This ’48 Willys Is A Childhood Toy Made Real
When Josh Randell was young, he and a friend spend countless hours playing with a Tamiya “Wild Willys” RC car. Josh had great fun with this toy Willys but was left with a deep desire to own a life-size flatfender. When he got licensed to drive genuine cars, the RC playtime faded away, but not his desire to own a real Willys.
After years of unsuccessfully looking for his own Willys, Randell decided to settle for a Toyota FJ40. While not as cool as a flatfender, an FJ40 would be better than no 4x4. Well, the Jeep gods where smiling down on him that day, as the owner of the Toyota also had a ’48 Willys CJ-2A. While it was rough, it did still have the original F-head mill and all of the other major parts. A deal was struck and Randell finally had his Willys flatfender. Once it was home, he ran it around a bit and found that, while the 2A was clean for a rig that was more than 60 years old, it was a little rough around the edges and in need of work. Randell had been considering Rock Solid Offroad (RSO), in San Jacinto, California, for the work on the FJ40 he had planned buy, so naturally he reached out to them for help with the flatfender.
The first thing on the list for the chassis was evaluation of its condition to see what repairs where needed. The old frame was too twisted to be a good base for the planned stretch of this Jeep, so it was set aside and used for reference during the build of a new 2x3x0.120-inch steel tube frame that was slightly longer to accommodate the body stretch. To improve approach and departure angles, the frame was set up with the axles on a 92-inch wheelbase.
An axle upgrade was planned too, so new wider springs from BDS where installed to match the donor axles. The new BDS springs are replacements for a Jeep YJ Wrangler and provide a softer ride as well as 4 inches of lift. The suspension is rounded out with Bilstein 5165 shocks at each corner. To improve steering, the Willys was upgraded to a power steering setup (both box and pump are from AGR). The body was mounted to the custom frame using Energy Suspension body mounts that increased tire clearance slightly, thanks to being a bit thicker than stock.
The drivetrain needed to be reliable and durable, as well as easy to obtain parts for. The solution was to upgrade to a GM 4.3L TBI V-6. The engine mods include Advance Adapter headers that dump into the twin Magna Flow mufflers, and a Howell harness and ECM to ensure that the injected V-6 runs well on all types of terrain. For engine cooling, a Flex-a-Lite radiator and fan combo was installed. The rest of the driveline was donated from a Toyota 4Runner and SR5.
A rebuilt R150F five-speed manual gearbox and transfer case from a ’90 4Runner was hooked up to the GM engine using Advance Adapter parts. The original 2.57:1 low range is just fine for this flatfender. A Centerforce clutch handles the power transfer from the engine to the Inland Empire driveshafts. The axles are from an ’83 Toyota SR5 pickup. Gearing is 4.56:1, and both are equipped with ARB air lockers and upgraded disc brakes. The brakes up front are from an FJ60 with vented rotors. At the rear, A TSM disc conversion was installed. The brake and clutch master cylinders are from Wilwood. This Jeep rolls down the trail on 35x12.50R17LT Nitto Terra Grappler tires mounted on 17x9 Fuel Boost wheels.
The original body was quite rough and like all flatfenders, legroom was limited. After looking at the sheetmetal and seeing what was usable, it was decided that a replacement body was needed. A rustproof Malotte Manufacturing fiberglass tub was selected for the rebuild. The body was stretched 6-inches in the door opening to add more legroom and improve ease of entry and exit. Mike Francis of San Jacinto, California, did the wicked Tangerine Pearl spray job.
The front seats where upgraded to PRP buckets, and a PRP rear bench seat was added. To improve trail safety, RSO also built a custom rollcage from 1 3/4-inch DOM steel tubing. The cage is secured to the frame at six points and provides 5 1/2 inches of headroom without looking bulky due to the tapered design. The steering column has been upgraded to an ididit column topped with a Grand GT Rally wheel. The new dash sports Auto Meter Elite gauges and a custom glove box that also holds the new fuse box. Down the center of the dash you’ll also find 4x4 SPod switches for the lights and lockers, as well as a floor-mounted e-brake lever from Lokar.
Of course, the wiring was the original ’48 setup and not suited to modern conveniences like GPS and cell phones. To bring the electrical system into the 21st century, a new wiring harness from Centech was installed. Some final touches included Vision-X LED headlights and lightbars and replacing the original 10-gallon under-seat fuel tank with a Jaz Products 16-gallon tank under the body. Also, the window frame was made taller to fit a custom windshield that is 4 inches taller than stock. A Magellan Explorist TRX GPS sits at the top of the dash. Front and rear, you’ll find custom bumpers built by RSO. The front end holds a Superwinch Tiger Shark 9500 winch with a Factor 55 ProLink shackle mount.
What It’s For
Josh Randell had a lot of help building his dream Willys. However, his vision and decisions directed every step of the way for the team at Rock Solid Offroad. Now Randell has his childhood toy with real-world size and capabilities. It hits car shows, as well as just about any trail in Southern California that Randell chooses to tackle, including a run last year to enjoy the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. Even more fun, the rig is daily driven.
Why I Wrote This Feature
Flatfender purists may freak when they see all the Toyota drivetrain hardware under the tub and the GM 4.3L V-6 under the hood, but the availability of parts for both made Josh Randell’s decision a heck of a lot easier. Besides, the 4.3L mill makes much more power than the original L-head Go-Devil. Bottom line: This is one cool Willys, and it’s now much more trail capable than when came off the line in 1948.
Vehicle: ’48 Willys CJ-2A
Engine: GM 4.3L TBI V-6
Transmission: Toyota 4Runner R150F five-speed manual gear box.
Transfer Case: Toyota 4Runner transfer case with original 2.57:1 low range.
Suspension: BDS YJ Wrangler 4-inch lifts springs and Bilstien 5165 shocks.
Axles: ’83 Toyota SR5 sticks with 4.56 ARB Air Lockers and upgraded disc brakes.
Steering: Custom AGR power steering conversion
Wheels: 17x9 Fuel Boost wheels.
Tires: 35x12.50R17LT Nitto Terra Grappler
Built For: Street and trail, as well as car shows.