Restoring a Willys Jeep is not for the faint of heart. My dad bought the 1946 CJ-2A in 1968 for our cabin in Montana. We climbed hills, hunted and logged in this little beastie. It was a toy for every grandchild that rode in it whether the ride was for real or imagined. I personally wanted to make it into my own Barbie Jeep with pink paint and striped Surrey top. Dad rarely did mechanical repairs on it and he eventually stopped driving it. The breaks were so bad that he had to gear down and let it roll into a tree to stop. Needless to say, we did not repair the bumper as those dents represented his breaking system. He took the passenger side seat out to make more room for the huge logs that he would cut down for firewood and haul back to the cabin. The last license registration was in 1973 and it had a listed value of “50 cents.” The last time it was driven is unknown but over time it settled into the mud and almost became part of the forest.
Years later dad gave the Jeep to my 15-year-old son. We knew nothing about restoring a Jeep. After 5 years, 3 mechanics, many orders/calls to the Kaiser Willy website, numerous new and used parts, a transmission overhaul, an engine rebuild and paint, we completed the job. We could have bought a new Jeep for what it cost. We replaced some things and left other things as they were when dad was alive. We lament that we did not start with qualified mechanics as several “repairs” needed to be redone after the first two. The engine mechanic (a genuine expert) said the engine had one military date stamp from a previous rebuild at a military base. He wondered the history of the Jeep as the engine contained a Russian tractor part. This Jeep is a patch work of Americana. This 1946 CJ-2A is a mixture of military and civilian parts. The engine is 1945, the tub a 1946 and the frame is parts of a 1947.
Lessons learned: Read your manuals, watch repair videos on Kaiser website, do some work yourself if you have lots of time or get a skilled mechanic. Keep records, pictures, plates, find your identification plaques early and have lots of money. We loved it then and now. I’m sure dad is looking down from heaven either very proud of us or thinks we were crazy. Getting it licensed in the state of Colorado was a mountain to climb. It now proudly is driven with new Colorado plates and turns many heads with interest and admiration.
Willys Jeep Life Story – Douglas Marcia Ward
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