Wagon Tailgate Repair with a Bonus


Sharpest Tool
Sep 21, 2009
Vista, CA 92083
First Name
Willys Model
  1. Pickup
Willys Year:
  1. 1950
I started into my tailgate repair recently. Time to repair the rusted out lower section, hinge and splash pan. After drilling through the seized screws to get it removed from the body I started to pry off the lifting bondo to have a look.


Someone apparently thought it was a good idea to bondo over areas of complete rust through. I ordered the replacement panel, hinge and splash pan panel from Walcks. While waiting for those to arrive I started on a splice job of a Willys script from a beat up CJ tailgate I had into the tailgate above the license plate holder.


I notched and filled in the two vertical ribs. It heat warped a little bit was I was able to flatten it back out.


Tacked in place at the corners then cut the plate and the tailgate at the same time.


Pretty close to being done with this part of it. It needs a little more finish sanding.

Now on to the lower section. With the replacement panel now in hand to measure from, I cut away the appropriate distance.

Found some rust nuggets. I'm treating it with a rust converter and a sealing primer as far in as I can reach.
After some clean up to the area where the hinge attaches I tacked in the splash panel. I have an issue where it meets the corner. I have a huge difference in the elevation of the bottom of the body. Not sure why. Maybe the side was shortened by a previous owner to cut out some rust??

Any suggestions on how to blend this in? I think it will need to spread out over a larger distance than just the corner.
Couple more pictures:

The inside of the tailgate is not terrible. I'm just going to replace about 1.5", not use the entire replacement panel that came with the outside panel. I don't want to deal with the raised sections.


Here's the old hinge lined up with the new one. The new needs to be trimmed on this end and notched on both ends. For those that have done this repair, did you weld the hinge to the tailgate or use screws and nuts? I think I'm going to drill holes all along it and weld it at the holes and a few stitches along the edge.
I am intrigued by the lower bumper (splash) pan. Does it hang below on the other side as well?? I'm guessing not, which tells me your frame is tweaked, causing the misalignment of the body. In any case I can think of only one good cosmetic fix with out tearing everything apart and starting from scratch. My thought is to cut the lower lip of the corner off, all the way to the wheel well. Then graft in a filler piece and re-attach the bottom lip. It'll line up with the splash pan and most folks wouldn't notice the change. You could even taper it towards the wheel well so that it lines up with the forward side, but it might be fairly obvious at that point.

If both sides of the spash pan hang down, then the obvious solution is to cut down the splash pan (which i'm sure you already knew)

If both sides do hang down, then my real concern is What The Hell is Going on with Walcks?? :roll:

Anyway, there's my idea. Hope it helps.

While i'm thinking of it...What's the measurement of the splash pan from top to bottom? Also, what is the measurement at each side of the body, where it meets?? I'll make a note to take measurements from mine and we can see where the issue lies.

Oh yeh, I'm kinda diggin' the Willys script graph too. Good work on that.
It's not a Walcks issue. Their panel is uniform height at 5". The gap is actually about 3/8". Maybe not as "huge" as I initially said, just very noticeable. The driver's side fits well. Based on the previous shotty body work around this area, I think the problem is the quarter panel, not the frame. How the body lines up in this area shouldn't have anything to do with the frame.

After more closely measuring the rear quarters on both sides of the Wagon, there is a slight taper to the panel on the driver's side. The passenger side doesn't have the taper, it's more parallel with the ridges. I never noticed the taper on the driver's side so that's probably the best fix.... taper a new bottom angle piece from the corner to the wheel well.
The "Willys" logo in the tailgate looks great!

I am still on hold from the at home bank for ordering the body panels. My rear valance that you are having issues with came off on one corner from a tug when it snagged a pair of shorts, so I just pulled it off completely. Has since been turned into scrap.

My tailgate has already had some previous lower hinge repairs done and I have the stuff rattling inside that I haven't taken out yet.
Maybe it's gold!

Looking good though.
Eric B said:
My tailgate has already had some previous lower hinge repairs done and I have the stuff rattling inside that I haven't taken out yet.
Maybe it's gold!
Ha Ha, yeah, no such luck for me. Maybe I should put some kind of treasure in there for the next guy to find before I close it up. Maybe an apology for him having to redo MY work. :mrgreen:

Here's a picture that shows the bottom of the panel. It could obviously benefit from some new metal at the lip anyway, so perhaps I will trim a piece of angle iron to fit then weld it in place. Suggestions welcome.
I'm thinkin' you are obviously concerned with the way things look, or you wouldn't have gone to such lengths for the tailgate. I would like to suggest forgetting about the angle iron trick. For the amount of work you already have invested; it would be money well spent to get a replacement panel to cut and weld in. Not only will it take care of that bottom side, but you can trim it to match that rear splash pan as well. And the best part is that you'll be much more pleased with it while sitting in the lawn chair with a cooler at your feet and looking over your work.
These things get hacked up and modified enough as it is. Wouldn't it be nice to keep going in the other direction? Think about it. Keep it fun.
I hadn't even thought of a replacement panel for that part. That's a good suggestion Steve. I'm not a perfectionist by any means regarding the Wagon. It currently has a rattle can paint job. A couple things working against me on the new panel idea:
1) It's $300. I gotta cut corners where I can. I'm already selling off parts and scuba gear, etc. to put towards this.
2) I've already done some work to the wheel well that I want to keep. I've trimmed out about 1.5" at the bottom to get a little more tire clearance. This Wagon is intended to ultimately be taking the family on some mild trails and I don't want the tires to end up denting the body.


Here's the two cuts I considered. I decided on the solid line.


I cut it at the bend, taking out a triangle, then bent the hanging trim and welded it back to the side of the panel.


Here it is after some filler and sanding. Not finished, but close enough for now. I think it retains the character of the wheel well. Probably won't even be noticed by most people. I also welded in a washer to the back of the hole for the side bumper/panel support. It was honed out. Should be a little stronger now.

So I'm going to try to just fix the bottom area first before resorting to the full replacement panel. We'll see how it goes. If I have to I'll get a taller lawn chair so I can't see the bottom anymore. :D
What you've done looks quite nice. That's the sort of talent that I need. I do like the "taller lawn chair" idea though. :lol:
Look'n Good....now I'm off having a scavenger hunt....I need a Willys Logo for my Wagon....excellent work!
Ha, yeah you shouldn't have any problem......there's plenty of rusty tailgates out there. There used to be a guy (on EBay I think) selling a stamped piece of metal with the Willy logo all ready to go just for this purpose. I haven't seen it show up lately.

If you have no luck, I actually have another tailgate that I'm selling: http://www.coastaldimensions.com/ForSale/willysscripttailgatephoto1.html
It's in a lot better shape than the one I cut up, but it does have a little dent in the logo area (not the letters). I could cut it out so it fits in a flat rate box for you if you want it. I was hoping someone would buy this and put it back in service on a CJ, but I'm not going to hang onto it forever.
Not much progress, but I guess I'll update this as I go. Getting ready to weld in the new panel and whole area just seemed to have too much give. The middle of the tailgate can easily be pushed in and out because there's no real support under it. I'm going to be grinding, filling, and sanding all over this thing so I wanted to beef it up a little.

The J shaped "backer" metal on the patch panel will provide a good welding surface between new and old, but I added a piece of 1/2 inch square tube to it to close the gap between the outside and interior side.

Now, when the panel is slid into place the 1/2 inch tube will rest snug against the interior side of the tailgate and eliminate all that flex. It already feels much sturdier.
I got anxious and almost started welding it in place before painting the inside of the panel. Oops.
FYI I just came across that stamped patch panel I was referring to (at Classic Enterprises):
Scroll down the page seven or eight items. I kind of like the idea of re-purposing an old Willys part that would otherwise end up in the dumpster, but this would work also. I like the raised rectangle look of mine better... it stands out more and matches all the raised body lines of the Wagon.
Progress has been slow on the tailgate. I'm still working on it here and there as time allows.
The outside is about all patched up and smoothed out, but before I put it back on the Wagon I'm feeling like I should try to make the inside a little more presentable.

As you can see by the sanding marks there are a ton of divots and dents from years of cargo. Now what do do about it? I'm thinking about filling in all the dents with Bondo. Any other suggestions?

I've also thought about just covering it with carpet or a big piece of sheet metal. It would sure be a lot more comfortable to sit on that way.
How about some metal strips like you see inside the wagon area as well? Serve a function that way and hide the dents?

I really like the use of the Willys pressed logo. Any chance you would consider cutting it out for me and sending it to Australia? I use USPS and their rate page is here. http://pe.usps.com/text/Imm/ab_012.htm#ep1572941 First Class is the cheapest but the size might be too big as would love to have that whole verticle spear pressing as well.
Hey Mike MPC

I gotta add my 2 cents here to the whole smoothing of the tailgate. I would maybe sand it down (as you have already) and shoot some color on it or maybe some sort of bedliner on it. Also how are you gonna feel when someone drops something on your super restored tailgate?? To try to get all of the dings and dents out would take forever. This is a utility type vehicle. I would say to keep the patina of the dents and dings to prove it is what it is. I guess I am a sucker for well worn vehicles. I see smooth and shiney trucks with all the bling on them and it sorta turns my stomach. It is a truck to me. It is a very old truck to boot. Keep the dings and dents.
Just my opinion thats all.
P.S. you should the "bag of walnuts" I have for a tailgate on my 1960 Willys truck. :D
GoJeep, PM your e-mail address and I'll send you some close up pictures of the logo I have. Maybe we can work something out. The distance to the post office is the same for me no matter where I send it, except for the customs hassle.

Good point mikec4193. I agree with you to an extent. Even if I minimize the dents, I don't think this Wagon will have any trouble showing it's age. It will never be a shiny, show vehicle. Time wise, yeah working on this tailgate is getting pretty old. I'm anxious to get it done and get it back on the road. I'll probably save the inside for some other day. Just curious to see what others have done.
I don't know if this is indicative of all Wagons or just mine, but there's a slight curve to the back panel as evidenced by the hinge not lining up. This was just set in place for mock up. I was able to convince it to conform a little better when I welded the hinge to the tailgate.


I drilled holes in hinge on the side that attaches to the tailgate and plug welded them. The original hinge was attached with screws. To attach to the Wagon, I'm using the same bolt hole locations, but they've been drilled out to fit 1/4" bolts. Most of the captured nuts on the bottom had to be drilled out when I was removing the tailgate.
Rear hinge looks less noticable when you equal out the stick out between the two sides. But that is part of a Willys, they look like a lot of flat panels, but nothing is actually totally flat.