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1946 Jeep Willys CJ-2A - The Big, Red One

Posted in Features on February 1, 2005 Comment (0)
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1946 Jeep Willys CJ-2A - The Big, Red One
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There's an interesting phenomenon about four-wheelers. It's the unique manner in which we approach life; an approach that many nongearheads would never notice. It's a lifestyle that, when presented with the right opportunity, can consume our thoughts and obsess our character. An anomaly of genetic intervention, we have the capacity to possess a singular focus to perfect one, and only one, thing - our beloved four-wheel drive. We are driven to create a vehicle unique only to itself. As automotive journalists and photographers, our viewfinders are drawn to these vehicles like an Irishman to a tavern. This was the case when we ran into Scott Dillar and his vintage Willys on the Rubicon. We barely noticed Dillar as we gazed at his immaculate '46 Viper Red Willys CJ-2A sitting on the granite. From fairlead to tailpipe, the attention to detail that went into this work of art was without compromise.

Dillar, who resides in Colfax, California, has long been afflicted with the aforementioned disorder. His first of five vehicle buildups - a vintage Bronco - was in 1986. He says that they were all great rigs, but, "They just weren't a Jeep." Scott eyed this '46 Willys CJ-2A while rummaging through a friend's barn and immediately knew this was his dream project. Scott's friend Nick Holden, owner of S&H Four Wheel Drive in Sacramento, had owned the rig for 26 years and told Scott, "It's not for sale and never will be." Set up as a rockcrawler in the early '70s, the time-worn flattie had seen five engine and tranny swaps, spent a decade as a sand dragger, and was currently stripped down to a frame and a pile of parts. Scott persisted with his query until Holden finally gave up, saying, "I won't sell it, but I'll give it to you if you promise to give me a ride in the old boy when you're done."

A welder by trade and master craftsman by genetic composition, Scott knew he needed to do something special with his newly acquired friend. What ensued was an eight-month period of creation, in which anything short of perfection was not an option. The rig would have to not only look good, but would have to be a serious performer as well.

A dependable powerplant being a primary concern, a new crate Chevy 350 was ordered, along with a laundry list of ancillary items. Once on the engine stand, the mill was capped with an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold and Quadrajet carburetor, which was custom-built by Carbs That Work. Aluminum pulleys spin a 130-amp alternator, which keeps a pair of Optima batteries at full capacity. An MDS ignition brings it all to life. Since this rig was going to see lots of slow rockcrawling, maximizing its cooling ability was a high priority. A Griffin four-core aluminum radiator and Edelbrock water pump handle coolant duties. To further enhance heat dissipation, spent gasses exit via a pair of Sanderson ceramic-coated aluminum headers.

Moving aft, power is transferred to a Dana 300 transfer case via a performance-built Chevy TH350 automatic transmission. The T-case distributes ample low-end torque via the cogs of a Tera Low 4:1 gearset, an Advance Adapters twin-stick, and a big-yoke kit. Sending power fore and aft is a pair of long-spline 'shafts from Driveline Services. The rear, at 10-3/4 inches long, received a CV-joint to reduce binding at full suspension droop. After being completely assembled, the entire ensemble was fit onto a fully prepped frame.

The old flattie had previously received a frame from a '65 CJ-5, which was boxed end to end and reinforced at key stress points. Front and rear spring perches were fabricated to accommodate a set of flexy BDS 2-1/2-inch Wrangler lift leaf springs, which would be mounted above the axles. To further enhance driveability and articulation, the axles were moved fore and aft 2 inches, resulting in an 84-inch wheelbase. The front received a shackle reversal kit, and the original rears were replaced with a pair of Revolver shackles. Dampening duties were left to a set of Rancho 9000 adjustable shocks, while directional control is managed via a high-steer setup.

For Dillar, the axle selection was easy. Scott went back to S&H Four Wheel Drive for a custom rear Tera 60R and front Dana 44. S&H fit both ends with 4:10 ring-and-pinion gears, ARB Air Lockers, and power disc brakes. Additionally, the full-floating 60R received a pair of 35-spline axles and Warn hubs. To accentuate a perfected powerplant, drivetrain, and suspension combination, the entire assembly was placed on 36-inch Interco TSLs wrapped around 15x10-inch Outlaw aluminum wheels.

With the drivetrain in place, Scott's focus turned toward the sheetmetal. What he started with was a literal potpourri of Willys parts, consisting of various years and models. With a barrage that included a '53 front fender, a '42 grille and headlights, and a '55 windshield frame, the puzzle finally came together in the form of a whole Jeep. Once assembled, the tub's undercarriage and interior were treated to a coating of Line-X, then taken to Highlands Paint for a gorgeous coat of Viper Red.

The view from the driver's seat is no less impressive than the exterior. A full set of Auto Meter Phantom Gauges complement a stainless-steel dash while keeping a pulse on the system's vitals. Swing pedals and a Cadillac tilt steering column enhance driver input, and custom bucket seats cradle a Tuffy security console. Out back, a Con-Ferr rear seat doubles as a storage bin and carries a Ready welder, Optima batteries, tools, and a 750-watt DC power inverter. To optimize storage capacity, Dillar also fabricated matching storage boxes to fit over the rear wheelwells. Other cool items are the original blackout driving lights, a custom-fabricated rollcage, rock sliders, a swing-out tire carrier, a track bar, and heavy-duty bumpers, of which the front carries a Warn 8274 winch.

As with any true obsession, especially that of a master craftsman, a project is never complete. The final touch was a matching trailer fashioned from mere slabs of sheetmetal. Fifty-six years after it rolled out of the Willys Overland factory, this "Old Boy" is back on the trail and in pristine condition. Dillar got to fulfill his dream Jeep project and Nick Holden got to ride the trail with his classic old friend.

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