To Upgrade or to Restore?


DogThis 1953 CJ-3B restored and built up by Adam Temple is a good example of many of the things people like about both a restored and a modified flatfender Jeep. Added to the rebuilt Hurricane engine and PTO capstan winch, are features like larger wheels and Rancho suspension, cassette stereo, and bucket seats. (And of course one of the most popular additions: a dog.)

Many 3B owners face the decision about how to balance originality with possible mechanical upgrades, as seen in the message below, posted to the CJ-3B Bulletin Board in early 2002 by an owner named Duane. A number of Bulletin Board readers tell us what they think is most important. And then there is the question of "what is truth in restoration?" which several people attempt to answer.

Duane: "I have recently acquired a '61 3B in very good original condition. I would like some advice as to how I can modify the vehicle and keep it close to original. Some of the upgrades I had in mind are:

"If anyone has done these upgrades and can advise on what parts swap in easily, what works or doesn't, I would appreciate hearing from you."

The Debate

Duane's request prompted a lengthy discussion among readers of CJ3B.info, beginning with the following anonymous response:

"To upgrade your CJ-3B, install the following items: Power Steering with tilt wheel, Front disc brakes, 11" drums on the back, Electronic ignition, Lower first gear or possibly 4-speed, Overdrive.

"To keep your CJ-3B close to original, remove the following items: Power Steering with tilt wheel, Front disc brakes, 11" drums on the back, Electronic ignition, Lower first gear or possibly 4-speed, Overdrive."

Jyotin suggested: "Sell the Jeep and buy a CJ-7. A mid-seventies CJ-7 can give you everything you are asking for and will run you around $3,500. The approximate cost of upgrades to a CJ-3B would be:

"Total cost is $7,050. Let's assume I am high by 20% -- that puts it at 5,640, plus the original cost of the Jeep -- let's call that 1,200. So the grand total cost is $6,840. You probably could not get anywhere near that if you resold it after all the work. You are really under water you if you only complete part of the work, because selling a project 'in processs' takes big discounts off what you have in it."

Somebody else disagreed with Jyotin: "I question your purchase price of $600 for front disc brakes, and your 'other stuff' category. Wouldn't the disc brakes be included in the purchase price of a new front axle? So without all the things Duane didn't ask for, using your prices, sounds like he would be spending around $3950. Not too terribly bad. I may not be in the same boat, but am fishing in the same lake. I own a '60 3B, probably not restorable, but a fun project. I found out a lot about what Duane was asking, on the CJ-3B Tech Tips pages. I too enjoy vintage iron, but also like to see how I can use new tech to create a functional ride. Don't get discouraged and run out and buy a CJ-7. I am in the project process. Right now I just purchase parts. The way I get the parts that I want, without spending high dollars, is just do a lot of research and looking, mainly web pages and salvage yards. I always set a price in my head and don't go over it. You have to be reasonable, but it usually works. I scored disc brakes in the form of front and rear 44's. Purchase price, $200. More power, a 350, free. I am looking for a transmission. Probably an SM420. Half the fun of building the Jeep is sending yourself presents in the mail. Stick with the 3B, no matter what people say."

Bart McNeil: "Duane describes his CJ-3B as 'very good original condition.' The upgrades will change that description to 'modified condition.' That I think is why some of us are not enthusiastic about his plans. Another 3B in very good original condition becomes less original and less a CJ-3B. The upgrades he mentions suggest that he wants to drive it as if it was a modern Jeep, in which case I would suggest that Jyotin is right and a modern Jeep (designed to drive highway speeds) would fit his needs at much less cost (even though not as beautiful). If driven within the parameters of its original specifications, and kept in reasonable condition, the 3B should be able to do anything it did when it was built. But nothing more. It would seem that Jeep owners are divided into two camps -- the preservationists and the upgraders -- and the feelings are strong in both camps."

Glenn Smith checked in: "I'll have to say I'm in the preservationist camp, although I can't argue with wanting to upgrade in the name of safety. In fairness to all, I think there are very few 100% original Jeeps out there, if you stick with what the word 'original' means. All of us have done something to enhance or personalize our own vehicles. It does make one cringe however, when someone buys a complete Jeep, or any classic vehicle for that matter, and then replaces everything on it except for the body and frame. There is a plus side to this however, for the original parts that people remove and sell become available for those who are looking for them. While people who modify probably do it for the satisfaction of knowing they were successful with what they did, myself and I'm sure others who stay the original route are equally happy and satisfied with our results.

"My '60 CJ-5 is all original (loosely used term) although rebuilt throughout, with the exception of electric wipers, alternator added, lockrites front and rear, and larger wheels and tires. Of course there is the winch and the other personal type items. I just bought a '59 3B. I'll probably put discs on the front of it for safety reasons, and on the CJ-5 also, and redo the 3B the same as the CJ-5. The low 1st gear on a 4-speed would be nice for 2WD off-road on trails, but in low range 4WD, 1st gear on a T90 is plenty powerful. Overdrive is a cost justification issue, depends on what kind of driving one does, more than anything. Also your engine has to be in good enough shape to handle it. So, whatever we all do, let us enjoy our results."

Tom McHugh: "If you haven't noticed, there are a lot of purists here. And now from the modified camp... sell the boat anchor F-134, the tapered D44 and the pitiful front diff too, ditch the Ross monkey-arm steering and any other weak links you can find. Install a V6, t18 w/6.32:1 first gear, Dana 44's front and rear with discs in front, Saginaw, etc... do it! It sounds to me like you want to keep the look of your 3b close to original but want more from it than what the stock drivetrain can deliver. It's your Jeep, you are the one that will have to work on it. Build it up to your abilities and budget, and most of all HAVE FUN! See my Pinto Turbo CJ-3B and William Mish's Buick V8 CJ-3B.

JC Jenkins advised: "First ask yourself, 'what do I want this Jeep to do?' If you want to just drive around town and do light 'wheeling,' install Saginaw manual steering, 11" brakes on all corners, and leave your original steering column in unless you are a 'big' guy and need the tilt. The O/D is nice but will not help much on the freeway. Your T90 tranny, unless broken, is good; your crawl ratio is 45:1, and to get any more than that, by installing a granny 4-speed with adapters, parts, modifications,etc., you can expect to spend $1200-1500.

JC's '62"Other than the O/D, I have done all that you you want. I have a '62 CJ-3B on its second V6, SM420 granny four-speed, Dana 30 front axle (so we could get the disc brakes -- these are only great if you are running in deep water or mud). The tilt is in because I'm a BIG guy, the power steering because it is nice. The rear axle was changed this year to a cut down D44 from a '78 Wagoneer (30 spline), new powr-lok, and a springover (the rear axle, locker, SOA and labor= $1490 ...that's the good buddy deal). I have a lot of goodies on the old girl and I wouldn't trade her for any other Jeep, especially a biscuit fender, but she is still in primer and the total is beyond 9k. It's your Jeep; do with it as you wish, just do it correctly. The purists on this board are really nice and helpful, I believe we all just want you to enjoy your new baby and be safe."

Duane said: "WOW! I wasn't planning on starting a debate of ethics between two factions. I can appreciate the views of both sides, I just wanted to know what would be an easy swap for front diff with discs, a tilt from another junkyard vehicle, and what power steering system would work best without sucking all the power from the F-head plant. Thanks for the help."

Bill commented: "You dont need to swap the axle out to get disc brakes. I used parts out of 2 1978 CJ-5s to give my 1951 CJ-3A four wheel disc brakes. I have a Buick 225 V6 and never had any problem with the axles, even when I was running a model 30 rear axle out of a Jeepster. You can still do little modifications, that won't change the Jeep so much that it can't be turned back to original if someone wants to."

Chuck agreed: "Every mod you are speaking of can be done with minimal destruction to the 3B. In fact, most of these mods can be 'undone' if returning the Jeep to factory specs. The only mod I would question would be power steering since it does take so much power and the Saginaw manual unit is a very good upgrade. I ride my '56 anytime I can and usually get 'impeding the flow' tickets, but that is just because the ol' gal ain't up to 100%. The 3B rides and drives better than my wife's Wrangler and makes my M38A1 seem like a moving crate. If the rust could be kept away and I could find a few more, the 3B would be my only choice of transportation barring finding an old W-O Lark or Aero. I know the Ross steering can become a pain if not kept in good shape, but on a original-type Jeep, there is nothing wrong with the Ross. The problems usually develop with the use of oversize tires or flat towing. Cook Brothers (Mark Cook) can and does build rock and modified Jeeps. Might want to consider getting just the frame and letting someone build your perfect Jeep using an aftermarket body and other goodies. You get a 3B set up to your specs, and save one of a dying breed for those who like 'em the way they were built. Just my thoughts."

Dave: "I wouldn't worry to much about what somebody else thinks you should do with your property. The fact is they will probably never own your Jeep. You will have to make the call. I have had several Jeeps, and the only one I ever cared to keep original was a '41 Ford GP; that would have been a crime to defile. But you guys have to understand that a Jeep that has been modified, frees up valuable parts for somebody else's restoration, and makes the remaining stock vehicles a little bit scarcer and more valuable. So it's my opinion that every guy has the right to do his own thing."

Bob Christy: "My 1953 3B is pretty much original except for the Pertronics electronic ignition which I just had to have, stainless nuts and bolts everywhere, a new paint job, and some other small things. I guess I kind of fall in both camps, original and modified. I love the original look of the Jeep with the stock tires, but quite frankly the steering and brakes tend to be a bit dangerous at times. Someday Gertrude (my 3B) will get some brake and steering upgrades, and maybe a roll cage just to be safer. My suggestion is to do what you want to it since it's yours, but offer up the spare parts to those who might want them."

CJ-3B Number 9Glenn Houston: "Well I have to agree with Jyotin; sell the CJ-3B and buy a CJ-7, or better yet buy a new Jeep. But for some of us who have had a 50-year love affair with the flatfenders, this is not a possibility. I have spent 2 years and $6-7,000 on parts for my 1953 3B and am not done yet. Also there were a few hidden cost. A new shop building, welder, compressor, and a bunch of tools. When I'm done I don't want to damage the new paint or wear out the new swampers, so a flatbed trailer and new pickup to pull it are a must. But there is no cost too great when it comes to owning a CJ-3B!"

Joel Kamunen suggested: "Read my High Altitude F-head Tune Up. The 11" brakes are a good deal; buy 'em and bolt 'em on, two hours. The most dificult part is bleeding them. Forget the power steering and get a 1949-1954 Hudson steering set up. You can swap out the whole steering column or just machine the steering box to fit your original steering column. They both used Ross steering boxes, but the Hudson used a tapered roller bearing with a different gear ratio, making it feel just like power steering and gives you the tighter turning radius. The ignition system can be modified to get rid of the points, but don't put a high-voltage coil in it. The higher voltage will bounce around inside that small distributor cap. In my opinion your first gear is low enough in four-wheel-drive low. Nothing would stall my 134 and I'm up in the high mountains where you lose power. Put a Weber carb on it for better performance and they just work better than the old one-barrel Carter. Headers and larger exhaust will also improve your performance. Of course this all costs money, but none of it is too difficult to do. You may find a used overdrive, but a new one is also a good investment, if you do the engine modifications, otherwise the four-cylinder won't have enough power to make much use of the highway gears. I was very happy with how mine came out and it wasn't so high-tech that you couldn't do the work yourself, except to bend up the bigger exhaust system. I'm passing this information on because I actually did these things, except the steering, and was pleased. Good luck."

Jerry Brown: "An early Jeep, as purchased from a dealer with no options, did not have freewheeling hubs, a top, or even a passenger seat. These were all add-ons. As were winches, and later, overdrives. My Jeep has all these things, so I guess it's not absolutely original. However, changing the engine, axles, diffs, transmissions, etc. is major surgery. You might consider looking for a Jeep that has already been altered. They come up fairly often on Autotrader online and Ebay. (You can never have too many Jeeps, anyway.) The basically original version may be quite valuable some day."

Ernie: "I believe that there are very few 100% original Jeeps out there. Original to me means just that, right down to every single nut and bolt. To some degree most of us have made some kind of upgrade and no matter how small, it would not be original. There isn't a right and wrong here, only our own beliefs. Our Jeeps are an extension of our personality and individuality. Life would be very boring if we were all exactly the same!"

Randy Buchanan responded: "The decision between restore or modify has several facets. One is the condition of the subject, another is what you want out of the vehicle, another is your capibilities, both skillwise and dollarwise. I feel that the condition of the vehicle should be the senior factor, followed by your abilities as a fabricator and/or availibility of funds. Restore and modify also have degrees. 'Slightly modified' can be just the addition of some 'bolt on' period correct accessories that could be removed to return to bone stock at a later time if desired. 'Modified' would be the addition of accessories that require welding such as Saginaw steering or different engines, transmissions etc. Harder to recover from but not impossible. 'Highly modified' would mean 'sky's the limit'; unique suspensions, different wheelbases, major body mods, what ever you can come up with. No chance of ever going back to stock again. Restore could be a 100-point concourse restoration or an Earl Shieb paint job and some Armorall.

"I faced these questions when I was deciding what to do with my 1960 CJ-5. The decision was slightly easier for me because the body I had was junk! So I modified... highly. I kept the frame, trans (4sp. T98), transfer case, hood and windshield hinges and gas cap! The rest is new, fabricated, or rebuilt... 25K and 4yrs. worth! (See Mercruiser CJ-5 in JP magazine Sept. 2000 or JPMagazine.com.) I own a machine shop and have 25 years of experience as a fabricator so I have considerably more resources than most, and, I really like a good project. The point of all this is if your body and frame is in really good shape, 70-80% or better, I personally think you should restore or go for slightly modified. I feel it is sacreligious to hack up a perfectly good specimen (especially if you aren't very good at it) and make a mess when you could do the same thing to lesser vehicle and save the good one as a resto for you or someone else. If you want to go out and use the Jeep off road hard, then start with a lesser Jeep and build it so it can take it (modified, highly modified) and save the good one. I mean can you see some idiot buying Adam Charnok's 3B and putting a Chevy motor and a pair of Dana 60's in it so he could drive it 50 miles back and forth to work every day and compete in rock crawling events on the weekends. There are some things you just shouldn't do.

Jim Allen photo"By the same token, look at John Hubbard's 1954 CJ-3B; it's stock, it's got all kinds of very cool period-correct accessories, it's so pretty it's painful, and he wheels it at Moab every year and has a blast. And looking at CJ3B.info you can see just about everything in between. I think you just have to get a clear picture in your mind of what you want, and then go about making it appear in the real world. It's easy for some, it's harder for others, but in the end the only one you have to impress is yourself... and of course all of us! We will be watching! Good luck!"

By the way, since there are lots of links above to photos of nice stock or "slightly modified" examples, how about a link to a highly modified 3B? -- Derek

Truth in Restoration

Bart McNeil pondered this question on the Bulletin Board: "What, and where is 'truth'? If truth is located in Jeep books then the CJ-3A and CJ-3B barely exist. If truth is located in unrestored vehicles then it is a rare item indeed. Adam Charnok has it, as does Lawrence Wade. But for the rest of us truth is a never-ending search. It lies somewhere under that candy-apple green paint job, which didn't exist in the early '50s. Somewhere under that Bondo layer and missing drain hole on a side panel, somewhere beyond that 2A fender you found and installed, somewhere on the other side of that MD Juan tailgate and that Taiwanese rear view mirror and that cargo bed that doesn't look quite right.

"I was thrilled recently when I discovered and photographed an early 3B with an Arctic Top. Truth was just under the surface of the carefully patched rust holes in the body. All you had to do was remove the sheet metal patches and rivets and there it would be.... rusty and full of holes large and small, a deeper level of truth.

"In the best of all possible worlds, which would I personally rather have as 'truth?' Would it be the showroom-perfect 1963 CJ-3B or the unrestored but showing its age 1959 CJ-3B? Probably neither... too much responsibility.

Bart's CJ-3A and CJ-3B"When I ponder my own 3B with 72 holes of all sizes drilled through its tender body, I wonder whether the improvement of filling the holes will outweigh the loss of history those holes record. Sure, those holes will eventually be filled, but it will be with some feeling of loss for the holey truth, along with the pleasure of establishing another level of unholey truth."

Bob Christy: "I also struggled with the question of what's truth when it comes to my 3B. I tried to keep it as original as possible, but sometimes either I don't have the talent, or the parts just aren't around anymore.

"The problem with a restoration is that no matter what you do, it will never be just like it was when it rolled out of the factory. Minute details escape the depths of our knowledge. I discovered this when looking for paint and not finding the perfect Woodstock Green, and even if I had found it, basecoat/clearcoat is not the same paint as they had in 1953. I guess what it boils down to is that each Jeep is unique. If it's a nice original like Adam's or a loving restoration like mine, there is still much to be learned from each."

Reed Cary: "'Truth' is where you find it: to each his own, certainly, regarding Jeep restoration. When confronted with a 'newbie' who asks about which tack to take on a restoration attempt, I always ask, 'What do you intend to use this vehicle for?.' This is a hobby, after all, not a lucrative business nor a great investment - on the contrary, as many will attest.

"Those before us, for whom the MB's and GPW's were the important restoration items, undoubtedly because of their historical (and nostalgic) significance, chose to refine their restoration criteria: primarily for show. There all all kinds of books out there, delineating all the 'facts', for these folks. (We are talking really detailed stuff: which bolt head pattern was used when, etc.) The surge in interest in CJ's has only come in recent years, perhaps rising in the last two decades. This may help to explain the sometimes careless reporting in books from the 1980's; there wasn't that much of an audience.

"Following the chronological trend, CJ-3B folks are at the tail end of restoration interest for the flatfenders. Perhaps because of production figures however, in my book searches 3B's seem to be more recognized than 3A's (often absent). This will undoubtedly change. Some few years ago when I searched the web for all information about restored, or restoration interest in, CJ-3As, I found almost nothing! At the time, it seemed that all 3A's had succumbed to the fate of being ideal candidates for 'rock-crawler' upgrades. (Please don't misunderstand: to each his/her own, again. I can't help but feel saddened by the loss of 'stock,' but this also makes mine rarer.) But times have changed, and I witness more and more interest in CJ-3A restoration, versus rebuild. The CJ-3Bs will undoubtedly follow the same fate, if they haven't already.

"So truth in the restoration process is an objective, not a goal. (Does one want/need to go to the depths of detail the MB/GPW folks take it to?) Personally, I think we, as a group, are not so historically conscious, are not so intent on re-visiting or re-creating some past event. This is my impression. As a group, we seem to be more inclined to utilizing our vehicles 'somewhat' in terms of what they were intended for. In this respect, I agree with Bart: nostalgia is not confined to a brief period of historical interest. Indeed, some of the later add-ons to your vehicle may well be rarer than the vehicle itself. (I don't know if I would go so far as to wax nostalgic at older bondo work, or the like. But I did my own restoration before I had access to the Internet. I did it 'my way,' only later to find out that much of what I had done was 'wrong'; I replaced old bolts with new, for example.

"Bottom line, what do you intend to use it for? Show? A garage queen? Or to have your form of fun? Here my confession: having spent all that energy and time on a restoration, I lost the incentive to take my Jeep where it was intended. I have taken it off-road, that is to say on old abandoned mountain roads, but not into the severity of serious off-roading. Still, that was fun! 'Restoration' is a middle ground, I guess, relating to each person's attraction to these humble, basic vehicles. And 'truth' (which we well know never ends)? Perhaps we should leave that to the MB/GPW folks."

Jim Veen posted a simple summary of what the goal is for many of us: "I fix up a Jeep to look good but to be used, and not drive around the block to avoid a water puddle. Good tires, good brakes, fuel gauge that works, and a trip into the mountains with the wife and our dog and cat (yes cat). Have a lunch by the river, throw sticks, and kiss the wife with some real interest. Best, Jim."

Thanks to all the contributors, and Jim Allen for the photo of Hubbard's halfcab. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 24 September 2002 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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