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Super Jeep: A 1942 Willys That Can't Be Killed

Super Jeep has killed 10 engines, silencing 74 cylinders in its 14 years of tearing up the terra. Currently, a $200 small-block is suffering under the hood and I am about to strap into the passenger seat for a late-night snow run in the Olympic Mountain Range. I’m hoping engine Number 11 lives through the night.

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Owner, Carl Jantz, is gassing up the red beast while I am inside grabbing snacks and subconsciously looking for an aisle of survival supplies. I elected to avoid the cliché Trail Mix (Carl grabbed two bags of the stuff) and stepped up to the register with a pouch of peppered beef jerky and a sports drink…Manly stuff.

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Manly, just like the 47-inch Super Swampers the rig was wearing for our night out on the town. Carl built Super Jeep to be unbreakable, and his pursuit of the all-conquering has led him through a divorce, four children, job layoffs, a new wife, a battle with cancer, and ultimately to making his passion his business; Jantz Engineering which Driving Line featured last July. Just like Carl, Super Jeep has had its ups and downs and has come through it all stronger than ever.

Meet Carl Jantz, "Super Jeeps" Builder

Carl opened his first shop, Smokin’ Rods, in Spokane, Washington, in the early ‘80s. He eventually put his mechanical engineering degree to work at Boeing where he was a ‘Scientist II’ for 10 years before being laid off in 2002. Throughout his stint at Boeing, he wrenched on the side. Carl saw all kinds of failures working on customer’s rigs, and he used their hard lessons to build Super Jeep.

Super Jeep Nitto Trail Grapplers

The build started in 1993 and was completed, for the first time at least, in 2000. A definitive moment was when Carl came across Computer-Aided Design. He took advantage of the technology and sketched out a Jeep with a singular purpose to accommodate a 48-inch wheelwell. He was a bit flabbergasted when he relized how much a wheelwell opening of that size would alter the rear of the rig. He states, "If the fender tubs come out seven inches behind the tailgate then we just move the tailgate back eight inches.”

The Making of Super Jeep

Super Jeep, as it's rightly dubbed, is a combination of a 1942 Willys chassis, a mostly 1942 Willys body, fenders from a ‘42 Willys that Carl modified into “high-fenders”, a custom built hood, a Jantz-sectioned and lengthened grille, a modified windshield, and invasive lengthening. Carl extended the body at the cowl in the front and behind the door in the rear of the vehicle. The frame has also been stretched to match. In all, the Willys frame is 15 inches longer than stock and the body is 25 inches longer - but those 47s nestle in the fenders like they were born to be there. 

Carl then added a roll bar, welded a roof on it, creating an off-roading monster. I love the proportions of the rig, especially with chest-high, 47-inch tires on it. It plain works. Some Jeeps, the good ones, can be put through the wringer so often and come away so unaffected that you can tell just by looking at them, they will never die. Super Jeep is like that. It just brings the pain until Carl reloads it with the next engine. At every step of the build, Carl employed the thickest axles, toughest gears, and beefiest suspension parts to get as close to indestructible as possible. “I used sealed connectors to ensure corrosion would never get in. You need to build these things to be submersible; that has to be the mindset, if you want them to live and thrive.” Carl has done it right...break a part, fortify it, break the next part, fortify it... until there are no more to break.

The Willys body has been chopped, sectioned, lifted, lowered, lengthened, and forged to the extreme; it has more stitch marks that Frankenstein.

Putting Super Jeep Through the Ultimate Shakedown

The Willys body has been chopped, sectioned, lifted, lowered, lengthened, and forged to the extreme; it has more stitch marks than Frankenstein's monster. The truck fired to life in 2000 with a Corvette 327-inch V-8 engine. Carl had heard about the Washington Rock Crawling Championship held in Vantage, Washington. He wanted what he called “the ultimate shakedown." So, on a whim, he entered and won. He returned to defend his title in 2001 and finished second. Carl says rockcrawling got too specialized after that and he is a snow wheeler at heart, preferring the perseverance aspect of off-roading and the satisfaction of making it to trail’s end, no matter the obstacles.

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Carl is not a physically imposing person, but it’s easy to see how his determination on the trail would translate into the cancer fight. Carl was diagnosed in 2006 with Mantle Cell Lymphoma. He received an experimental protocol treatment that included stem cell replacement and was cleared in remission in 2007. He says he didn’t get back to feeling normal until 2009. About that time, says Carl, “Super Jeep, driven by an employee of mine, was breaking all kinds of parts. I had no energy, and no money, but I did have time, and thinking was free. It really tore up the rearend on Father’s Day 2010 and that was the flashpoint that ultimately led to the development of the JANA differentials that incorporate larger Dana gearsets in smaller Dana housings.”

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Super Jeep had been sitting idle for almost two years when I first saw it in July, 2013. Carl got the itch to revive it early that Fall and quickly amassed the proper resurrection parts. He also signed up for the Insanity Fab Winter Challenge just to keep himself fully committed and on task. The Winter Challenge, held in late January, is an impromptu, invitation-only competition where combatants hit the snow line on a fire road and see who can go the farthest in four hours.

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Bringing Super Jeep Back to Life

Carl went through his innovative Jantz Engineering Jana 76 diffs, SM420 transmission/Ranger overdrive combo, Dana 300 transfer case with a 4:1 ratio Low Max gearset, and ARB Air Lockers. He also added a brush bar that would funnel branches up and over the vehicle. He was an alternate for the Winter Challenge when someone dropped out. So, 11 days before the event, Super Jeep was running hot laps in the backyard and prowlin’ the streets of Poulsbo, Washington, as Carl tuned the MegaSquirt/Air Sensors aftermarket throttle-body fuel injection system. At 4,800 rpm the #1 piston burned up and he was dead in the water. Dejected, Carl posted an S.O.S. on Facebook for a cheap, available, used small-block Chevy. He was amazed to get five responses, and $200 later Super Jeep was on engine Number 11.

The engine’s fuel injection set-up is basically a 1984-vintage, 1,000mm Air Sensors four-injector throttlebody with a MegaSquirt ECU running the show.   The dash is in constant evolution. I especially like the use of toolbox latches to provide quick access to the inner wiring domain behind the main gauge panel. Carl says the conversion to Bluetooth to tune the EFI will allow him to clean up the dash considerably. The dash is in constant evolution. I especially like the use of toolbox latches to provide quick access to the inner wiring domain behind the main gauge panel. Carl says the conversion to Bluetooth to tune the EFI will allow him to clean up the dash considerably.

Yep, Carl and Super Jeep answered the bell for the Winter Challenge and made the most of their opportunity, finishing an impressive second place. It was a few weeks later that I got my first ride in Super Jeep. Despite my survival supply concerns, it was some mild snow 'wheelin at the Bon Jon trail near Quilcene, Washington. The fire roads are open to off-roaders and there’s usually a few groups playing on the mountain on any given weekend.

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We returned to the trail a few weeks later to shoot pictures…Was it an excuse for more snow wheeling? Yes, but I did take pictures. Super Jeep was alive and kickin', with a set of 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers bolted on. We decided to tackle Trap Pass on NF-2530 in the Olympic Range but this time out of Brinnon, Washington.

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Before even hitting the fire road portion of the trail we were met with boulders blocking the way. Where many would have turned back, Carl’s tenacity kicked in. In fact a few trucks pulled up behind us and high-tailed it away in search of easier egress.

We winched the ‘small’ 8,000- to 10,000-pound stone out of the way and went where no one, judging by the size of the saplings, had been in four or five years. We came upon a number of downed trees across the trail, but Carl was packing a chainsaw and we prevailed. An avalanche site, where the snow across the trail had thawed and refroze, made for a daunting challenge. This terrain tends to shuffle vehicles down the slope, off the trail, and off the mountain. No worries for Carl though - who cut a rut on the uphill side with the chainsaw and I chipped out the pieces. It was onward and upward for us. We were on the trail a solid 10 hours, a tiring 10 hours, a glorious 10 hours.

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Carl plans to upgrade Super Jeep with Bluetooth connectivity to tune the MegaSquirt ECU and add some front fenders that match his brushed aluminum rear set-up. And he has invited me on another adventure, this time through the Cascade Mountain Range east of Seattle. I’ve already bought the peppered jerky and am just waiting for the phone to ring… Bring on the apocalypse.

Ready for more 'wheelin adventures? We've got you covered.

This story was originally published on March 26, 2014.

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