I'm Trying To Save My World War II Jeep Engine After Filling It With A Huge Ice Block

Photo: Kristen Lee.

Earlier this month, I drove my 1948 Willys CJ-2A through a deep mud pit, filling the engine with water. Worried sick that the motor might be doomed, I did what any logical person would: I ignored it and let the water freeze into a huge ice-block. Surely the Willys’ Go Devil engine, despite its World War II heritage, couldn’t survive this, I thought.

Things have gotten weird in the past few weeks since I wrote about my dilemma of trying to sell two vehicles that I love dearly. For one, I sold the Postal Jeep, though I’m still babysitting it. And two, the 1948 Willy CJ-2A that the Postal Jeep buyer, Bob, really wanted to purchase for $2,900 ended up flooded. And by “ended up flooded,” I really mean: I was a dumbass, and hammered the Jeep through a mud hole that I knew was far too deep (I wonder if, for some sick reason, I intentionally flooded the Jeep so I’d have an excuse not to sell it, but that’s a discussion for my therapist).

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I mentioned this fiasco in the last story, but here’s a photographic reminder of the depth of not just the puddle, but also my idiocy:

This mishap wasn’t a huge deal, I figured, because I’d flooded the Willys before, and all I had to do then was replace the watery oil with some fresh 30-weight, and the engine was totally fine. (And by “fine,” I mean “equally as screwed up as it was prior to the drowning”). Here’s a look at what my oil looked like after that incident:

This time, however, I managed to surprise myself with my own foolishness, because not only was the offending mud pit deeper than before, and not only did I rev the motor much higher than before in order to crawl out of the muck (And possibly because I knew I was going to sell the Jeep and felt I may as well enjoy my final hours with it—worst case, it dies, and I can keep it. Again, this is a discussion for my shrink.), but when I got the Willys home, I didn’t immediately drain the crankcase.

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I just let the Jeep sit. For weeks.

This, I realized when I later tried to check my oil, was a major error. The dipstick wouldn’t unscrew from the tube, because the stick was stuck in a huge block of ice. Yes, gallons of water had entered my engine and frozen.

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I’m still not entirely sure how all the water got in, especially since my engine doesn’t leak any oil. But I think it all entered through the huge sheetmetal valve cover shown above on the side of the block.

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With the engine housing an iceberg, temperatures well below zero, and my slightly-warmer-than-ambient garage filled with junk, I feared I’d have to wait until spring before determining if I’d ruined my Willys CJ-2A’s incredible Go-Devil motor. But luckily, temperatures have been in the 40s lately, and that meant the ice had become water:

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Notice how clean the water coming out of my drain looks. Interestingly it doesn’t appear that any got into my oil filter, so the it’s likely that the dirt all settled on the bottom of my oil pan just as the water settled below the floating layer of oil (notice how in my previous incident, the water looked like a milkshake, whereas the water looks clear this time).

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There did appear to be some dirt and even rust on my dipstick, which I’ll admit is a bit concerning:

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I screwed a new oil filter in, and filled the crankcase with the cheapest Walmart oil I could find:

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I’ll admit that 5W-30 is a bit thin for the World War II Jeep engine found in my post-war Jeep, but this fill is just meant to act as an engine flush to help get the dirt and remaining moisture out, so I’ll be draining it soon enough.

With fresh oil in there, I tried to turn the engine over for the first time since I sat stranded in a deep mud pit in a central Michigan forest. Here’s how that went:

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The engine actually turns over quite nicely with the spark plugs out. With them in, the starter isn’t able to overcome the compression in the cylinders. I don’t think it’s bearing friction that’s preventing the starter from cranking the motor with the plugs in. My initial thought is that the starter, which was sitting underwater for about 10 minutes, is the culprit, though I still have some testing to do before I’m sure.

By the sound of the engine when it is cranking, it seems like it’ll be fine, which isn’t surprising since this engine got us through the war. That said, until I put the flathead four-cylinder under load, I can’t know for 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