Car of the Week: 1943 Ford GPW

A 1943 Ford GPW project started off rough, but made for a perfect gift to his wife.
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This week's "Car of the Week" comes to us from our sister publication, Military Vehicles. The color might be olive drab, but the story seems all to familiar. If you get a chance head on over to www.militarytrader.com and check out some awesome collector vehicles.

Car of the Week 2020

by Nathan C. Thompson

The restoration of this 1943 GPW was a labor of love on two fronts: First, when it arrived it was in much worse condition than I had imagined. My perseverance would be required to get to the second front: It was going to be restored for my wife, Pris. It was her Jeep!

The restoration of this 1943 GPW was a labor of love on two fronts: First, when it arrived it was in much worse condition than I had imagined. My perseverance would be required to get to the second front: It was going to be restored for my wife, Pris. It was her Jeep!

The story of my 1943 Ford GPW jeep started on April 30, 2015, when a friend delivered it to Butte, Montana. My wife, Pris, and I had come driven from Spokane, Washington, and we both arrived within ten minutes of each other. Having come up from the south, the jeep was sitting on a trailer. We were ready to take over with our car dolly.

I was very upset, however, when I first saw the jeep. It was much worse than the pictures had depicted. Later, after seeing a photo of the Jeep, a friend remarked, “I don’t see how you can make anything out of that!” What he didn’t know, however, was that parts were available to me, and I have a persistence to follow through on this project...for my wife. Yes, this was going to be a Jeep for her.

When we met the jeep in Butte, it wasn’t quite what I had expected. It was in far worse condition that what the seller’s photos had shown. Regardless, I loaded it on the tow dolly for the final trip to our home in Spokane.

When we met the jeep in Butte, it wasn’t quite what I had expected. It was in far worse condition that what the seller’s photos had shown. Regardless, I loaded it on the tow dolly for the final trip to our home in Spokane.

THE RESURRECTION BEGINS

That Jeep had to sit outside until I could make room in my shop. Then, the disassembly began.

Off came the fenders, hood, and tub. Once the tub was off, I could see that the hat channels were rotted out.

As I began the tear-down, previous torch-cutting damage was revealed.

As I began the tear-down, previous torch-cutting damage was revealed.

On the tub, I could see that cutting torch work had been done on the floor and back panel. At this point, I realized that both front and rear floor panels along with the rear panel and the left rear quarter panel would all have to be replaced.

The tub, fenders and hood all had to go into storage because the exposed frame was in very bad condition. The cutting torch had been used on the rear of the frame, as well, cutting out the V brace that helps support the trailer hitch and the back bumper, all of which was gone.

Furthermore, the front horns of the frame were both destroyed. The left front spring hanger was completely broken off. The right horn had been broken, and someone had tried to weld it (I don’t want to say any more about that!).

Underside of tub showing the rotted hat channels and other damage.

Underside of tub showing the rotted hat channels and other damage.

I ordered two replacement horns. As these (along with the cross member) were all riveted in, I had to cut the rivets before measuring and cutting off the damaged frame horns.

To replace the rivets, I used my drill press as a pseudo lathe together with my four-inch angle head grinder. With those, I fashioned the heads of the bolts to resemble rivets.

Both front springs had to be replaced. A previous owner had tried to weld the broken leaves.

While waiting for parts, I began to disassemble the engine. Even though it would turn over, I didn’t even try to start it.

This is a good example of some of the damage that had to be addressed on the frame.

This is a good example of some of the damage that had to be addressed on the frame.

Once I had the head off I realized it had been bored to the maximum. My machine shop cooked the block, and then installed sleeves back to standard size. They also planed the head and block and replaced the valves. Thankfully, the cam shaft was fine. The rods and main bearings were both ten under and in good shape. Of course, I purchased and installed new bearings, rings, and gaskets.

Meanwhile, the front and back parts of the frame had arrived. I set to work on the frame.

I rebuilt both the transmission and transfer case and front and rear differentials. Then, I replaced all of the wheel bearings, seals, the master cylinder, wheel cylinders, and brake lines. After I painted the frame, it went into storage. It was time to begin work on the tub.

The front horns had to fabricated and mated to the original frame.

The front horns had to fabricated and mated to the original frame.

WORKING ON THE EXTERIOR

I removed and replaced the rear panel first after straightening the rear supports for the panel. Body work was completely a new thing to me, but I learned quickly.

Finally, the completed front cross member and frame horns installation with bumper brackets and bumper (shown upside down). Look closely. You will see my “pseudo rivets.”

Finally, the completed front cross member and frame horns installation with bumper brackets and bumper (shown upside down). Look closely. You will see my “pseudo rivets.”

I used a small drill to weaken spot welds. It was a challenge to get the new parts to match up to the old parts. I learned to use self-drilling, self-tapping screws to pull the old and new pieces together. After removing any paint, I used my wire-feed and put small spot welds on either side of the screw. I then removed the screw and spot-welded the screw hole closed (which, ironically, looks pretty much like factory spot weld). I did this over and over and over again as I replaced the different body panels.

Finally, after painting the tub, I installed it onto the frame.

I will add, I purchased a complete new wiring kit that I installed. That’s a whole story in itself!

I used self-drilling, self-tapping screws to pull old and new pieces together. I put small spot welds on either side of the screw, then removed the screw and spot-welded the screw hole closed.

I used self-drilling, self-tapping screws to pull old and new pieces together. I put small spot welds on either side of the screw, then removed the screw and spot-welded the screw hole closed.

THE FINAL TOUCHES

I already had one restored vehicle (a WC-12) with Army markings. Having served in the Navy, I decided to finish the GPW as a Seabee Jeep.

I chose to use lusterless olive drab paint because that was what I had available. I chose to install front hooks on the front bumper and USMC-style lifting rings on the front and rear of the jeep.

Since I already had one historic military vehicle (a WC-12) restored as an Army vehicle, I decided to recreate a Seabee vehicle with this Jeep restoration.

Since I already had one historic military vehicle (a WC-12) restored as an Army vehicle, I decided to recreate a Seabee vehicle with this Jeep restoration.

Finally, I placed Navy Construction Battalion markings to the jeep. I added a replica wire cutter to the front bumper and a summer top. My son-in-law, Ramon Deslauriers, painted, “KILROY WAS HERE,” under the windshield on the driver’s side. It turned out great, and it was ready to “hand it over” to my wife.

Pris dearly loves to drive her jeep. Our plan is for Pris to drive her jeep, and I will drive the WC-12 in upcoming parades and many events. 

Finally, perseverance paid off — the Jeep was finished. I proudly gave it to Pris. This was truly a project of love and devotion!

Finally, perseverance paid off — the Jeep was finished. I proudly gave it to Pris. This was truly a project of love and devotion!

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