Family-heritage Willys Wagon
Usually Hazel is the one hunting down vintage orange Jeeps. If there’s one in a five- mile radius, you can be sure he’s on it like stink on a monkey. But this time the tables were turned. The owner of this Monarch-orange ’52 Willys Wagon saddled up alongside Hazel at the 2011 TDS Desert Safari event. And before Vista, California, resident Bryan Kilcrease could get more than a couple of words in greeting out of his mouth, Hazel was dragging him off to a photo-shoot location. Orange…Willys…mmm…feature.
As it turns out, the Willys Wagon has been in Bryan’s family since about 1960. His dad bought the Wagon when he was a 16-year-old high-school kid. He dated Bryan’s mom in it. Heck, Byran is half-convinced he was conceived in the back of it. The old man made many of the modifications still in place on the Wagon, but as time and old age left their mark on both, the Wagon was put to pasture and left to languish for 30 years in Bryan’s dad’s back yard. Rat nests filled the inside almost up to the roof and rust pitted the chrome and ate the original paint. Then, when the old man announced three years ago he was going to “throw away” the old Wagon, Bryan swooped in and saved it from death. He sold his YJ for $5,000 to fund the rebirth and set to work.
Unlike a lot of the crazy-hardcore rigs we feature, we don’t really have a lot to say about the chassis of this rig other than it’s sporting a 4-inch lift. Bryan brought the Willys to E&C Spring in Escondido, California, to have a custom set of springs built. He converted the C-shackles to standard shackles and added a set of Rancho RS5000 shocks with a full-custom stealth-black coating. Yep, that’s humor: Everything under the sheetmetal got bombed in black spray paint, as it should be. When the new springs were first fitted under the Wagon the ride was incredibly stiff, so Bryan pulled out one leaf from the front spring packs. That cured the stiff ride, but also allowed the new springs to grow too long, and stuffed the shackles to a locked-out forward position when the springs compressed. With the springs now broken in, Bryan replaced the leaves after returning from the TDS event and the shackles now work fine off-road and the ride is much improved.
At some point Bryan’s dad added the skidplate over the factory 15-gallon fuel tank, but otherwise everything else attached to the out- or underside of the frame is factory, including the factory manual steering.
With few exceptions, the drivetrain is just as it was when Bryan last drove the Jeep as a 16-year-old. Bryan’s dad yanked the 115hp L-head 226 and replaced it with a 155hp ’65 Buick 225 back in 1970. We’re guessing he used parts from Lloyd Novak since Advance Adapters didn’t open shop until 1971. Bryan had his work cut out for him reviving the old 1-barrel 225 without destroying it, but it hummed like a sewing machine the day of our photo shoot, so job well done. In addition to a lot of wiring work Bryan added an electric fan behind the stock radiator, a Pertronix electronic ignition conversion, and a new alternator.
The T-90 transmission is the original unit, and as delivered behind the 226 sported gear ratios of 2.80 (First); 1.55 (Second); 1.00 (Third); and 3.80 (Reverse). No doubt the Buick’s infamous 50lb flywheel spins in front of a factory 226 10-inch clutch.
Movin’ on back, the Spicer 18 is also the original unit. The twin-stick T-case sports its factory 2.46:1 low range and 11⁄8-inch intermediate shaft. Spicer didn’t go to the larger 11⁄4-inch intermediate shaft ’till 1953. What’s not so usual is the very rare Borg Warner Studebaker electric Overdrive. It was actually the first one this author has seen in person. Dear ol’ Dad installed the unit back in the ’60s, but Bryan doesn’t know why he chose the more-complicated unit over the easier-to-install and more-compact Warn Overdrives of the day. In addition to requiring a shorter rear driveshaft, the Studebaker unit is a somewhat-complicated beast to use. For starters, it has a 6-volt electric solenoid, so Bryan had to run a converter to it so it’d still work with the 12-volt conversion Bryan performed. You’ve got to flip the electric switch and then pull a cable to engage the unit. While doing this, you’ve got to be careful to match the rpm of the engine and drivetrain to prevent grinding as the unit engages. Also, since it only engages the rear output, you can’t use it in four-wheel-drive or in low range. And the Overdrive doesn’t work in Reverse. Really, it’s just for over-the-road use, while the Warn Overdrive works in any gear, any speed, and any T-case range. Still, it’s a neat unit and Bryan is glad to have it for its uniqueness and character.
Finally, at opposing ends, the factory Dana 25 front and Dana 44 rear still rotate under direction of the factory 5.38 gears loaded on open diffs. The axles are dead stock from the 11-inch drum brakes to the coarse 10-spline shafts.