My wife and I decided we wanted a cheap convertible for cruising Highway 101 on the Southern California coastline. One day my 14 year old son saw a 1964 CJ-5 for sale online. What better convertible than a Jeep? We drove out to Pauma Valley for a look and here’s what we saw.
As close to a barn find as we were going to get. It was kind of rough. The transfer case was stuck in low, the seats were hammered. There was some rust in the floorboards. The signals did not work but she ran. The engine (Hurricane 134), transmission, transfer case and axles were all original. There was very little modification other than locking rear hubs that were added for better towing. Apparently the owner used the CJ-5 for delivering supplies in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He had purchased it from a Marine colonel who used it on the rugged trails of Camp Pendleton. He was 6 foot 5 so he had the driver seat pushed back into the wheel well for more leg room.
Knowing very little of what I was getting myself into, I towed her home, expecting to fix a couple of things and have a cheap toy. Little did I know that I would spend more than double what I paid that day, to get her in proper working order.
After getting her home I discovered the turn signals wouldn’t work when I pushed the brake pedal, the brake lights wouldn’t work when the headlights were on, and the front turn signals would freeze when I braked. The brake pedal would either get stuck and not bounce back once I pushed it or wouldn’t push all the way down because the metal floor was bent and split causing the spring to catch. The steering wheel had three inches of play. Whenever I hit a bump the car would bounce a foot in either direction. The temperature and gas gauges didn’t work. Driving her on the streets in traffic was a white knuckle experience as the car couldn’t steer or stop. But it started and ran remarkably well and I looked cool driving it.
Thanks to many hours, help from a couple of mechanics, and parts from Kaiser Willys, I have been able to get her driving in a somewhat civilized fashion. She has new seats, floorboards, a new Solex carb, a new steering wheel and turn signals, new gauges, gas tank, new parts for the steering gear box, steering stabilizer, shocks, etc. We cleaned and painted what we could.
My son is now 17 and takes her off-roading. It still breaks down every once in a while and occasionally runs out of gas but then again it’s a Jeep, what more could we ask for. What I especially like about her is it’s the opposite of my daily driver. She has no technology, no ABS, no disc brakes, no power steering, no radio, nothing. She’s a throwback in time. You feel every bump in the road, hear every sound in the environment and get your hair blown in knots. It’s what driving was meant to be.
Willys Jeep Life Story – Derryl Acosta
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