At least I thought it was a good idea. See, I've always held the dream of flying into a rural burg, finding a low-buck 4x4 to buy, getting it running, then driving it back home: the perfect gearhead adventure. So when Wade and Melissa Knapp of Mapleton, Utah, e-mailed Pw with the tempting subject line, "Wanna Buy a Flatfender?" our destiny seemed obvious. It lacked the randomness of tossing a dart at a map and wondering if there was a deal hiding in a barn somewhere, but at least the '46 CJ-2A in question hadn't run in 15 years. And at $550, how could we lose? To add to the comedy, we risked spousal death-threats by taking off just a week before Thanksgiving with the promise of hobbling home in time to carve the bird. We were on.
After grilling Wade for a list of everything the Jeep was missing, we put in a call to 4 Wheel Drive Hardware to get essentials that we didn't think could be scrounged from local boneyards: a tune-up kit and fuel pump, a Solex replacement carb, a radiator, a gas tank, lots of supporting pieces, and a set of reproduction 2A seat frames. The Optima yellow-top also came from 4 Wheel Drive Hardware, and we decided to convert to 12-volt using an alternator-bracket kit from Willys Works. Everything else would come from the locals. The guys at Sorensens Professional Automotive Care in Springville even offered up their pro garage and air tools for the effort, but that just didn't seem sporting. So we shipped our toolbox to Wade's work at Nozzle Tech USA in Utah, then got on the plane and headed for three days of wrenching in Wade's 38-degree garage.
We landed in Salt Lake City and made a beeline to the flatfender. It was obvious we'd done the right thing. The thing was barely rusty, bone-stock with the exception of the missing parts, and rich with the kind of patina that only comes with four or five brushed-on paint jobs and a rubdown of neglect. It's a look you can't pay for. The poor Willys had sat unappreciated since 1988 when it was last registered. Wade had saved it from the junkyard just a few months prior to our arrival. By midnight we had the 134ci Go Devil sputtering to life on a can of ether.
That was Thursday night. By Friday we'd enlisted Wade's pals Tony Canto and Nate Huff, who lent an enthusiastic hand, a few tools, and plenty of gophering. The throes of Jeep revival revealed that someone had begun to remove the engine from the chassis, which explained some of the missing parts, lots of loose bolts, and chopped-up wiring harnesses. Most of the removed hardware was under 3 inches of goo in the stock under-seat toolbox, but it puckered us up wondering why the engine needed to be pulled. The answer: Once we got it running full steam, there was a nasty clanking as the clutch fork, which had slipped off the throwout bearing, whacked the clutch fingers with every rotation of the engine. Easy fix. But there was a lot more fiddling, fingering, and rewiring than we anticipated, and once we were done, we'd made a collective 14 trips to parts stores, five to local junkyards, and one to a glorious Army-Navy surplus store where we scored the full-race, olive-drab, winter-wheeling garb of all time. We'd also discovered the miracle of PB Blaster rust penetrant and, surprising even ourselves, had gone to the Provo DMV to make the flattie legal and everything.