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Wet Willy: A Modernized, Cummins-Powered ’57 Willys Panel

One of the most enjoyable and impressive things about the 4x4 and truck scene is seeing a vehicle that was once destined to be a utilitarian workhorse re-imagined as a stunning enthusiast machine.

From former military vehicles and other retired government machinery to old farm trucks being given new life, there are some great ones out there. And among that list of great ones is Mike Slater’s 1957 Willys Panel.

Wet Willy 57 Willys Panel Build

At one point in its life, this Willys served as a farm truck somewhere in Oregon, before making its way across the country to Maryland. That’s where Mike found it four years ago, coated in red primer and in dire need of some care.

1957 Willys Panel Rear View

Despite being a rarity with plenty of historical value, a factory restoration for the old Willys was not part of Mike’s plans. As the owner of Eastern Truck & Accessory in Virginia Beach, Virginia, his daily routine revolves around building and driving all types of modified trucks and 4x4s. 

57 Willys Grille and Headlights

Instead of bringing it back to showroom spec, Mike would instead use his years of experience to transform the Willys into a show-stopping custom build, and the work began with an entirely new chassis.

Wrangler Chassis Swap

Mike found that the Willys had nearly the same wheelbase as the extended “LJ” Wrangler of the mid 2000s. And though LJ Wranglers aren’t particularly easy to find, Mike happened to have a 2006 Wrangler Unlimited that was ready to give up its chassis.

1957 Willys Panel Front View

But of course, the project would go far beyond just putting the old Willys body onto the LJ chassis. Not only was the whole frame stripped and powdercoated, if you look under the hood, you’ll find that the entire firewall from the modern Wrangler has been welded in.

Diesel Powered Drivetrain

But before you notice the firewall differences, your eyes will probably be drawn to the engine: a Cummins R2.8 four-cylinder turbodiesel crate setup. It makes 310 pound-feet of reliable, fuel-efficient torque that would’ve been unheard of back in ’57 — especially from a four cylinder.

1957 Willys Cummins Swap

The brand-new Cummins crate motor is mated to a TJ Wrangler six-speed manual transmission, while the transfer case is an Atlas Trail Series unit with a 4.3:1 ratio.

1957 Willys with Modernized Chassis

The axles and differentials are both from TeraFlex, with a Tera60 HD setup in the front and a full-floating CRD60 HD in the rear, each with ARB lockers. The driveshafts are from Tom Wood’s.

Modern Suspension & Mud Terrain Tires

All the LJ suspension, steering and brakes have also been swapped out for TeraFlex gear, including extended arms, adjustable Falcon shocks and a TeraFlex S/T sway bar system.

1957 Willys Panel with Modern Suspension

Given that he spends his days working on all matter of 4x4s, Mike is well-versed in mud terrain tires. And for his personal project it was the Nitto Mud Grappler he chose without hesitation.

1957 Willys with Nitto Mud Grappler Tires

Drawn to the tire’s aggressive tread pattern and capability, Mike mounted the 37/13.50R17LT Mud Grapplers on a set of 17x9-inch beadlock wheels from Method Race Wheels.

1957 Willys Panel on Nitto Mud Grappler

Pretty Outside & Inside

On the outside you’ll find the original Willys steel body coated in Toyota Cavalry Blue, a custom front bumper with a Warn winch and Rigid LED headlights. And don’t forget the custom wood paneling.

1957 Willys Panel on Wrangler Chassis

Inside you’ll notice some of the popular upgrades like Autometer instruments and PRP seats, along with some very cool one-off touches like a custom dash built from two Willys doors flipped upside down.

1957 Willys Interior

Amazingly, despite the heavy fabrication work and the attention to detail that went into the project, the build was completed in just 10 months.

1957 Willys Interior

And following a successful debut at the 2023 SEMA Show, Mike and the Eastern Truck & Accessory crew have already taken “Wet Willy,” as the rig has come to be known, to a few regional shows. And there are plenty of adventures planned for ’24.

1957 Willys Panel front view

With as many high-quality Jeep builds that are out there these days, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd — yet Mike’s reborn Willys Panel manages to do that and then some.

What a journey it’s been for this truck since those farm truck days so long ago.

Hard Facts


Mike Slater - Eastern Truck & Accessories


Virginia Beach, Virginia


Cummins R2.8 Turbodiesel crate engine swap, straight pipe exhaust with Corsa tip, Painless wiring harness, Volant cold air intake


2006 Jeep Wrangler six-speed manual transmission, Atlas Trail Series transfer case, TeraFlex HD front and rear axles, ARB lockers

Suspension & Steering:

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited frame, TeraFlex long suspension arms, TeraFlex Falcon shocks, TeraFlex sway bar system, TeraFlex HD steering

Wheels & Tires:

17”x9 Method Race Wheels 106 machined beadlock wheels, Nitto Mud Grappler 37x13.50R17LT tires


Original ’57 Willys steel body, custom front bumper with Warn winch, Swag Off Road rear bumper, Toyota Cavalry Blue paint with custom wood-paneling, Rigid LED headlights


Custom dashboard built from two Willys doors, Grant steering wheel, PRP Enduro Elite seats, Autometer gauges

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