A Vintage Adventure Willys
Has our boredom with cookie-cutter Jeeps gone too far? Look, we aren’t and haven’t been saying that if you find a build that works for your platform and intended usage, do it. It would be dumb to try and reinvent the wheel every time. But what if you had an idea on how to make the Tweel… but figured it out 40 years ago? Long before “Expeditioning” was a word, cell phones weren’t even in sci-fi comic books, and radios weighed 100 pounds and were anything but portable, going out into the wilderness was a true test of your skills. Either you came back because of what you knew and what you took out there with you, or you didn’t. No GPS or satellite texting back then, either. If couldn’t read a map and compass, you’d get lost very quickly.
Well, way back then is when Joe Brown built this Willys truck to take his boys wheeling and camping. We ran into his son, Jeff Brown, cruising along out at TDS Desert Safari in early 2012, and of course the first thing we noticed was just how much the bed was bobbed. Second thing was the V-8 rumble coming from the exhaust. So, we spun a U-turn and ran after him like the fat kid chasing the Twinkie on the string to talk with him about this neat-looking ’62.
Back when Joe built the Willys, his chosen profession was metal fabrication, so it is no surprise that the frame, suspension, and bed modifications are very well done. It took Joe about 4 years back in the early ’70s to get it done, but he did well and the truck is still running today in basically the same configuration as it was back then.
Let’s start with the obvious, the rear frame. The frame was shortened to help with the breakover and rear departure angles and ends up with a 98-inch wheelbase that would look long on a CJ-7 but looks much shorter on this truck. The stock rear suspension, hangers and all, was chopped off and moved forward as much as possible to still keep the rear fenders. This effectively moved the rear springs down on the frame and ended up providing lift even with the stock springs. Then the rear of the frame was lopped off just past the rear spring perch for an awesome departure angle. Even with the drastic wheelbase reduction, Joe was still able to stuff two gas tanks back under the bed for a total of 43 gallons of onboard fuel (10 front, 33 rear)
Up front Rancho lift springs were used to level the truck, but stock-length shocks were used front and rear. In front of the grille a Warn Belleview-style winch was sunk between the framerails with a custom front crossmember also serving bumper duties. The winch is controlled by factory Warn cables which are routed into the cab.
When Joe originally built the Jeep back in the early ’70s it had a high-performance 327 from a ’65 Chevy backed by a T-10 transmission. But sometime in the ’80s that was swapped out for a four-bolt-main 350 out of a ’73 Chevy. The engine is stuffed with flat-top pistons and is running a 9.8:1 compression ratio. An Isky cam provides that sound we went chasing and has 0.485-inch lift and an advertised 286-degree duration. Joe not only assembled the engine, but he custom-ported the heads as well. Up top a Q-jet provides the mixture to those hungry ports and runners through an Edelbrock intake manifold. Passing gas out the other end is a pair of ram’s horn exhaust manifolds from a Corvette that feed a true-dual 21⁄2-inch-diameter exhaust with a pair of Flowmasters and turn downs right in front of the rear axle.
An 11-inch clutch feeds the current transmission, which is a Muncie M21 of mid 1960s vintage and an Advance Adapters adapter mates that to the factory Spicer 18 T-case with a Warn overdrive. From there power goes out to the axles through 1310-jointed driveshafts. The factory front Dana 27 with a Power-Loc limited-slip differential in it, but the rear Dana 53 is still open and both have 4.27 gears. The 11-inch parade goes on with front and rear 11-inch drums being stepped on thanks to a non-assisted, 1-inch-diameter master cylinder. A Chevy power steering pump pushes a Saginaw box and they have no problem moving the 31x10.50R15 Remington Wide Brutes on 15x8 Steel wheels.
Body and Interior
Under the custom-built white fabric bed cover is the sleeping quarters. During the day when wheeling, you’d say the same thing we did, “There is no way you can sleep in there.” But we were wrong. The tailgate folds down and the cover can still cover the person or people sleeping in back. To the left-hand side is a fold-down rack that allows for taking the gear off of the bed and stowing it overhead for sleeping. The bed box was chopped to match the length of the new frame and the fenders moved to cover the wheels, just clearing the cab. The grille was cut to clear the winch, but the rest of the sheetmetal was left pretty much in its stock orientation.
Inside the first thing you notice is the custom vintage ’70s-era diamond-tuck upholstery. The headliner, bench seat, door panels, and kick panels all feature the same aftermarket material and stitching. The dash still has the factory speedometer but the other gauges in the center of the dash are aftermarket gauges of various ages. To the left you can see the dual-shaft Sony head unit, and to the right, the GPS for on-road navigation. Between the GPS and the speedo are the factory cable-actuated Warn winch controls. Overhead in the center of cab up against the windshield is a CB radio. If you look closely at the back of the cab, you can see the round closed-cell foam affixed to the aluminum rear window frame which serves as a headrest. The tilt steering wheel was yanked from an old Pontiac.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
The V-8 is awesome, but with that high compression ratio, we don’t think it is all that desert-friendly. Then again, it’s been between those framerails for 20 years, so that shows us. We like the look of the bobbed bed and how it can still be used for camping and are all about the Spicer 18 with OD and the factory axle gears. We are kind of surprised the axles have survived this long, but then again, not everyone is a gorilla on the gas pedal like we are.
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Vehicle: 1962 Willys
Engine: 350ci V-8
Transmission: Muncie M21
Transfer Case: Spicer 18
Suspension: Rancho (front); stock leaf (rear)
Axles: Dana 27 (front); Dana 53 (rear)
Wheels: 15x8 steel
Tires: 31x10.50R15 Remington Wide Brute
Built For: Camping and wheeling with sons.
Why I Wrote This Feature
It isn’t a monster rockcrawler as you see so often in these pages, but for a desert exploration rig, it works well. We aren’t all about the expeditioning here, but when we ran into a vintage Willys built a long time ago that can still go where today’s high-dollar super-gee-gaw rigs are going and it’s been doing it for 40 years, well, that’s something we thought you just had to see.