Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Do you have contact information for the Mopar Underground? I'm specifically interested in their Willys wagon on a YJ chassis  project.

 

I have a stock '64 wagon daily driver. For years I've thought about building a modernized but still original-looking version so I could keep up with freeway traffic. By the time I count up all the improvements that should be done, it seems like it might be less trouble to use a complete chassis where all the parts already work with each other. I've looked at Wagoneer, Scout, S-10 and even full-size pickup conversions. They all look great until you get into the details. Then they become more trouble than they're worth.

 

From the articles I've read in JP, Truck Trend, Popular Mechanics, etc. they make the YJ  chassis sound almost like a bolt-on. But phrases like "minor trimming" and "slight tweaking" come up. The pictures of the final product look exactly like what  I want, but they don't show any pictures the work in progress, specifically the interference points and what had to be cut or altered to make it fit.  I suspect that their definition of "slight", and "minor" may be different from mine, since I don't have access to the Chrysler engineering department.

 

This is something that I'd like to have, not something I have to have. I'd like more information before I dive into a project that's likely to become a career.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi, uglydukwling!  The chassis is actually a Wrangler LJ edition with link-and-coil suspension.  This could be done with the YJ Wrangler, too, and that would be leaf springs.  The late TJ Wrangler-based LJ, however, provides the 104" magical wheelbase that you need.  The YJ would need frame "stretching" to match your Willys Station Wagon wheelbase, and this is more involved.

 

The interface with the Jeep body does mean brake and steering column adaptation.  Advance Adapters has been linking Jeep stock columns to later Saginaw power gears for many years, they have a kit that you can view at the website:  www.advanceadapters.com.  This would keep the stock steering wheel, turn signal switch and so forth.  Flaming River also does column adaptation kits.

 

This swap does involve body-to-frame mounts, fuel tank and brake adaptations, and so forth.  Jeep/Mopar did this with as many stock LJ Wrangler components as possible, with emphasis on cosmetically making the Station Wagon appear "stock" bodied and classic in appearance.  The 4.0L engine, transmission and axles are each stock LJ with a vintage T90-type shifter arm mated to the transmission for appearance cues. 

 

All of this can be done with careful thought and patience.  You need to begin with an LJ Wrangler "drivable chassis", basically a fully intact frame and drive system without the body.  This could be a vehicle that has been "totaled" without structural damage to the frame, axles and powertrain.

 

Of course, the alternative to all of this would be a powertrain upgrade in your current chassis, perhaps a 5.3L GM LS V-8 engine, transmission and transfer case plus Saginaw power steering.  A later open knuckle beam front axle with disc brakes and the transfer case drop on the correct side could round this out.  If your frame is intact, this might be an easier undertaking and less costly.  An LJ drivable chassis (optimally a Rubicon edition) would likely run $4K-$5K for openers... 

Moses

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Changing the body mount brackets is a given in any chassis swap, but I was hoping to not have to change too much else. I've seen too many swaps that were "easy". "All we had to do was move the engine, firewall, front and rear suspension, design a new steering linkage, cut the floor out and use a 6" body lift."

 

The whole point of using a complete chassis is that all the expensive and frustrating design work has already been done and all the components fit the frame and each other. If I change a lot of things, I no longer have that, and I might as well try to  make all the components fit my frame (At least it already fits the body.). But that always turns out to be more complicated than it sounded and there's always something that didn't quite fit.

 

I guess I don't want this wagon badly enough to design it from scratch, or I would've already done it. The thing that caught my interest was that they made it sound so straightforward that it might actually be worth the effort. I'm not particularly committed to the Unlimited chassis either. In fact, if there's something older and less complicated that fits as well or better, I'd be even happier to use it.

 

I was hoping to contact the Mopar Underground to see if they had kept records of the build process, but maybe that's a futile hope. If they're like most corporate types, they probably won't talk to outsiders anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mopar Underground is a friendly bunch, however, this is the "skunk works" and proprietary. Your best shot would be a tour of the vehicle at a public display, topside and bottom with a camera. I have not seen this vehicle outside of the Moab Mopar event that I filmed. I'm sure it resides at Michigan.

There is likely a vintage chassis close to your current wheelbase, though there would be little incentive to make a body conversion. The chassis would still be old school and body mounts could be challenging...The LJ, in this regard, does make sense. Items like wiring would be the challenge with the LJ chassis.

The Wagon is a '64, last year for the classic body. A 230 OHC inline six? I can spell out the upgrades that would bring your Station Wagon closer to the modern era...Handling is always limited by track width and center-of-gravity. The Wagon is somewhat tall here...There are a variety of axle, powertrain, steering and brake upgrades that you could consider and cost out.

Moses

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose I could write to the Underground, or Chrysler public relations, and find out if the wagon is scheduled to appear in any shows this summer. I'm only about an hour from Detroit.

The '64 is too good to use as the basis for a project, but I have 3 other wagons from the '50's with restorable bodies. I'm not sure what years the titles call them. By the time they get to this age, they're usually a mixture of parts, anyway. Even the '64 has a 2-piece windshield, for example.

If I use an old-school chassis, I had considered the IH Scout. The wheelbase is 4" too short, but I have several Scouts, so I could splice 2 ,and use an extra 4" of one chassis, or shorten a Traveller. Apart from the fact that I already have them, the Scout has a lot going for it. Dana 44 axles with a decent ratio and exactly the right track, an indestructible engine, front disc brakes, tandem master cylinder, power steering, and even the right wheel bolt pattern. One of the scouts is an '80, and IH supposedly solved the squirrelly handling in the last year of production. Also, no electronics. And, to keep everything unusual, one of my engines is a 196 slant 4 on natural gas.

Several people have done this swap, but from their build threads, it's hard to tell how much they had to modify, and how much they did because they just liked to tinker. The only one I've seen up close had so many modifications and so much body lift that it was impossible to tell how it would have fit if he had just tried to put the body on the chassis.

You may yet end up talking me into modernizing an original chassis, especially if you have a list of modifications that have already been done, and worked for somebody else. One of my wagons has an overdrive and a front pto winch, a rare combination that would be kind of cool to retain. It also has a small-block Chevy already installed. The engine is seized, but installing another one would be a drop-in at this stage. The V-8 always seemed like overkill to me, but a 153 should bolt up to the same adapter. It looks like an ideal engine for this vehicle, if it wasn't so hard to find. The 230/250 would also bolt up and they're a dime a dozen, but I've heard conflicting opinions about whether it's too long.

Ah well, thinking about the possibilities gives me something to do while it's too cold to work. And when it's warm enough to work, I'll probably be too busy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like your reference to "making a career" out of these projects. As I always say, "The word is 'project'!" None go easily or readily, some fare better than others, though.

If you follow my threads, I'm an I-H supporter. 1980 was a good and last year for the Scout, I've considered a Nissan powered model for restoration, complete with the only year I-H ran the Dana 300 transfer case. Much can be said for the Scout II and Traveller options and design, the later the better. In realistic terms, I'd prefer restoring a Scout II turbo-diesel, this would help offset the time-honored I-H fuel bill issue.

When I consider your Willys Wagon models, the visual is riveted C-rail frames, Model 18 transfer cases, lighter duty 3-speed transmissions with no syncs on first gear, four-main bearing sixes, drum brakes and tapered rear axle shafts, Ross TL steering gears and a closed knuckle front axle. Each can stand improvement if you're serious about "modernization", the base would need to be a good frame. Given the needs, the two alternatives have been stock restoration and the classic Chevy V-8 swap with upgrades.

It really depends upon where you want to go with your time and resources. On your behalf and others, I'm pleased to discuss a variety of upgrades that work with your current body and frame. Motivation enough, we can expand on this subject.

I'm intrigued that any of your Willys Wagon bodies are still intact. I have friends and colleagues in the auto industry at Michigan, and they marvel at the rust-free Jeep vehicles we have at the Far West. How have your 4x4s dodged the red scourge?

Moses

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From your list of improvements, it sounds like everything except the frame should be replaced, and maybe the frame should be, too. By the time you've done all that and made the components work with each other, it might be easier to take a chassis that already works and try to make it fit the body. Either way, maybe it's more trouble than it's worth. Still, I might be inclined to try one or the other, especially if I can follow a plan that has already worked, so I can just do the fabrication without having to do the design, too.

 

The devil is always in the details. I've seen too many projects abandoned because there were a lot more problems than an overview suggested. In fact, I've bought a few of them, but only to strip parts. I've never been very tempted to finish one. I figure, by the time somebody gives up, he's had  time to become familiar with it, and he knows a lot more about why it won't work than I do.

 

I said that the wagons I have are restorable, not that they're perfect. They all need some floor work, though in general the part that shows is pretty good. Interestingly the one with the best (almost intact) floor has a small rust hole in the roof. You just can't win. Somehow, the front clips seem to survive in near perfect shape, though.

 

I'm a fan of c-rail frames, by the way. Because they're a less stiff section than a box, they have to be made thicker to achieve the same stiffness. This helps to postpone the eventual rusting. Also, because they're open, rain, mud, rotting leaves and insect nests tend to fall off rather than hiding inside a box-section and keeping it wet and acidic. I suppose it would be possible to make a sealed box frame (are any of the newer ones air-tight?), but I haven't seen one. Crud always seems to find its way inside.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, we're certainly on the same page about "projects".  I've done vehicles for magazine projects (one '80s CJ-5, two FJ40 Land Cruisers), book projects (a '55 CJ-5, an '80s CJ and a YJ Wrangler) and just plain "fun" in rare instances (like a vintage CJ3A flatfender and a '55 Ford F100, each when I was 18 to 22 years of age).  It always takes no time at all to disassemble a vehicle and seemingly forever to get it all together.  Of course, my time constraints have included photo coverage of every step...Today it's video coverage, which has me turning to lesser projects like the Honda XR650R motorcycle or "unit" bench builds instead of whole-vehicle truck/4x4 projects.  ROI is the driver. 

 

When you describe a modern vehicle for the road, I turn to the laundry list of changes required.  If you simply want enough power and improved steering, the classic small-block V-8 swap and a Saginaw power steering conversion (4-turn gear is my preference) have made many owners happy.  Advance Adapters has spent since 1972 satisfying this urge.  Guess it depends upon how much better you want the Wagon to handle.  Your Model 18 transfer case in good condition, and even the closed knuckle front axle with drum brakes, can tolerate moderate highway conditions and 200 horsepower.  The rear axle is plenty stout for this power.  A 4.3L Vortec V-6 with TBI is a reasonable alternative here.  Disc front brakes for the vintage closed knuckle front axle is another option, add a power booster for even better drivability.

 

I would agree about the frame, and you speak with Rust Belt authority.  I've heard horror stories of boxed frames rusting from the inside out on post-'75 CJ models. 

 

We can tone down the approach a bit and still get highway performance.  A Saturn overdrive would be the capper for highway use and the Spicer Model 18 transfer case.

 

Moses

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My, oh, my...The disc front brake (1971-72) K5 Blazer is a 104.5-inch wheelbase, right in the ballpark for a Willys Wagon.  '69-'70 are drum front brakes and a closed knuckle axle, essentially the same wheelbase.  1973-91 K5 stretches to a 106.5" wheelbase.  Here's a great K5 Blazer spec sheet rundown:  http://coloradok5.com/specs.shtml#1970.  Someone did homework here.

 

The Willys Wagon is also a 104.5" wheelbase.  However, the width, engine position, body mount locations, body clearance with the frame and such would each need a closer look.  Get out the tape measure and compare a Willys Wagon frame and body to a 1971-72 K5 Blazer/Jimmy!  The K5 is a much stouter vehicle, built on the 1/2-ton K10 chassis.  If this body switch could be pulled off without sidelining the Willys Wagon for years, the 1971-72 K5 Blazer/Jimmy would be my chassis pick.  On that same note, I might just find a clean '71-'72 Blazer/Jimmy and restore it.  Have always been partial to the '67-'72 GM truck styling!

 

Moses  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The ones that I've actually seen photos of did not mention the level of modifications needed to pull this off.  I DO distinctly remember someone using a Ramcharger (Blazer clone, not the current pickup) chassis to do it.  

I've got a 82 K5 sitting in the pasture (This Is FORD Country, where, on a quiet night, you can sit and listen to the Chevy's rusting.....)  and it has the "Flintstone" floors in it, and rear quarters are "gone".  I've been shopping for a Willys pickup for one of these.  Replacement K5 body tubs are few and far between here.  One of those deals where they're either garbage, or pristine, with not a lot of 'serviceable' bodies around anymore.  The last few years' steel prices seem to have sent most auto bodies to the shredder, to be turned into rebar and fence posts at Nucor Steel in northern Utah.  Anyhow, trimming the bed would seem to be a lot easier than "adjusting" frame or wheelbase length, and I've even seen some done with just the cab, and they've done a flatbed or "Truggy" conversion.. Sorry, didn't mean to hijack the thread.......BTW, the "coloradoK5 bunch" do seem to have a great deal of knowledge hanging out there without the bullies and trolls that some other websites are infested with.  (I'd 'trade' a whole BUNCH of the projects sitting in my pasture for a useable 72 K5 Jimmy!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rocket Doctor...Thanks for the thoughtful contribution, you hardly "hijacked" the thread!  Please continue, this is an open forum for everyone's thoughts and angles.  Curious what your measurements turn up for this Willys body-to-later GM chassis swap.  As uglydukwling hints strongly, these projects can get extreme.  I've been fiddling with "projects" for a half-century...Today, I prefer a reality check before plunging!

 

Moses

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

×
×
  • Create New...