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1953 Willy's Jeep - Wild Willys

Posted in Features on November 1, 2001 Comment (0)
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Toby Lavender has been running fullsize rigs in mud and sand virtually his entire life. But it wasn't until just a couple of years ago that he started taking a closer look at rockcrawling. The more he watched others out there having fun on the rocks, the more he started thinking about building his own 'crawler. That's when he went by his dad's house, talked him into letting him have the old '53 Willys sitting out back, and dragged it back to Lavender Brothers to begin this incredible transformation.

Altogether, it took Toby more than a year to get this rig up and running, and much of that, he'll tell you, was spent just sitting and thinking about how to engineer some of the modifications he had in mind.

Initially, Toby was going to use the stock frame and simply box it and strengthen it in places. But the more he thought about it, the simpler it sounded to just build a custom frame from scratch. The new frame is made of 1-1/2x3-inch square tubing with 0.188 wall DOM and is 12 inches longer than the stock version, giving it a wheelbase of 100 inches.

Toby wanted a suspension that would give him awesome articulation for conquering whatever stood before him, so he designed his own front and rear three-link setup using 2-inch tubing with a 0.250 wall DOM for the control arms and equipped them with 1-1/4-inch Heims and 2-inch Johnny Joints. For shocks that would do justice to his suspension, he went with 14-inch King coilovers with external reservoirs. Overall, Toby says his total articulation is more than 60 inches.

The front axle is a corporate 10-bolt with 4.88 gears, with a Detroit Locker and Warn premium hubs. What makes this axle unique is that the housing itself sits inside of a long tube that allows it to articulate as much as 32 inches with absolutely no bind. Because the steering is fully hydraulic, the pins on the ram had to be hourglass-shaped to allow the axle to rotate fully without causing the ram to bind.

The rear axle is a 9-1/2-inch, semi-floating, Corporate 14-bolt that's also been equipped with 4.88s and a Detroit, along with Moser axleshafts and a custom disc brake setup. At each corner, you'll find 35x15R15 TSL Boggers mounted on 15x10-inch American wheels with Champion bead locks. Because of the design, Toby says he could go with larger tires, but he gets such extreme articulation that he doesn't want the tires to become a limiting factor. Even so, he sees 42s in the near future.

Powering this one-of-a-kind flattie is a TBI 350 that's been upgraded with headers and a Performer cam from Edelbrock. It breathes nice and easy through a Flowmaster muffler and draws fuel from a JAZ cell that Toby equipped with a modified in-tank fuel pump. Backing up to the engine is a TH350 tranny with a fully manual valvebody, a Klune extreme underdrive gearbox, and an NP205 transfer case. Power is transferred to the axles via custom long-spline driveshafts from Arizona Drive Line that use 1350 U-joints at the axles and 1410 joints at the T-case.

To provide the kind of protection he knew he was going to need under extreme use, Toby custom-built his own rollcage. It's a beautiful piece of work that ties in the Pro Carr seats as well as the custom tilt column and orbital valve. Further interior elements include an Art Carr gate shifter and a custom aluminum dash that's outfitted with Auto Meter gauges.

To get the Willys body to sit just the way he wanted it, Toby had to make a couple of modifications. The firewall and the floor were completely reconstructed, and the seats were moved back 13 inches to make the whole setup more comfortable. Up front, the grille had to be extended 3 inches to make room for the four-row, dual-pass radiatior and the 16-inch fan.

According to Toby, his Willys still isn't completely finished. But after more than a year, he couldn't wait any longer to get it out in the rocks to see how it performed. As you can see, this old flattie has never looked better.

SPECIFICATIONS
Owner/hometown: Toby Lavender/
Seaside, California
Make/model: ’53 Willys
Engine: TBI 350
Induction: SVO 65mm TBI
Transmission: TH350
Transfer case: NP205
Frontend: Corporate 10-bolt
with Detroit
Rearend: Corporate 14-bolt
with Detroit
Ring-and-pinion: 4.88
Suspension: Custom three-link with
14-inch King coilovers
Tires/wheels: 35x15R15 TSL
Boggers/15x10-inch
American wheels with
Champion bead locks

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