Five years ago, I wrote that I had acquired a 1946 Willy’s Jeep. It had big tires and an ugly roll bar, was faded green and rust colored, and the radiator didn’t hold water. But it was a lifelong dream of mine to own a jeep, which I now know should be spelled with a capital “J.” Willy’s-Overland registered the name “Jeep” as a trademark in 1950.
Credit for the Jeep, however, will always belong to the American Bantam Car Co. in collaboration with the U.S. Army. Willy’s and Ford were allowed to come in early and copy the Bantam prototype. They made a few improvements and ended up building more than 600,000 — 361,349 for Willy’s and 277,896 for Ford. Bantam never got a massive government contract behind its 1,500 original models.
There are those who claim “Jeep” stands for “just enough essential parts.” I can attest to that as I have worked to transform my original CJA Willy’s into a beautiful “lusterless navy gray” World War II Jeep sporting the name of my ship, the USS Cavalier (APA-37) on the bumper.
I was reading an article the other day about all the friendships that happen as the result of restoring old vehicles. It was certainly true for me as I turned what the Army officially called the “Truck, 1⁄4 ton, 4x4” into a rolling replica of a historic military vehicle.
Never miss a local story.
I purchased a lot of replica parts, but there was a lot of free stuff, too.
Mayor Tom O’Malley was the first donor, providing me with one of those ubiquitous 5-gallon gas cans that help make up the Jeep’s appearance. That was followed by another free donation of a slightly bent rim for the “spare” tire mount from Mike Bishop. Larry Wilson gave me an olive green ammunition container that I turned into a makeshift glove box, while yet another (still unknown) person provided me with a first-aid kit to mount beneath the dash. A nephew-in-law (Aaron Pruitt) gave me the ax head, and the late Harold Peterson heated up the head of a shovel and told me to bend it to the shape I needed it. Local printer Bob Wilkins gave me an antique pick-ax, and Jimmy Quinonez supplied me with one of those famous little fold-up shovels. Ex-Marine George Galvan gave me a navy blanket and a utility belt with some neat stuff hanging off it. Claudia Collier gave me a small fire extinguisher that was standard on most WWII utility vehicles. Mike Lucas provided some great research materials.
Welding was provided by friends Kevin Anderson and Burt Johnson.
Then there is the Wizard of Jeeps, Herb Brazzi in Santa Margarita, who provided me with encouragement, advice and some badly needed parts, the last being a rifle holder for the windscreen (windshield to you landlubbers).
It appears it takes a village to restore a Jeep, too.