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1965 Jeep J20 Gladiator Build

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  • 1965 Jeep J20 Gladiator Build


    I've been MIA since getting sick in March but I'm about ready to tear into my second home-built R2.8 build - a '65 Jeep Gladiator J-200. My Disco is still my daily driver and family machine but I need a pickup truck too and plan to use it for a solo road tripper once work travel is allowed again. I want it to be very road friendly at any speed but also very offroad capable and utilitarian. I've had the great fortune to participate in 3 Ultimate Adventures and learn about practical build practices to a make a well rounded rig and plan to implement here.

    I've been procuring parts and as soon as my CJ7 sells to free up my garage, I'll get to work. The truck was from a barn in Mississippi and is very solid but needs rockers and some other small patches here and there. It currently has the stock I6 230ci Tornado OHC engine, 3 speed manual, closed knuckle 44's and 120" wheel base. I've got it pressure washed and 'driving' under its original power but soon the body will come off and the original rolling chassis will keep on going down the road.

    Here is the breakdown of the plan:
    • Powertrain: Keep it simple - R2.8 Turbo Diesel with QuickDraw AX15 setup mated to an Advanced Adapters ATLAS II transfer case.
    • Axles: I scored some really good 1979 Ford F250 axles which are HP Dana 44 front with the big brakes and Dana 60 rear that match the factory width of the wide track J-truck axles. They are 8 lug. Gearing TBD (I believe they are 3.55's but could be 4.10 - Once tire size is picked based on suspension/ride height, i'll address gearing)
      • UPDATE - JKU axles geared to 3.73:1. Need to find a front D44 but what I have now will get me going
    • Frame: I have a 1976 donor J-10 with the newer style frame/steering/suspension that I'll shorten to the 120" wheelbase and finish ahead of the body swap.
      • UPDATE: 2013 JKU Frame
    • Body: I plan to repair the rockers and any other pinholes on the cab so that I can get the cab sealed and finished on the interior. I hope to blend the patina and keep looking weathered but we'll see when I get there. Plan B would be to do a fresh coat of the implement red.
    • Suspension: The original '65 frame has outboard SOA front springs which combined with the closed knuckle 44's means horrible turning radius. Going to the 76' frame, the springs are under the frame rails and sprung under. The HP Dana 44 is already set up for the '76 frame width and SOA so I plan to keep that set up and run some flatter springs. I'll match the rear to where ever the front lands. It too is sprung over.
      • ​​​​​​​UPDATE: Stock JKU suspension all around with upgraded shocks. I haven't installed the springs yet but have jacked it to match compressed spring height of a stock JK and like the stance with plenty of room for the 35's. Factory JK suspension and steering geometry will be nice!
    • Wheels/Tires: I am loving my Kenda RT's on my R2.8 Land Rover so would like to see if I can find the right combination of factoring looking 8 lug steel wheel (white) and something around the 35" diameter depending on final ride height.
      • UPDATE: JK/JL Rubicon 17" wheels and still going to run a 35" tire but haven't decided which yet. Will likely run a 1" wheel spacer
    • Interior: Keep it classic looking but sound proof as much as possible, modern heating/air conversion, shoulder belts and figure out a headrest solution as I plan to log a ton of interstate miles in this thing.
      • UPDATE: GM fullsize bucket seats with integrated shoulder belt from 2000-2012ish(?) Silverado, Escalade etc. I have a set I've used to make mounts and clear tunnel etc and they will be very comfy! Plus lots of options for recovering.
    • Wiring: I've used a Kwik Wire vehicle harness on another project and it was good quality and value. Unless you have other suggestions, I'll probably go that route again.
    • Cooling: Factory radiator, CAC tbd, mechanical fan. Either Jeep 4.0 ZJ HD setup or would love to figure out electric fan clutch setup.
    • Air Filtration: Since i have the room, I plan on using a big Cummins Fleetguard setup - more to come on that.

    Stay tuned!


    Click image for larger version  Name:	gladiator.jpg Views:	0 Size:	1.04 MB ID:	2557
    Last edited by Sanders; 01-24-2022, 06:05 PM.

  • #2
    Air Filtration plan:

    I plan to use the Cummins Fleetguard OptiAir 800 series, AH19261 since I have the space.

    Click image for larger version

Name:	OptiAir.JPG
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Size:	60.7 KB
ID:	2560


    • #3
      Sanders, good to hear from you again! I'm excited about this build. Gotta love old J-trucks!

      That looks like a great filter unit. I tried using a slightly smaller Donaldson unit, but the Bronco engine bay is simply too small. Good luck with your build!


      • #4
        Look at that beauty! Sounds like we well thought out build. Looking forward to some progress.
        My next r2.8 should be in this week and then the fun starts again for us!


        • #5
          I haven't forgotten to post! I am just finishing another project before tearing into this. I have procured my Quickdraw bellhousing adapter to the AX-15 and once I grab an AX-15, I'll have all the major powertrain components to get going. I've also have a couple of folks waiting for me to get off my ass and take the body off my J200 so they can buy the old rolling chassis/powertrain.

          Watching all of the Ultimate Adventure 2020 videos over Christmas break has given me several bad ideas for this build


          • #6
            Originally posted by Sanders View Post
            I haven't forgotten to post! I am just finishing another project before tearing into this. I have procured my Quickdraw bellhousing adapter to the AX-15 and once I grab an AX-15, I'll have all the major powertrain components to get going. I've also have a couple of folks waiting for me to get off my ass and take the body off my J200 so they can buy the old rolling chassis/powertrain.

            Watching all of the Ultimate Adventure 2020 videos over Christmas break has given me several bad ideas for this build
            Do it! That’s all I can say, do it!


            • #7
              Here is when we first found and dug out our frame donor last summer... We went and checked it out again last week to confirm that it was the direction I wanted to go before letting my current rolling chassis go to the new owner.


              • #8
                Progress! Spring is in full bloom and with the winter projects wrapping up indoors, it's finally time to dig into the J-200. I've listed my rolling chassis last winter and found a new buddy who needed exactly what I was selling and was ok waiting until spring to get it. Last weekend we agreed that this weekend would be the start of both of our projects in order to motivate one another!

                Sunday I drove the 230 Tornado-powered J truck into the operating room (outside of the garage) and got it staged and fluids drained for a Monday front clip removal, Tuesday bed removal, and Weds cab removal.

                Monday my brother came over and helped me lift off the front clip/hood in one piece after I had removed the front bumper. The FSJ forums have several posts saying "me and my girlfriend lifted it off in one piece"... Let's just say I'm glad I didn't rope my wife into it. It was heavy and stubborn and I'd probably still be sleeping in the garage!

                Tuesday, the bed came off without a much of a fight with the help of the engine hoist.

                Weds, I got impatient and stupid and rather than asking for help, I used my engine hoist once more and removed the cab myself. There are safe ways and not so safe ways to do this and I think I was somewhere in the middle. Needless to say, I was in a rush and didn't take any pics of it floating because I didn't want to take my foot off the lift! Got it set down on some borrowed rolling jack stands which are really slick. I'll push the cab into the garage first to finish stripping out dash and firewall, cutting out rotten floors and tackling the rockers. I've got delusions of getting the cab very complete before I bring home my 'new' chassis given my limited space. I also need to transfer the front cab mounts from the other J truck to this one since they are in a different spot.
                Attached Files


                • #9
                  The frame debate. Around 1975-76 the J trucks got a frame refresh. The front springs moved under the frame and grew from 2" to 2 1/2" wide for a smoother ride and more clearance for larger tires at full lock. This freed up space on the outside of the frame rail for the front cab mounts to move forward into a more optimal position and the design of all of the body mounts improved. There are MANY more spring options for the >75 J trucks as that suspension ran until end of production for the full size jeeps in 1991. At that point, the springs also moved under the axle in the front and they went away from a drum brake closed knuckle to disc brake open knuckle Dana 44.

                  The other major improvement was the steering. You can see my old manual Ross steering box setup which caused for painful steering experience to say the least. It goes without saying, the more joints you have in a steering setup, the more slop potential you'll have. Combined with a manual steering box and an old rag joint at the column, it was a wild ride! The newer trucks have a 4-bolt Saginaw box and power steering. I weighed the fab time it would take to modify the original frame to mount a saginaw box which required building a new front cross member and either modifying the driver's side front spring hanger (or moving springs under, which at that point, just go with the other frame!). I decided since I was going to remove the body anyway, had access to a great deal on a good donor truck, and on wanted to move the rear springs under the frame on either chassis anyway - it made just as much sense to send the entire rolling chassis to someone who needs it for another Gladiator project. Also, this helps me manage the project in my small garage.

                  So on the 'new' chassis, I'll chop the rear of the frame by ~12" to get it down to my 120" wheelbase, install my new front HP Dana 44 from the 1979 F250 on the flat springs sprung over (as it would be on the F250) and see how close the rear springs match the front ride height when I move them from outboard to under the frame. I don't want the truck to be super tall so the flatter springs are key here. I'll likely end up with a 35" tire. If it looks like it's going to be too tall with SOA, I'll rework the front end third member and spring perch to be sprung under. Based on some measuring between the two frames, I'm fairly confident I'll end up ok with the old springs sprung over. I am also planning on a shackle reversal on the front end during all of this. I did it on my Cummins-powered CJ7 and it made a huge difference in smoothing out the ride and kept me from bending springs when playing off road.
                  Attached Files
                  Last edited by Sanders; 04-19-2021, 02:27 AM.


                  • #10
                    Great to see the progress. Those 230 were cool engines.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Digger View Post
                      Great to see the progress. Those 230 were cool engines.
                      Yes - It definitely has a unique muscular sound and I love the valve cover. Someone had put a 2-barrel Holley on this one which was a pleasant surprise when I showed the new owner. Call me spoiled with the R2.8's but one thing I won't miss is the hydrocarbon smell of the ol' gasser when I started it to move it around.


                      • #12
                        Looks great! Are you painting the truck or keeping it patina?


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by RePowerToy View Post
                          Looks great! Are you painting the truck or keeping it patina?
                          Thank you sir! So I need to do some sheet metal work on the cab to bring it back from Flintstone status. Floors, rockers, and some pin holes here and there and repairing screw holes on doors from various mirror it has had installed. I love the current patina but not sure how I would blend it all back in to the bed and front clip. I want the cab to be water/air tight as I plan on this thing accumulating some serious miles and will have AC etc.

                          If I'm forced to paint the whole thing, I'm wondering what doing an implement paint job with no clear, then hitting it with 1000 grit to knock a few years off of it would do. I also plan to see a fair amount of dirt with this truck so I don't want a professional paint job. I've made that mistake before too where I made something too nice to wheel

                          pics to come of the cab progress this weekend!


                          • #14
                            Saturday I got the cab stripped down and old drip pan floor patches removed. I’ve got a decent amount of sheet metal work ahead of me with floors, rockers, and some other minor patching.

                            You can see that nice original red on the firewall that was hiding behind the master cylinder.
                            Attached Files


                            • #15
                              If you rescue an old vehicle that’s been sitting for any amount of time, I recommend removing the blower motor and evicting any rodents who may have moved in! I plan on running a Vintage Air setup so this is all up for grabs. Hopefully this spot on the firewall will be home to my new air filter setup for the R2.8 (mentioned earlier in thread).

                              It felt good to get the dash out and remove all of the hodgepodge wiring. I’m looking forward to making it nice and clean on the workbench. The plan is to retain the original cluster. I'll potentially hide the can display in the glove box and use the factory "AMP" warning lamp for my check engine and stop engine LED's.
                              Attached Files
                              Last edited by Sanders; 04-26-2021, 06:53 PM.