Involved in the sport of four-wheeling for 11 years, Frank Vierra of Los Banos, California, is familiar with how long it takes to build a custom vehicle. With a pile of receipts he's afraid to add up and almost 10 years invested in the customization of his '55 Willys CJ-3B, Frank was quick to remind us that he's still hard at work building and rebuilding his vintage iron. What began as a rehabilitation project has since transformed into a decade-long restoration, complete with a custom frame built from the ground up and plenty of extreme-use tools of the trade.
Once he'd determined the dimensions, Frank used 2x4x1/8-inch-square stock tubing to construct a new frame, stretching it more than 10 inches beyond stock. The custom frame then received the original '55 tub (repainted the original Julep Green), sans the fenders and rear corners. A custom hood with integrated fenders was designed and built to accommodate the extra frame length, and aluminum rear corners were put in place for added tire clearance. Frank went on to construct a six-point rollcage in addition to front and rear bumpers, which were sealed for air storage. With the chassis and tub prep complete, Frank situated both atop front and rear Tri County Gear-built Dana 44 axle assembles. The rear Dana 44 uses Warn full-floating axles, 5.13 gears, a Detroit locker, and a Tri County Gear axle truss and custom traction bar. For the front application, Tri County Gear outfit a reverse-rotation Dana 44 with high-steering arms and knuckles, Warn axleshafts, CTM U-joints, 5.13 gears, and an ARB Air Locker. Both axles were built with a 60-inch track and were located by 46-inch-long National Spring leaf packs. Doetsch Tech MV12 shock absorbers were installed at each corner, along with a set of 17x9-inch Weld Sidewinder wheels shod with 37x12.5R17 Goodyear MT/R tires. Steering effort is assisted by an AGR steering box and pump.
Getting to work between the framerails, Frank lined up a '68 Buick 225ci "odd fire" V-6 and equipped it with an Ultradyne cam, a Weber carburetor, a D.U.I. performance distributor, and Advance Adapters chrome-finish headers with glasspack mufflers. The engine is cooled by a 16-inch Flex-a-Lite electric fan and a Gibson aluminum radiator with a custom stainless overflow. Fuel supply comes from a custom stainless 14-gallon fuel tank mounted under the driver's seat.
Moving rearward, the Buick mill was mated to an SM420 transmission, extending into a Klune-V and Atlas transfer-case combination, with 32-spline output shafts at the front and rear. The mated cases offer 12 Forward and three Reverse gears with a 13.8 to 371 gear ratio. An extra-long travel driveshaft was created for the front by Arizona Driveline, while the rear uses a CV 'shaft, also by Arizona Driveline.
In addressing the interior of his CJ-3B, Frank left it mostly stock, recovering the factory seats and using the same mounts. A matching rear seat was installed in back, and a tachometer was mounted to the stock steering column. The stock transmission/transfer-case cover was removed, and a custom panel was fabricated so that the drivetrain could be stuffed as far upward as possible; this allowed for a custom skidplate and crossmember to be installed flush with the frame, creating an abundance of ground clearance.
Though Frank says his '55 Willys is in a constant state of flux, it doesn't keep him from getting out and using it. To date, he's taken on some of California's hardest trails, including the Hammers and the Rubicon. From our point of view, this is enough to establish that Frank's vintage Willys has reached a point of completion, but we'll leave that for the owner to decide. Either way, someday Frank will count up all of those receipts and smile. Because whatever the cost, he'll know it was well worth the price.