top of page
  • bruce4647

Willys Jeep Restoration | The Original SUV

The roots of the iconic Jeep brand go way back to 1908 when it was known as Willys. In this episode we look at a complete restomod of a 1959 Willys wagon. This was the original SUV and is the grandfather of todays Jeep Grand Cherokee. See the history of Jeep and how it evolved over the years. Then see how Jellybean AutoCrafters has brought this vehicle back to life.

Hi everyone. I’m Bruce Hitchen and Welcome to Center Lane. A while back we visited Jellybean AutoCrafters where they do some amazing restomods. One of the vehicles they were working on was 1959 Willys Wagon. This vehicle is being completely restored and modified to have a modern engine, drivetrain, and suspension along with a new paint job and interior to make the car run and look like new.


We’re going to take a look at that car in a minute, but I thought it would be interesting to find out more about the history of the Willys


Now, if you enjoy watching my channel then please be sure to like and share this video and subscribe to my channel.


The company we know today as Jeep has roots that go way back to 1908 when John Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of the Standard Wheel Company and then renamed it, Willys-Overland Motor Company in 1912.


In fact, up until 1918, Willy’s was one of the largest producers of cars in the US, second only to Ford.


Over the next few years, Willys acquired a number of other companies including F.B. Stearns, Electric Auto-Lite, the Russell Motor Company, Curtiss Aeroplane, and Duesenberg.



While Willys enjoyed years of growth, the company was plagued with labour issues and then it was hit hard by the depression. The bank appointed Walter Chrysler to save the company and as a result many of the company’s assets were sold.


In 1926, Willys–Overland introduced a new line of small, low-priced cars named the Whippet. These cars appealed to budget conscious, recession weary buyers.


In the following years, the company continued to falter until 1940 when, the U.S. military issued a tender for a small General-Purpose vehicle. The Army invited many manufacturers to bid on production but Willys, Bantam, and Ford were the only ones to respond, and they all produced prototypes. Bantam’s solution was the Model 40 BRC, Ford had the Model GP short for Government Pygmy, and Willys produced the Willys Quad.


Willys eventually won out and was awarded the lucrative contract. By that time is was called the Willys MA but it soon became known simply as Jeep. It’s thought that the Jeep name came as a result of slurring the letters GP together to sound like Jeep.


Willys-Overland ended up building over 368,000 of these vehicles, and Ford, built another 277,000 of them under license from Willys.


After the war, Willys trademarked the Jeep name and turned it into an off-road utility vehicle by launching the first CJ-5. In 1953, the company was sold to Kaiser Motors and became Willys Motors Inc. and marketed itself as the “The world’s largest maker of 4-wheel drive vehicles.”


In the 50s and 60s, Willys continued to innovate and developed both military and civilian models, creating larger, more comfortable vehicles with improved engines, axles and transmissions. Models included a cab-over truck that came in various configurations, a soft-top Jeepster, the Willys Aero compact sedan, and the Willys Wagon. In 1963 the company dropped the Willys name in favour of Kaiser Jeep and introduced the Jeep Wagoneer, Gladiator trucks, a fleet van, and a variety of other models.

Then, in 1970 the company was sold to American Motors. During the 70’s, the company introduced many of the models we’re familiar with today including the Jeep Cherokee, Renegade, and the CJ-7. In 1987 Chrysler bought AMC and the Jeep brand continues to thrive today with a line of off-road capable vehicles that combine utility and luxury.


As I mentioned earlier, Jellybean AutoCrafters has been working on a complete top-to-bottom restomod of a classic 1959 Willys Utility Wagon. This vehicle is really the grandfather of today’s sport utility vehicles. It’s perfect for shuttling around a large family with a ton of gear, and it’s combined with great off-road 4x4 capabilities. Ewald Penner is going to tell us about the amazing transformation of this American classic.


This is a 1959 Willys. It's a four-wheel drive, originally would have been a four-cylinder vehicle, four-speed manual transmission. Typically it would be a family wagon you know with some kids they want to go off-roading that kind of stuff. Maybe their cabin the woods that sort of thing. It would also double up as the work vehicle as well and so it's really handy for for people in that generation in the late 50s early 60s to have something like this. The client is a great client, he's got a great vision for the vehicle. Modern technology, modern drive, modern reliability, that sort of thing and what he wanted to have is something that looks stock with with the exception of the wheels and then have something they could take up to his cabin just like somebody would have way back in the day. But he wanted to have modern power, modern reliability and uh modern suspension and we've accomplished that on this truck. When the vehicle came in it was in really rough shape. There was some dents and rust, it hadn't been well cared for. It was a 4x4 after all. The vision that the client wanted for it was awesome because it's...really nice condition, with modern type paint on it, modern wheels and modern drive. There was considerable amount of metal work needed on the vehicle, straightening and also patch panel that sort of thing. We ended up building a firewall because we went with a 5.7 Hemi. So it's got modern fuel injection, modern reliability, modern power. We made no exterior body modification so it's exactly the way it was from factory. It has a five-speed manual transmission, it has air lockers so you got switches on your dashboard to turn the posis on that sort of thing. Five-speed manual transmission, aluminum radiator, all that stuff so here the ride ability on this vehicle will be will be very good. One of the things we did as well was to get a more comfortable ride, back then these springs were really short and they kind of had a tractor type ride um but with more of a modern ride we chose a bit of longer suspension, longer springs into it. So what we did is we ended up lengthening the frame about six inches that gave us room to put a longer leaf spring into it. That gives us a modern type of a ride, soft, goes over bumps well yet it still carries a lot of weight. At the same time by extending the frame forward, it gave us enough room to put a 12,000 pound winch in as well. With the winch on there, if he ever does get stuck, he can get himself unstuck pretty basically. In doing so we extended the factory panel, this is the factory panel here, but we extended it out by six inches as well. We made it look as if it was all still original along with the bumper the overriders and all those sorts of things. Getting a 5.7 Hemi into where a four cylinder was before is...it's not an easy task. We do a lot of engine replacements that sort of thing, upgrades. This one here was a very small engine bay as you can see it's very narrow, it's very short. We have to modify the firewall a little bit because we want better weight distribution to the back. But everything else is extremely tight. We had to plan out and design exactly where everything went, where the power steering reservoir was going to be, where the alternator and filter would be, how the radiator hoses were going to go, All those things. Make sure that it's still clear past the booster, we added that in. Clear of all these steering linkages. Make sure the exhaust wouldn't rattle on the frame, all the clearance would be there, and at the same time make sure there's enough airflow through that the engine isn't going to retain the heat in the engine bay. It has to be able to flow through just like a little regular car, not overheat.


The factory Willys, it has a very basic, basic dashboard. Basic interior because they're a basic truck. With this client wanting a more high-end, more modern type of a vehicle, we took some artistic liberties and some design changes that still are in keeping with what Willys had originally. For example, this here is factory, this is all stock with the exception of the panel. This here is all stock. So this is all original up to here but the speedometer was here and it went back down again so you had the same type of indent as you have here out on this side as well. So it went out and back in again. The trouble with that is now you got the speedometer here and there's not enough room for gauges. So we end up making the dashboard a little bigger, keeping it flat. With this being such a special vehicle, it's kind of like a bespoke suit so we did we had the client come and sit in the seat. He showed us exactly where we want the pedal, so these pedals are exactly where he needs them for his feet, where exactly we want the shifter to be, the park brake, the steering wheel. All these things are exactly what the client needs. Once this was done we then laid out where the gauges should be. He came back in again and sat in the seat and looked at it so now he can see through the steering wheel, he can see all the gauges totally clear. There's no interruption there so if you're driving and you can glance down, all the gauges are totally visible for him. To make it look a little nicer, to spruce it up a little bit, it looked a little bland to have this all flat, so we ended up building a panel along here. This is a custom panel but it looks like it's something that could have come in a '59 Willys and we put all these numbers in here. This is for the audio so when he wants to turn the stereo on it operates off his, off his phone. He got all the controls right there, your heater, all kind of stuff and we use knobs on here that are in keeping with the style of the vehicle as well. These little ribs in here mimic what's on the outside of the body, these ribs on the out to the body so we have those in here as well to kind of bring the interior and the exterior together. And we put a couple grooves at the bottom and one at the top just kind of break it up a bit more and we put the body color into there as well so it looks as if it's all an original piece. If somebody didn't know any better this would be, to them would be 100 percent factory. For a bit of comfort we put tilt steering in as well so this goes up and down so if he's on a long trip, he wants to change that or somebody else wants to drive it sort of a thing, it can be adjusted for them as well.


Originally this seat would have been, would have been two seats. There was a smaller seat on the driver's side and then the the rest of it was on the passenger side so you could fit two small people on the on the passenger and one small person on the driver's side. I'm not sure why they made that configuration because the front seat was actually opposite of that but I'm sure they had their reasons. What we ended up doing was putting a full back on it and a full bottom as well. It gives it a cleaner look and it's actually more comfortable. The way we did put the foam in there, when you sit back and it actually hugs around you just like a bucket seat does but it's still a bent seat, and so it's really comfortable. We also put the lap belt as well, this way if you ever on an accident you're being retained a whole lot better than what it would be from factory. One unique thing about this vehicle is the way that the tailgate is held from going down too far. Typically you'll have a chain, a strap and that sort of thing but what Willys decided to do was have these metal brackets that are kind of, kind of, two bars put together so as you move it up and down, they automatically fold down and they're out of your way. You don't get the, you don't get the rattling and the the clanging of the chain so it's a much quieter system. The license plate bracket is an interesting piece. When you're driving along typically your your license plate is here, your light is shining on it. As you put the tailgate down, this item automatically comes down like this here so if you want to see that you'll see it goes down.


Originally this truck didn't have any carpet in the back. It was more basic so the floor in the back here was very similar to the tailgate how it goes up and down. This way, when you're putting material on it you're only resting on the upper portions. Being more of a luxury model like a modern SUV, we put carpet on it and we put wood strips on it. The wood strips themselves are identical to the factory. They've been restored just like the factory ones were and they actually carry on just like the factory ones did as well but on top of the carpet. This way you have the the the look of the carpet, the sound deadening of it, the warmth of the carpet but you don't have the, you don't have the rattle of the metal. And we also added an extra rib on the side to give it a bit better look and by the differential there's a little different configuration there as well, just to give it a more of a modern look as well.


Well that's a look at how this mid-century classic is being brought back to its former glory and opening a new chapter in the life of this important American icon. Thanks to Ewald Penner for showing us the car and everyone at Jellybean for your commitment to excellence. Until next week, thanks for watching.

84 views0 comments
bottom of page