A Mod­ern Willys Wagon

Take a TJ and see what de­vel­ops

Jp Magazine - - Table Of Contents - By Tren­ton McGee jped­i­tor@jp­magazine.com Pho­tog­ra­phy: Tren­ton McGee

Among the sea of Jeeps at this year’s Dirt ’N Drive, Casey Dim­mitt’s 1957 Willys

Wagon stuck out like a sore thumb… one that we’d gladly en­dure some pain to own. Sport­ing a per­fectly recre­ated patina and an unas­sum­ing near-stock ap­pear­ance, we fully ex­pected to see leaf springs, drum brakes, and an old Ross bell­crank steer­ing sys­tem on it. It wasn’t un­til we got closer and no­ticed the coil springs that we sus­pected we might have a sleeper on our hands. The more we looked, the more we liked.

Casey hails from Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, a place known for lots of beach­side re­cre­ation and year-round sun­shine. A vin­tage wagon would be right at home, but get­ting a clas­sic 1950s Willys to mod­ern SoCal free­way speeds is a hair-rais­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, not to men­tion bring­ing it to a stop in a hurry. Casey noted that the Wagon’s wheel­base was aw­fully close to an LJ’s, and so the hunt be­gan for a suit­able donor that could con­trib­ute mod­ern un­der­pin­nings to the clas­sic body.

From the start this project was built on a bud­get. Casey found a suit­able rust-free donor up in the desert near John­son Val­ley. Af­ter do­ing some body­work and get­ting it into primer, he let it sit out in the el­e­ments for a while be­fore adding some rat­tle-can color. He had trou­ble find­ing a suit­able LJ donor, and so he bought a few TJ wrecks and started cherry-pick­ing parts for the wagon. A 2006 TJ frame was stretched to LJ di­men­sions once he had no luck sourc­ing a good stock LJ chas­sis, and he sold off com­po­nents he didn’t need in or­der to off­set costs with an eye to­ward break­ing even. He ended up with a 4.0L backed by a 6-speed man­ual and a Ru­bi­con 4:1 trans­fer case. Power is sent to the vin­tage-look­ing

tire and wheel pack­age via Ru­bi­con Dana 44s filled with fac­tory lock­ers and 4.10 gears. The tires are per­fectly pro­por­tional 255/70R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Ter­rain T/As wrapped around vin­tage-look­ing stock Chrysler 300 wheels that have been pow­der­coated white.

Mat­ing the vin­tage body to the mod­ern frame wasn’t ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult, but it was not with­out its chal­lenges. Casey fab­ri­cated body mounts that matched the wagon on the TJ chas­sis and also added an ex­tra pair in the back for good mea­sure. The arch for the rear springs had to be notched to clear the wagon floor, and ev­ery­thing rear­ward of

the arches had to be raised and re­worked to match the body. A WJ gas tank looks right at home un­der the older SUV and re­quired out­board­ing the rear shocks. De­spite the nearly stock-look­ing stance, the sus­pen­sion is ac­tu­ally lifted 4 inches via a col­lec­tion of mis­matched parts that he had ly­ing around.

There are a ton of sub­tle de­tails to this ve­hi­cle that are easy to over­look. There’s a 10-gal­lon wa­ter tank hid­den un­der the floor­boards hooked to an on­board hot-wa­ter shower. The un­der­hood stor­age box is an old por­ta­ble file cab­i­net, and both the air cleaner and the ra­di­a­tor over­flow tank were sourced from a Land Rover. Casey man­aged to shoe­horn the fac­tory HVAC sys­tem un­der the dash, but it feeds vin­tage air ducts; the sun­glasses holder near the steer­ing col­umn is a case for an old pair of safety glasses; and the big alu­minum cooler was orig­i­nally used by the Swiss mil­i­tary as a blood bank.

The build isn’t rad­i­cal, and that’s just what we like about it. It was cre­ated with re­li­a­bil­ity and long-dis­tance off-road travel in mind, and Casey re­ports that it serves those pur­poses per­fectly. Aside from ex­tended get­aways from the crowds and traf­fic of SoCal, the Willys is equally at home cruis­ing PCH with a surf­board stick­ing out of the rear hatch.

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