The Getaway Jeep Gets a Body

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 at 12:48 am

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Filed under Adventure TJ Project, Jeep

While some other things in life have conspired to make progress on the Getaway Jeep slow down to a crawl – the progress that has been made has been pretty significant. I’ve essentially been working on two different fronts – the undercarriage and mechanical as well as the body work towards the ends of finally joining the two.

I wanted to get as much done as possible on the chassis while I could work on it from above. That meant rebuilding the rear drum brakes with all new hardware, installing the driveshafts, and getting a preliminary setup on the angles of the axles. At least that was the plan.

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If you recognise that part – you’ll know that if I were simply installing a driveshaft that I’m doing it wrong. Well it turns out that when I was replacing the u-joints in my rear driveshaft, my makeshift press slipped and did so right at the wrong time that momentum took it’s course. When I looked at the results, my driveshaft was damaged, the metal that holds one of the c-clips in place was crushed and I chose not to risk letting the rest of the c-clip ring do the job. So I grabbed the spare driveshaft that I had from building one truck out of two – only to find out that shaft was a different length and not compatible. My next decision was to replace the stock shaft with a new one or to make an upgrade that I was planning to do a few years down the road – a slip yoke eliminator kit (SYE) and beefier double cardan driveshaft. The upgrade allows for greater differences in the relative height of my engine and transmission from the driven axle which can be used for larger lifts or for tucking the drivetrain higher for more ground clearance. The problem is that the two pieces of equipment to make this possible don’t come cheap and that’s why I had set them aside as a future upgrade. But now with a broken driveshaft, the cost of a replacement driveshaft is almost as high as both pieces of upgraded hardware.

Still, I didn’t want to invest that money just yet and so went looking for anyone in the local community that might have a used driveshaft laying around, or I thought there was a slim chance that someone might be selling both the upgraded driveshaft and SYE for a good price. As it turns out, there weren’t any stock driveshafts, but a guy offered me the upgraded shaft and a complete transfer case with the SYE already installed in it for a great price, the only catch being that it was built for a YJ, not my TJ model, so he told me it would fit except that I’d have to change the output yoke for the front driveshaft from the one he had to the one I already had for my TJ, but since the transfer cases themselves didn’t change in that time that would be a minor change. So I get it all home and test fit it in place and boy was he wrong. The driveshaft was significantly too long to fit. So since I would be installing a body lift and already had a motor mount lift in place, I tried raising the transmission an equal amount, keeping the engine and transmission in the same place now relative to the body, but effectively raising it an inch relative to the axle. Still no joy. So I tried raising the transmission two inches to give even more space knowing that this might have pushed my shifter into the radio when all was said and done. But it didn’t matter because it still didn’t fit.

Now if you look at the total cost of the upgraded driveshaft and the SYE kit, the driveshaft is 2/3 of that cost. Luckily for me at this point, I had paid less for the used parts than the driveshaft alone was worth new, and the driveshaft clearly wasn’t very old. And also luckily for me, SYE kit’s actually come in two different lengths – a short, and a super short. So I ordered up a super short SYE kit new and got to installing it. Now with a working driveline with all the bells and whistles, the only upgrade I’d have for later would be a ‘tummy tuck’ – raising the transmission from the stock position hanging below the frame to a higher point, in extreme cases right inside the frame rails for maximum protection and ground clearance. Little did I know that TMR Customs just down the road from me was busy putting together a brand new website just as I was puzzling through all these issues. Why does that matter? Well in the process of converting the stock Jeep into a short bed pickup, I’d planned to cut two support braces out the stock roll cage. To keep things safe, I had intended to install TMR’s ‘trail cage’ kit, a heavily built upgrade to the stock cage to give better protection to the passengers by building a forward portion to the cage that was missing from the factory and was far superior to the stock braces I was going to cut out. Not that I intended to push this truck to the extreme limits where a complete roll cage was needed to handle rolling the truck out on the trail, but that level of extra safety more than compensated for the parts I was cutting out of the stock safety system for on the highway and allowed my top modifications to go easily. It was one of the pieces I intended to use right from day one and had no reasonable replacement for, I just hadn’t purchased it yet as it was one of the most expensive single pieces I was adding to the truck and I was trying to spread the costs out a little.

Well along with the new website’s launch, TMR was offering some big discounts at the time on most of their selection, including my roll cage plans. So big a discount in fact, that the savings covered the cost of their transmission mount kit which was sort of a little christmas present to be able to do my tummy tuck work right away without any real added expense. That also meant that I was removing the big, stock transmission mount/skid plate. That skid plate causes all kinds of hassles when working on the truck that I’ve now eliminated as well as making routine maintenance much easier, and best of all it also eliminated the problem my father had last winter with his TJ in snow and slush off the road catching inside the skid and freezing his four wheel drive shifter in place. And just like that, the chassis was ready to receive a body again.

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In the mean time I had been working on getting the body tub ready in the good weather as it still sat outside, the garage not being big enough for both parts of the truck. The tub off the chassis I was rebuilding had been in an accident and was unusable. That’s where the second truck came into use as it had a perfectly good tub on it. Or at least, what had been a perfectly good tub. As you can see from the photos above of the reinforcement rail on the tub that mounts to the frame, sitting for another two years while the project was launched didn’t help the tub any. It was still mostly good, but these two support rails were write offs. They are available aftermarket, but seemed to me pretty ridiculously priced for what was essentially just two pieces of pressed tin, no thicker than standard body metal. The front’s of these torque boxes as they’re called is quite intricate, but the rear section of them is simply a channel with indentations where the body mounts sit.

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Then one day it occurred to me – the indents were essentially irrelevant. They made mass assembly easier by letting the body index onto the chassis, but since I was only building one truck, a few extra minutes in mating the chassis and body was irrelevant to me. So I removed them and just replace the rear of the torque boxes with heavy duty channel I had bent to shape for me at a machine shop, and cut the still good forward torque boxes off the otherwise destroyed tub and welded them to my good tub.

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I cut away the existing torque boxes and made some minor repairs to the tub floor where needed by cutting away the bad metal and forming new material in it’s place from flat sheet. Then I fabricated the body mounts to fit inside the torque boxes and welded those onto the tub.

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It was more work, but instead of simply welding a nut to the inside of the torque boxes, I decided to give myself some margin for error by letting the nut float in the channel on a large piece of plate which itself was held from drifting too far out of position by some simple tin captures. This gave me an inch of free play for the nut to move inside the channel, but still left a large plate to take the torque when tightening down the tub.

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With that done, I put down a coat of POR 15 to seal the underside of the tub and turned it up right side up again.

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While the tub was easily moved around on a utility trailer, I strapped it down flat and went to see a friend – and professional welder – to mock in an improved roll cage. With this in place I could finally start to see the shape my new truck would take with a pickup inspired cab roof.

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I enlisted some help and finally set the tub on the chassis. A relatively minor step that looks like real progress and certainly got me excited to getting this truck running under it’s own power again.

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It’s from here that I started into what was the most intense modification to the truck – the one step thus far that sealed it into going the direction I had planned as a short bed pickup and permanently ruled out ever installing a rear seat again – installing the new back wall of the shorter cab. I was able to cut the cab corners out of yet another (third) Jeep that was destined for the scrap yard. This left me with the clean, round edges to mount a top to just like the back of a factory Jeep. My plan is to modify a factory soft top by essentially cutting the rear seat section out of the top and sewing it back together again. I’ll do a little better than that to minimize seams and potential leaks, but that’s conceptually the plan. I’ve also used my metal break to bend up a tail gate from scratch to fit into this new cab wall that is not shown here. It will be removable to give me more space to cleanly transport things such as a few 2×4’s or pipe in the otherwise short 32″ bed.

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The trickiest part of this plan was mating the rounded edge into the otherwise straight belt rail in a way that would end up clean and functional, but still look good and allow proper water drainage for any puddles that form on the new bed hard tonneau cover. Missing in this photo is the new metal to fill in the blank behind the new, green cab wall and the cut original side wall. This metal seals up the original belt line to the rear, squares off the cargo box from the rear, and seals the hole between a straight wall and the rounded cab wall, letting water drain out over the side of the body through the split in the belt rail.

I had been dreading this stage in the build because it was critical to realizing my final vision – but I wasn’t really sure how to pull it off. Cutting up the cab corners to fit around the wheel wells and to mate up with the stock belt rail gave me a pretty good idea how it would come together without irreversibly cutting into my good tub. From there, I made two measurement at the front and rear cuts in the belt rail and otherwise just free handed my cuts with the cut off wheel in the grinder. With a little bit of massaging in the final body job I’m certain it will come out pretty clean though.

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Finally I seam sealed my newly sized cab and laid down a coat of bed liner on the floor and back walls. I opted not to bed line the front wall of the tub to make things easier fitting everything to the firewall. I wanted to get the dash and pedals in place to start getting the Jeep back into running shape before fitting the front fenders and finishing the last of the body work.

For the first time since starting to rip apart the crashed Jeep in late October of last year, it feels like the end is drawing near and I’ll finally be able to drive my creation out of the driveway, but surprisingly a name hasn’t fallen on the Getaway Jeep yet. Maybe as the body starts taking it’s new shape it will come to me.

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