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A carefully restored 1957 Willy's Jeep.

Restoring A 1957 Willy's Jeep

A Complete Teardown and Repaint

In This Article:

A 1957 Willys Jeep is taken apart. The usable metal body parts are cleaned up and repainted. The main body is replaced with a new aftermarket unit.

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Skill Level: 5 (Professional)

Time Taken: Several Months

By Jim Wilk, Licensed Auto Body Technician

Start:

This Willys Jeep was purchased new in 1957 for use on a family-owned deer hunting camp in Northern Michigan. This vehicle has been in the same family ever since, and has only left the property one other time... for the funeral of the father that originally bought this Jeep. The family felt it was important to restore this 4-wheel-drive heirloom.

 

Some Before Pictures:

 
     
 
     
 
     
  Work performed at:
R-Tech Auto Body in
Traverse City, Michigan.

Paint Products:
Matrix System Automotive Finishes

 

Bestop – Instant Rebates on Many Bestop Soft Tops

 

Begin Tear Down:

I removed the headlights and running lights.

 

I basically stripped the front end of all accessories.

 

Removing fenders and front clip from 57 Willys Jeep. I unbolted the fenders from the cowl and lifted them off.

 

This section isn't too heavy... I could lift it myself.

 

Compare this old red Willy's Jeep to the new yellow Jeep in the background...

 

...that's a 2007 Jeep Wrangler, which has a longer wheelbase, wider track (distance between wheels on the same axle), and overall is a larger vehicle.

The modern Jeep is suitable for driving on the highway. The old Willy's Jeeps were not meant for highway use.

 

I removed the steering column and steering gear.

 

You can see the rust on the floor.

This spot is underneath the gas tank... which is underneath the driver's seat. Yikes!

 

There was a lot of rust on the floor on the passenger side. That red box-looking thing is a storage compartment that is accessed from beneath the passenger seat.

 

Lifting "bucket" from Jeep. After I unbolted all the body mounts, I used an engine hoist to pick up the "bucket" (the old WWII term for the Jeep body).

 

I just slid the bucket towards the rear. Removing body from 1957 Willy's.

 

Body being removed from chassis of Willy's Jeep.

 

This is the chassis with the body removed.

 

The old bucket dangling from the engine crane.

 

About 8 years ago the owners had a brake job done and the mechanic pinched off the rear brake hose with a hose pinch-off tool... and left it.

The owners had been wondering for years why the brakes didn't seem to work very well. No back brakes! That explains something.

 

A view of the bottom of the bucket.

 

The structural supports were badly rusted.

 

A New Bucket:

The owner bought a new steel bucket for $2500, including shipping. But... there was a lot of preparation work that needed to be done.

I had to transfer the radiator support rod mounting brackets (red arrows). I cut these off the old bucket and welded them on the new bucket.

 

I drilled holes for the wiring, parking brake cables, speedometer, and the fuel line that came from the gas tank underneath the driver's seat.

I measured the hole locations on the old bucket and used these dimensions to drill the holes in the new bucket.

 

We set the new body on the chassis to drill the holes for mounting onto the frame.

 

I checked to make sure the clutch and brake pedal holes were lined up properly.

 

I bolted the front end back in place to make sure everything lined up.

 

I painted the hood and cowl under the areas where the hood hinges will go.

Why? by painting these spots, the metal will be sealed and prevent rust.

 

Then I mounted the hinges permanently.

Then I removed the entire front end and sent it out to be bead-blasted inside and out.

 

Once the bucket and front were aligned, we removed them from the chassis.

 

I prepped the chassis for painting by sanding and wire brushing.

 

I painted the front and back bumpers, and all 4 brake drums, with black frame paint.

 

The new bucket was moved into the spray booth where Bob painted the underside and firewall.

 

The outside surfaces will be painted after everything is assembled.

 

I re-installed the bucket... permanently.

 

I ran the electrical cables through the holes in the firewall.

 

I ran the wires from the engine compartment to the dashboard area.

 

I installed the steering column and steering gear. The column and gearbox were together in one unit.

 

I installed the clutch pedal through the floor of the bucket.

 

The metal on the sides of this bucket were not very smooth... actually the sides were kinda wavy, especially around the spot welds.

So we sanded off the black seal-coat to expose the metal. We applied a thin layer of body filler to the entire side, and then we sanded it smooth.

 

Old Cars and Lug Nuts:

Today all cars have lug nuts with normal right-hand threads. But it wasn't always that way. Into the 1950's there were many cars built where the wheel studs on the left side of the vehicle had left-hand threads. This seems crazy, but it was a throw-back to an earlier time when wheels were held on with one nut on the center of the axle, and in that case the left-hand thread was really needed.

 
The wheel studs on the left-hand side of the vehicle had left-hand threads.   The wheel studs on the right-hand side of the vehicle had right-hand threads.
     
     

 

Return Of The Front Clip:

When we got the front "clip" back from the bead-blaster, we set it on the Jeep frame while it waited to be painted in the spray booth.

 

 

We set the front clip on the frame to keep it off the ground. This project was done in the winter, in Northern Michigan, and there was lots of snow getting tracked into the shop, so we had to keep this bare metal off the floor to keep it dry.

Note how the steel has a dull, satin appearance after being bead-blasted.

 

We painted the front clip and the hood a few days before we painted the body.

After these parts were primed and painted, we let them hang in the spay booth overnight.

 

 

  The hood was painted underneath first and left to dry for two days. Then it was taped and covered underneath to prevent overspray. Then the top side of the hood was refinished properly.

 

Special Treatment For The Tailgate:

The new tailgate letters were painted white, dried and taped.  

 

  This is where the talent of a good car painter like Bob really proves worthwhile.

The tailgate will be painted red, and after the masking tape is removed, the letters will be white.

 

Then the vehicle was placed in the paint spray booth.  

 

  Applying the masking tape was a long tedious process.

 

The front engine compartment was completely covered with a special masking paper that is available at auto body supply stores.

This paper acts like a magnet for paint overspray, and prevents it from turning into airborne dust.

 

 

Spray Painting The Willy's Jeep:

After Bob mixed the Matrix paint in the desired color, he began spraying. It took Bob about fifteen minutes to apply each coat of paint. He applied 3 coats, allowing the paint to dry for 15 minutes between coats.

 Spray painting a Willy's Jeep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the last coat of paint was applied, Bob waited about an hour and applied two coats of Matrix  clearcoat. He allowed 15 minutes of drying time between coats.

  The vehicle was left to dry overnight in the paint booth.

Read more about spray painting...

 

Re-Assembling The Willy's Jeep:

I found this part of the restoration to be the most time consuming, because I had to be careful to avoid scratching the freshly-painted finish.

The front fender assembly (or front clip) was placed on the vehicle.  

 

  The right fender was attached by starting all four bolts without fully tightening them.

 

The body and fender was aligned properly, and the bolts were tightened.  

 

  The dust cover for the shifting linkage was mounted and also the clutch, brake and gas pedal. 

 

The headlights, turn signals and fuse panel was attached.  

 

  Then it was time to clean up my work area.

To prevent scratches, I used polyurethane foam as a protective cover in the bed of the Jeep.

 

The foot steps plates and hood were permanently attached.  

 

  No, Bob and I were not talking about football while posing for this photo.

But the tailgate and lights have been attached.

At this point the Willy's Jeep was ready to be towed to Marathon Automotive in Traverse City Michigan, where the speedometer and wiring will be completed by their experienced mechanics.

 

 

 

More Info:

Tools Used:

  • Everything a well-equipped body shop should have.

Materials Used:

  • New Willy's Jeep "Bucket" (J.C. Whitney)
  • New Rubber Body Mounts
  • Sandpaper and Abrasives
  • Masking Tape and Paper
  • Matrix Paint, Primer and Clearcoat.
  • New Tail Light Assemblies

Related Articles:

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Written January 21, 2008
Updated July 30, 2008