Rat Rod or Restore? 1938 Willys Pickup

This 1938 Willys Pickup is a relatively rare beast that the owner found languishing in a barn. It is a solid classic that is mechanically complete. The buyer has the choice of restoring the Willys, or it could make a sound foundation for a custom build. It needs to go to a new home, so the owner has listed it for sale here on eBay. It is located in Fresno, California, and spirited bidding has pushed the price along to $8,200 in a No Reserve auction. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Peter R for spotting this excellent Pickup for us.

Not a lot is known about the history of this Willys, but it does appear that it isn’t that many years ago that it last saw active duty. It isn’t clear whether it has spent its life in California, but the lack of significant rust makes this a real possibility. There are some patches in the front floor, with the largest one being on the driver’s side. The quality of this isn’t outstanding, so the buyer might choose to redo this part. The surprise for me is the bed because the steel appears to wear nothing more than surface corrosion. There are a couple of other minor spots in the panels, but nothing that demands more than patches. There are also surprisingly few dings and dents, and any that are present would represent a straightforward repair. What can be seen of the frame shows promise, and the owner mentions no issues in his listing. The original red paint is heavily sun-baked, and this would need to be stripped and a repaint performed if the buyer is aiming for a faithful restoration. Both of the original bumpers are missing, but the remaining trim and the glass look pretty presentable.

Apart from a couple of missing switches and the headliner, the interior of the Willys appears to be complete. It also looks quite serviceable, so if the buyer wanted to get the vehicle back on the road quickly, they could do so without touching anything inside the Pickup. There is a mixture of materials and colors visible in the supplied photos, and it isn’t clear which of these, if any, are original. However, the big-ticket items like the gauges and steering wheel are in good order, so returning the interior to its former glory should not be a difficult or expensive undertaking.

Lifting the hood is where the Willys starts to become a tempting proposition for potential buyers. The vehicle is not only mechanically complete, but it does appear to be original. Occupying the engine bay is a 134ci 4-cylinder flathead motor that would have been producing 60hp in its prime. The engine’s power then found its way to the rear wheels via a 3-speed manual transmission. Interestingly, this was the final year that the Willys was offered with mechanical brakes, with the company transitioning to hydraulics the following year. The owner states that the motor in this Pickup turns freely and that it last coughed into life in around 2009. He also says that the brakes and clutch both feel good, while the transmission shifts easily. That suggests that it might not take much work to coax the vehicle back to life. If you are looking at the Pickup trying to decide what path to follow, this could potentially tip the scales in favor of a restoration. It is certainly an option worth considering.

There’s no doubt that this 1938 Willys Pickup would be a fantastic candidate for a rat rod or custom build. I have seen one of these with a Hemi under the hood, and it was pretty astounding. However, the information that I have been able to find suggests that the build total for 1938 was low, although the exact figure has been hard to nail down. With that thought in mind and the promise that the original drivetrain holds, this could be the perfect candidate for restoration. Adding to the appeal is the fact that it appears that most of the restoration work could be completed in a home workshop. So, rat rod or restoration? What do you think?

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    As rare as these are I’d really hesitate to do anything with it but go for a stock restoration. Something like this in it’s original form restored would be a ton of fun.

    Like 37
  2. Will Fox

    What remains of these scarce little trucks anymore is totally worth doing a frame-off. This one is particularly complete; even has it’s original hubcaps! It would be a stunner at shows if painted the color of the dash–a nice creamy yellow. Add a tasteful terre cotta colored pinstripe, a set of period correct whitewall cokers. What a rare find.

    Like 21
  3. Puhnto

    It would be criminal to “rat-rod” this lovely and rare little pickup. Most of them have already been rat-rodded into oblivion!

    Like 25
  4. RKS

    Why on earth would anyone contemplate rat rodding a truck this complete? This thing deserves way better than that.

    Like 24
  5. Tom Bell

    Totally agree with above comments. Why would resto-modding even be suggested in the title here? Such unique vehicle deserves to be brought back to its original state.

    Like 15
  6. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    Just get it running good, spray it a nice color and buzz around in the only one in town.
    God bless America

    Like 12
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      Only one in town? More like the only one period! I’ve seen later coupes, sedans and pickups in stock form and they’re rare enough. But these ’38s aren’t exactly falling out of trees in any state of repair, much less a pickup in original condition. Restore it!

      Like 7
      • stillrunners stillrunners Member

        Actually looks like one that was actioned off of the Willys collection last week or so – right there in California.

  7. Guggie 13

    I hope some one gets it and does a restoration , would be a shame to hot rod this rare vehicle

    Like 11
  8. Dave

    At 60 horsepower you won’t be driving this thing anywhere safely. You could restore it and trailer it to a car show, or a museum.

    Like 4
    • Duaney

      We’ve owned an identical truck. Even with mechanical brakes, it took off swiftly, stopped, and was fully adequate for city or secondary highway use. 80 mph on the interstate, well then no. It’s like any antique car. It certainly outperforms the typical Model A, and many people drive those all around.

      Like 13
      • Dave

        Yeah, sure. Right up to the moment some kid in a 20 year old civic jumps in front of you and slams on the brakes. Your mechanical drums do their best, which is no where near enough, and you rear end the Honda. It’s game over for you as you exit the truck via the windshield and land on the civics roof. Sure…

    • Burger

      Depends on where a person chooses to live. I left the sprawl and city on purpose, so I could drive my vehicles without some axxhats doing stunt maneuvers all around me. My summer daily is over a decade older and sports a whopping 40hp. But is will haul more than most moderns and is a smile maker everywhere it goes.

      Like 5
      • -Nate

        Just so Burger ~

        Some do, others wish and dream and have no ideas what they’re on about .

        -Nate

        Like 1
  9. James C Simpson

    It is SOOOO…. Ugly, it is BEAUTIFUL!
    Not enough time left in my bucket list to take on.
    Yet, I have restored enough ODD Parts to know that- even though availability of parts for this truck are non-existent- we could fix everything on it.

    Like 5
  10. Lance

    The guy that designed this truck was Amos Northup. He was also the designer of the shark nose Graham . When Joe Frazer took over the presidency of Willys this design was replaced by the more familiar 40-41 Willys styling. This is a very rare bird.

    Like 12
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      Interesting you mention that. This pencil sketch showed up on the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Facebook page, posted by someone who had gotten them as part of an estate. Imagine if either Willys or Graham had taken this design and produced an actual convertible sedan/tudor. Sharp! And as Duaney speculates below, the original light design is quite unique too.

      Like 2
  11. John P

    Fix what is necessary and daily-drive it!!! It won’t become a “rat rod”—it’s already too expensive for such a style..

    Like 6
  12. BR

    I hope to never see those horrible wide whitewall tires on this unique truck.

    Like 8
    • BlondeUXB Member

      I’d be inclined to go with white walls (outside and inside if I could find them).
      Have some fun…

      Like 2
  13. Duaney

    Also should mention that the headlights and retainer’s are modified, those look better in stock condition.

    Like 1
  14. Bunky

    The concept that anything with 60hp or less is a hazard, and needs to be relegated to a static display is ridiculous. I have safely driven, and ridden in, everything from old Mercedes diesels, and VW bugs as daily drivers. Heaven forbid I mention Model Ts and the like.

    Like 13
    • Dave

      Laughable.

      • -Nate

        Only laughable if you have zero experience and a closed mind .

        I’d rock this truck if I could .

        I used a 1931 ‘A’ model Ford for my shop truck in the 1990’s and never had any difficulty stopping it even when loaded .

        -Nate

        Like 2
    • vintagehotrods

      These old cars can be made to run highway speeds with an overdrive unit. The Model A guys I know like a Mitchell Overdrive the best because you can split every gear. At $3000 it’s kind of spendy, but you’ll get a 60 mph cruise speed instead of 45 mph with your banger. These guys go cross country and tackle the mountains of Colorado with no problems but not all that quickly. I know from experience with my restored Model B ’32 roadster that it was wound out wide open at 45-50 mph and I was waiting to pickup those babbitted rods off the street! I just couldn’t enjoy the car that way so I sold it bought two other cars that I can take down the highway comfortably. One more thing, if you run that fast, you have to upgrade the brakes. At a minimum, adjust the brakes so that the fronts come on first and do most of the stopping (like “modern” cars do). Also consider Flathead Ted’s $240 self centering/self energizing kit (http://www.flatheadted.com/) or Bendix 11″ F-100 or Lincoln 12″ hydraulics. The old ’39-’48 Lockheed Ford hydraulics aren’t much better than the mechanical brakes. I have a ’34 3W Coupe with a nice running ’36 LB 21 stud flathead and I can run it about 60 mph, but it would be nicer to have a 3.55 rear gear in it instead of it’s 3.78’s. The stock mechanical brakes are barely adequate and I’m going to upgrade them to F100 Bendix 11″ hydraulics I have eventually. I love the old 21 stud flathead in it so I’ll keep it as long as it runs good, but if it falters, it will get a 283 with an adapter so I can cruise at 70 mph. Old cars are the most fun when you can really drive them without endangering yourself or others!

      Like 3
      • Burger

        I just don’t understand the duplicitous logics of liking old cars, but rejecting the old car driving experience … typically under the excuse that you are (or IN) some sort of danger by doing so. If I wanted to drive a new car, I’d BUY a new car. In fact, I have new(er) cars that can go 70 all day long. But there is a time and place for the true OLD car driving experience, like back roads and quiet places, but I’ll be damned if I am going to let stunt drivers and street clowns force me off the roads of my town because THEY choose to drive recklessly.

        When I bought my Harley many years ago, I hung with some old bikers before making the purchase to absord some of their input and wisdom to buy the best bike for my interests. One a wall of their shop was a poster of a box trailer, pulled by a semi, with the deeply imbedded impression of a upper body and helmet in the side. A statement at the bottom read something like “Life is different at speeds under 45”. Clearly, the leaver of that body impression had side-impacted that trailer at a high velocity and ended himself with a splat. My friends impressed upon me that the reason we ride is the journey, not the destination, and savoring the ride is what is most important, not the getting there or putting everyone in harm’s way by being reckless. That logic applies to the entirety of my attraction to owning this old junk in the first place – I want to experience what driving was like in 1915, or 1938, or 1957, complete with bias-ply tires and speeds becoming of a period car. Not some contrived old shell, remade to drive like a new Acura.

        Like 3
      • -Nate

        Just so Burger ;

        Those who don’t know yell the loudest their way is the only way .

        FWIW, I live in a dense traffic area and drive / ride my oldies hard fast far and wide .

        I don’t much like bias ply tiers though .

        I hope this old relic gets saved and enjoyed .

        -Nate

      • vintagehotrods

        I’m a guy that likes to put lots of miles on my old cars and that means not just driving around the block, although I do have a few antiques for that. Like my ’34 3W with the 21 stud LB flathead and my ’37 Cabriolet with a stock flathead.

        My old car experience covers it all, from my restored original flathead V-8 ’32 5W coupe, to my ’32 5W hot rod coupe with a dynoed 355 small block with a tunnel ram and a Muncie 4 speed that’s scary fast.

        My wife and I put 60,000 miles on our old ’32 Ford hiboy roadster, with many 5000 mile, two week long excursions from South Dakota to the LA Roadster Show, in 115 degree heat in Oatman, AZ, to snow and freezing weather in the Rocky Mountains. And yes, it had a SBC under the hood. It never let me down and could lay down the miles when I needed to. I put most of those miles on west of the Mississippi and I guess since I’m a hotrodder, I really enjoy flying down a deserted highway 70 mph or more. That roadster drove better the faster it went and I had a 2:75 rear gear in it to do it. And it’s still going strong at 80,000 miles since I sold it 7 years ago. My ’32 pickup is set up with a SBC too, but was built to pull a 13 foot travel trailer so I run a 3:25 rear gear in it.

        I’m currently building a Brookville ’32 roadster on a mostly original ’32 chassis with an 8BA flathead with Edmunds aluminum heads and a tall Thickstun two deuce manifold, with a SBC Mallory Unilite distributor I modified to fit, hooked to a 39 trans and a Halibrand quickchange, so I can gear it up for the highway. I plan on taking it out on the road so we’ll see if it will keep up with traffic.

        My ’56 Chevy Handyman 2 door wagon is also going from a 283 Powerglide to a built 413 small block (KB pistons, 6″ rods) hooked to a Turbo 400 with a Gear Vendors overdrive.

        I guess “I JUST CAN’T DRIVE 55!”

        Like 1
      • vintagehotrods

        By the way, none of my old ’32 Fords drive like an Acura!
        Driving my ’32 roadster on a cross country trip or one ride in my ’32 5W coupe hot rod when I shift from 2nd to 3rd at a 90 mph will cure you of that notion!

        Like 1
  15. Morley Brown

    Restore, no way. Anyone can restore but it takes a real mann to cut one up.

    Like 3
  16. Gary Rhodes

    Tube chassis, Crower fuel injected 426 Hemi, 4 speed. Whole lotta fun.

    Like 2
  17. LotusLover Member

    Living at 5000 ft in a valley that requires freeway driving would reduce power to a scary level, so I would give it a newer engine and Brakes! Not a lot of power, but get it to 70 mph cruising, then straighten and paint the body. It would be a wonderful errand runner.

    Like 1
  18. Gator Member

    I’m all over this one! Gonna be a daily driver, if I can get it. Fortunately, I have a shop full of Willys parts from past and present Jeeps that will fit it.

    Like 4
  19. DavidL Member

    Restore it!! There’s enough junk out there to ratrod or restomod. This really deserves to be preserved. The design is too unique to mess with.

    Like 1
  20. Glenn C. Schwass Member

    Now that is a beautiful truck as is. I wouldn’t rat rod it. It should be restored or clear coated for the next guy who can do it right…

    Like 1
    • Stu

      Agreed that it’s nice enough as-is, but PLEASE no clear coat!

      Like 3
  21. John P

    I’ve got a 354 and a torqueflight needing anew home… hmmm..

    Like 1
  22. Paolo

    Leave as is or restore to stock. It’s pretty rare and would be fun. The custom or gasser look is so old and tired. It’s been done to death and you can take your pick from any of the many that are for sale at any time. There is nothing left to be said or done there, just a bunch of tired hot rod tropes. That’s why you can buy all of that junk like fiberglass bodies, custom chassis etc. You can build your own pretend dragster from the ready selection of available stuff and not use a single genuine Willys part.
    Hope it goes to a good home.

    Like 3
  23. vintagehotrods

    Rat rods are just junk, period! For this one I’d keep it absolutely stock appearing in every way right down to the hubcaps, but it would need a a later drivetrain to actually make it fun to drive anywhere you wanted to go. I’m guessing its got a 4:11 rear or lower, so at 50 mph it would be screaming it’s guts out and ready to scatter, so if you didn’t want to get run over that would be the way to go. I’d make everything bolt-in with no cutting or welding and keep all the original drivetrain for the guy that wants to restore it in it’s next life. I’ve had too many restored antiques that are just “in town, around the block cars that just aren’t that much fun to have and eventually get sold for that reason. I have a 1957 Dodge D-500 baby hemi that would be perfect if it would fit without cutting anything (but I doubt if it would). Pair it with a T5 5 speed and 8” rear end and have a blast!

    Like 3
    • Dave

      Bravo!

      Like 1
  24. Howard A Member

    20″ clown wheels, slammed, Cummins motor up front, an LS motor in the back, 9 speed Roadranger( HA!, just threw that last one in there) has Howard A. finally gone off the deep end??? Nah, just messin’ withcha, you know how I feel. Many of these got sucked into drag racing and then “pulling ” trucks. Like the Willy’s coupes, I don’t ever recall seeing a stock one. I think, and hope, there are enough people, and the comments seem to bolster the fact, it should remain stock. Before the war, Willys was just another car maker, but emerged from it as one of the biggest and just the name conjures up images of “victory”. Great find, even as is.

    Like 4
    • Dave

      This truck will never have a “victory”

      • karl

        You’re really hating on originality aren’t you ? I guess every old car should be relegated to being a trailer queen too ? First generation 6cyl Mustangs should all be parked too right ? – I mean they dont have the power of todays cars , drum brakes, no crumple zones or airbags , dangerous gas tanks and no bumpers to speak of . There are so many more “dangerous” old cars, and dont forget motorcycles ! The fact is, no matter what you drive , you are taking a risk . If you think everyone hear is nuts to enjoy their hobby, you’re on the wrong site.

        Like 1
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      I saw up close a bone stock 1933 Willys Coupe, at a tiny car museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in the late 1990s. I remember thinking how small the form factor was compared to a Ford or Chevy from the same period. The Willys Americars ended up on the drag strips but often the sedans and pickups languished along the American landscape until scrappers came along I suppose.

      Like 3
      • Paolo

        It’s remarkable that through 1932 Willys Overland had been building high quality, well engineered, conventionally sized cars. The depression killed that market segment and Willys went into receivership and drastic reorganization and in 1933 brought out the Willys 77, a completely different type of car but one that had a chance to succeed in the new economic reality.

        Like 2
  25. ctmphrs

    I know you will all hate me but, there are only about 4 people in the country who would care about restoring this ugly p.o.s. but as a 60s gasser it would be killer .394 olds motor with a blower .that’s where this belongs.

    Like 3
    • Howard A Member

      I don’t hate you for your thoughts, I think you are right, and would make an excellent gasser. The fact it hasn’t been turned into one by now, is simply amazing.

      Like 1
    • Dave

      I don’t hate you, apparently that’s karl’s job. See, guys like karl have never tried driving an old car like this in real life traffic, no matter what they claim. You will get crashed into if you try driving this nowadays. He and his ilk are free to enjoy their hobby, and you are too, as long as you do it karl’s way. If you don’t, you’re some kind of originality hater, LOFL!

      Like 1
      • Paolo

        Try the decaf Dave.

        Like 3
      • karl

        Funny , I dont think I’ve ever met you, you have no idea how old I am or how many cars I’ve driven and you assume I’ve never driven an old or underpowered car ?

        Like 2
  26. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Ended:May 05, 2021 , 6:44PM
    Winning bid:
    US $10,410.00
    [ 29 bids ]

  27. Dave

    I don’t have to meet you karl. I can see from your posts you are a car snob who believes in nothing but a faithful restoration for everything. Anyone who dares think different must be destroyed. Have fun tootling around your farm, you’ll never get anywhere else in this truck restored.

    • JAMES SIMPSON

      Now for the ultimate and controversial “Retro World” work around. There are such NEW workarounds for electric motors that several companies are offering the ultimate electro-retrofit kit. New batteries are being invested in daily by the corporate thieves whom have been sitting on their technical GOLD until the right moment. Now is that moment. SO– not unlike what I do ever day- placing MODERN components into ancient “shells” that appear OEM, yet out-preform OEM by a google–you will be seeing the millennials invest in ancient armor powered by flying saucer technology. It is already here. It is amazing!

      Like 1
    • karl

      The same can be said for you- snob , you think that no one should enjoy a vehicle unless it meets your safety criteria . Stating that you will be crashed in to if you drive an old car , yet there are thousands of older , slower cars still driving around, and newer cars although safer and faster, are still crashing . I never said anything about people who disagree with me must be destroyed, that’s your defense when someone disagrees with all your postings on how this truck is unsafe and nobody should drive it . Someone may restore this truck or rod it , but they will enjoy it any way they see fit , and if they want to drive it on the road , they have every right.

      Like 2
  28. karl

    The same can be said for you- snob , you think that no one should enjoy a vehicle unless it meets your safety criteria . Stating that you will be crashed in to if you drive an old car , yet there are thousands of older , slower cars still driving around, and newer cars although safer and faster, are still crashing . I never said anything about people who disagree with me must be destroyed, that’s your defense when someone disagrees with all your postings on how this truck is unsafe and nobody should drive it . Someone may restore this truck or rod it , but they will enjoy it any way they see fit , and if they want to drive it on the road , they have every right.

    Like 2

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