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1949 2WD Willys Pickup - Wicked Willys: Part 3

A Little Tube Bending, Brakes, and Steering

Verne SimonsPhotographer, Writer

Just about every long-term Jeep build-up will end up hitting snags along the way. Sometimes a project stalls out completely and comes to a grinding halt, no matter how badly you want the reward at the end of the build. This can be for a couple of reasons. Often times it’s tied to running out of time or money. Sometimes changes at work or home force you to change your priorities, pushing back that build or that next step. There are many reasons that can keep things from coming into place, majorly delaying your project. Believe it or not this also happens to those of us lucky enough to work for off-road magazines like Jp. Our ’49 Willys Pickup project, Wicked Willys, has unfortunately been mildly stalled out as a few changes have been taking place with our parent company Source Interlink Media and internally here at Jp. The good news is we are still here, you are still there, and the build will continue despite the changes. Having said that, the build has been a bit drawn out recently as we wait for parts to trickle in and hunt for time to spin wrenches. We’ve learned that the best thing to do when a project stalls is to try to do at least one or two small things to your project every day. That way, even if you are only taking baby steps, you are still getting a little closer to the end of the build every day, one baby step at a time.

In part 2 of Wicked Willys (July ’14), we showed you some suspension fab with parts from Synergy Manufacturing and drivetrain assembly with parts from Off Road Design. This time we are going to take tackle bolting and welding a few more odds and ends on to our big project. We are also going to start assembling the steering system on our Willys with a freshly rebuilt Jeep steering box, a Redneck Ram, and custom hoses from West Texas Off Road. We’ll also start bending up and tack-welding together a rollcage and a little body armor for the truck using our old second-hand tubing bender we recently upgraded with a few parts from Swag Off Road and Harbor Freight Tools. Lastly, we will also get the axles a little closer to the finish line with rear brake parts and a few front axle parts from Off Road Design. In the end, we are getting closer to getting the rig on her wheels, if only slowly.

For reasons we’ve never really understood, the stock mounting points for the steering box on a TJ (the frame we sourced for our Willys) rotates the steering box at a funky angle. Down in the front, up in the back. This makes running a drop pitman arm necessary with even a little lift on a TJ. It also leaves the front of the steering box hanging below the front bumper, just asking to get smacked on a rock. We’ve seen a few low-slung rigs with notched front crossmembers and the steering box rotated in a way that seems to make way more sense to us. So since monkey-see-monkey-do is one of our mottos, we decided to rotate and remount our steering box. We started with looking at lots of pictures of Chris Durham’s Willys truck and making a few phone calls to him. Then, we marked and punched our frame for one of the new steering box mounts.

Here is how we notched the front crossmember. Later, we will later add rigidity to the frame with a stout winch plate and bumper to compensate for the material we removed to get the box to fit in the rotated position.

By using 3⁄4-inch 0.155-wall DOM tubing and a 3⁄4-inch hole saw, we can easily make new sleeves through the frame to hold the steering box in place. We started with one hole and then used a steering box to locate the other three holes. We then built a cradle that hangs under the frame to support the lower two sleeves and bolts. Once everything is tack-welded in place and the box is easily installed and removed, we went ahead and finish-welded the brackets in place. That ought to help us direct this big Jeep for years to come.

Here are the parts we got from West Texas Off Road as part of the Stage II Complete System ($499.00). We supplied them with a used, leaking CJ box that they rebuilt and tapped for the Redneck Ram. Originally, we sourced a J-series truck box for this build, but West Texas Off Road advised against using the J-truck box in favor of a CJ box. The reasoning being that the larger box is great if you are not running a ram, but since we are, the more fluid required by the larger box could actually make the ram less effective as it will rob some fluid from the ram. One of the ends of our hoses are unswedged so they can be cut to length and finished at a local hydraulic shop.

Last time, we showed you how we built a front-axle truss using our new Swag Off Road 12-Ton Press Brake DIY Builder Kit (PN 6PB12TA, $149.95). Swag also makes some parts that will make bending lots of tube with the bender way easier. This is Swag Off Road’s Tube Bender Air/Hydraulic Ram Mount (PN 6TBRMA, $129.90 un-welded or plus $29.95 for a fully-welded version) mounted on our old, beat-up JD2 Model 3 bender, along with an air-over-hydraulic 8-ton ram (PN 94562, $84.99) from Harbor Freight. Once we got it all assembled and added hydraulic oil to the Harbor Freight ram, all we had to do is chuck up the tubing, attach our air source, and let the ram do the work for us.

Using a tubing bender to build a cage requires experience and patience. We always build one part at a time focusing on one bend at a time using this angle finder to estimate how far to make each bend. We always undershoot the bend (if we think we need 90 degrees, we go to 83) and then test-fit it. If needed, you can put the tubing back in the bender to add a few more degrees to a bend, but you can’t easily or reliably unbend tubing once it’s bent too far. Like with many complex tools, mistakes happen with a bender. Unfortunately, these mistakes are costly.

Try to disregard all the junk in the background on our shelves. We have a known Jeep and Jeep parts hording problem that we are working on. What you should focus on is our A-pillar and A-to-A–pillar spreader above the windshield. This cage goes through holes in the floor and will be tied to the frame via tubes that run out to the rocker guards. We angled the A-pillar to allow room for legs and feet (and their attached humans) to easily enter and exit the truck. Also, we cut out the dash. This was for three reasons: One, for A-pillar clearance so we could have as much room for feet and legs. Two, to make the installation of an A-pillar to shock mount/radiator support easier as it passes through the firewall. And third, to make access and wiring under the dash easier. We will later mount the trimmed-down factory dash to our cage via the dash bar and welded-on tabs.

Here is the B-pillar and A to B-pillar tube. The base of the B-pillar will also be tied into the frame via a rocker guard spreader. If we were worried about vibrations and road noise in this Jeep, we might want to use some sort of bushing set up to isolate the cage and body from the frame. With our big Willys, safety, strength, and bashability are more important. Furthermore, with big, gnarly tires and a big fire-breathing Dodge 440, we doubt any future drivers or passengers are going to notice, let alone mind any vibrations.

Speaking of rocker protection, we also bent up some tubing to wrap around the rusty bottom edge of our Willys truck’s cab. This tubing, like the rest of the ’cage that you have seen us work with in Wicked Willys Part 3, is 13⁄4-inch 0.120-wall DOM tubing. You can also see three of the four rocker guard spreaders that will tie in the rocker guards and the rollcage securely to the frame.

We also used a 2-inch hole saw to poke the 13⁄4-inch 0.120-wall A-to-B–pillar tube out the back of the cab. Our current plan is to tie this into an old-school style headache-rack, complete with expanded metal and maybe some rusty chains swinging and banging about. We want this Willys to be a big, rusty, jagged, in-your-face truck.

One baby step that we were able to make with the GM 14-bolt rear axle was to install these 14 Bolt Full Float Disc Brake Bracket Kit from Off Road Design ($150.00). Add in rotors from a ’73-’87 3/4-ton GM front axle, calipers and pads for a ’73-’87 1⁄2- or 3⁄4-ton GM front axle, hard and soft brake lines, and not only will your 1-ton rear axle have bitchin brakes, but it also will shed an estimated 50-60 lbs with the loss of the drum brakes and associated parts.

Here we mounted some parts store 3⁄4-ton rotors to the hubs that came off our single rear wheel full-float 14-bolt axle. Rather than use the wheel studs that hold the hub and drum brakes together we went with 16 new longer studs from Dorman (PN 610-194) from our local parts store. These studs, intended for a dually, will allow plenty of knurled engagement with the rotors and hubs, as well as provide more than enough threads for any aluminum wheels and lug nuts we may use in the future.

The last baby step we took in this installment of Wicked Willys will help us figure out what parts we need for the rest of the steering. We used a full Dana 60 Kingpin Rebuild Kit from our friends at Off Road Design. The kit includes all the seals, bearings, gaskets, nuts, bolts, springs, bushings, and washers you’ll need to rebuild your kingpin system and bolt your knuckles back on your kingpin Dana 60 front axle ($79.00 each, two required per front axle). The kit also includes new steel cones that we slathered in red thread-locking compound and gunned them down as tight as we could with our angriest pneumatic air gun. Now we can get measurements for a drag link and tie rod, mock up the ram, and design a track bar for our big Willys. That will get us closer to putting weight on the suspension and tires on the Jeep.