My name is Rich Harding and I am from Athens, WI. Attached are a few pictures of my 1955 Willys restoration project for your “Willys Blog”, and below is my Jeep(s) brief story.
This is a tale of “two Jeeps” to make “one Jeep”! I salvaged “usable” parts from two Jeeps; a 1955 M38A1 and a 1955 CJ5, rebuilt the F-134 engine, clean up and installed the PTO, purchased a bunch of new parts from ‘Kaiser Willys”, swapped and scrounged used parts at the ‘Iola, WI, Military Show & Gun Swap”, and finally tracked down the remaining used parts from private parties all around the country. All in all it took my son Max and I over 4 years to complete. We did not do it alone…special “thanks” to the mechanical talents of Blake Thums and Dave Brost of Riverside Auto, Medford, WI, Dave and the good folks at Carquest, Medford, WI, Len & Kevin Frahm and the team at Frahm’s Autobody, Athens, WI, and US Army veteran Ken Weiler, Athens, WI! Without the knowledge, labor, and encouragement of these good people, I don’t know if we would have ever finished. My ’55 Willy’s, it is not a “pure” M38A1, nor is it a “True” CJ5, but it’s a Willy’s just the same. Maybe it’s best to say that she’s a hybrid reflection of what I saw as the “best” of both ’55 Willys models.
Today this Jeep has began a life of her own. She’s done up in honor of the 32nd Infantry Division (my recently deceased Uncle Tom’s old unit) and the 1st Cav – Black Horse (my brothers and late Uncle Butch’s old unit; Butch was a Vietnam “Black Horse” veteran). I use the Jeep as a parade vehicle to support my local -northern Wisconsin VFW posts and for family fun. I think it important to say, that the Korean and Vietnam War vets really connect. I have met so many veterans that just “light up” when they see my Willys! Many will tell me a funny story or two; some just climb right in the front and don’t say a word; while others, tell of their sad and sullen experiences. All regress in age…right in front of your eyes. They go “back in time” and it is a special thing to see a 65 – 95 year old become 18 or 20 once again (if only for a few brief moments).
The Willys Jeep is a “SPECIAL VEHICLE”. Take it from me…if your reading this and are planning to restore a Willys…do it! It is worth every cut, scrap, and frustration. The rewards for your hard work will come in many shapes and forms.