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Two Willys Buggies Born From Experience

Posted in Project Vehicles on May 1, 2012
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Jesse Haines is a fabricator who spends his free time rockcrawling. He has worked across the country at various top shops and has built everything from mud trucks to rock racers. He has also competed in many of the same classes that he builds for. His talent is obvious to the discerning buggy builder and driver, as he can dodge boulders and cones as well as he can twist tubes and lay beads.

So when one of his favorite 4x4s started getting rough around the edges he could have started polishing the old girl, but instead he devised a plan to build a copy, with all the upgrades he’d wanted to do to the original. The resulting twin Willys tube cars are both perfect for trail wheeling, but the newer also earns its stripes on the rockcrawling circuit running the Torchmate and Maxxis tires colors. You can’t always teach an old dog new trick, but you can learn from an old dog and hopefully not make the same mistakes.

One of the secrets to winning in any motorsport is competing in the same vehicle over and over again until you know its power, balance, and performance instinctively. Jesse recognized this and decided to build his new competition rockcrawler almost exactly like the battered old Willys Jeep buggy he’d been trail wheeling for years and felt very comfortable in.

The Old
The first flatfender Willys buggy started from a rusting old Jeep tub and frame and a wrecked Toyota 4x4 Jesse found. He had driven a buddy’s stock flatty and was amazed at how capable it was and the great visibility. Since his find had no engine he gutted a wrecked ’85 Toyota 4x4 and stuffed the drivetrain in the Jeep. It may not be authentic, but it’s reliable and cheap for sure. Since completion in 2001, the Willys buggy has had many changes but the Toyota 22Re engine has remained.

Front axle and steering is big and tough for years of off-road abuse. The Chevy Dana 60 has 6.17 gears and is welded for fulltime drive. The full hydraulic steering is a mixture of found parts and PSC components. Suspension is 14-inch air shocks all around, and the front bumper houses a Warn 8,000-pound puller.

Rear axle duties are handled by a low-pinion 60 also, but this one has the differential pushed off to the passenger side, helping clear obstacles by keeping it close to the tire. Front and rear suspensions are four-links with triangulated uppers and straight lower aluminum links. A swaybar, a 5-gallon fuel cell, and a rear winch for compressing suspension are the few bed-mounted accessories.

The cockpit of an old Willys is simplicity at its finest: low-back PRP suspension seats, a Grant wheel, cutting brakes, and the original flatty dash. The open footwells, expanded metal floor, and lack of windshield all add to the Willys’ inherent visibility off-road.

Tech Specs
1949 Jeep CJ-3A Buggy
Engine: Toyota 22RE
Transmission: T-98
Transfer case: Dana 300
Front Axle: Low-pinion Dana 60, 6.17 gears, welded
Rear Axle: Low-pinion Dana 60, 6.17 gears, ARB Air Locker
Springs & Such: Front and rear 4-link with Sway-A-Way 14-inch air shocks, aluminum links, Rock Equipment sway bar
Tires & Wheels: 37-inch Maxxis Trepador on Allied/Raceline black steel 17-inch beadlocks
Steering: PSC full hydro
Other Stuff: PRP low-back seats, Warn 8,000-pound winch, Grant wheel

The New
The new Willys has a GM 3.4L V-6 from an ’04 Grand Am. Jesse ran a hot-rodded version of this engine in prior competition buggies and liked the lightweight and performance . The new car has a Warn rockcrawler mini winch up front. Both buggies use 2x3x0.120-wall rectangular tubing for the chassis with a mix of 13⁄4- and 11⁄2-inch tubing for the cage.

Underneath are aluminum links, an Atlas transfer case, a flat belly skidplate, and a front Currie Rock Jock 60 with Spidertrax outer knuckles for optimal steering. Again PSC full hydro steering is used, but now 5.38 gears and a spool reside inside the diff.

Another Rock Jock is out back, again offset for obstacle dodging. Like the old Willys the rear axle is stuffed with an ARB Air Locker and all corners fitted with 37-inch Maxxis Trepedors on 17-inch Allied/Raceline beadlocks. The new buggy uses Spidertrax 14-inch disc brakes, Wilwood Calipers, and Speedway lightweight nylon brake lines.

Interiorwise the buggies are very similar. The new car has low-back PRPs, but now a 904 automatic trans and just two pedals are fitted where the old had a T-98 manual. Belts are from RCI, lightweight wheel from Joe’s.

Tech Specs
2010 Willys Buggy
Engine: GM3400 from ’04 Grand Am
Transmission: 904 automatic
Transfer case: Atlas 3.8
Front Axle: Currie Rock Jock with Spidertrax knuckles, 5.38 gears, spool, Spidertrax brakes, Wilwood calipers
Rear Axle: Currie Rock Jock, 5.38 gears, ARB Air Locker, Spidertrax brakes, Wilwood calipers
Springs & Such: Spring-over TeraFlex FiberFlex springs, custom mounts
Tires & Wheels: 37-inch Maxxis Trepador on Allied/Raceline black steel 17-inch beadlocks
Steering: PSC full hydro
Other Stuff: PRP low-back seats, Spidertax brakes and calipers, Warn Rock Crawler winch, 5-gallon fuel cell, Joe’s lightweight steering wheel

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