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This 1949 Willys 663 Wagon is a Show Stopper and Trail Crawler

Original Overlander

Rick PéwéPhotographerTraci ClarkPhotographer, Writer

Walking through the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, a place filled with bright, shiny, and new, our eye was drawn to something that seemed forlorn, forgotten, and somewhat out of place. Its tarnished appearance beckoned us to step closer and look at what was beneath the fading exterior. Some may call it a rust bucket at first sight; however, there is a rare beauty in old things. One must look deep to truly appreciate it. The Max-Bilt 1949 Willys Northwoods Edition 663 Wagon is one of those beautiful items from the past that has been revived and brought into the 21st Century, yet retains much of its original appearance.

Max-Bilt Offroad in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, started this build for a customer that unfortunately changed his mind. We’re happy the guys continued with the build so we could bring it to you. As we explored the Original Overlander, as it’s called, we were transported back in time to those family camping and fishing trips. The whole fam-damily, Rover, and a week’s worth of food and gear crammed into the family truckster. Thinking back though, we wish our transportation had been as cool as this.

While the faded exterior tells of days gone by, it also camouflages the modern upgrades quite well. The team met a few challenges along the way. Attaching the 1999 Cherokee drivetrain to a frame 50 years its senior required some ingenuity and a little extra reinforcement. The end result is a flawless daily driver with moderate off-road capabilities.

Why This Jeep
Some people are drawn to stray animals. I’m drawn to lost and forgotten Jeeps. This Willys Wagon called to me; I hastened near to hear the story of this once neglected 663. The team at Max-Bilt did a fantastic job of honoring the scars of a life well lived, while bringing the engine and running gear up to date. Subtle hints of interior comforts and electronic upgrades aren’t glaring and offensive to the eye. This build preserved the charm and appeal of the past.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1949 Willys 663 Wagon
Engine: 1999 Jeep Cherokee 4.0L I-6
Transmission: Aisin Warner 4-speed automatic
Transfer Case: NP242
Suspension: Jeep Cherokee stock rear leaf springs, 2015 stock Jeep Wrangler front coil springs, and Crown shocks
Axles: High-pinion Dana 30, 3.55 gears, open differential, and disc brakes (front); Chrysler 8.25, 3.55 gears, open differential, and drum brakes (rear)
Wheels: Stock 1970 Lincoln Continental steel
Tires: Pit Bull Growler 31x10R15LT