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October 2011 Column Shift

Posted in Features on October 1, 2011
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If you spend enough time chewing the fat with a gearhead, the topic of lost loves will inevitably come up at some point in your conversation. Usually it’ll be about the one that got away, or how going through life changes or tough times forced the sale of a beloved mechanical companion. Maybe it was a friend’s dad who had a super-clean Bel Air back in the day, or the CJ-8 Scrambler that was bought brand new and traded in for the family station wagon or worse yet, a minivan.

After a lengthy and generally frustrating process, I recently sold Project Colonel Mustard to free up some funds that will better serve our family goals. As I sit here looking over the bill of sale, I can’t help but wonder if this will end up being the one that got away when I look back, years from now.

When I first purchased the Willys in 2006, I was embarking on a new adventure with a vehicle I had long dreamed about owning. I bought the Colonel from a former executive at Jeep who had restored the CJ-3A at one point, and it was still in great condition. After taking possession of the keys, I was looking forward to what lay ahead.

One of my fondest memories of the Willys was when I bought it and with the help of Brubaker, towed it back to California. Ken was heading west for Top Truck Challenge and was driving a long-term test vehicle home, so we worked out the pick-up of the Willys in Detroit and headed the 2,500 miles to California together, with the flatty in tow. It was a great excuse for another cross-country trip with Ken.

I drove the Willys all that week in Hollister, experiencing the Colonel’s “character” for the first time when the cotter pin dropped out of the clutch linkage, leaving me to limp back to the hotel with no way to disengage the clutch. It was the first of many times I would enjoy tinkering on that old Jeep.

Once home, my wife and I enjoyed driving the Colonel up and down Pacific Coast Highway on warm summer weekends, usually with my non-self-cancelling blinkers flashing away and her constantly reminding me, “Your blinker is on.” Despite the constant blinker, little kids waved and old-timers wanted to stop and chat. Everyone got a kick of seeing the Colonel out and about, and I was the neighborhood taxi, giving rides on a regular basis. There was something about that yellow Jeep that made people smile.

In 2007, Ken and I towed the Colonel all the way to Moab, where I got to wheel it on the slickrock, drive it in a early spring snowstorm, and even raced our very own in-house flatfender expert, Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off Road Editor Rick Pewé, around the sand dunes in one of his newly acquired MBs. Knowing Rick is to know that he is trying to save the species, one flatfender at a time. With Rick comes a vast amount of flatfender knowledge, which he graciously shared with me over the years, my favorite lesson being a field rebuild of the single-barrel carb.

While I don’t look on the sale of the Colonel with sadness, I will miss the fun times I had with it. But as I reflect, I realize that the Willys never really was mine. I was merely a custodian of history, a caretaker of this American relic. During its stay, it imparted to me a small piece of its 60 years of history, and I am sure that I am just a small piece of what will ultimately be that Jeep’s story going forward. I figure that a hundred years from now when I am long gone, the rust-free little CJ will still be putting smiles on someone’s face, letting them in on a time when “Made in America” stood for the highest quality of craftsmanship in the world. Take a look at any old flatfender up close, and you will see American ingenuity and innovation firsthand.

I am fortunate that I was able to have that old Jeep in my life, and one day, this may be the one I regret letting go of. But for now I move forward with the good times I had and the memories I made. After all, it is better to have bought and sold than to have never bought at all.

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