HOT ROD JEEP IN SOUTH KOREA 1958-59

Contributor: George Breen

HOT ROD JEEP part 1 I will begin to tell you about how building this “HOT ROD Jeep” in South Korea came about. First may I…

Topic: Cars, People
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HOT ROD JEEP part 1

I will begin to tell you about how building this “HOT ROD Jeep” in South Korea came about.

First may I say that my interest in hot rod cars began when I was in school at the age of 16, when a friend brought an early issue of, “Hot Rod” magazine to school and gave it to me to look at.  Seeing all these self-made cars, each one with a personality of its own, really excited me!  I was “Hooked” for ever

George Breen (right) in 1954 with the 1st fuel injected drag racing car

As a young man I had one passion!  Cars!  Fast cars!

So, in 1958, when I was drafted to Korea (570th Ord. Co. Das. Support compound for S.A.C.  (Seoul Area Command)) I usually had Saturday and Sunday free.  I needed something to keep myself entertained.  So natural thing for me was to build a car.

I knew this would not be an easy task!  Building hot rods in the military is not the normal thing to do!!  And of course, the only parts that I had access to were military parts.  No civilian cars in Korea in the 1950’s!

Located behind shop one, the shop that I oversaw, was what we called an” Evac” lot.  This is the military term for, Junk

Yard!  This is where most of the parts for constructing this car would come from.

View of the “Evac” , the junk yard in the 570th Ord. Co. Das. (Niblo Barracks)

 

I decided that most of the work building the car would be done in my shop at night and on the weekends, while the officers and most of the higher-ranking NCO’s were in the village or in the NCO club having fun!  This idea did work well!

HOT ROD JEEP part 2

In the beginning only two of my closest buddies were a part of this project, SP4 Hale, and SP4Witte.

Being that we were limited to using military parts, my idea for the simplest car was to begin with a jeep frame and axles because they were smaller and lighter than most military vehicles, and then install the largest engine that we could find!

It was now the fall of 1958 and work began with finding a jeep frame in the 570th “junk yard” and bringing it into my shop, cleaning it up, and brushing on new paint, which we acquired from a

young Korean civilian named Kim that worked at the company paint shop.  Kim was also an artist.

During the day I was searching for a usable engine that would have lots of power and really make a ‘HOT ROD “out of this Jeep! and at night we were busy installing the front and rear axles and brakes on the frame that now looked new. We had also cleaned and painted the brake parts and installed 600×16 front wheels and tires, and 7oox16 rear ones.  The fronts came from a WW2 Jeep that the Korean army was now using, and the rear wheels came from a, M38-A1 Jeep.

In the 570th co., there was a department called, D.X.   This was Direct Exchange.  I could simply take an old defective auto part there and exchange it for a rebuilt, workable unit.

On one occasion, I came to find, that a man from Florida  managed the 570th DX. His name was SP4 Robert Horne.

HOT ROD JEEP part 3

Sp-4 Horne and I talked for a short time about Florida, him telling me he was from Fort Meyers and me telling him that I lived in Lake Wales.  I also had raced against a man from Fort Myers  many times in Drag Racing, and SP-4 Horne knew him!  What a surprise!

I now thought that I could trust Horne, so I told him, as his eyes got larger and larger, about my Hot Rod Jeep!  After Horne had sent shock waves through me over and over again, tell me how much serious trouble I could get into doing this, he said>.

“Breen, I have been told that in years past, there was a WW-2 Fire Truck, here at the 570th.  This truck has been gone for years now, but a spare rebuilt engine remains in my store room.  The engine is all covered with dust but has never been run after being rebuilt in the rebuild depot in Japan!  And the good part about this, is that the engine has been written off our inventory list for years and no one knows it is still here!”   “Follow me and I will show you this engine, “Horne said.

WOW, there it was! A dusty but, like new GMC truck engine!   In haste I cleaned off the location on the cylinder block that had the engine size stamped on it!   270!!   270 cubic inches, just as I thought!

“Horne, I have got to have this motor!”, I said “Man 270 inches will pull this little Jeep like a Race Car”, I almost yelled!

Horne, my new found, friend from Florida told me that he would move the engine to the large back door, and that I could pick it up with my shop’s engine removing truck and take it to my shop!

I had finally gotten the perfect engine for our new creation!

HOT ROD JEEP part 4

That night, Witte and Hale busied themselves with installing the Jeep steering box, brake master cylinder, and good brake lines that we had found during the day in the 570th evac lot.  The lines were not new, but they would serve fine.

As Witte and Hale were working on this, I began to measure the length of the GNC engine.   Some things became quickly apparent! First, it would be necessary to remove the center section of the front axle, so that we could move the longer engine more forward. And from my previous hot rod experience I thought that a 1956 Chevy transmission would bolt right up to the GMC engine if a Chevy flywheel was used. By doing this we could also use a 1956 Chevy clutch disk and pressure plate.  If I remember correctly, we also used the clutch release brg. From the 1956 Chevy.

In the 570th co.  we had a Sedan shop that did repair work on the Staff cars That the, “Brass” used!

So, the next day found me at the sedan shop, trying to “con” these Chevy parts from, SP-4 Ives.  Here again I was forced to give my secret away, but after assuring Ives that he would be in no trouble, (HOW DID I KNOW THIS)? I did leave with all the necessary Chevy parts!

The next work night, as Hale removed the front axle center section, Witte and I began to make the necessary changes to connect the big GMC to the light weight Chevy transmission.  This allowed us to discard the heavy and clumsy Jeep transmission and transfer case!

HOT ROD JEEP part 5

Well, we now had our Jeep frame on wheels and the steering complete.  It was exciting to push it around and steer it and the brakes were working also!

It was now time to install the big engine and Chevy transmission!

Bolting the Chevy flywheel to the GMC crankshaft would prove to be our greatest challenge! This required locating and drilling 7 new holes!  4 for the flywheel bolts and 3 for the dowel pins that were located in the flange on the rear of the crankshaft!  Oh Boy!

If we had not had our good friend, SP-4 Horne working in DX, we would have never completed this!  I ruined 3 flywheels, before getting it right on the 4th one!

Now we had the engine and transmission all bolted together!

We picked this assembly up and lowered it down into the small Jeep chassis WOW! It was going to work! But, because, on the Jeep rear axle the drive pinion was off set to the right so the Jeep drive shaft would be in line with the transfer case.  This would require us to install the GMC engine and Chevy transmission at an angle.  With the big engine installed, with the transmission, it left room for only a 9-inch driveshaft!   Short, but we could make this work!

HOT ROD JEEP part 6

Witte, Hale, and I were really getting excited!  We were now welding in and relocating new motor mounts that would support the big GMC engine and Chevy. Transmission.  Things were really looking good!

I returned to the sedan shop and managed to talk SP4-Ives out of a used Chevy drive shaft.  We cut the drive shaft to a 9-inch length, (with a hack saw), and luck was on our side, in that the Jeep and Chevy. U. joints were the same, (if I remember correctly), so nothing major was required here.

We now had a rolling chassis, with an engine and drive line!!

Things were looking pretty good!  But now we needed a body!

There were a number of Jeep bodies in the 570th EVAC lot. But all of them had unit numbers and markings painted on, so I was afraid that the body from one of these Jeeps could be traced back to our car!  Not sure if anyone would have done this, but I was afraid to do this!

In a few days, once again, Fate would smile upon us and our project once again!

 

HOT ROD JEEP part 7

Shop one, the shop that I managed was located just to the right of the gate that entered into the 570th Evac lot.

Well, on a Monday after noon, I watched as a Jeep with 4 M.P.’S aboard, escorted a U.S, army ¾ ton truck carrying 4 bundles that was covered with a heavy cloth like material.  Once inside the Evac lot, the driver and a helper shoved the bundles out the rear of the truck into a pile.  What In the world could this be?

I almost ran to the shop office and when I arrived I heard the M.P.’S tell the shop officer the complete story!

It seems that the M.P.’S had caught 4 Korean “slicky boys”, walking down the road with these 4 large bundles strapped to the A Frames  on their backs! The Korean’s had cut a Jeep body into 4 pieces, wrapped each piece in cloth of some sort!   And was on their way!

Wow, what luck!!  I knew the shop officer had no interest in 4 pieces of Jeep body!   But I sure did!!

That evening at evening chow, I told Hale and Witte what had happened!  I never would see a larger smile on a GI’S face!!

 

HOT ROD JEEP part 8

We didn’t dare go and retrieve the 4 pieces of Jeep body that first night!  We had fears that someone, maybe the M’P.’S would need to investigate the stealing of this Jeep body farther!

It was difficult for us to wait, but we did not go near the stolen Jeep body for 4 weeks!

There were two guard towers inside the 570th compound.  Both were maned after dark. One was occupied by a G.I., and the other by a Korean. I can’t remember if the Korean was a civilian or a KATUSA.

But because of this we thought it would be safer if we went in and got the 4 pieces just before closing time and brought them into my shop.  We did, and it worked out fine!

That night, as Hale and Witte began cutting up pieces from the left-over Chevy. Drive shaft and some exhaust tubing to build a self-made, 3 carb. Log, Intake manifold that would accept 3 Jeep,

single throat carbs. I began welding the 4 pieces of body back together!

Welding a couple of hours, a night only so I would have time to share with Marie, It required almost a week for me to completely weld the body back together!

I did complete the welding and after grinding the welds, SP-5 Hamada, from the body shop came over and smoothed out the welds and a few other small dents and holes!  Hamada even custom fitted sheet metal to replace the original tail gate! The body that once was in 4 pieces, now looked like new!

 

HOT ROD JEEP part 9

Now we had a like new body!

The following night Witte, Hale, Hamada, and I lifted the body and placed it on the chassis, and as we thought, the long, in line 6 cyl. GMC, came to the rear, almost to the dash board!  So, for the body to attach to the frame, the firewall would have to be cut!

We removed the body and I cut a large notch out of the center of the firewall with our burning torch!  Now, again we placed the body over the engine and it fell in place on the frame!!  Wow, how long had we waited for this moment to come?!

As Hale finished up the log intake manifold, Witte and I began bolting the body to the frame!

Hale finished up the manifold and began work on what would be, self-made exhaust headers.  These headers would connect to two Jeep mufflers.

As you know, the long 6 cyl. engine extended back into the interior of the body! Passenger, and driver part of the body.  So, our next work session found me welding in sheet metal to form a box to enclose the engine!  This work fine and looked good!

To make this box look even better and stay cooler, I covered the outside with white, padded leather taken from seats that was in the “junked” bus in our Evac lot!

With the exhaust finished, we now installed seats, front fenders, gas tank, battery, and some linkage and wiring!   One other interesting thing!!

 

HOT ROD JEEP part 10

You see, a jeep, the driver shifts the gears, using a lever mounted in the floor. Well, we discarded the jeep transmission and installed a 1956 Chevy, and the driver shifts gears using a lever mounted on the steering column!  So now we had no method of shifting gears!

We all agreed that we would like a floor shift! But how?

Back in the States a floor shift conversion could be bought, but Not in KOREA, in 1959!!

I had an idea! Why not take a Colum shift unite from the 1956 Chevy, and shorten it as short as possible, (like only a few inches), and mount this on the floor between the seats!? Then we could install two rods and connect them to the two shifting arms on the side of the transmission!  This is what we did, and it worked as if it came from the factory!!

We now had everything working, lights included!  And a one-piece windshield installed!

The little car, our pride and joy were ready to start!!  No paint, but everyone felt this could wait!

Marie had spent a few hours many nights with Hale, Witte, me and a few other G.I.’S THAT HELPED ALONG THE WAY!  Marie loved the little car as much as we did and enjoyed so much being a part of our project!

My tour of duty at the 570th and my life in south Korea was near complete! I only had a few weeks more and I would rotate back home.  Hale would leave before me and Witte after me.  I was beginning to feel sick as I thought about this.  Marie and I would now cry as we talked at night!

BUT! now we had our car to start and drive!!

The Jeep ready to start

We decided to start it and drive it that following Saturday evening, after most of 570th members would be in the village or in the club.

Saturday evening arrived! Marie was there, and all the people that had helped was invited. People that had turned nuts and bolts and people that had helped find parts!

 

JEEP CONCLUSION

Just after dark on Saturday night we proudly pushed our little car out on my shop!  As we stood around this simple little, one of a kind car, we felt like a family seeing their grandchild after being born!  So proud, so loving!

Some one finally softly said,” Breen, this was your idea, you start er up”!

I jumped in the driver’s seat and Marie was in the passenger’s seat!  Being the engine had never been started we left the 3 carbs, so the starter could build the oil pressure before the engine started!

Marie was holding my arm as I twisted the ignition key!  THE ENGINE DID TURN, AND I WATCHED THE OIL PRESSURE GAUGE!  THE NEEDLE MOVED AND CLIMBED TO ABOUT 15 LBS>!   WE WERE READY!!

HALE POURED JUST A LITTLE GAS FROM A SMALL BOTTLE INTO THE AIR HORNS OF THE JEEP CARBS!

Some on said, “stand back everyone”!

I twisted the key!! The big engine ROARED TO LIFE!!   Marie now had her arms around my neck!!  The 570th was now sounding like a State side race track on a Friday night!!  And everyone laughing and yelling!!  If we ever did have a secret, we didn’t have one now!!

Illustration by George Breen “Marie and I, expressing our excitement by spinning “Donuts” on the hard dirt surface in front of shop one. We were doing this for the crowed that had gathered and was so excited to see the little car preform, after working on it for so long! Aprox. 9 months! We were enjoying doing this at night, so things are a little fuzzy!”

Marie and I did drive the car in the open space in front of shop one and then we parked it back in my shop, where it had been built.

Many hours, much labor, but truly a labor of love!

Some folks play golf, some people fish.  But some of us must think of the project, put it together with our hands, and see it preform!

From my heart, a special thank you to all my military friends that helped make this miracle possible.   George Breen

Cut out from the Hot Rod Magazine. 1959 George Breen is the second from the right

I had not seen the picture of the Jeep  Hot Rod for many years!  I removed the photo from my album and read  what I had wrote before sending it to my Mother in 1959!!!  I couldn’t believe how much I remembered correctly!!!

A special thank you for letting me writing for Yongsan Legacy this rewarding story of days gone by.

Veteran George Breen