We had, for the longest time, a garage full of quads and UTV’s for use in the Arizona desert, but at some point they weren’t being used and we sold them with the thought of getting something when I retired. Fast forward – I retire and my wife and I go shopping for a UTV only to find what we like is close to $25K. I declared I would rather find a used Jeep, to have my son inform me he just might know of one. It seems he knew someone who moved from Missouri some 20 years ago and brought a non-running Willys with him only to learn he was in over his head. He parked it behind his mother’s barn, never to touch it again. Every time he saw his mother she would complain “Get rid of that Jeep”.
He had bought it from the original owner’s family, whose father bought it new as a farm vehicle in 1946 and rigged it as a post hole digger. It had never been titled or registered. Eventually it wore out and was parked behind their barn – only to be bought by the man I got it from and parked behind his mother’s barn. So it seems I was the third owner. The first without a barn.
This is the Willys as I picked it up. A non-running 1946 CJ-2A. Certainly not the Jeep I had in mind when I declared “I would rather find a used Jeep”. But it was “free to a good home”, and I thought would make a great father/son/grandson project.
Everything was seized up. Nothing turned until I discovered the transmission was in 2 gears at the same time. We worked on available weekends repairing the transmission and engine, finally getting it running. Then my son accepted a job 800 miles away and the father/son/grandson project ground to a halt.
I made little progress on my own, until a life-long friend retired and moved to AZ and offered to pitch in with me on this project. He was an automotive engineer and his help looked promising. I learned his “pitching in” was mostly standing there with a cold drink and pointing at things I needed to do, but he was some company and willing to hand me tools while I worked – and a little more got done. Then he suddenly passed away. The project stalled again.
At this point, I had a running and moving vehicle, but with bad brakes, hazardous steering, and no interior. It was about 6 different colors, with a broken windshield, and none of the electrical worked (something long ago had eaten a lot of the wiring). I considered selling it. Then my wife’s brother, Bob, retired and moved close to us… he became my third Jeep partner.
A couple of days a week Bob would come by and we worked on the Willys. Bob was great. As eager to work on it as I was and usually got dirtier than me. The brakes got finished and new steering installed. Motor/transmission & body mounts done. New wiring and lights (now 12 volts). I found seats that worked nicely and we welded in new frames. The body was cleaned up and some new sheet metal welded in. Two old retired guys laying on their backs under a Jeep led to many mornings with bruises and sore muscles, but we did a little at a time and it was coming together. It still needed a few things, but it ran well and was absolutely safe to drive. It even received turn signals.
It was eventually time for paint. I’m a veteran and a VFW life member. Both Bob’s and my father served in WWII. I also donate my time to DAV to drive veterans to the VA hospital 200 miles away. Although this is a civilian CJ-2A, it still looks just like a military Jeep and we painted it olive drab. Purists will howl, but I like it. Driving down the street you get people waving and honking horns. I entered it (actually in Bob’s name) in a local charity car show, and had the American Legion leadership stop by asking if I could bring it to an event they were planning.
Makes you feel good.
Keeping with the military (WWII) theme, I had a vinyl sign shop create a “Kilroy was here” image for below the windshield. Not everybody “gets it”, and I occasionally get asked “Who’s Kilroy?” But I think it fits nicely and for lack of a better name, this 1946 Willys CJ-2A ended up being called Kilroy.
So Kilroy took three tries to get where it is today (actually four, if you consider the guy in over his head). More years than I had intended, certainly more partners, and likely more money than I had in mind as well, but “free to a good home?” – How can you pass that up?
Willys Jeep Life Story – John Ciofalo
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