Wicked Willys is a big project, but nearly every week, we are lining up parts and knocking them down (or at least marking them off the list). As we speak, the truck is a roller, sitting at full bump and waiting for a time when we don’t have quite as much to write and have more time for spinning wrenches. Still, it’s a good feeling knowing that this truck is getting closer and closer to the finish line. Sure, we still have a long way to run and a ton of stuff to do before she is driving, but the big obnoxious truck is getting closer every day—or at least every week.
Last time, we covered the installation of a few parts related to the body, fuel, recovery, and suspension. Following that scatterbrained pattern of what comes next, in this month’s installment, we worked on the big Willys’ steering with some aluminum parts from Chris Durham Motorsports. We also step out of our garage and head down to the machine shop to catch up with the Dodge 440ci engine that will one day power this truck. While there, we had a chance to look at some sexy parts from Eagle from Summit Racing that should make this truck a fire breathing monster even on pump gas.
We also finally get our grubby mitts on a set of tires and wheels for the Willys, and they are truly Wicked! Not to be outdone, the old girl will roll down the road on a set of BF Goodrich KX Crawlers in 42x14.50R20 flavor, mounted on some flat-out beautiful Trail Ready 20x9.5-inch TrailReady Heavy Duty Cast Aluminum bead-locked wheels. We also break out the air saw and bob the Willy’s patina’d bed a few inches to improve departure angle. Check it out as we get a bit closer to having this beast rolling out of the garage and down the trail.
Step By Step
We like doing things ourselves, but there are some things that we know we should not start dabbling in without a lot more training and specialized equipment. Once we determined that our Dodge 440 was better off being rebuilt, we took the block down to a local machine shop in Phoenix, Arizona, named Gene’s Engine Service. Once there, Gene tore the block apart to give it a full inspection. It was determined that the crank was no good (someone had tried to offset grind the crank and did a poor job). Also, cleaning the cylinders up with a 0.030 overbore was decided to be prudent, along with an align hone and decking the head gasket surface. As-is, the engine is ready to be built into a short block.
Once we found out that the crank was junk, it was very easy to decide that we should go ahead and stroke the big-block to get all the power and torque out of it that we could. Still, we want the truck to be drivable, so we will probably go with a mild to medium cam. We also aim to keep the compression around 9:1 so we can run pump gas. Summit Racing recommended an Eagle Competition Rotating Assembly that will put our early ’70s Dodge engine right at 505 ci and hopefully not too far above 9:1. Yep, that ought to do it. The heart of the stroker kit is the forged 4340 crank and connecting rods. Look ma: shiny new engine parts.
As you know if you’ve been following this build, we have been talking a lot about steering parts for our big Jeep. We already showed you our Redneck Ram and rebuilt steering box in Part 3 (Aug. ’14), but that is only part of the equation. We also have to somehow get that power from the box and ram down to the front tires. Since we got so much advice and basically copied the design of Chris Durham’s Wild Willys (June ’13) steering, we thought it would be OK to ask him for one of his custom aluminum drag links and tie rods. This drag link and tie rod from Chris Durham Motorsports are made of solid 13⁄4-inch 7075 aluminum and are custom-built for our Jeep. They should resist bending well.
Durham also recommended using Moog tie-rod ends for our steering. We ended up buying two ES2233Ls and two ES2234Rs. The ES2233L is a commonly used part with a tapered hole from the factory. However, we did need to make the taper larger for the ES2233L that will be part of the drag link. For that, we borrowed a taper drill from a friend and carefully enlarged the factory taper to fit an ES2234R. For the other ES2233L, we will drill the tapered hole out to 5⁄8-inch and use this as one end of our Redneck Ram attachment.
You can see both the Chris Durham Motorsports draglink and tie rod in this shot and also get a good idea of where we are going to hang the steering ram when the time comes. It will run from the passenger-side framerail over to the hole in the drag link near the pitman arm.
Speaking of pitman arms, we ended up using a heavy-duty pitman arm from Sam’s Offroad. This beast of a pitman arm is made from 7⁄8-inch A36 cold-rolled plate steel (PN SOR-PAB, $139.95). We got a blank arm so we could determine the length of the pitman arm and drill our own tapered hole as we wanted. We ended up drilling and tapering the arm from the top. This makes sense for our Willys, which we are trying to keep low and stable.
Once we got the drag link, tie rod, and pitman arm all mounted up on the Jeep, we could figure out how long our track bar needs to be and build mounts for it. For the axle end of the track bar mount, we built this bracket like those found on a stock TJ. We used 1⁄4-inch plate and our Swag Off Road bender to make the bracket. It’s tack-welded in place until we are sure it’s where we want.
Our Synergy front three-link came with the parts to build a track bar. We installed the control-arm mounts some time back in Part 2 (July ’14), but finally got around to assembling the track bar once we got the drag link and tie rod installed and the track bar mounts tacked in place. Our track bar matches the length of the drag link. We cut the supplied tube down to length and tacked the tube-inserts in place until we were were happy with the length. Also, we are going to do what we can to keep the track bar straight. Adding a bend would be relatively easy, but it also would make a weak point on the track bar where a bend could propagate. Remember that the angle of the track bar must match that of the drag link to avoid bump steer.
Generally, mounting tires at home is not a good idea. It just doesn’t make sense…unless you are talking about mounting tires on beadlock wheels. In that case, it’s pretty darn easy. First, you have to install a valve stem. All you need is the wheel, tire, and some window cleaner in a spray bottle. Spray the outer bead of the wheel and the inner bead of the tire with the window cleaner. If it’s cold, let the tire heat up in the sun for a few minutes in the driveway.
Then, pick up the tire (and by that we mean lift one side), roll it over near the wheel, and drop it on the wheel. The tire should fall on the wheel something like this. Once in this position, you can push down on the tire and the inner bead should slowly pass over the outer lip of the wheel. It’s a tight fit, but it will go. Window cleaner can help the bead slide on easier.
Once you get the inner bead of the tire over the outer edge of the wheel, you should have a situation like this. At this point, we flipped over a bucket and got the wheel and tire up on the bucket. This helps the outside bead of the tire find its home on the wheel. You also may have to use some dull, small screwdrivers to get the tire’s bead fully stretched around the machined surface of the wheel.
Once the inside diameter of the tire’s bead is around the machined shoulder of the wheel, you can install the beadlock ring. Place the ring on the wheel and hand-thread each bolt, with a washer, into its threads. Once all the bolts are on the wheel, you can take a ratchet and start tightening the ring slowly. Tighten each bolt slowly in a star pattern so the ring stays flat and is evenly tight all the way around the wheel. Once the bolts start getting tight and the ring is nearly touching the wheel, torque the bolts (in a star pattern as before) to 20 ft-lb each. This takes a while, but it is important to not over-tighten the bolts. Otherwise, the tire’s bead will be in there crooked.
The bed of this truck is probably one of the more rusty parts. The open stake pocket holes have trapped rocks, leaves, mud, rain, and even a marble over the years and have subsequently rusted out. That’s OK. We like the truck’s patina. What we didn’t like is a bunch of rear overhang on the bed, so we bobbed the old Willys bed 15 inches. To do this, we measured carefully and marked our cut line with some painters tape.
Once we got our two cuts made, we butted the two parts of the new shorter bed together and tack welded the two parts together. Our seam is not perfect and neither are our welds, but then again, this truck won’t be perfect either.
Here is the bobbed bed. Once we get a bit further with the build, we can roll the chassis out of the garage and drop the bed on the back of the frame. Our plan is to have it sit up a bit higher than from the factory. This will help match our butch front high-line fenders.
At the beginning of this article, we hinted at the fact that the Willys is now a roller. This is a huge milestone for a long-term build like this. As a teaser, here is the big truck on the tires at full bump. More to come.
Tulsa, OK 74107