I have owned a ’61 CJ-5 since 1993. About five years ago I rolled it and bent the frame pretty badly. The cost to straighten the frame is almost as much as getting a new one, and then I’d have a 50-year-old straightened frame. I’d rather go new. If it makes any difference, the rig will be built primarily for overlanding—my wife and I are planning a yearlong expedition around the U.S. when we retire, and I want the Jeep to be as bulletproof and self-sufficient as possible.
Would you recommend I go with one of the aftermarket frame sources, or should I get a custom-built frame from a local shop? The shop owner is a member of my 4x4 club and he is into the sport in a big way, but more buggies than stock-type vehicles. With the customization I want to do and the shipping involved from other parts of the country, I think the overall cost would be about the same either way. What’s your take?
Aftermarket frames are not a bad option. In fact, I know you can order a new Throttle Down Kustoms frame from Quadratec (www.quadratec.com) and have it delivered to your door. I know that some of these frames have rails that are mandrel-bent out of a single piece of rectangular tubing and are designed for simple replacement, allowing you to bolt in leaf spring suspensions and the drivetrain just like your factory frame. I have seen these frames, and they look to be top quality, though I have never actually installed one. Plus I think they can be customized for various suspensions and powertrain.
Deciding between having a new frame ordered or having a local shop build you a frame is difficult since I have not seen the type of projects or skills that your local shop can do. If the shop has never done a Jeep frame before, it may be a big job, but if they are skilled fabricators it may not be too bad a project. I would ask the dealers of the aftermarket frames whether they have any customers local to you whom you could contact to inspect the frame you are interested in purchasing. Oftentimes companies that are set up to manufacture a product can do it better and cheaper than a fab shop trying a custom one-off build. But like you said, shipping costs can make or break the deal.
One suggestion I might add is to find a good suspension system, either some flat wide leaf springs or maybe a coil/link setup for a smooth ride. I have driven a ’73 CJ-5 across the country, and the stock suspension could use a little upgrade for “expedition” travel. Also, a CJ-5 isn’t the most roomy vehicle to travel in, but check out the book Around the World in a Jeep, available through Orvis (www.orvis.com), about two guys who circled the world in the ’70s in a CJ-5. It is a great story.
Worst case, you could add a small off-road trailer behind the Jeep. I have seen some very cool off-road versions of the classic teardrop trail that might be a good addition to your trip.
Why Not Dry?
I’ve worked on trucks, equipment, and machinery my whole life professionally and as a hobby. My question is about oil pressure or lack of it on a vehicle that is constantly being put into crazy positions and angles. How do you keep an engine alive? I realize that most people probably don’t think or worry too much about it and that there are simple cures (being careful, oil accumulators, thick oil), but none of these seem very good or reliable to me. I was at an oval track a few years ago and thought about this when I saw all the dry sump equipment on all the engines. (It had some high banks on this track.) I know the cost is pretty high for a dry sump engine, but wouldn’t it make sense? I’ve never noticed any on the vehicles in your mag. How do professional rockcrawlers and racers deal with oil pressure? We now use fuel injection instead of carburetors for the same reasons, correct? I just want your insight and thoughts on it.
Dry sump engines have been used in performance racing for years, but the cost has kept them out of competitive rockcrawling and trail riding. Many off-roaders seem to get by with oil pans with baffles to keep the pump fed, but a dry sump system isn’t a bad idea at all. I agree that as we explore technologies of fuel injection, custom suspensions with bypass shocks, and the sort, systems like dry sumps will likely become more common. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see homebuilt traction control systems, computer controlled suspensions, and even hybrid drivetrains in the future. Plus some dry sump systems also result in a very shallow oil pan, allowing the engine to sit lower in the engine bay, or offering more up travel, both of which can be beneficial depending on the type of wheeling you do.