JOEL TAN'S WILLYS JEEP
A POST-WWII CIVILIAN JEEP INFUSED WITH JAPANESE PARTS AND FILIPINO FLAVOR
Why is there a Jeep in Super Street? To understand, you have to take a peek into the modified car scene halfway around the world, specifically 7,000 miles away in the Philippines. Joel Tan grew up there and got his start messing with a Jeep just like this one when he was 16 years old. Joel explained that in his hometown of Manila, the Willys Jeeps are a starting point for most young car enthusiasts. They’re practical, cheap, and simple enough that engine swaps are quite common. Joel swapped a 3T inline-four from an ’82 Toyota into his first Jeep, then used it to go street racing around the Greenhills Shopping Center in Metro Manila.
Fast-forward more than 25 years, and Joel now calls Los Angeles home. In his garage resides a ’72 Nissan Skyline with a port and polished L28 straight-six, Mikuni carbs, fender flares, and SSR wheels, plus a '72 Corolla that features a refreshed 2T-G engine, custom coilovers, Enkei wheels, and a JDM aero. So, how did this Jeep fit in? Well, he wanted to recreate the vehicle of his childhood, the vehicle that taught him how to turn a wrench in the first place. Then he added, “I really wanted to challenge myself.”
This particular ’46 Willys Jeep was picked up as a rolling shell with a windshield from a San Diego–based military veteran. The SR20DET and fivespeed gearbox out of an S14 Silvia came later, which was quite easy to source from JDM California. Joel admitted the Nissan powertrain barely fit in the Jeep’s tiny engine bay, but despite the tight squeeze, he explains he didn’t have to modify the firewall or frame—just cut the transmission tunnel to make the swap work. Up front, a radiator intended for a Datsun 240Z somehow fit into place, and an intercooler he had laying around from a previous project (rotary-powered ’72 Toyota Corolla) was mounted front and center so there was no mistaking this Jeep was boosted.
Mechanically, the SR20 is as close to factory as possible, with a stock ECU map and 550cc injectors Joel drilled out to a little more than 600cc. “That’s the way we do it in the Philippines,” he chuckled. The Jeep is loud (the exhaust exits underneath the driver seat), but it’s surprisingly efficient. When Joel took it out for its first road test, he used $5 worth of gas and thought the gas gauge was broken. Spoken like a man with a rotary in the garage…
“When people see this Jeep in person, it’s something they can’t imagine seeing in the States."
As for his wife’s thoughts about the loud and low Jeep? He explained the original Jeep he built, which he still owns in Manila, is the vehicle that brought them together. After racing through Greenhills one night, he drove by his future wife and her friends waiting for a taxi. He stopped, she got in, and 28 years later they’re still married!
After our photoshoot, we asked Joel which of his three project cars he enjoys driving most. He concluded, “When people see this Jeep in person, it’s something they can’t imagine seeing in the States. It gets so much more attention, and I love seeing people’s reactions every time.”