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1946 Willys Jeep (CJ-2A) - Thrilla From Manila

A post-WWII civilian Jeep infused with Japanese parts and Filipino flavor

Austin Lott
Oct 11, 2018
Photographer: Zack Williams

Why is there a Jeep in Super Street? To understand, you have to take a peek into the modified car scene halfway around the world—specifically, 7,000 miles away, in the Philippines. Joel Tan grew up there and got his start messing with a Jeep just like this one when he was 16 years old. Joel explained that in his hometown of Manila, the Willys Jeeps are a starting point for most young car enthusiasts. They're practical, cheap, and simple enough that engine swaps are common. Joel swapped a 3T inline-four from an '82 Toyota into his first Jeep, then used it to go street racing around the Greenhills Shopping Center in Metro Manila.

1946 willys jeep driver side rear view Photo 2/21   |   1946 Willys Jeep Driver Side Rear View

Fast-forward more than 25 years, and Joel calls Los Angeles home. In his garage resides a '72 Nissan Skyline with a port and polished L28 straight-six, Mikuni carbs with velocity stacks, fender flares, SSR wheels, plus a '72 Toyota Corolla that's had its 2T-G updated, custom coilovers, Enkei wheels, and a JDM exterior. So how did this Jeep fit in? He wanted to recreate the vehicle of his childhood, the vehicle that taught him how to turn a wrench in the first place. Then he added, "I wanted to challenge myself."

This particular '46 Willys Jeep was picked up as a rolling shell with a windshield from a San Diego-based military veteran. The SR20DET and five-speed gearbox out of an S14 Silvia came later, which was quite easy to source from JDM California. Joel admitted the Nissan powertrain barely fit in the Jeep's tiny engine bay, but despite the tight squeeze, he explains he didn't have to modify the firewall or frame-just cut the transmission tunnel to make the swap work. Up front, a radiator intended for a Datsun 240Z somehow fit into place, and an intercooler he had laying around from a previous project (rotary-powered '72 Toyota Corolla) was mounted front and center so there was no mistaking this Jeep was boosted.

1946 willys jeep SR20det swap Photo 6/21   |   1946 Willys Jeep Sr20det Swap

Mechanically, the SR20 is as close to factory as possible, with a stock ECU map and 550cc injectors Joel drilled out to a little more than 600cc. "That's the way we do it in the Philippines," he chuckled. The Jeep is loud (the exhaust exits underneath the driver seat), but it's surprisingly efficient. When Joel took it out for its first road test, he used $5 worth of gas and thought the gas gauge was broken. Spoken like a man with a rotary in the garage...

Underneath the Jeep is the front suspension from a Ford Mustang, complete with coilovers and paired with an eight-bolt limited-slip rear-end from a Corolla. The Jeep is extremely dumped. In fact, during our shoot, we were surprised he was able to get over little speed bumps and curbs.

The wheels are 14-inch SSR Longchamp XR4 wheels built by Colin Project in Japan. Joel added that he'd love to have his Jeep on 13s if they'd clear the brake calipers.

1946 willys jeep rear passenger side rear view Photo 10/21   |   1946 Willys Jeep Rear Passenger Side Rear View

Joel did 99 percent of the labor in his garage, minus the alignment, making this a true built-not-bought ride—much like the Jeep he'd street race back in the Philippines. He even mentioned that the vinyl wrap was a family project. "My mom was holding the wrap while I was stretching it out," he laughed.

As for his wife's thoughts about the loud and brash Jeep? He explained the original Jeep he built, which he still owns in Manila, is the vehicle that brought them together. After racing through Greenhills one night, he drove by his future wife and her friends waiting for a taxi. He stopped, she got in, and 28 years later they're still married!

1946 willys jeep jegs seats Photo 14/21   |   1946 Willys Jeep Jegs Seats

After our photoshoot, we asked Joel which of his three project cars he enjoys driving most. He concluded, "When people see this Jeep in person, it's something they can't imagine seeing in the States. It gets so much more attention, and I love seeing people's reactions every time."

1946 willys jeep front grille Photo 18/21   |   1946 Willys Jeep Front Grille
By Austin Lott
17 Articles
1946 Willys Jeep (CJ-2A) - Thrilla From Manila
Tuning Menu
Owner: Joel Tan
Hometown: Manila, Philippines
Occupation: HVAC technician
Instagram: @jt_built
Engine: Nissan SR20DET swap; Datsun 240Z radiator; 610cc injectors; intercooler retrofitted from rotary-powered '72 Toyota Corolla; custom engine and transmission mounts
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual transmission swap; '82 Toyota Corolla eight-bolt rear-end with limited-slip differential
Engine Management: ECU flash
Footwork & Chassis: Ford Mustang front suspension; K Bros Fabrication custom rollbar
Wheels: 14x8 front, 14x10 rear Colin Project x SSR Longchamp XR4 wheels; 165/55R14 front Federal, 225/50R14 rear Toyo R888 tires
Exterior: Vinyl wrap
Interior: JEGS seats; Takata Racing seatbelts; Tom's Racing steering wheel
Thanks: JDM California, @denzmechanic, @johnfobmovement, Takata Racing, @raystoys, @modjunkies, K Bros Fabrication, Colin Project, Toyo Tires, Tanginamo Lifestyle, Norman, Allen, and my wife and family

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