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My Willys Odyssey
Jeff Jones ([email protected])
I started noticing Willys when I first started getting interested in auto magazines. That was back in about 1961 at the crest of the gasser craze. My sister took me to Famoso one Sunday afternoon to see the finals of the Fuel and Gas Championships. We couldn't afford to pay our way in so we stood outside the fence and sneaked peeks. We saw two Willys come to the line for the gasser finals in the twilight. They both did super wheelies, came down and bent their front axles and went 160 mph. I was hooked. I was about 13 at the time. Later I noticed a strange looking spare tire panel on a car in one of my buddies' garages when riding the school bus. I was only familiar with the '42 Willys coupe style and had never seen a '33 style. When I found out his car was a Willys, I struck a deal immediately. I paid him $75 (don't remember how I got that much money at the time). That was about 1965 and I was a junior in high school. The car was gutted, no engine or tranny which he kept to put in a boat. Otherwise it was dead stock. The first picture shows me with the start of my gasser. Notice I torched the firewall and the beginning of a log manifold (I think I was the first one to make one like that -- commercial ones started showing up several years later). I got the 331 hemi from another classmate and bought a '56 Olds for the hydro tranny and wiring harness plus a myriad of switches, and other small parts. Wish I had kept that big Olds engine! (Click photo to enlarge)
The second picture shows me and my future best man trying the fire the beast for the first time. The next two pictures are bad Polaroid snapshots of the car in its first running condition. Note the all steel, tilt up front end, the farm implement tires (great for swapping ends on wet streets!), and TOTAL lack of chrome. I ran an old Rochester 4-jet I got off a wrecked Oldsmobile for several years. In 1969 I bought a Holley 950 CFM 3-bbl carb and modified it in the Fresno State engineering machine shop to reduce the size of the primary bores to make it streetable. I drove it that way for 1000 miles through college and didn't kill myself. It was a real hack-up job and it's amazing it stayed together. I had things on it like a brake pedal arm made from a running board mount (sheet metal!) powering a manual brake master cylinder, and 9" front brakes converted from the original cable operation to hydraulic by grafting in some cylinders from some small British car. The farm implement tires weren't the safest feature of the car either. (Click photo to enlarge)
When I graduated from college in 1972, I tore the car down and it sat that way until the early 80's when I started slowly rebuilding it from the ground up. (Click photos to enlarge)
The next several shots are of the engine and tranny. The engine was bored to 354, 1/8" over and stock 354 pistons. It has stock rods and crank, factory forged parts, stock valves and hi performance springs, aluminum spring retainers, hydraulic lifters and stock rocker arms. The tranny actually came from a '54 Willys as the name plate photo shows (hydros were put in many cars in the 50's). The adaptor you see was from B&M Hydro, although they didn't manufacture it. It was made by an outfit called Drag Machine. The adaptor was my high school graduation present. How many of you can say you use your grad present every day 35 years later? Note the fluid coupling bolts together and can be serviced by the owner as compared to the totally sealed modern torque converters on modern trannies. Trust me, your arm gets pretty tired tightening all those bolts. (Click photos to enlarge)
The next couple of photos show the front disk brake adaptors I made in about 1975 to mount Ford Torino brakes on the stock Willys spindles. Remember back then there weren't 50 vendors selling brake conversion kits. (Click photos to enlarge)
That's about all I have on the first generation of the car. It was a dream to own and drive a real gasser as a teen even if it was a grungy beater. I will post more stories on the restoration project with many details on the home made stuff I did.
Click here for Part 2: Front Disc Brakes
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