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Project Wicked 53 Willys


My search ended for a rust-free complete Willys Wagon when I stumbled upon this 1953 Willys Wagon owned by a Doctor and Jeep collector in Fairplay, CO. I purchased the non-running Willys for $3000 and proudly towed my prize home.

The key to projects like this it to sit down and decide what you want it to be, as well as figuring a budget. In this case I chose to build a visually original wagon from the frame up, but incorporate an all new drivetrain and modern upgrades.

The Interior was very complete and in excellent condition. It had a partial restoration about 10 years ago, so most of the interior was already done.

The wagon even had the original rear seats.

I chose to install a unique motor - A Jeep/Buick 350. This motor was only used in Jeep Cherokees and Wagoneers for 2 years. For the tranny, a TH400 was chosen and a Dana 20 transfer case was mated to it. However, before this whole process could take place, I would need to completely disassemble the Wagon

After gutting the interior it was a pleasant surprise to find almost zero rust anywhere. There was some minor cancer on the front floorboards on both sides.

After stripping off the front clip it was easy to remove the motor, transmission, and transfer case. None of the drivetrain was going to reused, so it was sold to help fund the project. When I originally did this project on the web I had some hate mail from Willys guys who were pissed that I screwed with a perfectly original stock wagon. Oh well! Note that this entire project took place in a single car garage.

It was important to note the original factory markings showing the wagon was a burgundy/wine color with cream trim.

This great shot shows the firewall after I welded up the un-needed holes. The result will be a very smooth looking firewall.

This is a close-up shot off the front passenger side body mount. At some point this mount had been broken, so I welded it back up all new again. Once coated with POR-15 (see my LINKS), it won't be noticeable.

This is a close-up of the underside of the drivers side floor. A small patch was welded under the holes, then all the tiny holes were filled with bondo. Once both the interior and underside are coated with Herculiner (see my LINKS), everything will be totally sealed, and you will never be able to tell there was any rust!

I've used Herculiner on all my Jeeps and I am very pleased with the results. Every nook and cranny of this wagon was covered. It should never see rust again.

Next, the body was hoisted off the frame and the frame was rolled out from under it. Both the axles and the springs were scrapped.

With the frame gone, I had access to the underside where I completely stripped and degreased it. When I was done, it was coated with Herculiner.

Yes, I felt very safe lying under this contraption......


The frame was completely stripped and degreased. I then coated it in POR-15.

Next up was moving the front spring hangers to accommodate the wider Dana 44 front axle.


Both axles we taken from a late 70's wide track Cherokee with 3.73 gears. Once again, they were stripped and painted with POR-15, then reassembled with new hardware.

Don't forget to set the proper pinion angle!

What a monster! 33" BF Goodrich Mud TA's on steel rims were chosen. I've always used BFG's and love 'em! I chose Alcan Spring (see my LINKS) in Grand Junction, CO to custom make me a set of 4" lift springs. To my knowledge, no on makes a complete lift kit for the wagons, so they need to be custom made. I also chose a set of new Con-Fer shackles (see my LINKS), and Rancho U-bolts.

This shows the front spring hanger that was moved out 3/4"

Next, the body with its fresh undercoating of Herculiner was mated to the freshly coated frame and new undercarriage. The project is moving along great!

Next, my attention was turned to the motor. I got lucky and found a great donor vehicle. I honed the cylinders, installed new rings and bearings, then painted the motor with POR-15 engine paint. The color was supposed to be red, but turned out orange.

I fabricated my own motor mounts after test fitting the motor. Some simple pieces of "c" channel and 2 1/2" tubing worked great.

Now it was time to install the motor. I've spent many long knuckle-scraping hours under Jeeps trying to man-handle trannys and t-case in. This time I assembled everything prior to dropping the motor in. This really helped in getting all the gaskets properly sealed.

It's all down hill from here. The blue bracket is for a York A/C compressor that will be used for on-board air. One issue I ran into with the motor install is that the fan will hit the front crossmember, so I will need to notch it later on.


Now it was time to install the Saginaw power steering box. I chose a slightly different way to install the box. I wanted it to be as hidden as possible. Here you can see how the crossmember was notched for the fan, as well as for the steering box. I also boxed the front frame rails.

The final installation. The box will be totally hidden under the front bumper skirt.

Next, I installed power brakes from an 84 Wagoneer. I was able to pull the booster, master cylinder, pedal assembly, AND proportioning valve. One snag I hit was that the booster hit the valve cover, so a 3" body lift was installed.

The whole brake set-up installation very easy. As you can see in the pic, the brake bracket was welded to the steering column bracket for stability.

The pedal assembly fits nicely. You can also see the gas pedal assembly from a 70 Wagonneer with kick-down switch for the tranny.


Since the drivetrain was longer, I needed to move the rear crossmember back, and since the frame tapers out towards the rear, I had to add 3" to it.

Everything was coated in either Herculiner or POR-15.....

Original gas tank.


Even the inside of the grill!!

The moment of truth was the mock-up of the front clip:

Wicked Willy was coming back to life!

This great shot shows the disc brake set-up as well as the steering geometry. Note the taller shock tower....


This photo shows the taller shock tower taken from a Wagoneer as well as the fabricated bump-out for the power steering pump.


Now it was time to turn my attention to the electrical. Every inch of wiring was replaced. This photo shows a 12 volt to 6 volt resistor. It allows me to use the original gauges without damaging them.


This is one of the things Wicked Willys was famous for: The hidden gauges behind the glovebox door. The dash remained original, while a Tach, voltage gauge, oil gauge, temp gauge, and turn signal lights were kept hidden. A turn signal switch was taken from a postal Jeep as well as the steering column. The stock steering wheel bolts right on!


This was the only bodywork that the wagon needed. I had to weld up some holes that had been drilled to mount a truck mirror.

It took two heaters to build a good working Harrison heater....


The oak slats were stripped and refinished, and the rear seats were installed. Note the original door panels and ash trays.

This shot shows the installation of the Hurst shifter as well as the Dana 20 shifter.

This biggest moment in any project is the test drive. It's make or break. Here you get to see if all your effort pays off. It sure did! As systems were go.

I utilize Optima batteries in all my projects....

Everything seems to fit! I had the original radiator re-cored to 4-cores and it cools like a champ!

Next I took it in to the muffler shop to have dual exhaust installed. I took this opportunity to take some sweet shots of the undercarriage. It almost looks like a new truck:

Finally, after six long months, it was off to the paint shop. I chose to copy a paint scheme I saw on another Wagon on the Web. Here are the final pics of Project Wicked 53 Willys:


















I also fabricated this cool little detachable gas can carrier:

Sadly, I had to sell the Wicked 53 Willys because I was moving.  I did get a good price for him, though.....

The Wagon rides off in to the sunset.  Wicked Willy, I hope you are doing well.