Rumble Bee -- Old School flat fender CJ-2A Willys Jeep

By Louis Dawson

CJ2A Willys Jeep
Rumble Bee -- Circa 2004.

It's said you ride "on" rather than "in" the old CJ2A Willys flat fender Jeeps. True, you ride "on" the gas tank (it's under the seat), but driving "in" a flattie must be the closest thing to being shoehorned into a space capsule that most of us will ever experience. It's impossible to straighten out a leg, your hands might hit the windshield if you grip the steering wheel wrong -- and you can reach out and touch the front left tire. In all, an uncomfortable but strangely exhilarating experience.

What that cramped space gets you is an 80 inch wheelbase -- fully out of style (rock and ledge crawling has driven the trend to longer 4x4s), but still fun to drive, exciting and tippy on occasion, and sometimes even an advantage.

As many have done before us, we bought our 1947 "flattie" as a drivable but trashed Jeep for an even $1,000 -- the going rate for a junker Willys in 1992. Yet before that momentous occasion, Jeeping had a long history in our family.

Jeep in Texas
Our original family Jeep in Big Bend National Park, 1966. Myself to left, with mother and brothers.

In Texas and Aspen during the 1960s I'd learned to drive in a flat fender Jeep (in those days a state-of-art off road vehicle). A few days after my first driving lessons, with both parents at work, my brother and I decided to see what that Jeep could do! We ripped turf all over our large rural Texas lot, bouncing through ditches and working the gears like Andretti worked his Lotus -- at least in our own minds. After crawling the fields we set our eyes on the landscaping berms. They fell to teenage 4x4 power -- at least until the largest one, where we high centered at the exact summit. We tried everything to budge that Jeep before our elders arrived. The Willys was still there when mom and dad got home, perched on that berm like an advertising parody. A delay in my driving lessons ensued.

We moved to Aspen, Colorado soon after that, and our family of six traveled all over the Colorado backcountry in that old rig, even rolling it once (with no serious injuries), and wearing out the motor to the point where we had to back it up steep hills so it could climb in the lower ratio reverse gear.

CJ2A Willys Jeep
My uncle's yellow Willys inspired us to obtain and "restore" our own. This is he and family wheeling near Crested Butte, Colorado.

Fast forward three decades. In 1995 my wife and I visit my uncle in Crested Butte. He lends us his locally famous yellow flat fender CJ-2A and we take a romantic drive up near Pearl Pass. My wife utters the magic words "Let's get a Jeep," or, did she actually say "I love ....?" If memory serves it was the former, at least in my male neurons, but it could have been something more romantic.

Either case, before long I was shopping for a flat fender Willys Jeep, and pricing yellow Krylon.

Our ensuing 12-year restomod of "Rumble Bee" includes a huge amount of fun doing everything from backcountry skiing approaches to wheeling for it's own sake, plentiful stupid and expensive decisions on my part, and a final result that retains the flat fender look and feel, while being competent and safe enough on the trail to peg the fun meter. This "retro" project includes little of the latest tech -- it's mostly older solutions that reached their peak a number of years ago, but it works.

I'll list my successes and mistakes at the end of this article. For the details of what we've created for our backcountry lifestyle, check out the next page.

CJ2A Willys Jeep
Family adventure, Bee on Pearl Pass road, Colorado.

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