Setbacks? Yes, we’ve had a few. We know, you know, and we know you know. But hey, as the saying goes, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” OK, so we’re not postal carriers, but there was no way we were not going to finish this big, bad ’49 Willys project and finish it well.
The truth is that with a languishing project like Wicked Willys the best thing to do is just bite the bullet, grab a wrench, and get back to work. And that’s exactly what we’ve done, even if it did take a while. We won’t bore you with all the excuses, but they do include the relatively recent birth of two new Simons (twins Eleanor and William). They are cute, lovable, and fun to be with but are definitely Jeep-project time-burglars.
We wish we could say that was all that went sideways with this build, but it isn’t. Days before installing the first 505ci Dodge RB big-block between our modified TJ frame rails just before Christmas 2015, we found a previously unnoticed crack in the block. Keep in mind that this block had been machined and the engine was fully assembled from crank to intake. That crack shared space with the motor mount and was probably the result of a wreck. No matter how the crack was created, it not only slipped past the eyes of our former machine sho, but also shared space with the big-block’s cooling passages. Feeble attempts to fix the crack led to more cracking, and the ’74 big-block was declared a total loss. The hard-to-swallow solution was to find another RB block (that was under 0.030 over), get it machined to fit all our brand new, yet previously installed Eagle Rotating assembly from Summit Racing, camshaft from Crane, heads and intake from Edelbrock, and all the smaller pieces that hold an engine together.
Fast-forward several months and we’re back in business. We found a ’67 RB block ready for all our parts and a new machinist to boot. Special thanks go out to our friend Mike Lee Austin for helping us find the block and the very helpful Joe Ali who made our parts fit the new block. Here’s how it all came together.
This is what our first 505ci Dodge/Chrysler RB looked like a few days before we found the crack that everyone had missed. See the small “x” on the motor mount boss? That indicated a small repairable crack we took to have TIG’d up. That repair was a success. On the other side of the engine was an all-but-invisible hairline crack at least 1-inch long through the block. It passed down from the motor mount boss and into the water jacket of the engine. It might have been repairable if the engine wasn’t fully machined and assembled (if the machine shop would have caught it), but unfortunately, some well-intentioned TIG work ruined the block despite pre- and post-heating with an oxyacetylene torch. Oh well. Time to move on.
Fast-forward several months and check out a new-to-us fully dressed Dodge/Chrysler RB big-block (number two dressed in Hemi Orange). This engine block is a ’67. Apples-to-apples, the newer block might have been a bit better out of the factory, but by the time we got it, it had been abused and broken. Let’s hope this RB had an easier life. If nothing else, the older engine lacks the cracks the newer one had. At the end of the day this thing should easily make 500 hp. Can we say that again? 500 hp!
With the long block back in our hands and in similar shape to where we left off, we bolted on a brand-new shiny flywheel from Centerforce Clutch. This is the six-bolt 143-tooth flywheel (PN 700420) commonly found on a Hemi, but it also fits our Eagle stroker crank. Add to this a Centerforce clutch and pressure plate via the company’s clutch kit (PN LM070552), cover it all with our cast-iron bellhousing, and we can bolt the engine to our transmission and dual T-cases. We also used a Centerforce throw-out bearing (PN N1463) and a pilot bearing from Summit Racing (PN National PB-186-HD).
Speaking of our transmission, we’re going with this NP435 transmission bolted to the range box of a NP203 and a modified Chevy NP205 transfer case. The two transfer cases are bolted together with adapters from Offroad Designs. To support the heavy drivetrain, we built this cradle out of 1.75-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing. To isolate the transmission and transfer cases from the frame, the cradle uses a sandwich of CJ-5 body pucks from Daystar (PN KJ04001BK). The meat of the sandwich are brackets made out of 1/4-inch plate and angle iron. These brackets and pucks grab the tranny and transfer case at three points to distribute the load.
Here’s another view of the transmission and transfer case cradle. Our plan is to use more tubing to create a crossmember that supports all this using the factory holes in the TJ frame. More on that once it’s in place. A motorcycle jack makes for a great way to move the whole shebang around the garage.
With a plan for mounting the transmission and transfer case to the TJ frame, we wiggled it under the Jeep to check for fitment. That allowed us to swing the big engine between the frame rails and marry the two components.
The floor of the cab needed a fair amount of “clearancing” to get everything up high. We’ll build some sort of tranny tunnel cover once we get further along.
With the engine in place, we drew up some templates out of an old beer box to use as a guide for mounting the engine. The factory truck style (engine side) motor mounts had already been modified with some 1.75-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing and polyurethane leaf spring bushings just as we would have modified them. All we had to do was make the frame side mounts and cut tubing to length for the internal sleeves.
We’ve talked before about taking advantage of our friends over at Rob Bonney Fabrication when it comes to cutting steel plates. Just to give you a good idea of the alternatives, here is a template along with a plate we cut using a free-hand and a plasma cutter and one that came off RBF’s plasma table. Sure, the free-hand cut one would work, but it takes a lot more time to get the professional looks and ready-to-use shape of the plasma table part.
With the engine in place, we reinstalled the front fenders and grille to make sure everything was going to fit together well. We’ve modified the fenders to sit up about 4 inches higher and match the trimmed hood (the first highline Willys Pickup?).
Here you can see how we modified the area where the fenders mount to the grille to compensate for the new positioning. We used our Miller Electric Millermatic 190 with .023 wire, CO2/Argon mix, and the Auto-Set feature. We stack spot welds about 1/2-inch at a time, allowing the metal to cool in a given area between welding sessions.
With the grille and engine in place, we had a good idea of how tight radiator and fan fitment was going to be. A quick call to our friends at Flex-a-lite and we had a huge radiator on the way to cool the huge Dodge/Chrysler RB engine. Power creates heat, and with a smallish grille and a ’40s-sized engine bay, we had to get funky. Our radiator is a Universal Fit Flex-a-Fit Radiator (PN 56410L). The radiator comes pre-dressed with dual 12 1/8-inch Lo-Profile S-Blade electric fans that should move plenty of air and keep our engine cool. Several things about the Flex-a-fit will make it work for us. First, unlike old school multicore radiators, the Flex-a-fit is thick but not because of four or five air-restricting cores. This radiator has two 1-inch rows that transfer heat very efficiently.
On top of that, the patented side-tank design gives us another advantage over traditional aluminum radiators. The tanks are beefy and that makes for a great mounting platform, but also, the extra aluminum and mounting fins act as heat sinks allowing the radiator to scrub off even more heat. We widened and further modified the grille with sections of pre-patina’d sheet metal salvaged from the part of the bed we removed when we bobbed it.
Another problem that we ran into with the huge engine stuffed into a smallish engine bay was that there was no real way to have a firewall-mounted brake or clutch master cylinder. The space that these parts would have occupied was filled with a big Edelbrock valve cover and a head. Our solution was to contact Wilwood Brakes for one of its reverse-mount clutch and brake pedal assemblies (PN 340-11299). Add in two Wilwood 7/8-inch bore Compact Remote Masters (PN 260-10374) to drive the front and rear GM brakes and one Wilwood 3/4-inch bore Compact Remote Master (PN 260-10372) to power the clutch system and we are getting somewhere. To mount the pedals and masters under the dash, we built some simple brackets that were welded to tubing tied into the Jeep’s full cage. The reservoirs can live on the firewall and feed the masters under the dash.
Unfortunately for our project, Dodge trucks of the era most similar to our RB big-block and NP435 never had hydraulic clutch systems. Instead they relied on linkages that would not work with our frame or body. Our solution was to source a Ford Courier clutch slave cylinder. This cylinder uses a 3/4-inch bore and comes with two mounting points. With a little fab work and our Millermatic 190, we made this bracket to hold the slave in line with the Dodge clutch fork.
With the courier slave cylinder mounted to our bracket, we modified a factory Dodge pushrod to work hydraulically. Add in a Courier slave cylinder brake hose and some hard line and we should be able to bleed the system.
The frame-side motor mount tabs will be boxed in using these radiuses and dimple died plates, also from Rob Bonney Fabrication. They box in the plates we showed you earlier to make them lightweight, yet strong.
As more parts trickled in from Summit Racing, Edelbrock, and our local auto parts house, we assembled the accessory drive system. There was lots of learn-as-you-go and web images used to figure out how all the brackets went together. When it came time to get belts that fit the AC/alternator, the belts listed at the parts store went right on. However, the belt that drives the water pump was way off. Using a fabric tape measure we were able to get a pretty good idea what size belt we needed. Many belt manufacturers list the outside circumference of their belts, so this made finding the right belt easier.
We’re getting closer, but we still have to address a few areas, like plumbing, wiring, driveshafts, and finishing the transmission and transfer case mount. The list goes on, but the end is in sight. Stay tuned. We promise it won’t be a year or more before you see the next chapter of Wicked Willys. For all the Wicked Willys installments, check out jpmagazine.com!