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Corvette Powered: 1953 Willys Wagon Monster Truck

If your aim in life is to slip behind the wheel of a cool but subtle classic, this 1953 Willys Wagon probably wouldn’t be your first choice. The seller has invested a significant sum to transform it from a mild-mannered off-roader into a potent Monster Truck. The Corvette V8 hiding under the hood should produce enough power and torque for this beauty to scale the north face of Mount Everest. However, its next journey could be to a new home, with the seller listing the Wagon here on Craigslist in Mountain View, California. They set their price at $9,500, and considering what they have spent, it appears a genuine bargain.

The 1953 Willys Wagon features subtle and restrained styling, and these vehicles were accomplished off-roaders in their original form. The seller has captured a rat rod feel with their build, leaving the exterior coated in Beige paint that is worn and tired. However, this classic has spent its days in California, and that state’s dry climate has done an excellent job of preserving the classic steel. There is evidence of mild surface corrosion, but the seller states there is no penetrating rust. The panels are surprisingly straight for a vehicle of this type and age, with any minor imperfections adding to its character. The new owner could perform a straightforward cosmetic refresh, but my instincts say that the Willys would lose some of its impact if that happened. This beauty retains its original trim, which is in good order, and the glass is crystal clear. However, the exterior is dominated by the lift kit and enormous wheels that give the vehicle an imposing look. They also suggest that something special is happening below the surface.

This Wagon wouldn’t have been a powerhouse when new, with its engine’s output best described as adequate. That has changed significantly because the engine bay now houses a Corvette V8. There is slight confusion because the seller describes it as a 350hp version of the 327ci in one part of the listing and a 350ci small-block in another. Regardless of which is correct, the new owner will have significantly more under their right foot than the 72hp and 114 ft/lbs of torque this classic produced when it rolled off the line. They didn’t simply throw in the V8 and hope for the best because every mechanical component was updated or refurbished. The engine benefits from an Edelbrock Performer aluminum intake, headers, and a Rochester carburetor. Its power feeds to a heavy-duty Muncie S-420 four-speed manual transmission and a military-strength Spicer transfer case. The final pieces of this puzzle include Dana 44 differentials at both ends, Warn locking hubs, one-ton springs, heavy-duty rear drum brakes, and power steering and front discs from Reid Racing. The seller invested over $30,000 in parts and engineering to bring the vehicle to its current form, leaving a few tasks for the new owner to tackle. These include fitting driveshafts, a steering linkage, shocks, and an exhaust from the headers back. These tasks shouldn’t be complicated, and there should be little that would stop this Wagon once they are complete.

Potential buyers seeking luxury appointments will be disappointed by this Wagon’s interior because the leather covers on the front bucket seats are as good as it gets. The rear features a pair of cloth-covered buckets with seat belts, while the sturdy roll cage improves occupant protection. The painted surfaces retain what is claimed to be their original Root Beer shade, and a selection of Stewart-Warner gauges help the driver monitor the vehicle’s mechanical health. The interior is unerringly practical, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be improved without spending a fortune. Refreshing the paint and dropping in a rubber floor mat are two options to consider. It is worth remembering that this vehicle was created to tackle muddy terrain, and some of the mud and slush will inevitably find its way inside. Therefore, low-maintenance materials are a wise choice to minimize clean-up time once the fun ends.

This 1953 Willys Wagon won’t appeal to everyone, but that is true for any classic. However, it could be ideal for an enthusiast with a sense of adventure. The mechanical upgrades should allow it to plunge deep into the wilderness, and the bulletproof nature of the chosen parts means it should safely and reliably complete the return journey. The price is undeniably affordable, but is it enough to convince you to pursue this cool custom further?


  1. Avatar photo Rw


    Like 2
  2. Avatar photo jnard90 Member

    Epic! Life-sized Tonka toy.

    Like 4
  3. Avatar photo bobhess Member

    Might ad engine wiring and belts to the “what’s left” list.
    Finished up properly this could be fun in the woods or desert.

    Like 4
  4. Avatar photo Steve R

    Looks like an unfinished project with lots of work left to do before it will move under its own power. The ad is full of contradictions, starting with the engine. Good luck to whoever decides to take it on.

    I’d also make sure the title is in the sellers name before payment.

    Steve R

    Like 4
  5. Avatar photo JustPassinThru

    Spent all that money to jam a V8 in; and doesn’t know the engine size.

    Like 3
  6. Avatar photo Davey Boy

    Would absolutely love it. Being in S.L.C. Ut. Between mountains and desert I could have fun with this one year around. Bummer it’s not in the cards right now. Would be cool

    Like 1
  7. Avatar photo HoA Member

    Good copy on the “Geez”. Naturally, I think it’s really cool, my 1st FFW( Flat Fender Willys) was a unit very similar to this, only not near to the excess. A ’54 wagon with a SBC( 307?) 2barrel, slight lift, white spoke mags, not near as big tires, it, and I can only say from experience, and this as well, will be the worst ride for many in recent memory. Like 8 marbles in an empty coffee can, and a ride that will be sending you to Walmart pharmacy for relief. I had memories of as a kid, my old man had a painter friend that had a stock Willys wagon. Mine, and I assume this too, was nothing like I remembered old Lesters Willys. I found a ’51 pickup and put everything from the wagon into the pickup with much better results.
    This? I assume it does neither job well. A poor rock climber and certainly a poor road vehicle, especially with that P/S belt gone, be a handful. Still, fun stuff, got USA all over it, and nothing wrong with that!

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo Rw

      There’s not a steering gear box that I can see,and at a glance the pinion angles definitely not right,so on and so on.

      Like 4
      • Avatar photo bobhess Member

        Think you’d have to lower the frame quite a bit to solve the pinion angles and the steering gear. That means either cutting the wheel openings or ditching the way too big tires. Nice catch Rw.

        Like 3
  8. Avatar photo Big C

    Does a ladder come with the sale? It sounds too good to be true. Proceed cautiously kids!

    Like 0
  9. Avatar photo Piros1

    Basically you are buying an extremely molested Willys Wagon with an engine setting between the frame that may or may not run and a very questionable drivetrain that is grossly setup incorrectly. Personally I think a buyer would pretty much need to strip this down to the frame and start over. The SM420 four speed he chose to use is a good little transmission with an extremely low first gear but no overdrive. The choice to use a small block Chevy is good but unfortunately there is no history on any of the components and the engineering of this setup is horrible. Wouldn’t be a good off roader or a driver for on the street.

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo Piros1

      I will add to my comment from earlier. I purchased a few years ago a 1962 wagon with a Chevy 350 crate engine, a new radiator, power steering, running and driving for $4600. This one may be a little more solid than mine but you are going to invest a lot of time and money just to get it close to that condition. In my opinion this wagon is worth about $3000 because essentially you have a body and a frame and everything else is questionable at best. The direction it appears that the seller was going his choice of parts are to weak to handle that kind of use and like I said earlier it would definitely not be enjoyable to drive on the road. A lot of bad choices for the drivetrain. Just my final 2cents worth.

      Like 1
  10. Avatar photo 427Turbojet Member

    I bought this 59 Jeep wagon, body only, that was sitting on a 70s Suburban chassis. I put the body on a late 70s K5 Blazer chassis just to ease moving it around. It fits so well I think I’ll install it permanently. The engine is about 4 inches too far forward but there’s another 10 inches between the distributor and firewall so moving the engine/trans/transfer case back shouldn’t be too tough. Worst part is lengthening the front driveshaft and shortening the rear. I recently retired so this is one of my soon projects. I’m a patina fan, so other than sprucing up the trim the body is fine as is and I’ve gathered several later model sport utility interiors so right now it’s like a big model car kit.

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo 427Turbojet Member

      For some reason the photo didn’t post.

      Like 2
    • Avatar photo HoA Member

      That’s the way to do it. The driveshafts shouldn’t be a problem, any HD truck repair shop can weld and balance a new shaft. I had that done a couple times.

      Like 2
  11. Avatar photo 59poncho

    Its always a Corvette motor!

    Like 3
    • Avatar photo Greg

      Oh yes, because GM produced 4 times as many Vette motors as Vette with motors! Planning for warranty replacements!

      Like 0
      • Avatar photo HoA Member

        I bet Stevens got Corvette motors for the Excalibur for a song too.

        Like 0
  12. Avatar photo Scrapyard john

    Lots of good parts. Could probably be a good project for someone at the right price. I noticed it said “one ton springs”…as in springs out of a 1 ton truck? Why? There’s not a lot of weight there…. Whatever. It needs dropped about 3” over stock ride height in order for it to be useable, in my opinion.

    Like 1
  13. Avatar photo Elmo

    That would be a great rig. I’d get rid of that ridiculous body lift.

    Like 0
  14. Avatar photo TD_66

    I know the seller of this vehicle. (I have a photo of me sitting in this far I’d be happy to share proving this).

    The seller did not build this. A friend of mine actually has more details about the history of this car from talking to the guys that actually started this project.

    Barn finds should have done a little bit of research before giving this guy unnecessary promotion given the obvious contradictions in the ad.

    Knowing the seller I would be surprised if legitimate paperwork is included let alone in the seller’s name.

    It’s an interesting project but it’s nowhere near competed and the seller does not have all the details on the build. I don’t know what this might actually be worth but I am certain its real value is nowhere near the asking price.

    Like 0

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