’49 Willys Overland

Not mine…but the same color

Of all the cars I’ve owned, this one is nearest to my heart. Okay, maybe just close to my heart. Whatever. Bought it for $150 in about 1971 or so and drove the snot out of it for about 2 years before a rod bearing started to go south with somewhere around 135,000 or so on the odometer. Just didn’t make ’em like they used to.

This was a basic vehicle…and I mean basic…4 cylinder, 3 on the tree, manual four-wheel drive (meaning you had to get out of the car to lock or un-lock the hubs), manual steering, manual brakes, rubber mats on the floor, vinyl seats. I loved it!

I have two favorite stories about the Willys. The first is involves one of my very first brake overhauls (including the master cylinder). I was so proud of myself. Rebuilt (not replaced) the wheel cylinders, replaced all of the shoes, rebuilt the master cylinder. Did every thing by the book. Except one thing. Bleeding the system. seems I may have missed some detail on that chapter in the repair manual. Well, I had everything back together, poured new fluid in, and backed out of the driveway to see what I had done. Perfect! Pulled back in to the garage, hit the brake…and it went to the floor. I don’t know what hurt the most, the pain of having forgotten to bleed the system or the table saw I impaled on the way in.

Just the basics…and barely that

Second story involves an early love who lived in Upland, California. I lived in Phoenix at the time and would routinely drive back and forth nearly every weekend. Ah, the flame burned brightly. At the time, the highway between Phoenix and L.A. was a two-lane affair that passed through some of the most desolate country on earth. Essentially, there was nothing between Phoenix and Indio, California except a couple small burgs and a lot of desert. The Willys top speed was about 55 mph or so (pre-dating the mandatory speed limit by quite some time) so I used to take a concrete block with me and, once out on the open road, would lean it on the accelerator in sort of an early edition of cruise control.

It was a great car that, even in its demise, was still special. When the rod started its tell tale knock I knew I was in trouble. I barely had two nickles to rub together let alone enough money to rebuild the the deserving beast. So, I did what only the desperate will do. I dropped the pan, found the ailing rod, pulled the cap, plastic gaugedit, bought a bearing that was as close as I could get to the difference, bolted everything up, and drove it another 10,000 or so before selling it.

Like I said, just don’t make ’em like the used to.