1950 Willys M-38 - The Stalker

    Chasing Down A Photo Shoot

    I'm not Madonna. Hell, I'm not even Guy Ritchie. But it seems that once yourname goes into a national publication, you're a celebrity to somebody in some dark corner of the world. And believe it or not, even the lowly editors at Jp magazine get our fair share of stalkers. I've been assaulted with e-mails from readers wanting to meet at Starbucks to talk Spicer 18 tooth counts. I've had more jail mail saying I've got a pretty mouth than I care to think of. And I've even had the "Drop by the house just to see what you're working on, buddy," on more than one occasion. Maybe I've seen Taxi Driver one time too many, but it usually makes me load one in the chamber and sleep a little uneasy at night.

    So, with all that under my belt, you'll understand how I mistakenly got the vibe that Laramie Chronister was stalking me at the last Moab Easter Jeep Safari. It all started with a message on our Forum at jpmagazine.com. Laramie asked if I was interested in going on a flattie run during EJS. Thinking he was the leader of a big group of 9-12 flatties, I told him to keep me posted and I'd see how my schedule went. Then I found out he just wanted to wheel with another dude in a flatty - namely me and old Orange #1. Besides having a pretty hectic schedule in Moab, I didn't even bring my flattie, so that was out. Then once in Moab I started hearing from friends and other staffers about some dude in a flattie who was looking for me. This went on with several people and several situations until one night at dinner when some tall dude from Texas taps me on the shoulder and introduces himself. "Damn," I think. "The stalker found me!" After some wriggling I get away and then conveniently run into him once or twice again.

    Then, on the second-to-last day in Moab, 4-Wheel & Off-Road editor Rick Pewe was fixing his flattie next to a fence in the hotel parking lot. I walked over to Rick to bum some welding rod, when who should stick his head up over the fence? You guessed it-the stalker.

    Well, my fears were unfounded and my intuition was miles off. Laramie, as it turns out, was just a long-time reader of both 4-Wheel & Off-Road and Jp magazines and had modeled the build of his '50 Willys M-38 after a mix of Cole Quinnell's 14-Day Flattie and my orange '53 Willys. He wasn't a scary stalker, just a regular dude into Jeeps. And as soon as I pulled myself up over the fence and spied the full-width stance of the Jeep he built, it only took a second for me to say, "I'll get my camera bag," and hop in for a ride.

    Chassis & Drivetrain
    Hailing from Sunray, Texas, you'd sort of expect to find a pair of high-zoot Sunray Engineering axles under this Willys. And while Sunray makes some killer components, Laramie just happened to gain access to a dirt-cheap '86 Chevy CUCV 1-ton military pickup. He gutted the Army truck of its Dana 60 front and 14-bolt rear. Because the 1-ton axles come already loaded with off-road-friendly 4.56 gears, Laramie upgraded the diffs from open carriers to Detroit Lockers, shaved the 14-bolt past the bottom bolt hole, and called 'em done.

    Moving up the powertrain ladder, a Dana 300 from an '80 CJ was obtained and loaded with a Novak ultra-short 32-spline rear output shaft. The strong yet compact T-case is mated to the '65 GM SM420 tranny with a Novak adapter. Laramie worked some deals and wound up with a '95 Chevy TBI 4.3L engine for cheap. Although the engine is tired and smells a bit of oil, it still chugs away and makes a strong argument against swapping.

    As for the frame, Laramie showed more financial savvy than Quinnell did with his 14-Day Flattie and more common sense than I did with my '53 DJ. Rather than using an expensive aftermarket frame like Quinnell or taking the time to plate the weak stock frame as I did on mine, Laramie just built his own chassis out of 2x3-inch, 0.120-wall rectangular tubing. The custom chassis allows more clearance for the engine's exhaust and steering components and didn't require drastic-looking extended spring perches on the front for use with the big full-width Dana 60 axle.

    The suspension utilizes stock rear YJ spring packs in a spring-over configuration up front with lowered mounts and a shackle reversal for smooth sailing down the trail. Tall home-built shock mounts allow 12-inch travel shocks for a ton of compression and droop. Out back, the spring perches were moved inboard on the axle and a set of 1.5-inch Rubicon Express spring-over springs were fitted to custom hangers. And although the Rubicon Express springs are designed to be used in a spring-over application, Laramie found the need to build his own traction bar to counter axlewrap and wheelhop.

    Body & Interior
    With a fresh spraying of olive drab, the '50 M-38 looks just right to us. Laramie bolstered and braced the tub underneath using 1x2-inch tubing. The bracing stiffens the tub and keeps it from flexing apart as the suspension undulates and contours to the terrain. Aside from a little trimming on the rear fender openings and some later-model taillights, the body is all stock and in pretty good shape.

    Inside, Laramie built his own cage out of 13/4-inch tubing and integrated the seat mounts into the cage. There are gauges, harnesses, and all the other stuff you'd expect to find inside a Jeep. We won't bore you with the minutia.

    Good, Bad, & What's It For
    Like any vehicle built on a screamin' budget with used parts, there are leaks, squeaks, and rattles from some of the drivetrain components. Laramie simply deals with a leaking axle seal here and a weeping T-case there. It's all good, cause he'd rather be ragging the 35x13.50R15 BFG Krawlers on 15x10 TrailReady beadlocks than playing shop monkey. And while it's still a down-and-dirty built, we appreciate the little details like the pseudo-army stars cut in the front spring hangers, the clean way the Warn 8274 is mounted partially submerged behind the front bumper, and the use of a below-tub fuel tank to free up room in the rear of the Jeep.

    Hard Facts
    Vehicle: '50 Willys M-38Engine: '95 Chevy 4.3LTransmission: '65 Chevy SM420Transfer Case: '80 Jeep Dana 300Axles: Chevy Dana 60 (front), Chevy 14-bolt (rear)Wheels: 15x10 TrailReady beadlockTires: 35x13.50R15 BFG KrawlerBuilt For: Wheeling the trails wherever and wheneverEstimated Cost: $15,000

    Why I Featured It
    Maybe this rig just brought back memories of wrenching on and wheeling in my old boss, Cole Quinnell's 14-day Flattie. Those were good days and I appreciate the fact that somebody appreciates what I appreciate (hey, this is how my mind works-hang on for the ride). Or maybe I was just so overcome with relief upon discovering Laramie didn't want to cube my flesh and feed me to his dogs that I shot the feature on it. Or, perhaps it's none of the above and I just wanted to share a budget-built Jeep by a dude who loves to wheel and doesn't have money falling from every orifice. Yeah, it's that last one.

    -Christian Hazel