We ran into Rex Barker of Salt Lake City, Utah, and his sandstone and teal colored '55 Willys truck on the Moab Rim Trail during the 2008 Easter Jeep Safari.
We are suckers for good-looking Willys-Overland Jeeps, and this one was no exception. We were in the middle of shooting some action shots, so we weren't able to talk to Rex as he drove past us, but as soon as we were done, we ran after him like a cop late for a donut date.
It turns out Rex had a '95 Chevy pickup and the '55 Willys, so over the course of a few years, he married the two of them as his budget and time allowed.
Chassis And Driveline
Under the hood is a 5.7L GM V-8 out of the '95 donor truck, coupled to a 700R4 overdrive automatic transmission and an NP208 transfer case. The engine was left pretty much stock right down to the factory wiring harness, computer, and exhaust manifolds. Rex custom-built a true dual 21/2-inch exhaust that dumps right over the rear axle. The engine is fed from a fuel tank and protected by a skidplate, both of which were swiped from an '85 CJ.
The 700R4 was given a mild shift kit, a TCI aluminum high-capacity oil pan, and a 2,400-stall torque converter, and was mated to a Felsted heavy truck shifter. The NP208 was left stock and bolted up to a Chevy crossmember, which was spaced off the frame for proper positioning of the transfer case.
The bed of this truck wasn't rusted through, so it was simply bedlined, and since it does get used as a truck occasionally, the floor of the bed still sports the waves that are so common in an older Jeep truck. Out back, some later model Jeep taillights were mounted to the bed, and a TJ rear bumper proved to be the perfect fit to the back end. The fenders had to be cut and modified to fit the bigger tires. Inside the bed resides the spare tire, Hi-Lift jack, cooler, and tools.
The front GM Corporate 10-bolt came out of a 3/4-ton GM truck and got a set of 4.11 gears, while out back the Willys got a Corporate 14-bolt with a Detroit Locker and a matching set of 4.11 gears. The stock brakes and bolt patterns were left alone on the axles, and the Chevy master cylinder and brake booster were tapped to provide the push for the whoa.
A GM radiator helps to cool the V-8 down with a combination of stock Chevy rubber hoses and green silicone hoses from a Caprice cop car carrying the coolant. The Chevy coolant overflow bottle was also bolted right into the Willys inner fenderwell for that supposed-to-be-there look Suspension lift comes from a custom spring-over conversion featuring 21/2-inch-wide leaves for a better ride, working out to about 6 inches of lift. The front springs were sourced from Tuff Country with Rancho RS 5000 shocks damping them, while the rear springs came out of a Chevy truck and have a pair of Pro Comp shocks providing the damping.
Body And Interior
Inside the truck, the stock '95 GM instrument cluster is plugged into the '95 wiring harness and provides Rex with all the vital engine information. Right now, he uses the stock Willys speedometer so the giant Moab sticker "deletes" that particular gauge on the Chevy cluster.
The bench seat came out of a '94 S-10 and fits the Willys cab well. The near-vertical transmission shifter from a heavy-duty truck was hung under the dash, while the Chevy transfer case lever and bezel assembly was bolted to the floor. Tunes come from a Panasonic head unit in a custom ceiling box, and go to speakers low in the kick panel. A custom switch panel hanging under the dash provides control for auxiliary lighting.
The steering column and brake pedal were also sourced from the donor Chevy truck, while out under the hood, the Chevy also donated its wiper motor, which through an adapter plate and some linkage wizardry now runs the stock Willys wiper arms.
Up front is a custom bumper with the 9,000-pound Warn winch sunk between the frame rails, and a Baja-inspired skidplate underneath it to keep it safe. Also below is a pair of off-road driving lights for those wheeling trips that run just a tad too long.
Good, Bad & What's It For
The 14-bolt rear axle is bulletproof. But why Chevy ever put it with a 10-bolt front axle in their trucks is inconceivable. We are amazed it hasn't blown up yet with those 35-inch tires. Also, with the 700R4 and stock transfer case low range, we'd be looking for deeper axle gears in the 4.88 range so the transmission doesn't hunt as much on the highway.
All that said, this Willys truck still looks a lot like a Willys truck should. The unique paint job even looks like it could be period correct and some of the pin striping is dead on.
The truck could use some more skidplates under it; we'd be leery of wheeling it without them, but Rex hasn't had issues, so for what he does, it must be fine as it is.
Vehicle: '55 Willys PickupEngine: '95 Chevy 5.7L V-8Transmission: TH700R4Transfer Case: NP208Suspension: Spring-overAxles: GM 10-bolt (front), GM 14-bolt (rear)Wheels: 16x8 MB Motoring Tires: 315/75R16 Toyo Open CountryBuilt For: Style of a Willys truck with late-model daily drivabilityEstimated Cost: $15,000
Why I Featured It
Of all the Jeep trucks, I like the first ones and the last ones the best. This has enough vintage cues with just the right amount of modern amenities to make it a really cool truck. And the fact that Rex takes it out wheeling like he does is just another feather in his cap. -Pete Trasborg