We did a double take when we saw Fred Bailey aim his classic '53 Willys CJ-3B toward a trail at the Washita Offroad Trails ORV Park near Farmington, Missouri. After all, it's not every day that you see a '53 Willys on the trail, especially one as nice as his. We figured Bailey would baby the super-clean rig, but we figured wrong. Turns out, he built this rig to be trail-friendly, and he's not afraid to take it anywhere.
The story of this rig began in 1999, when Bailey purchased it in non-running condition. "It had set for several years. The engine was disassembled and in several boxes. The tub had minor rust, but was beat up pretty bad," retired autoworker Bailey remembers. "Surprisingly, all the parts to the 134ci engine were in those boxes," he says.
Thus began a whirlwind seven-month restoration. Interestingly, Bailey says that when it came to the Hurricane F-head engine, after a little honing, new rings, bearings, seals, oil pump, and carburetor, everything went together great. After assembly, the engine started up on the first try.
On his first off-highway trip, Bailey knew the stock steering wasn't going to cut it. That was the catalyst for the first serious set of modifications. Shortly thereafter, he found that on-road, the 72hp 134ci Four, while cool, was good for only 50 to 55 mph, and this "started to get old." Enter a rebuilt GM 4.3L V-6 engine and a freshened TH350 transmission.
And so it went over the course of the next several years. Bailey modified the rig and added custom touches as needed and desired. Ultimately, he created a rig with a neat bag of tricks. It's overtly simple, easy to look at, sports a number of unique features, is pleasant to drive on-road, and very capable off-highway.
Owner/Hometown: Fred Bailey/Festus, Missouri
Vehicle/Model: 1953 Willys CJ-3B
Estimated value: $20,000
Type: GM 4.3L V-6
Aspiration: TBI, custom dual exhaust with Flowmaster 40 Series mufflers
Output, hp/torque (estimated): N/A
Transmission: TH350, heavy-duty cooler
Transfer Case: Dana 20
Front: 2-in leaf springs, Pro Comp ES3000 shocks
Rear: 2-in leaf springs, Pro Comp ES3000 shocks
Front: Dana 30, custom drag link/Detroit SofLocker
Rear: Custom high-pinion Dana 44/Detroit SofLocker
Ring and pinion: 4.10:1
Wheels: 15x8 Pro Comp
Tires: 35x12.50-15 Pro Comp Xterrain
The front axle is a disc brake-equipped Dana 30 sourced from a '81 Jeep CJ-5. Like the rear axle, it has a Detroit SofLocker and 4.10:1 gears. It's fed power via a stock CJ-5 driveshaft. Also like the rear, the front suspension consists of a 2-inch-lift leaf spring setup with Pro Comp ES3000 shocks. The steering system underwent a number of mods and now consists of a CJ-7 drag link and an '89 Chevy Blazer power steering box and pump. Bailey says the result is a rig that's "fun to drive on the highway."
When Bailey purchased the Willys, the inside of the body tub had minor rust in the usual places, and the cargo area floor and wheelwells were beat up from heavy objects bouncing around. The rear quarter panels were also pretty beat up, so he replaced all of these areas with 14-gauge steel. The stock 3B hood has been replaced with a reinforced CJ-3A hood ("I never was really turned on by the high hood look," Bailey says). He also eliminated the hood hold-downs by installing a custom hidden hood latch. Custom tube-and-sheetmetal fenders were built to match the lower hood but still mimic the stock 3B look. A custom rollcage was created from a CJ-5 'cage. Up front is a custom bumper with dual shackles and a hidden winch mount for the Ramsey 5,000 pound winch. Out back is a custom rear bumper with hitch receiver that mounts the removable, swing-out tire carrier. The rig rolls on 35x12.50-15 Pro Comp Xterrain tires mounted on Pro Comp 8-inch-wide wheels. Also mounted on the rig are a pair of front and rear lights that are used for ground lighting. The rig is painted DuPont Flame Red.
The cargo area of the Willys features a custom sliding storage tray that's about 10 inches deep and topped with a custom wooden storage area, which is held in place with turnbuckles. The storage tray is weather-tight and sealed by diamond plate on top and the Willys tailgate in the rear. These areas are used to store a cooler, recovery straps, two pulley blocks, a length of 5/16-inch chain and turnbuckles for trail repairs, a 12-volt air compressor, tools, spare U-joints and tie-rod ends, and a variety of fluids.
The Willys rear suspension consists of Pro Comp ES3000 shocks and a simple leaf spring setup that raises the rig two inches over stock height. The custom rear high-pinion Dana 44 axle has a Detroit SofLocker and 4.10:1 gears. It's fed by a custom CV driveshaft made by Driveshafts Unlimited in Arnold, Missouri. The axle was created by Bailey from a Ford high-pinion centersection and CJ-5 axletubes and drum brakes. Bailey says, "A friend of mine was cutting up an F-250 front axle for the knuckles, so I got the leftovers. I started by removing what was left of the tubes from the centersection. The plug welds were too hard to drill, so I used a hole saw just larger than the weld to cut them out. I was surprised that out of the 10 welds, only two actually penetrated the tubes. With the welds cut out, I set the centersection up in the press and removed the old tubes. The Ford tubes were a larger diameter than my narrow track 44, so I had to determine how I was going to make them fit. I decided to cut the centersection beyond the end of the axletubes, leaving the centersection collars attached to the tubes. I then chucked each tube in the lathe and turned the collars down to a press-fit. I heated the centersection and inserted the first tube by hand and it slid in easily. But before I could properly clock the tubes, the temperatures equalized and they froze up. I had to press the tubes out and start over. The second time, I made sure I had them clocked properly as I slid them in." Bailey says that with the high-pinion axle installed, the driveshaft angle is an acceptable five degrees at the transfer case.