1. home
  2. features
  3. Roaring 502 V-8 Resto-mod 1950 Willys Jeepster

Roaring 502 V-8 Resto-mod 1950 Willys Jeepster

Sweet ’50 Jeepster

Stuart A. BourdonPhotographer, Writer

Thurston Warn (yes, THAT Warn) bought a ’49 Jeepster with four-wheel-drive and a Chevy 396ci big-block V-8 back when his son Mike Warn (grandson of Arthur Warn) was just a teenager. The Jeepster was purchased from a friend of Thurston’s named Brian Chuchua. Warn and Chuchua are pivotal names in the history of recreational Jeeping, and if you don’t know who they are, do a web search on these off-road pioneers when you’re done reading about the 1950 Jeepster that Mike found and had built as a reminder of the 4x4 from his teen years.

“On occasion, my Dad would let me drive the Jeepster if we were going to an off-road event.” Mike added, “but to be perfectly honest, I drove it many other times that I don’t think he knew about. Or at least I was sure he didn’t back then.”

Tim Divers owns Divers Street Rods in Startup, Washington, and is well known for his finely crafted custom builds. When Mike secured the ’50 Jeepster, it needed lots of work, to say the least. Divers’ shop was just the place for what Mike had in mind. The first thing Divers did was to disassemble the ’50 and begin a ground-up remake.

With help from Jacob Strain, Divers created a new custom frame and chassis. Strain also did a good deal of the metal work. The perimeter rails were bent by Morrison. A custom Y-bar link front suspension with 6-inch-travel 2.5 King remote reservoir coilover shocks control a Currie RockJock 60. An ARB Air Locker with a 4.88:1-ratio ring and pinion set and CV-style RCV front shafts inhabit the front axle. Custom links connect the front axle to a Currie Antirock sway bar setup. The rear suspension system is a custom triangulated 4-link setup with 8-inch-travel 2.5 King remote reservoir coilover shocks. Another Currie RockJock 60 in back also carries a 4.88-geared ARB Air Locker and 35-spline RCV axleshafts.

Wilwood 14-inch disc brakes with six-piston calipers sit at the ends of both the front and rear axles, and with help from a master cylinder with Hydroboost out of a 2007 Chevy Silverado 2500HD, stop 35x12.50R20 General Grabbers mounted up to aluminum Trail Ready six-lug 20x10.5-inch wheels. The big meats up front are pointed in the right direction by a custom steering system that includes a Con 2 R steering wheel reworked and leather-wrapped by Divers Street Rods, a 2007 Chevy Sliverado 2500HD power-steering box, and a King steering stabilizer.

Power for Mike’s 50 Jeepster comes from a monster motor. An aluminum-head Chevy 502ci big-block V-8 crate motor was equipped with a Holley HP EFI system, 3-inch Sanderson headers, and a Divers custom ceramic-coated 3-inch steel 2-into-1 exhaust that ends with a 3-1/2-inch outlet. That BB V-8 was dyno’d at 502 horsepower (at 5,100 rpm) and 565 pound-feet (at 3,200 rpm), and it roars like a tiger under throttle but purrs like a kitten when idling. Transferring that power down to the NP 263 transfer case is the job of a 4L85E augmented with a Setrab oil cooler and a Compushift 2 trans computer. Custom driveshafts from Drivelines Northwest hook it all up to the Currie RockJock 60 axles.

Tim Divers also created a custom interior that includes a scratch-built console with control switches for the four-wheel-drive system and ARB air lockers, and a satellite-operated speedometer. The Corbeau’s were re-covered with black leather, and feature seat heaters and five-point harnesses to keep passengers warm and safely buckled in. Scott Divers did all the upholstery. RedLine Gauge Works performed a makeover on all the vintage stock gauges and instruments. Our favorite touches on the interior are the Divers-created custom “Willys” insignias scattered about in places such as the steering wheel and console. A four-point interior rollcage that’s anchored to the frame was built from 1-5/8-inch steel tube.

The attention to detail that was lavished on the suspension, powertrain, drivetrain, and interior can also be seen on the exterior of the ’50 Jeepster. Divers found ’55 Ford F-100 bumpers, then shortened and smoothed them for the nose and tail, and then tucked a Warn 9.0 RC 9,000-pound winch under the front bumper. Divers’ custom tube fenders also surround the fender wells. The headlights are JW Speaker LED units, and Divers’ filled a set of ’50 Pontiac taillights with LEDs, then grafted the taillights into the rear of the body. Taking it one step further, Tom designed and built a custom rear hatch with a storage cabinet inside the tail. The final touch, the moody and elegant PPG Porsche Seal Gray base coat and Blasurit satin clear coat was applied by Divers Street Rods’ masters Rich Thayer and Sig Schott.

Mike told us, “I loved that Jeepster, but as I have always said, ‘you can go back to a place, but not a time,’ so I found one like it and had a complete resto-mod build done. I plan to drive it most of the summer months (Mike and his family live in Oregon) and just enjoy the ride and the 502 motor. You can’t get that kind of kick from a new factory 4x4 anymore.”

Vehicle: '50 Willys Jeepster
Engine: Chevy 502ci big-block V-8
Transmission: 4L85E automatic trans
Transfer Case: NP 263
Suspension: Custom Y-link front, custom 4-link rear, King 2.5 remote-reservoir coilovers
Axles: Front: Currie RockJock 60, 4.88 ARB Air Lockers, RCV CV-style axleshafts, Warn locking hubs. Rear: Currie RockJock 60, 4.88 ARB Air Lockers, RCV 35-spline axleshafts.
Steering: Custom with Chevy Silverado 2500HD box and King stabilizer
Wheels: 20x10.5 Trail Ready aluminum six-lug
Tires: 35x12.50R20LT General Grabbers
Built For: Cruising Oregon backcountry roads