In 1946, Willys-Overland Motors introduced the Willys Utility Wagon describing it as a “people’s car”. Perhaps the original sport utility vehicle, the Willys Wagon was the first all-steel, factory-built station wagon in North America designed to compete with the “rear” wood wagons manufactured by Detroit’s Big Three. Powered by a four-cylinder engine with four-wheel drive, the all-steel body boasted easy maintenance, safety and ample space with a seven-passenger capacity. The seats are removable (with the exception of the drivers seat), making for added cargo space as the utility vehicle.
Leigh Tedford (pictured in photos) is the very proud owner of this featured 1951 Willys Wagon. In fact, her whole family has an enthusiasm for classic automobiles starting with her grandfather who introduced her father into vehicle restoration as a young boy. Her grandfather (Jack Tedford) restored his father’s (Leigh’s Great Grandfather, Charles Tedford) 1932 Chrysler CI series roadster and his high school 1955 Chevy Bel Air, teaching her father (Tyler Tedford) the mechanical skills and the love for classic automobiles she also has today. The Willys lived in her grandfather’s barn until the “off the frame, total restoration” began in 2010. The restoration was a labor of love between her grandfather, father, brother (Jax Tedford), and herself that took over 5 years to complete. Since her Grandfather’s barn and shop was in IL, she would travel with her father and brother for weekends at a time and two weeks every summer, working alongside until complete. Completely disassembling of the vehicle, the parts were cataloged and packed away for later retrieval. The body was removed from the frame and every inch of the chassis and body inside and out was power washed.
After removal of the engine, transfer, transmission and powertrain, the frame cracks, broken mounts and the cross members were welded up. A media blast to everything followed by primer and paint to the frame. Once the new leaf springs, shackles, pivot bolts and the related hardware were installed and the frame was completed, the mechanical and body restoration began.
Starting with both differentials those got repower washed, media blasted, painted and then reassembled with new bearings, seals, gaskets, new rear gear and new brake backing plates. The front brakes and axle shafts with spindles and knuckles and brakes were replaced as well as the rear brakes and axle shaft and seals.
After a magma flux and media blast, the motor was completely rebuilt at a bore of 20 thousand over in cylinders and a crank shave of the same. The transmission, transfer and steering box received the same attention. A new mater cylinder, new steel brake lines and a balanced drive shaft with u-joints completed the rolling chassis.
With the body off the frame it received an eco-blasting using the dustless blasting technique. Hours of body work were spent welding up all cracks and holes in firewall, the rusted-out floorboards, the right rear quarter and wheelhouse were replaced. Her father and brother spent many hours using the old-fashioned labor intensive “pick and file” method to make sure that the metal was perfectly straight before a high build primer was applied inside and out. An undercoating was applied to the under body before the body and body parts were sent out to St. Aubin Auto Body in Manteno, IL for a final sand, paint, clear, color sand and buff.
When everything returned to her grandfathers’ shop the final assembly began. The body was set on the chassis and fenders and grill attached. Dynamat was attached to the inside of the roof, side and door panels as the sound deadening material. Everything in the engine compartment that needed to be replaced was done and the factory correct wiring harness was used. Inside, the interior was totally disassembled, detailed and restored. All seats, side and door panels were reupholstered. All new glass, weather stripping and window felt strips, carpet, headliner, wind lace and new oak floor strips were installed. Everything that needed replating was sent to off was sent out for straightening and chromed. Coker Firestone Military NDT tires were mounted to the original rims.
The Willys is no ‘trailer queen”, it is a fully restored driver and can be seen at times driving around Manassas. It is driven to local events including the past 41st and 42nd Edgar Rohr Shows. This is not to say she doesn’t trailer it to events. In the fall of last year, she attended the Southeast Willys Get Together, in Asheville, NC, her Wagon earned the Chancellor Award and up to Gettysburg, to the Mason-Dixon Willys Jeep Gathering earning the Best of Show in her class. This year, Leigh will be at the Brentsville Classic Car Show on 28 April before heading to Auburn, IN in early May to attend the AACA Central Spring Meet (DPC Class) followed by the Willys Jeep Rally in College Corner, OH. After that she plans to attend as many of the local events as she can.
While all the work wasn’t done by herself, it took a significant amount of time. These traditions are very important to Leigh. It’s not about the Wagon itself, but the family time together. For Leigh her ‘51 Willys Wagon is very much the physical element of a Grandfather, father and son, and now a father and daughter tradition of the love of antique automobiles.
Kaiser Willys Jeep Life – Leigh Tedford
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