“Stumper” an explanation for the jeep rat rod thing in the corner of our shop.

This whole project started a few not so short years ago with a relatively simple idea:

“After years of wishy-washy feelings towards modifying this car or that, I decided that I may have more motivation and better results making the whole car, more or less… Goals: Handle and stop like a Vette, Look like a jeep (sorta) and go like a mustang on Jenny Craig.” – Roscoe

At that point and time in life, I had the workspace, the free time, and the necessary resources to build something NICE. Since this post on Roscoe’s, you know that is not what happened. Instead, I chose to build the best thing I could cobble together using mostly parts from the junk cars we had laying around the storage lots.

Any good project car needs power and since its one of our builds, the back story is just as important as the dyno sheet. According to the (ex) girlfriend of the former owner of the car, this was used by her drunk boyfriend to run from the cops. This chase came to a brief (but not final) stop when he took out a fire hydrant. However, all hope was not lost in this crash as he was far enough ahead to get the car unstuck and even get home before the cops arrived with time to spare allowing him to open another beer. Since the car was in her name (not his) and he was in jail (for now) we knew if we did not buy it someone else would, so why not? The car was your run of the mill 5.0 Mustang with a loud exhaust and some bolt-on’s featuring a more-fun manual 5 speed. Its days of cruising the trailer park and killing traffic cones came to an end the day it killed a hydrant but its story is far from over. The Mustang gave up its engine, transmission, shifter, and a few clutch related items.

5.0 mustang engine and t5 trans
5.0 Engine and T5 Manual trans removed from the mustang.

You can have all the power in the world but without a good chassis to manage it, you won’t get far down the road at any speed. To get the best handling most braking at the least possible weight for a junkyard build, I chose to work with a stripped out 1978 corvette we had behind the shop. It came to us as a more or less driveable corvette go kart. The guy it came from had stripped the body away with plans to build a cobra ??? replica kit car but never got it finished. The remaining corvette parts had been sold and the engine/trans combo was used in an ElCamino we sold a few months prior. The frame rails were straight & rust free, it had 4 piston 4 wheel disc brakes and all the other parts needed for a project like this were still in place. The corvette chassis was already fairly stripped but a bit more hacking was required. The entire dash assembly had to go completely as did the stock gas tank along with about a foot of the rear frame rails. Where the floor board met the firewall it was only fastened with glue and rivets that came apart with frightening ease.

78 corvette chassis and partial floor pan with dash hacked off.
Corvette chassis & partial floor pan with dash hacked off.

While an engine makes the power and a chassis gives it a place to go, a build is often really only as cool as it looks. Clearly a rat-rod build I was wanting to make a nod to the look of the old T buckets but wanted to do something more original. With a Jeep CJ-5 rusting in pieces (literally) in one of our storage lots the opportunity was present to give this thing a unique look all its own. This may not be the first time someone built a jeep rat rod, but it may the first one built with a positive driver-experience in mind. The Jeep was mostly already apart as the previous owner had already taken it all apart for a “restoration” that never got completed. More was kept from this then most expect to hear. In addition to the tub, I also saved all of the pedal assemblies, the dash (complete with a bullet hole), all the HVAC parts, the grille shell and the windshield frame. (yes, this thing with have heat, defrost etc.)

jeep cj5 tub removal
Removing the tub from the CJ-5.

With the major components on hand, the more or less basic task of fitting the parts together could start!

Since pretty much none of these parts will actually fit together the primary tools needed are various hammers, saws, grinders, and at some point along the way maybe a welder to make some of this crap stick together well enough to break a few laws.

The idea is to cut away enough of the jeep, and the Corvette floor to get the two halves to fit together more or less like the old plastic model kits did then frame up the difference well enough to make it as safe as the Corvette was. Obviously, that is not a lofty goal to meet.

cj5 floorboard removal
A little cutting and the floor came right out.

I want it to drive well and be comfortable but have a look that is a tribute T bucket rats. The body was intentionally mounted at an angle to achieve this look while maintaining the corvettes seating position instead of that of a jeep or a T bucket.

With the position of the body on the chassis was worked out it was time to take a look at the engine and transmission placement. With all of the CRAP that was the corvettes firewall gone it was apparent there was a good bit of room to move the engine back, WAY back from where the Chevrolet engine was mounted. It ended up going in just about a foot farther back then where the Chevrolet engine has previously been mounted still leaving room to use the factory ford fuel injection with clearance at the unmodified jeep firewall.

the jeep rat rod body and mustang engine mocked up in the corvette frame

The mock-up work was complete, it was time to start attaching the square pegs to their round holes. The factory transmission cross member had to be moved back and modified to bolt up to the transmission from the Mustang. With only minor cutting it was easy to move the original cross member mounts back about a foot and weld them back in place as if it was meant to be there. To add strength (and safety) it was decided to go with a full engine cross member rather than just making mounts that reached out to where the engine was. This worked out well and also adds a little protection for the oil pan since in addition to moving back, it also sits a bit lower in the chassis as well.

The grill required a little trimming to fit nicely. Exact final position for this will depend on what radiator option is selected but this is approximate.

A few new parts have come in to make this go together a little nicer. I went with a VW steering column for a variety of reasons but the two main ones were that I wanted to have a wheel with an old-car feel and the simple electrical connections for the key/signals/horn etc. This one specifically is from a super beetle and the advantage here is the column can be mounted literally in any position I choose and use U joints with the factory collapsible section to connect safely to the corvettes steering box. A few other items were picked up such as some new Corvette body mounts, headers that give us better clearance at the floor, valve covers that help identify this as a ford engine and some seats complete with adjustable sliders for “comfort” and safety.

With less free space in the shop and even less free time in my schedule to devote to this project the progress is SLOW but does happen a little a a time. I hope to get the steering gear in place, the electrical done, and the rest of the sheet metal welding done over the next few months. Feel free to stop by the shop and give me crap about not having this done yet!

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