resto advice


Knuckle Buster
Dec 27, 2010
Willys Model
Willys Year:
Hi. Just joined the board and looking for opinion/information from others that have restored a Willys Wagon. I've toyed with the idea for years now. Dad got a 54 Wagon (6 Cyl, 4WD) years ago (1980-ish) in a swap for some work. We used it a little on the farm, but mostly sat...occasional jaunts into our grazing lease...the odd snowmobile rescue in the dead of CDN winter, etc. Huge sentimental value, needs lots of love...pretty much complete and FREE! Last ran about 13 yrs ago (had a burnt valve at that time). Needs complete frame off.

BODY: The floors are good, rear 1/4's need replacing, rear gate hinge is rusted through (that's the biggest issue). Is there a fix for the rear gate hinge (Willys America has some pics that look like they do a replacement, haven't talked to them at all). What is the quality of their replacement metal in terms of fit to stock (I've used some aftermarket fenders for other projects...).

DRIVELINE: would be re-done, stock for occasional summer use...with the Overdrive for a little extra top end.

SUSPENSION: would like about 2-3' lift for a little more aggressive/offroad stance.

Thanks for your time and advice...and no, I'm not interested in selling. Rusty.
Welcome to the forum Rusty-

My humble opinion is to think about doing a re-power on your truck (Willys America is a great place to start, buy his book). It's not that far off on $$ than replacing original 50 year old OEM technology. As long as you've got your hands dirty, what the heck!

I wanted the nastalgic look with modern and safer mechanics. Not over the top just newer than 1962. 80s technology is way better than 60s and cheap to find at salvage.

-Swapping axils will give you a couple of upgrades including lower gearing for that occasional highway driving, its much cheaper than the overdrive unit as well as Bendix disk brakes (on the front at least). D44s from 1970s International Scout II are favorites and have several gear setups readily available.

-Think about your brakes and consider upgrading to a dual brake master or power brake setup. You'll sleep better if you have kids/grandkids. "that jeep go really fast Mommy but it don't stop so good"

-Engine swaps are endless but you may be ok in that area with a V6 in place already. If you're all in then look at upgrading the transmission and transfer case while your at it. Don't forget to insulate the firewall good before you put it all back together, it's a whole lot hotter under there than you remember as a kid.

-Adding height is a little more complex without major frame modifications, many folks do a complete body swap onto a modern frame to accomplish this. You can get some lift with shims but stay away from the suspension lifts or axil-over conversions if you keep the orginal Willys axil, you won't like the ride. One easy way to get an inch is with a body lift, as long as your taking off the tub anyway put some extra mounts under there.

-I would think hard about a steering upgrade while you have it broken down. There are lots of posts all over the web on this but keep it simple and it will make a huge difference on the highway. I wish I had done this one.

Start, stop & move down the road without leaking out all it's fluids. After that it's all eye candy.

Good luck.
Here are my thoughts on your resto. Most important thing to decide right up front is how far you are willing to go. I can tell you from my experience, that once you dig into the project, it will likely cost you a lot more time and money than you originally planned. Know that now, and you will come out fine. Flash man offered good advice on checking out Willys america for advice either if staying stock or modifying.

Body. This is where the real work will be. Fortunately, there are tons of sheet metal parts available for these wagons. There are a number of key areas of the body though that you will not find replacement panels for; roof/rain gutters, around windows and upper parts of the body, and rear floor panels (this one was a huge problem for me, see my build page). You will also not find complete replacement doors or rear tailgate. Therefore, depending on how bad your body is, you may need to fabricate some things on your own. The biggest complaint on the replacement panels would be with the quarter panels. The fit is not quite perfect out of the box, but overall quality isn't too bad so they are workable.

Engine and drivetrain. If your wagon has original drivetrain that can be rebuilt, I would say do that. I always love to see wagons stay original if possible. And it sounds like this would be sufficient for your planned use. With an overdrive unit, you might only be able to hit about 60 though, so don't expect a real speed demon. There are tons of ways to go if you swap drivetrain. As flashman said though, if you go this route, it is best to consider doing it all, engine, trans, and axles for best performane.

Suspension. Lifting these vehicles can be sketchy. Stock springs in good condiion (available from all the Willys parts places) will give room for about a 30 to 31 inch tire. Some people have found sources for lift springs for about 2 1/2 inches of lift, but theses are super stiff and the wagon will ride even rougher than normal. I would say that this might also fall into the all or nothing category. If you want a taller ride, you probably would be better off with a frame swap. Many on this site have done it. Wagoneers seem to be a good donor vehicle. The lift options would then be much greater.

Whatever you decide, good luck and keep us posted on your project.
Thanks for the input. What I need to do is really take a good hard look at the body (tailgate hinge rusted through is the worst right now...), also have to crawl underneath and look at body mounts, panels from the underside, etc. Personally, it seems like a shame to rip a stock driveline out, the Super Hurricane head looks cool as all get out. As far as money goes, it has been my experience that this will end up costing a lot. I can do the mechanical rebuilds, blasting/coating of mechanical parts and frame, and body prep...finishing bodywork and paint I'd have to farm out, as well as welding.

It would be a huge undertaking.

Alternative is to look for a new-ish, JK 4 door as a salvage unit to build up...lacks the charm/character, though.
Hi Rusty54. Read about what others have done and gone through in the "Build Thread" on this forum. Some go "el natural" and keep their trucks ALL original... Some go the "conversion route" and install the Willys Body onto a 4X4 Late Model chassis. The pluses to the second choice is you end up with modern technology in your whole drive train and maintain the charm of the old Willys Truck "Look". Either path you decide to take will consume lots of time and money, usually more than you had planned. Break the project down into smaller manageable tasks and take one step at a time. Good luck, and don't forget, you can get lots of good advice and help from this forum! ... lys-pickup
Welcome to the forums. It is good to hear you want to rebuild your Willys.

You can get disc brake kits for stock front axles if you keep the original drive train, as the brakes are a notable weak point if you drive where there is much traffic.

If you are in a rural area getting to 60MPH may be plenty, I know for me it is. The original engine has a great offering of available parts to repair it, and it already has all the mounting adapters and such to fit in your wagon. I personally would rebuild the stock if it is all there.

There are patch panels for most of the known rust out areas. There are panels for the bottom 2-3/4" of the tailgate so if it is only the hinge area there are repair panels out there.

Look over the floor panels where the driver and passenger feet would be, if yours is not rusted out there it would be a rare thing, most have some degree of rust sometimes to the point of rusted through completely.
Welcome to the forum, my restorations in the past have always been limited to my budget, do-it-yourself or learn how to do it, help from friends and have 3 years of time. This forum has many people building projects, we all learn from each other...keep your build safe and reliable! Good Luck... :cheers:
I'd definitely keep it all original, you'll thank yourself many times over when you're all done. Mine's a '62 all stock including the brakes. They stop pretty darn good, the key is having everything in excellent shape. I replaced everything, drums, master cylinder, wheel cylinders, linings, brake lines on mine. Learning to adjust them right is crucial. From your description of intended use, and you're stated attachment to it I think you would really enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come.
Welcome to the forum rusty. My '55 4X4 PU is all stock Willys, I drive it 4-5 days a week for errands and hauling wood, etc. The stock 226 moves the truck around just fine, the stock braking system (completely overhauled) is more than adequate. I am of the keep-it-original school, but you will have to decide for yourself what you want your wagon to be and go for it.