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Desert Patina - 1959 Willys Pickup

Posted in Features on January 1, 2013
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Photographers: Ken Breslauer

Paul Regner gets to wrench on some cool stuff. His vocation is an M1A1 Abrams battle tank mechanic and his personal rig is this awesome 1959 Willys pickup. Some guys get all the luck.

The owner describes the exterior of the truck as “tan, with desert patina,” and metal work by “Mother Nature.” The front bumper/winch mount is homemade and it’s donned with a pair of shackles and a Mile Marker 8,000-pound electric winch. The truck rolls on a set of 34x10.50-16 Interco Super Swamper LTB bias-ply tires inflated around a set of 8-inch-wide steel wheels. The black metal box you see mounted to the driver-side bedside is a homemade on-board air system. “I cobbled this together using an old 3½ horsepower Warn winch motor I had laying around my garage. I coupled this to a York-style air conditioning compressor from an early ’80s-vintage Toyota utilizing a high-torque coupling purchased from McMaster-Carr. The system is protected with a 100-amp relay and feeds a five-gallon tank mounted in the bed,” Regner says. A pressure switch turns on the electric motor when pressure drops to 80 psi and it shuts off at 110 psi. There is an air chuck on each side of the framerail just behind the truck’s cab. “The

The cool Willys pickup has been modified to suit Regner’s needs. “There are numerous areas of the vehicle that I upgraded or repaired in a hurry; it is after all my daily driver (in fact, my only driver) and I’ve got to be able to get to work every Monday morning,” Regner says. Modifications include an injected 327ci small-block V-8 engine, a pair of Ford 9-inch axles, and a variety of creative, useful items like the custom-made on-board air system.

Regner says that he has taken heat because of the modifications, but it doesn’t bother him. “While my truck and I are frequently the focus of intense scorn and derision from the Willys purists (restorers), I feel that I’m operating and maintaining the truck in the spirit that the engineers at Willys designed it. They knew that those that purchased these trucks would be taking them to their ranches, farms, and other places of business and working them to pieces. When these trucks weren’t being worked hard they were being played in hard. When they broke through hard work or play, they were repaired with whatever could be found on hand and made to work,” Regner says.

Up front, a Ford 9-inch axle sits in the space formerly occupied by the factory Dana/Spicer 25 axle. The Currie-built 9-inch sports modified GM Dana 44 knuckles, a Truetrac differential, 4.86 gears, Currie 31-spline chromoly axleshafts, early ’70s GM ½-ton disc brakes, and Warn lockout hubs. The 34-inch tires are aimed via a power steering system that includes a Chevy El Camino-sourced pump and pitman arm; custom drag link made from 1.125-inch-diameter, 0.188-inch-wall chromoly DOM tubing with Mountain Off-Road Enterprises (M.O.R.E.) rod ends; a custom steering arm; and a custom tie rod made from 1.250-inch-diameter, 0.188-inch-wall tubing with M.O.R.E. rod ends. The rigs suspension still uses the stock leaves but Regner removed four leaves in an attempt to smooth the ride and improve articulation (as you’ll read in a moment, he says it didn’t really help). Shocks are Rancho RS5000 units. In regards to the front suspension, Regner says, “I’ve toyed with the idea of doing away with the front leaf-spring suspension and replacing it with an early Ford Bronco coil spring setup. I’m a little reluctant to attack this project, as I currently have absolutely no bad steering mannerisms. It tracks well and there is zero bumpsteer. I’ve only mused over this as a result of the pathetic articulation and Conestoga wagon-like ride quality.”
PhotosView Slideshow

What you see here is the result of 12 years of ownership, but Regner says he isn’t done with the truck yet. “I’m slowly (as time and finances permit) going through and improving on various aspects,” he notes.

We think he’s off to a great start and we can’t wait to see the truck 12 years from now.

The pickup is motivated by a Corvette-sourced 327ci V-8 that produces 225hp @ 4,400 rpm and 265 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm at the wheels according to Regner’s tuning software. It sports GM “fuelie” heads, an Edelbrock Performer TPI intake, GM Tuned Port Injection, ceramic-coated shorty block-hugger headers, and 2.5-inch-diameter dual exhaust with Summit Racing mufflers. The ’plant is cooled by a mechanical fan and a Griffin dual-core aluminum radiator. Regner made the rig’s tuned port wiring harness from a ’91 Chevy Camaro harness and he crafted the complete wiring harness for the truck. Getting the engine to run well with the TPI was a challenge. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the software from TunerPro RT (it provides an easy-to-use and understand graphic interface for modifying the GM binary file that runs the fuel injection). Additionally, it wouldn’t have been possible without first removing the EPROM chip from the MEMCAL unit in the ECM and replacing it with a socket to accept a 256kb flash memory chip (requires some skill with a soldering iron—not for the faint of heart). Cables plug my laptop into the ALDL port in the harness (for data logging and tuning information) and a mountain of useful information was obtained from Dialing in the ETC (electronic timing curve) was the biggest challenge. Had I access to a dyno I could have accomplished the task in just a few passes. Without a dyno it took about three months of daily driving and data logging to get the curve nailed down,” Regner says. And speaking of electrical stuff, the rig has dual batteries with Painless Performance Products dual battery controller and a Premier Power Welder 160-amp alternator.

PhotosView Slideshow

At A Glance
Vehicle: 1959 Willys pickup
Owner: Paul Regner
Stomping grounds: Twentynine Palms, California
Build time: 12 years

Engine: GM 327ci V-8, Tuned Port Injection
Transmission: SM420
Transfer case(s): Dana 20 w/ Dana 18 gears
Low range ratio(s): 2.46:1
Crawl ratio(s): 84.3:1
Front axle/Differential: Ford 9-in, Chevy ½-ton disc brakes, Currie 31-spline chromoly axleshafts, Warn lockout hubs/Truetrac, 4.86 gears
Rear axle/Differential: Ford 9-in, Currie 31-spline chromoly axleshafts/Detroit Locker, 4.86 gears

Front suspension: Factory leaf springs reduced to three leaves, Rancho RS5000 shocks
Rear suspension: Factory leaf springs reduced to five leaves, Rancho RS5000 shocks
Steering: El Camino power steering and pitman arm, custom drag link and tie rod

Tires: 34x10.50-16 Interco Super Swamper LTB
Wheels: 16x8 steel

Armor: Custom front bumper/winch mount, transfer case skidplate
Cool stuff: Custom compressed air system, 22-gal fuel cell, custom recessed cargo bed toolbox, 8,000-lb Mile Marker electric winch, 20 gal of additional fuel, swing-out fuel can rack.

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