No, you are not what you drive. At the same time, what you end up driving still makes a statement. “I could’ve gone with something newer,” Orange County, California’s Phil Waldman reveals. “But the Willys Wagon was something different. I didn’t want to have a rig like everyone else’s.” There’s more to it, though. This 1948 Willys wagon is the fifth Willys Wagon that Phil has owned. Willys Wagons had taken him plenty of places over the years, and it seemed only fitting to choose another one when it came time to build a vehicle for backcountry exploring.
At first, the '48 Willys Wagon was Phil’s daily driver. Little upgrades here and there eventually led to a frame-off restoration. The original body was too rotted to justify saving, so a donor in better shape was found. Once the complete platform was mechanically sound and purged of rust, the backcountry buildup began. American Overland Expedition in Laguna Hills, California, was comfortably close to Phil’s home, and worth trekking to even if it wasn’t.
Alex Carvallo and the crew at American Overland Expedition (AOE 4x4) started by fabricating an internal roll bar. The next off-road protection added was a custom set of rock sliders that nicely conform to the classic iron’s bodylines. A stout AOE 4x4 skidplate spans the framerails, defending the transfer case and output yokes against aggressive terrain.
The suspension package is very simple yet extremely effective. Custom Deaver leaf packs mount under the front and rear Dana 44 axles, and damping control is provided by a single Bilstein 5160 reservoir shock at each corner. Since the stock shock mounting locations were retained, wheel travel is admittedly on the short side. It’s a good ride until the bumps get too big. The solution is easy: slow down and enjoy the backcountry view.
Many of today’s backcountry exploration rigs are fitted with refrigerators, slide-out cargo drawers, and rooftop tents. All three are on board this Willys Wagon and get plenty of use. Phil enjoys the extended trips that American Overland Expedition frequently hosts, but his busy schedule makes nearby Big Bear an equally attractive option.
The Willys Wagon is completely functional, but there’s no denying the nostalgia component. Getting compliments and digging up memories is as easy as stopping for gas or stopping in for a bite to eat. Willys wagons remind many of good times gone by: something we saw more than once as we traveled to our photo spot in Johnson Valley. For Phil, the good times haven’t stopped. They’re forged anew every time he takes a drive. His 1948 Willys Wagon is inspired by the past and built for the future. Thanks for the memories.
|1948 Willys 4x4 wagon|
|Owner/Hometown:||Phil Waldman/Orange County, California|
|Engine:||Chevy 350 V-8 with serpentine belt conversion|
|Transfer case/low range ratio:||Spicer Model 18/2.46:1|
|Front end:||Wagoneer-model Dana 44|
|Rear end:||Wagoneer-model Dana 44|
|Ring and Pinion:||4.56:1|
|Front Differential:||ARB Air Locker|
|Rear Differential:||Detroit Locker|
|Suspension:||Custom Deaver spring-under leaf packs, Bilstein 5160 shocks|
|Tires:||BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO, 33x10.50R15|