1955 Willys-Overland Restomod: Who Needs a Jeep Gladiator?

If supply chain issues have prevented you from buying a new Jeep Gladiator, know that you’re not alone. However, if what you want is an old-school-feeling, off-road-capable pickup, the Gladiator isn’t your only option. It’s not even your only Jeep option—not when there are restomods like the Ball and Buck CJ8 Scrambler out there. And at this year’s Mecum auction in Chicago, I saw another pickup that might draw some Gladiator fans’ eyes: a 1955 Willys-Overland restomod.

Long before there was a Jeep Gladiator, there was the Willys-Overland Jeep Truck

A Willys-Overland Truck climbs a rocky dirt hill
Willys-Overland Truck rear 3/4 view | Jeep

Although the Gladiator is a modern Jeep pickup truck, it’s by no means the first one in the brand’s history. Several pickup models—including the J-Series, the ‘first’ Gladiator—proceeded it. And the truck that started it all was the Willys-Overland 4×4, aka the Willys Jeep Truck, aka the Willys-Overland Pickup.

Introduced in 1947, the Willys-Overland Pickup predates the Jeep brand name—that came in 1950. It was only Willys’ third post-war car, after the original CJ and the Station Wagon, MotorTrend reports. Like the Station Wagon, Willys offered the Pickup in rear-wheel-drive form. But while the former car borrowed the CJ’s looks, the Truck borrowed its 4WD system. That made it the only civilian 4×4 pickup truck on the market apart from the Dodge Power Wagon.

Admittedly, the Power Wagon’s inline-six engine overpowered the Pickup’s 63-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder. However, the Dodge was also more expensive and less efficient. So, while the Willys-Overland Pickup was fairly bare-bones, it was popular. And it got some upgrades over time.

Midway through 1948, for example, Willys-Overland gave the Pickup a new look and all-metal bed. That bumped its GVWR up to 5300 lbs. Two years later, Willys gave it a new name—Jeep Truck—and made the CJ’s 72-hp, 114-lb-ft 2.2-liter ‘Hurricane’ engine optional, Silodrome says. The engine became standard in 1953. And in 1954, the Willys-Overland Jeep Truck finally got a six-cylinder: the 115-hp, 190-lb-ft ‘Super Hurricane’ 3.7-liter inline-six, MotorTrend reports.

Unfortunately, while the Willys-Overland Jeep Truck was rugged and capable, it was also fairly slow. Even with the Super Hurricane engine, the pickup topped out at 60 mph, thanks in part to its three-speed manual. And by the 1960s, while it offered accessories like a power take-off and hydraulic hoist, its design was outdated. Hence why 1965 was its last year of production.

The 1955 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck restomod at the 2021 Mecum Chicago auction was cheaper than a new Gladiator

A low-angle front 3/4 view of a gray 1955 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck at the 2021 Mecum Chicago auction
1955 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck low-angle front 3/4 | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

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Speed, though, is likely less of a problem for the 1955 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck I saw at the 2021 Mecum Chicago auction. That’s because, instead of a Super Hurricane and a three-speed, it has a 4.2-liter inline-six engine linked to a four-speed manual. Given that it has a 1985 CJ Jeep wiring harness, it’s like a CJ-5 4.2-liter engine. So, it makes 112 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque.

But this 1955 Willys-Overland restomod doesn’t just have a new engine and transmission. It also has power steering, power-assisted front disc brakes, off-road lights, a 5” Super Lift kit, and 35” tires mounted on beadlock wheels. In addition, it has a tiltable steering column, Positraction rear end, electric wipers, an electric cooling fan, and a 13,000-lb winch.

The side view of a gray 1955 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck restomod at the 2021 Mecum Chicago auction
1955 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck side | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

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Plus, this Willys-Overland Jeep Truck doesn’t just have a CJ-5 engine and wiring harness. It also rides on CJ-5 suspension complete with six Rancho shocks. And it has new green-tinted window glass.

These vintage pickups are still fairly affordable

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This 1955 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck restomod went for $30,800 at the 2021 Mecum Chicago auction. That’s arguably below market value for a truck in this condition, especially with how popular vintage pickups are these days. An excellent-condition 1955 example usually goes for about $39K, Hagerty says.

Furthermore, this Willys pickup was about $6000 less than a brand-new base 2022 Jeep Gladiator. True, a modern Gladiator is more powerful, efficient, and safe. But again, if what you want is an old-school truck experience, why not just go for a truck that’s actually old-school?

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