My name is Ben Zenger. The following is the story of how I became interested in Jeeps, saved my money, then purchased and restored my 1954 M38A1. All by the time I got my drivers license in February, 2017.
To start from the beginning, my dad has always been into Jeeps. He’s run CJ-5’s, CJ-7’s, M38A1’s, M38’s and a CJ-8 Scrambler with his good friend Tom. So, after finding his passion for Military Vehicles and Jeeps, he attended the Aberdeen Proving Ground Show for many years. Several times he took an M211 Deuce and a half that he used to own. So naturally, in the spring of 2009, he took me to the Aberdeen Show with our good friends the Stones who also share the old Jeep / military vehicle addiction.
When we got to the show, we walked around to see all of the vendors and vehicles. Soon we came to Jeep row. As soon as I saw the MB’s, GPW’s, M38’s and A1’s, I decided that I would definitely have one at some point. Later on we saw two A1s parked next to each other that needed to be restored. After looking at their condition, I decided that when I got home I would begin saving for a Jeep to restore of my own.
So when we got home, I put $27 in a mason jar with a piece of paper on it that said “Willys Jeep Fund”.
I told my parents that I would have a Jeep on the road by the time I got my license. Pretty much everyone who heard about my fund thought I would give up in a few months, being an 8 year old with no income. I set to work building birdhouses and selling them on the side of our country road. By the time I was 11, I had saved $1100.
I told my dad it was time for me to get a Jeep. My parents were in disbelief that I wanted a rusty old Jeep so bad. So my dad called a friend, who we knew had a CJ-2A and an MB. But he didn’t want to sell it. He referred me to a guy he knew trying to sell a 54 A1. We went out to his place and he wanted $900 for it. It was broken down, it had been rear ended at some point, it didn’t run, but it was an M38a1 with a title. I, an anything but humble 11 year old walked right up the man and offered him $600. He took the money, mostly because it was in 10’s and 20’s and he could tell I had saved it myself. So we took it home. I had no idea what I was doing. I could remember the title “M38A1” long enough to tell my friends. I didn’t know how an engine worked, or anything else. So with some help from a friend, we got it running and I drove it around the house with no brakes. (I learned how to drive stick shift on a 55 CJ-5 owned by a friend when I was 7, so I knew what I was doing.) I rebuilt the brakes, with parts from none other than Kaiser Willys Auto Supply. I rebuilt the carb, installed a new fuel pump, and spent every second I had in the garage sitting in it and polishing the disgusting metallic paint someone had painted it.
Soon I bought a parts Jeep, as mine had been converted to 12v. The parts Jeep was a 52 A1, with all original parts. We pulled the body off my 54, and I got to work. Restored the frame, new leaf springs, and used the engine out of the 52. I learned how to rebuild the transmission and transfer case and did that, and got all the water proof 24v parts installed. I learned how to weld and fixed all of the holes on the body, including new floor pans and a new battery box. Eventually I painted it in the fall of 2016, bought new tires, installed the windshield glass myself, and took it in the Lewisville, NC christmas parade for its first run.
I finished the odds and ends, and put it on the road in February, just one day before I got my drivers license. I drove it as my daily driver to local classes, and although it was not fast and not practical, I loved every minute. I got the correct Navy markings back on it that I had found under the newfangled metallic paint, and took it to the Aberdeen Show this past spring. Now, I have a 44 GPW I’m working on, a 1960 Willys Wagon, an 86 CJ-7 as my daily, a 75 CJ-5 that I am flipping to finish my GPW, and an 85 M1009 CUCV blazer. The addiction has overcome me, and I couldn’t be happier. I financed the entire restoration myself. I am attaching the links to two articles written about my Jeep in the local paper. I now know Jeeps like I know how to put on pants. I hope to attend the United States Naval Academy class of 2023 if I am accepted, and I will never stop Jeeping. I am now 17 years old and live in Lewisville, NC.
Thank you for reading – Ben Zenger
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