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1961 Willys Pickup: Working Willys

Posted in Project Vehicles on March 1, 1999
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'61 Willys Pickup In the history of the American auto industry there have been few automobiles that have had as long a production life as the Jeep and some of its derivatives. The basic Jeep still exists as a production vehicle, virtually unchanged in context from its roots at American Bantam in Butler, Pennsylvania, in 1940.

The same can be said to some extent for the Jeep truck. The truck was introduced in 1947 and used an assortment of stock parts and a new body, and it remained in production along with the station wagon until 1963. During those years, its ruggedness made it a family favorite among farmers, hunters, and those in the construction industry. Very little changed in its basic construction, styling, or engineering during the 17 production years.

In mid 1950, a new grille splashed across the nose and there were several engine changes. A one-piece windshield came along in late 1960. Sold in both two- and four-wheel-drive versions, it was quite amazing how many folks loved these rugged work wagons, and in recent years there has been an enormous growth in interest in these Jeeps. It seems most of the interest stems from a family history of ownership or from the vehicle's reputation as a reliable work truck.

Such is the attraction for Dean Soiland who purchased this '61 20 years ago from his friend John to use at his rock quarry. During their high school years, they shared the truck as their cruiser and parts-chaser. It was that thread of history that weaved through his younger years and created a strong bond between Dean and the Willys.

A few years ago, Dean asked Paul Barry at Willys America in Cazadero, California, to restore the truck for use as a promotional machine for his quarry. He wanted it mostly original and usable as a daily driver. When Paul got the truck, it was fitted with a Chrysler 318 V-8, but he'd been charged with restoring the truck to showroom-new condition and removing the V-8.

The truck body needed quite a lot of minor restoration, but basically it was sound and in good shape. However, the bed was another story. According to Paul, the hardest thing about restoring any of these trucks is to find a pickup box that has any usable sheetmetal. Willys America does, however, offer the solution of a new reproduction kit, which creates a flawless pickup bed. Paul used one of those beds and added a '49 tailgate, which is stamped with the Willys Overland, WO logo. That's the only change from the stock '61 configuration, since Dean very much liked the earlier-style WO tailgate.

The Spicer transfer case with two levers mounted in the floor, swings power out to a Spicer 25 front axle and a Spicer 53 rear axle. Both axles have 4.88 gearsets. Built on a conventional 118-inch wheelbase chassis with Ross steering, multileaf springs, single action tube shock absorbers, drum brakes and 16-inch steel wheels capped with LT235/85 R16 mud and snow tires, the Jeep truck was nearly as simple as a Model T Ford.

The Jeep also features a matching side-mount spare on the bed. The Jeep was painted its original colors of Harvest Wheat and Glacier White by Ron Wheeler, and the tailgate was trimmed with the beautiful 4 Wheel Drive logo, which is not model-correct but looks very cool on this '61.

Attached to the Super Hurricane six-cylinder engine is a T-90 three-speed floor-shifted manual transmission, which in turn uses a Warn All-Range Overdrive and a two-speed Spicer 18 transfer case.

The Jeep truck was a very practical setup and its basic nature surely helped make it the do-the-job work truck it was known to be.

From each and every angle, this old work truck looks like a brand-new unit that's ready for showroom delivery. As you can imagine, Dean is well pleased with the restoration. When he's out and about in his new/old company work truck, he gets plenty of admiring glances and has met tons of folks who once had one "just like it" in their families.

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