Here's What Happened When I Tried Starting My 1948 Jeep Off-Road Project

Last night was the big night. I filled up my 1948 Willys CJ-2A with fluids, hooked up a battery, sprayed some starting fluid into the carb, and prayed for some sign of life from a very worn-out motor. Here’s what happened.

In a rather bold move, I decided to do all of this on Facebook Live without any idea if the thing would run, or if something catastrophic might happen. The engine did run before the rebuild (even though it had a bunch of broken piston rings), and I had torn down and re-assembled engines before, but there’s always that little bit of doubt in the back of my mind, wondering if maybe I put the wrong bearing cap on or forgot to torque down a nut somewhere.


So there was always a chance it wouldn’t work, but whatever, I figured our readers would want to see the first start-up attempt either way:

The first ten minutes or so involved my friends and I fiddling with starting fluid, and not getting the motor enough air. Towards the end of the first Facebook Live (shown above), we got to hear a few putts from the engine, as I held the throttle wide open. Then the 12-volt battery died (my six-volt battery is, for a reason I’ve yet to determine, toast).

Seeing as I have five vehicles on my EPA Superfund site, you’d think I could just snag a battery from one of my other vehicles, but sadly, I haven’t driven any other vehicle besides Project Swiss Cheese since the beginning of winter, and we had just drained its battery.

Eventually, my friend Steve brought over a jump pack, and we gave her another go:

Success! She runs! OK, so we didn’t get the Go-Devil idling for any appreciable time because our fuel pump wasn’t sucking, but that’s OK. The point is, this little motor still has some breath in it. Does it have 2,000 miles worth of breath in it? Maybe not. But hopefully, if the Jeep god’s bless me with a miracle, we’ll find out in two weeks.


But the Go-Devil resurrection didn’t go perfectly, as running the six-volt coil off a 12-volt battery eventually caused the coil to burst fluid like a geyser:


I also noticed a head gasket leak on the driver’s side of the block, likely caused by all the prying I did with a crowbar to get the head off. I’ve torqued the head a bit more, so we’ll see if that makes any difference as soon as I get a new coil and perhaps a new fuel pump.


But overall, I’m pleased. This seems workable. As for whether the rest of the vehicle will be in “workable” shape by the time I have to leave (in two weeks!), I’m not so sure.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio