The red rocks of Moab, Utah, get their color from the iron content within them. Todd Daines’ ’56 Willys pickup is no different. In fact, the patina on his truck could pass for camouflage on the trails around Moab. Daines lives in South Weber, Utah, where he runs Merlin Danes Incorporated Excavation with his family. Every weekend, his son and son-in-law were out on the trails in their built CJ-7s, and Todd wanted a ride of his own to join them. Over the course of two months, he and son-in-law Rick Prater built this Willys pickup into a trail-slaying machine. We caught up with them in Moab during the pickup’s inaugural run.
Todd started with a stock Willys frame and cab he found outside of Salt Lake City. The frame was completely boxed with 3⁄16-inch plate and reinforced with box tubing crossmembers between the front frame horns and under the custom flatbed. Superlift 4-inch lift springs designed for a 1⁄2-ton Chevy were hung up front to locate the front axle. These were originally just used for mock up, but the leaf springs minimize concerns about bump steer, provide sway control, and are less expensive and easier to package than coils or coilovers with steering components and engine pans.
Speaking of steering components, a Saginaw power-steering box was added inside the front framerail, which turns the custom drag link fit to a custom high steer arm with 1-ton Chevy tie-rod ends. Out back, where there is more room to fit the suspension components, Rick built a four-link suspension that uses triangulated uppers mounted to the custom truss on top of the axlehousing. The lower links are 2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM and the uppers are 13⁄4-inch, 0.120-wall, all fit with 11⁄4-inch chromoly rod ends from Midnight 4x4. The links work in conjunction with TJ coil springs and Pro Comp ES3000 shocks.
Instead of piecing together a drivetrain bit by bit, Daines purchased someone else’s project and just transferred over the good parts. For that, a Toyota 4Runner was purchased cheap that already had 1-ton axles and a V-8 under the hood. The throttle-body-injected small-block Chevy runs at any angle without requiring an expensive or complicated wiring harness and a slew of sensors. The engine is backed by an equally proven TH350 three-speed automatic with a B&M shifter. Here is where things get a little weird for a Jeep, but the price was right. Dual Toyota transfer cases from the donor 4Runner mate to the transmission with help from Advance Adapters and are mounted on a custom crossmember. If Todd had his way, he would run an NP203/205 Doubler with strength to match the rest of the drivetrain.
The Toyota transfer cases route power to a set of GM 1-ton axles from under the 4Runner. The front kingpin Dana 60 uses a Lock Right Locker and 4.10 gears with the stock axleshafts and parts store gear oil. Out back, the only change made to the 14-Bolt was some welding wire melted into the spider gears to lock up the differential solid. The 4.10s are not quite enough to turn the 40-inch Nittos on the highway, but with the dual transfer cases, they work fine on the trail.
Body and Interior
We often write about Spartan interiors on these pages, but this Willys might just take the prize for most basic interior we have ever seen. No carpet, no floor mats, no door panels, no dash pad or even a glovebox door. Just a Grant steering wheel in front of the 4Runner bucket seats and the factory gauges supplemented by some parts-house gauges to keep an eye on the engine’s vitals.
The lines between frame and body are blurred on this truck, since the custom flatbed is integrated into the chassis. It was constructed out of 2x4, 3⁄16-inch-wall box tubing and is welded directly to the frame. Unlike a traditional flatbed, Prater built the bed between the fullwidth axles to keep the ride height low and still allow plenty of uptravel from the four-link suspension. Box tube was used over the Nittos to complete the look and give some semblance of street legality with covered tires.
The bed has a headache rack in lieu of a traditional cage for added rollover protection without taking up valuable interior space. Under the rack, there is a giant fuel tank that holds 75 gallons of gas, a bald spare tire to meet the rules of organized trail runs requiring a fullsize spare, and a Hi-Lift Jack that looks almost as old as the Willys itself.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
It takes serious stones to shove a piece of history down the trails at Area BFE, since you can’t just order up another door panel for a ’56 Willys from Omix-Ada. For the rockcrawling this truck sees, we would run a winch up front, hydraulic assist steering, and a fullsize spare, but those are easy to add down the road as funds allow.
Vehicle: 1956 Willys Pickup
Engine: 350ci Chevy V-8
Transmission: TH350 three speed auto
Transfer Case: Dual Toyota cases
Suspension: Superlift Chevy leaf springs (front), triangulated four link with coil springs (rear), Pro Comp shocks
Axles: Kingpin Dana 60 (front), 14-Bolt (rear), 4:10 gears
Wheels: 17x9 Pro Comp Xtreme steel
Tires: 40x13.5R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers
Built For: Crawling in style
Estimated Value: $16,000
Why I Wrote This Feature
The only way to create a vehicle that stands out in a crowd without spending a metric ton of money is with a lot of creativity and hard work. Todd and Rick put in the time, and all of their efforts have certainly paid off. The Willys turns heads cruising down the road and works incredibly well in the rocks with the simple, beefy drivetrain components.