5.3 Vortec in a Willys Made for Rock Climbing

5.3 Vortec in a Willys Made for Rock Climbing

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Sebastian has always had a hankering for mixing the old with the new. His ownership history reads like any respectable rock crawler’s: one CJ3B, two CJ7s, one TJ, two Suzuki Samurais and one FJ40, but despite that resume he had never tried his hand at a classic Willys. Well, perhaps it was for the better that he had that sort of experience beforehand, because when he did pick up a classic Willys, he had the wherewithal and the foresight to build it well.

His aim was to stay true to the original World War II paint scheme, albeit with a very interesting and modern drivetrain, and 36” tires to pull the entire package together. He hauled it back to his garage with another Jeep, but it was the tattered Willys on the hauler that dominated the picture.

The Willys MB had seen better days, and wisely, Sebastian welded together his own 4x2” frame for the little monster. He then slapped on a set of axles from a Wagoneer, and along with them went a set of 4.10 gears and ARBs. With Wagoneer front springs and CJ7 springs in the rear, Sebastien had himself a rolling chassis in relatively little time.

Next came the intriguing selection of powerplant. A 5.3-liter LM7 was found for peanuts, and with an LS1 intake, he had plenty of grunt to scale whatever backroad he wanted. Getting that power to the ground via a built TH350 mated to a Dana 300 rear was done with the help of a Novak adapter. Once the engine was hoisted and dropped carefully into the cramped bay, Sebastian sighed in relief; his little monstrosity was coming along so nicely.

This petite powerhouse needed a proper cage for rock crawling, so Sebastian fabbed one up himself. As the build is fairly dedicated, he decided to leave the rear seat out and put a fuel cell in its place.

Sebastian then cut the front and rear fenders to accommodate the larger tires and finished his rock sliders. Since the Hydroboost, Cherokee brake lines, pedals and steering column were installed by then, he was nearing a functional machine. However, this Willys would look as good as it would drive.

Fox 2.0 shocks with external reservoirs dotted each corner, so it would have no problem handling whatever trials his trails would throw at it. Inside the cockpit, the Art Carr shifter and twin stick decorated the center, while the olive racing seats added a little flair to the then-primered body. Soon, he would have a paint scheme to complement the stunning seats, which were mounted directly to the floor for lack of room. Thankfully, Sebastian is not too tall and can squeeze in quite nicely.

Now he was really cooking. A layer of drab olive paint covered the primered body - even the winch got the treatment. Allied 10” wheels adorn each corner and help give it that rugged look. Now, the car looked authentic as can be, minus the LED taillights. Authentic pieces were just too rare and expensive.

Next, Sebastian added an original M38 windshield and gave it a coat of green to match the body. With sturdier Dutchman axle shafts in place, he could align his driveshaft with the transfer case, and the sturdier Dana 44 rear end looked comfier.

With a couple axes hanging off side and a fire extinguisher in the back, Sebastien, a Chilean, would be able to scale the Andes with no worries. Let’s just hope his lungs can ingest as much as his engine can.

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About Tommy Parry 98 Articles
Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, Tommy worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school and tried his hand on the race track on his twentieth birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, he began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a trackday instructor and automotive writer since 2012 and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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