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Nick Oxender hit our radar when he put a Sniper Autolite 1100 EFI system onto his Willys' "Go-Devil" four-cylinder engine. Ever since then, he's been busy proving just how well the system works as he tests his Jeep out in the ways only Jeep people can. Recently, he took his Willys to Moab where he spent time wheeling around in some of the most technical and beautiful off-roading trails in the continental United States and he wanted to share his experiences directly. Be sure to check out Nick's YouTube channel, Turn N Burn, for videos that show the "Submarine" Willys in action, along with the other projects that he has going! -Ed.
Have you ever used your Jeep Wrangler to trailer your 1940’s Willys Jeep 1,500 miles to Moab, Utah just to drive said Willys with a group of other Willys owners? If overly optimistic endeavors were a criminal offense, I’d be cuffed and stuffed into the back of a squad car.
My first night in Utah featured severe sand storms. Of course we woke up to 4" of snow the next morning.
Let me back up for a second. I have a deep passion for Willys Jeeps. These were the steel soldiers that began production in 1941 for WWII with direct descendants all the way up 1964, which was the final year of the Jeep with flat, metal fenders.
Jeff takes a road less traveled up these steep rocks.
My Jeep started out life as a 1947 CJ2A. Through the decades it was heavily modified with questionable craftsmanship before falling into into my hands in 2017. I rebuilt the vehicle from the ground up utilizing a WWII-style body. My first drivetrain was a waterproof M151A2 setup that I liked to drive underwater, nicknaming the Jeep as “The Submarine.” Eventually, I installed an original 60 HP L134 engine with a Ford T18 transmission and a set of aftermarket gears in the D18 transfer case. Although no longer waterproof, this allowed me to have a very period correct rock crawler, which opened up the doors to new adventures.
Meeting place for a large gathering of vintage Jeeps.
Though I spent years restoring a vintage vehicle, my biggest gripe was the archaic technology of the carburetor. There are pros and cons to this non-electronic fuel delivery system, but being from the generation that understands computers better than carb jets, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase a Holley Autolite 1100 Sniper EFI. As this was intended for a Ford six-cylinder engine, I was determined make it fit to revolutionize my beloved L134 engine. With some crudely-cut flanges and a piece of exhaust tubing, some friends and I built a steel adapter to mate the EFI system to my engine's intake.
The Holley Sniper EFI Autolite 1100, featuring an aluminum adapter to the L134 four-cylinder.
Once I had the system up and running on my Jeep, I made a few YouTube videos that showed off the capability of the EFI system. I was quickly bombarded from fellow Jeep enthusiasts to produce this adapter for the masses. I reached out a fellow Willys enthusiast, Jeff, to help turn this prototype into a sellable product. Together we built the pre-production billet aluminum adapter.
This EFI system worked fantastic in cold, northern Indiana. But I couldn’t shake the urge to see how it would handle the grueling western climate. A perfect opportunity presented itself: Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. Each year, hundreds of Jeeps from across North America convene in Moab for an eventful week of trail riding and camaraderie. Wranglers are cool, but I was excited to off-road with the group of vintage Willys Jeeps that attend each year.
Lowering tire pressure in preparation for the trail.
Because EJS is hosted by Red Rock 4-Wheelers Inc., they require Jeeps to meet a specific criteria to prevent breakdowns and novices from bringing inadequate equipment to difficult trails. Of course, this narrows down your choice of Jeep to one that’s very modern. Thus, the Willys group are an outlaw bunch that travels on their own. In a sense, Willys owners have their own unofficial EJS that’s completely separate from the actual event. It’s a laid-back environment where everyone decides the next day’s trail ride while standing around the campfire, or even the following morning in the parking lot.
This is where major decisions are made.
I’m no stranger to hanging out with the Willys gang, but this was my first opportunity to spend a week in Moab with them. After double checking every nut and bolt on my Jeep, I loaded it on the trailer behind my Wrangler and made the 24-hour trek to Moab. One of my favorite aspects of the event was the nonchalant environment of the group. Everyone arrived on different days. If you were available to ride on a specific day, simply send a text to the group chat and see where the meetup is.
Carefully scoping out the route while creeping in 1st gear.
For my first day, we took a trip outside of town to The Pickle, which is a very short trail with a few respectable rock walls. The seasoned veterans of the group “spot” for the rest, which is essentially letting the driver know how to overcome the obstacle, including but not limited to speed, angle of attack, and general direction. It sounds silly, but there is an art to off-roading in the West. You want to make it through the obstacle, but without aggression as broken axle shafts are a very real threat. In the event of a breakage, the best case scenario is when you have spare axles and can swap one out in a couple hours. Worst case is no spares and a premature end to the entire trip.
An iconic view of Moab, Utah with a group of military Jeeps.
I listened to my spotter and after a few attempts, my Jeep finally made it up the first rock wall. The extra low gearing makes it possible to drive slowly to pick the perfect angle of attack. Throughout the trail I continued to appreciate the fellowship of our vintage Jeep group. It only grew across the week as new faces became friends. As the week continued on, drivers continued to learn new trips and tricks. After a few days the atmosphere evolves from one of cautiousness to one of confidence. The following day, our group conquered "Lower Helldorado", then finished the week with "Hunter Canyon" and "Arths Rim".
Towards the end of Hunter Canyon.
Attending the event in a flat-fender Jeep was second to none. My Jeep, featuring low gears and differential lockers, felt like a living cheat code in certain areas. However, my obsessive mind was focused on the performance of the Sniper EFI. I’ve playfully taunted my carbureted friends about the 21st century tech on my 1940’s engine, and it was time to truly see how it would perform outside of my small test area at home. I came out the other side of this week in Moab more excited about Sniper EFI than I ever felt before.
Just in case you need it, some offer their winch services.
From the moment I first turned the key switch and my Jeep fired up in a completely new climate, with hotter temperatures and significantly higher elevation, I instantly felt satisfied with the swap. During the week I never once fouled out spark plugs, nor did I have to pump the gas pedal and babysit a choke cable to keep the engine running during the cold starts.
My favorite picture from the entire trip. Taken towards the beginning of Hunter Canyon.
Perhaps the greatest unexpected surprise was thanks to my adapter itself. On a standard Willys L134 engine, the intake and exhaust manifold are directly next to one another. This causes a major issue: Once the exhaust manifold heats up, it begins to cook the intake. Not to mention the mechanical fuel pump is bolted onto the hot engine as well. Collectively, once a Willys engine is running through the mountains of Utah, users will find the fuel pump, intake manifold, and carburetor are so hot to the touch than it could cause severe burns. As a result, the stock fuel system tends to vapor lock and leave the vehicle stranded.
Everyone lends a hand in documenting the event by taking pictures and video.
By running an EFI system, my Jeep has a relocated high pressure fuel pump which is free of the engine heat. My Sniper is bolted to an aluminum adapter. Once the intake manifold heats up, the aluminum adapter acts as a heat sink which significantly reduces heat and prevents the Sniper’s internal computer system from cooking. I was both amused and relieved that my intake manifold was scorching hot to the touch, because the Sniper was only warm. Over significant time, this promotes longevity of EFI by keeping the internal computer system at reasonable operating temperatures.
A group of Wranglers ran behind us during The Pickle trail.
My journey to EJS provided invaluable information for bringing the L134 into the modern age. The EFI system worked as intended, and in many cases better than I imagined. With the self-learning software, Sniper continued to adapt to its climate no matter if the winter chills of the morning or the scorching heat of the afternoon sun. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of off-roading my Jeep out west with new friends, and I continued to appreciate the upgrades and results of all the hard work to my Jeep. I will be forever grateful to be a part of this niche corner of vintage Jeep history.
Nothing is better than a panoramic view of flat-fendered Jeeps.