paint and dived in. There were problems immediately. The paint wouldn't flow properly so I played with air pressure and mix. Complicating matters were two serious issues: first, I hadn't painted in nine years, and, secondly, I was using a new-fangled HVLP gun that I had never used before.

1957 CJ-3B It was an adventure, but by the end of the day, I had colour on the underside of all the loose parts and they looked quite good. The tailgate was the only piece that would have to be sanded down and repainted.

The next day saw the inside of the tub painted. Things were looking up!

1957 CJ-3B Friday, May 4th brought another windstorm that once again demolished my tent garage. I spent the weekend rebuilding it and checking on the availability of a booth. No luck on that front! Things were basically static for the week of the 7th -- I pulled off the masking paper and then masked off the new paint. There was a slim chance of an opening in the booth schedule but by the weekend it was confirmed -- I would have to wait for another couple of weeks for a POSSIBLE opening.

In the end, I looked at what I had already painted. I had some defects like dirt and runs (extra paint -- no charge!) but it didn't look that bad at all. So I decided that I would get some paint on the outside panels in my tent garage if the weather cooperated, and that's what happened.

1957 CJ-3B The wind was a bit more than I would've wanted but I managed to get a good coat of paint on the loose parts one day and on the tub the next. The day I painted the tub turned quite a bit warmer which gave me some problems again with the paint flowing out but I knew I could water-sand and polish, so I didn't worry. It was really something to see the body completely painted!

I then turned my attention to the badly leaking transmission and transfer case while I let the paint set up for a few days.

When I pulled the leaky units, I immediately saw signs of leakage from the front of the transmission. Pulling off the front bearing cover revealed a bearing that was not fully seated. There was no evidence of leakage from the transfer case. That began a two-week detour involving the 14 needle bearings in the main shaft and, ultimately, some wrestling with the 88 needle bearings in the layshaft. Finally, with the help of my friend Ralph, the transmission was reunited with the transfer case and then with the engine. I filled both units and put paper underneath to catch the inevitable drips. There were none! I cautiously rejoiced and went to work wet-sanding the outside of the tub and polishing it. It came up really nicely, causing my friend Colin to remark that he'd never seen a shinier Jeep!

1957 CJ-3B Two weeks later, the shiny tub was set back on the chassis and the fun began. Ralph came over the next evening and we hung the hood and windshield frame as well as the grille and the fenders. There was a Willys sitting in my shop! My friend Don Hull came the next day and the two of us installed the windshield and made the measurements for the new seat foam which we got the next day. I finished bolting on the rearview mirrors and the wiper, the hood blocks and hold-downs and assorted other pieces I had drilled holes for. I did the seats and installed them and bolted on all the lights. I pulled out my new gas tank and bolted it into place, but the new sending unit purchased some years before was the wrong one. A new one was ordered and work went on.

1957 CJ-3B Finally, the time had come to install the new Walck's wiring harness. I laid it out carefully and then looked at the diagrams. Electricity is a weak area for me. I check bulbs and grounds, clean any connections, plug red wires into red wires and that's about it for me. My good friend Don came to my rescue and we worked to label and connect all the ends according to the wiring diagram. Soon I had headlights and dash lights but only one parking light, tail light and brake light! Frustration followed until my friend Ralph pointed out that the red wire didn't necessarily connect to the red wire, but possibly connected to a blue or yellow one. Eureka!

I spent a little time marking which wire did what on a piece of paper. Then I connected everything accordingly and... SUCCESS! It all worked, except for the gas gauge. Don and I put some gas in the tank and the Willys fired right up. I went to bed happy that night.

First drive

1957 CJ-3B The next day, September 11th, I opened the overhead door, fired up the Willys and went to back it out. It would not move! Don and I played with the clutch linkage which was very loose and shifted the transfer case in and out and, all of a sudden, it moved. I backed it out and proceeded to drive it down the driveway. A problem presented itself right away -- I couldn't get into Reverse without shutting off the engine. Don took some photos to mark theoccasion and I drove back into the shop.

We were unable to adjust the clutch linkage any more. We looked through the inspection hole and decided the clutch fork was possibly in backwards. My friend Steve is a licensed mechanic and he said he would be right over. His advice was to pull the tranny and transfer case one more time. and he lent me his transmission jack. Transmission out -- the problem was clear. I had somehow installed the release bearing backwards! This had essentially destroyed the release bearing holder and the front bearing cover housing. I got another bearing and pulled a housing off a spare transmission and installed both.

1957 CJ-3B Don and I managed to get the unit back in place behind the engine in one smooth motion and started bolting it up. Of course, that was too easy, so Don dropped one of the nuts into the bell-housing just to make things more challenging. I said, “Don't worry, I've got a magnet." We proceeded merrily until the head of the magnet fell off down in the bell-housing! Then we pulled the unit one more time, pulled out the offending pieces and spent about an hour and a half trying to mate it with the engine. Finally, with the air a special shade of blue and our faces bright red, the unit slid into place. We put a rag over the inspection hole and went to work.

I finished buttoning everything up again and, the following day, we were able to climb in and drive the Willys down the driveway with no problems. On September 28th, I arranged insurance and the Willys was certified and licensed by the end of the day. WhooHoo!

During the next couple of weeks, I drove it as often as weather permitted, putting some 200 miles on the odometer. Some adjustment of the brake linkage was needed to have the brake lights come on and then shut off again. I also need to play around with the pedals---the brake and clutch pedals curve toward the center of the vehicle and the gas pedal wobbles around, hitting the housing. I have to stick my foot under the brake pedal to press the gas, so I will adjust things to make it easier to drive. I also have some wet-sanding and buffing to do on the hood and the fenders to take care of some dirt and “signatures" (runs!) After remaining leak free for 2 weeks, there is now a good leak from the transfer case, I believe, that will have to be taken care of.

Eugene the Geep's first show

1957 CJ-3B On October 16th, the temperature started off in the 4°C (39°F) range. I donned my parka, hood up, with a scarf and gloves and drove some 20 miles to the Ol' Guys British Flea Market in Rockton, Ontario. There I told everyone that I was driving a Land Rover prototype and I was allowed to park with the British cars. The Willys drew lots of positive comments and many reminiscences from people who had owned one back in the day.

The Willys (which has been nicknamed Eugene, after the Popeye cartoon character Eugene the Geep) and I enjoyed its first public showing. My friends from the British Sportscar Club of Hamilton were as excited to see it as I was to show it to them. What a great day!


So that is the story of my 1957 CJ-3B. It probably wouldn't be finished yet if it hadn't been for the kind urging of my friends Don Hull and Ralph Meyer. Don donated many parts and inspired me to continue by taking me for rides first in his '60 3B and later in his '46 CJ-2A, not to mention letting me drive both. Ralph came over regularly to work with me in my shop, which effectively gave me the kick in the ass that I needed sometimes. My greatest inspiration was The CJ3B Page, its good people and the incredible work done by them over the years. Thank you, Derek, Oldtime and all the others who keep such a fantastic resource going. Now... come on April!

-- Gary McCourt, Brantford, Ontario. December 5, 2018.

And thanks to Gary for the story and photos. -- Derek Redmond

If you enjoyed this, see also My 1960 CJ-3B: A Rebuild Diary on CJ3B.info.

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Last updated 14 December 2018 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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