Sterling Heights resident Bob Hayes has customized nearly every part of his 1953 Willys truck.

Sterling Heights resident Bob Hayes has customized nearly every part of his 1953 Willys truck.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Behind the Wheel: Old meets new in custom Willys truck

By: Jennifer Sigouin | C&G Newspapers | Published August 7, 2018

Photo by Donna Agusti

 The truck's bed is handcrafted from red oak.

The truck's bed is handcrafted from red oak.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 The truck’s front end tilts open to expose the engine.

The truck’s front end tilts open to expose the engine.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Some classic car owners spend countless hours meticulously restoring their vehicle to its original condition — but Sterling Heights resident Bob Hayes isn’t one of those collectors, at least not when it comes to his 1953 Willys truck. 

Instead, Hayes used the truck’s body as a starting point to create something of his own — a truck that’s truly one of a kind. 

“Pretty much everything on the truck had customizing,” he said. 

Hayes has owned several classic vehicles over the years, so when he saw a Willys truck owned by one of his friends, it piqued his interest and he decided that he wanted one for himself. 

According to Hayes, the truck’s history is tied to World War II. He explained that the Willys Overland Co. and the Ford Motor Co. both made military jeeps for the war. However, when WWII ended, Ford stopped manufacturing them, but Willys continued to make civilian model jeeps and trucks well into the 1950s. 

Hayes purchased his Willys truck about eight years ago, and although it didn’t run, the body was in good condition, which provided him with a good base to work with. 

“I bought it and started customizing it,” he said. “I spent a lot of time on the woodworking on the bed and the woodworking on the exterior.”

The previously red truck is now painted a sleek black; its wooden bed, handcrafted from red oak, is adorned with shiny metal flames; and its entire front end tilts open to expose the engine — definitely not features you’d see on an original 1950s model. The truck also boasts a cowhide headliner — the material that lines the inside of the roof — as well an old-fashioned cooler that was converted into a box for the truck’s battery. 

Another unique feature is the truck’s half-circle steering wheel, which got its shape due to necessity rather than style. 

“When I was laying out the dash, I could not see the speedometer, so I cut off the top of the wheel and had custom caps made.”

Hayes noted that his customization work on the truck is “pretty much complete” at this point, and he said it’s a fun truck “just for driving around.” He added that he has also showed off the truck at more than 10 car shows this year, and he plans to take it to the Woodward Dream Cruise on Aug. 18. 

“I get a lot of positive feedback because you don’t see a lot of Willys around, especially as customized as mine,” he said. 


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Do you own a vehicle that has an interesting history? Contact Staff Writer Jennifer Sigouin at jsigouin@candgnews.com, and you could be featured in an upcoming edition of Behind the Wheel.