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The Elusive 1976 Super Jeep - Finding The Unicorn

Posted in Features on November 3, 2014
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No, not that old Irish Rovers song from the 1960s, but a pair of equally forgotten Jeeps of the next decade. If you have a more-than-passing knowledge of Jeeps in the ’70s, you will remember the lurid Super Jeep of 1973. You really couldn’t miss them, with full-length striping on a nicely equipped CJ-5. Advertising showed a happy owner flying over what looks like New York City, waving to the admiring crowds below. The ads played off the old Superman lines, “Not a bird, not a plane...” yada, yada!

Ordering the ’73 Super Jeep package got you one of two stripe and seat color combinations. The red and blue stripes were available over two colors, Jetset Blue and Champagne White with seats that were a red and white striped vinyl. The orange and white stripes were offered on a body painted Butterscotch Gold, Daisy Yellow, Copper Tan, or Fairway Green, along with Cinnamon and white Seats. The rest of the package consisted of white-trimmed visors and dash pad, chrome front bumper, rubber wheel-lip extensions, and L78-15 Goodyear Suburbanite Polyglas whitewall tires on white rims.

The package could only be ordered on a CJ-5 with a minimum set of options. These included the 258ci inline-six, heavy-duty cooling, rear seats and seatbelts, lighter and ash tray, passenger mirror, passenger handrail, rollbar, rear drawbar, and the fixed tailgate with a rear spare-tire mount. This wasn’t one of the normal sales-coded packages, but it was close to the J-4 group. You could order any upgrade, such as a V-8, limited slip, or optional axle ratios, as long as it didn’t interfere with the Super Jeep package or required options.

Here are two versions of the ’73 Super Jeep that show the two stripe colors on Champagne White and Daisy Yellow Jeeps. It’s long been said, though unconfirmed by and documentation we’ve seen, that the Super Jeep came about due to a shortage of the alloy wheels used on the Renegade. Story goes they had enough alloys to feed the small numbers of Renegades, but they wanted other specials to offer and the Super Jeep filled the bill.

Dealers could order a ’73 Super Jeep starting March 1, 1973, and production was slated to begin March 15. Typically, Jeep built specials like this in batches, but it isn’t known if there was more than just the one run. It isn’t even clear how many were built. There were no special serial numbers to denote a Super Jeep, but it’s possible the serial numbers were sequential, or nearly so. Not many were made (likely only in the hundreds), and now they are highly collectible bringing $25,000 or more in restored or pristine original condition. Because the decal sets were available from the Jeep parts department, some Jeeps owners added the decals later, and today, those Jeeps are occasionally foisted as Super Jeeps.

Fast forward to 1976. The idea of a Super Jeep shows up again in product planning documents from 1975. After all, the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration was coming up, and nothing says patriotism better than a red-white-and-blue-themed Jeep. The idea evidently didn’t fly as a limited production model, but the existence of a ’76 Super Jeep has been speculated upon and argued over for at least the past decade. The arguments were settled when a mover and shaker in the Jeep world was able to prove their existence.

Faded Glory! This is what the Super Jeep looked like when it arrived at Collins Brothers in February 2012. Not so bad considering it was outside for 15 years, but if it had been anywhere but Texas, this Jeep would not have survived. It was still wearing one of the original 1976 Formula Desert Dogs as a spare tire!

Dennis Collins at Collins Brothers Jeep, who doubles as Richard Rawlings’ sidekick on Discovery Channel’s Gas Monkey Garage (or is it the other way around?), has long been one of the preeminent experts on late CJs. His interest as a young man led to starting a business that specializes in all things Jeep. Dennis has developed a “nose” for being able to sniff out a rare Jeep or a stockpile of NOS parts from continents away. His “Jeep-dar” is legendary in collector’s circles, but when asked, Dennis says it’s nothing otherworldly, just the ability to network, follow leads, and be the first to knock on the door with cash.

A couple of years ago, Dennis got wind of what purportedly was a ’76 Super Jeep. It was hiding in plain sight, not far from the Wylie, Texas, home of Collins Brothers Jeep. It had lived all its life on a ranch, acquiring only 59,305 miles before being parked outside and left to deteriorate for 15 years. Collins very quickly confirmed that it was a nearly original ’76 and indeed a Super Jeep. From there, the rest of the story unfolded.

Dennis learned that while Jeep decided not to offer them for sale generally, they built up some for the show circuit. They opted to build only white ones and the red-white-and-blue theme suited the Bicentennial. Collins has found evidence of 10 being built. Apparently all were sequentially serial numbered (or close to it), and all but one had 304ci V-8 engines. They all came with a closed rear body, blue Levis-denim interiors, a rollcage, and full instrumentation, including a tachometer. A/C and AM radio were also included. To this basic package, Jeep added some custom items, including 11-15 (about a 31x10.50-15) Formula Desert Dog PCV tires on chrome-spoke wheels and dual Dick Cepek jerrycans and carriers. The striping was a little different than the ’73 Super and had some additional color on the hood and a slightly different treatment at the back. The spare-tire arrangement also differed.

Here is the Super Jeep ad from the ’73 campaign that ran in all the 4x4 mags of the day, including our sister publication, Four Wheeler. See if you can spot the differences in the striping compared to the restored ’76. The minimum spec options necessary for the Super Jeep package added $402 to the $3,086 base price of the CJ-5. The exact MSRP of the Super Jeep package itself has been difficult to find. The dealer cost was $159, and if you figure a markup, it had to have been around $200.

Are you wondering about the one Jeep that didn’t have a 304? Reputedly, one ’76 Super Jeep was purchased by a Jeep employee who arranged to have a 401 installed at the factory. This Jeep is still owned by that individual, who has sworn Collins to secrecy. We’ve tried to pry the info out of Collins, but he ain’t talking. We’ll try more beer and see what happens. Besides that one and the Collins machine, another is known to still survive.

The ’76 Super Jeep you see here was shown at several Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, auto shows and then sold to an interested rancher just north of Fort Worth. Collins brought it home in early 2012. The guys in Collins’ restoration shop got it running in about 20 minutes, and a thorough survey showed a solid Jeep. None of the unique parts were missing or altered, so the next step was a full restoration. By July it was a done Jeep.

Along the way, someone made Dennis an offer he couldn’t refuse and the new owner asked that the A/C be left off and that a TBI fuel injection be installed. These things were done, and now the new owner is enjoying being in a very exclusive Jeep club.

PhotosView Slideshow

Sources

Collins Bros Jeep
800-699-JEEP
http://www.collinsbrosjeep.com

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