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1953 Willys Pickup - Chilly Willys

Posted in Features on September 15, 2014
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Nothing is cooler than old iron, but spend much time behind the wheel of a rig with manual steering and drum brakes, and the nostalgia wears off pretty quickly. Jeremy Greer had the solution though: Swap modern components under the vintage tin of his ’53 Willys pickup for the best of both worlds. It wasn’t easy or cheap, but the end result is one of the most capable, best looking vehicles to cross our path in a long time.

It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap

The factory frame was retained, but it was reinforced with scab plates that tie in the rock sliders and 13⁄4-inch, 0.120-wall chromoly rollcage. Instead of mounting the steering box on the frame, an orbital valve controls the 21⁄4-inch, 10-inch-stroke Howe double-ended hydraulic ram that removes a lot of force from the frame. The ram is mounted on an Artec axles truss and connects to Artec double sheer steering arms. The ram has been cycled and synced with the steering stops on the knuckles to ensure they don’t break at full lock.

Under the belly of the Willys, a subframe was built that further strengthens the chassis and acts as the framework for the front and rear link suspension. Using full-hydraulic steering allows for the use of a triangulated four-link front suspension without any concerns of bumpsteer. The components used for the front and rear are nearly identical, which makes for a very balanced suspension with less unique spare parts required. The upper links are constructed from 13⁄4-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing, and the lower links were fabricated from 2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM. All of the links use genuine Currie Johnny Joints. Currie Antirock sway bars are used at both ends as well for added stability with the coilover shocks.

Fox 21⁄2-inch diameter, 14-inch-travel coilovers are found at each corner, along with Fox air bumps. The front coilovers use 300 lb-in over 300 lb-in coil springs, and the rear uses 400 lb-in over 500 lb-in coils, but Jeremy is considering running a lower spring rate in the rear of his truck. This combination makes room for big 42-inch Pit Bull Rockers on 20-inch TrailReady beadlock wheels.

Power comes from a 6.0L Chevy Gen III engine that was left stock for reliability. The buy-in price for these engines is more than their 4.8L and 5.3L brethren, but the bump in displacement and power makes it worthwhile. Feeding the engine is a custom 22-gallon fuel cell that is mounted under the rear of the bed. Jeremy plumbed the engine to the fuel cell with Fragola hose and fittings, a Walbro 255-gph fuel pump, and Aeromotive canister-style fuel filters on each side of the pump.

Power is routed to a TH350 three-speed automatic transmission built with Hughes clutches, a straight-cut direct drum, 36-element sprag, reverse manual valve body, and a Hughes torque converter. From there, an Off Road Design doubler mates the NP203 and NP205 transfer cases together and clocks the NP205 14 degrees for a better breakover angle. The driveshafts were built by High Angle Driveline with 1410 U-joints all around.

The beef doesn’t stop there. The front axle is a Chevy kingpin Dana 60 that has been upgraded with 4.88 Yukon gears, a Detroit Locker, Nitro 35-spline 4130 chromoly axleshafts, Spicer 806-X U-joints, and Yukon locking hubs. The Spicer U-joints deliberately act as a weak link, but they are inexpensive, spares don’t take up much space, and they are easy to change on the trail. Out back, the Corporate 14-Bolt also uses 4.88 Yukon gears and a Detroit Locker, with disc brakes and a pinion guard from DIY 4x4.

Body and Interior
The interior of the Willys is Spartan, with the original dash and hose-it-out metal floors. As mentioned, there is a four-point rollcage that also ties in the Corbeau bucket seats and Tuffy center console. An AutoMeter Monster Tachometer is mounted on the crossbar for the cage, and a trio of AutoMeter gauges is mounted in front of the polished tilt steering column. On the floor, an Art Carr gated shifter controls the TH350 and Northwest Fab cable shifters are used for the doubler.

Out back, the factory bed was reinforced with 1-inch, 0.120-wall DOM that serves as tie down points as well. Tubing was also used for the rear fenders, which are true to the original Willys design and fit the lines of the truck perfectly. The rear Fox coilovers come up through the bed on a custom bed ‘cage, but there is still plenty of room for a Hi-Lift Xtreme jack, a tool box, Powertank, and anything else that Jeremy needs to carry on the trail with him. Under the bed, the custom fuel cell is plumbed with all of the filters and pumps where they are out of harm’s way yet easy to reach, and there is even room for a pair of Optima YellowTop batteries in front of the cell.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For
We caught up with Jeremy at King of the Hammers, where he was using his Willys as a chase truck for a friend who was racing. The non-bobbed bed makes the truck very versatile for more than just rockcrawling, and he regularly uses his truck for longer wheeling and camping trips on trails like the Rubicon. He is the guy everyone wants to come along since he has room for a big ice chest, spare parts, and tools that would never fit in the back of a CJ.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1953 Willys pickup
Engine: GM 6.0L V8
Transmission: TH350
Transfer Case: NP203 and NP205 doubler
Suspension: Triangulated four-link with Fox coilovers (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front), GM 14-Bolt (rear)
Wheels: 20x9.5 Trailready beadlock
Tires: 42x15-20LT/D Pit Bull Rocker
Built For: Crawling in style

PhotosView Slideshow

Why I Wrote This Feature
Jeremy took a classic Jeep pickup and retained the character while adding a modern drivetrain and supple suspension with the best parts money could buy—and he did the work himself. Few people spend the time and effort to get the details right, but Jeremy did.
—Harry Wagner

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