Ask any Jeep owner what the best Jeep ever made is, and the usual answer is the model they own. Some of us are lucky enough to own more than one. At last count, Rick Péwé owned 30. Owning old Jeeps can become addictive. I can’t keep count of mine, because new and old ones come and go every month. Though most of my Jeeps are late models for my business of renting and guiding, there are what I call “special-teams” rigs—ladies (all my Jeeps are girls) that aren’t expected to work for a living, but rather just put on special appearances. They’re not for day-to-day transportation. These special-teams girls range in vintage from 1942 to 1991, but I have been ogling TJs lately with a nostalgic eye.
None of mine are show cars—never have been, never will be. I prefer to bring them back to a state of being able to move on their own power in a mostly non-life-threatening manner. It is no secret that I giggle with glee just doing laps in the parking lot with many of them. For the ones that have V-8s, just starting them up gives me goose bumps. Some are even somewhat safe and legal to operate on public roads. Some exist strictly as art, like Rosie, my 1942 Ford GPW WWII-era jeep. I bought her to cut and paste the small body onto a JK Rubicon chassis and make a rockcrawling animal out of her, but an emotional encounter with a WWII veteran who saluted her changed my mind. She is parked up front as our official greeter at the Sedona store forever. No body chopping or rock abuse for that old girl.
I could write a book about all the conversations with people who stopped by to see Rosie, my 1942 GPW, and shared wonderful family stories about old Jeeps they had.
All of them have taught me many things or reminded me of things I had forgotten: The tricks to fire up a carbureted motor, the joys of manual hubs and drum brakes, how to gap points with a matchbook cover, or simply to remind me of how good we have it now. All of them have revealed glimpses into the past, like parts receipts in the glovebox from businesses gone for decades, well-used monogrammed tools found under a seat, or certain smells that remind you of family camping trips long ago. All of them have sparked wonderful stories from visitors whose dad/grandpa/cousin/uncle/sister had one just like it about the fun things they did with it. Some are very sobering stories from wars and near misses. Some, like the WWII veteran who cried as he walked around Rosie, have changed my life.
I look at my JLs now and wonder what families will remember this Jeep for the rest of their lives and the experiences they had with her. Decades from now, what stories will my kids tell about their childhood when they get a chance to sit in an “old” TJ or JK? So many of my friendships, memories of great trips, and hilarious stories revolve around Jeeps. So when people come to me for advice about what such-and-such Jeep is worth, I usually just shake my head and say, “I couldn’t even tell you,” because the value Jeeps have brought to my life can’t be measured in dollars.
This Jeep was in a field behind an old barn in Arizona, where she had been for 17 years. After some cleaning and basically just a tune-up, she fired up. Even the tires still held air. I have a video on YouTube of first starting her. She comes to life, but then you hear this loud howling, which was actually me crowing with glee. After some further digging and learning that she was 100 percent original, down to the hubs, I sold her to a collector. She deserved a better chance than just being a weekend whip for me.
What happened to her that her windshield frame is crooked? How many years did that 5/8-inch wrench sit on her fender to get the paint to fade like that? It is great fun to investigate the flaws and come up with a plan. Just don’t get too attached to your initial plan. Old Jeeps teach you the important skill of staying flexible and adapting as you go.
The motors of old Jeeps are great for teaching the basics of internal combustion engines. This one was partially converted from 6V to 12V when I bought her, so that provided the opportunity to really understand her electrical system. Though I enjoyed Joe’s personal touch of standing on one foot, reciting a haiku, licking his fingers, and zapping himself to start her, I opted to go with a more traditional key-operated ignition. But I will keep that fun image with me for many years to come!
Bonnie runs and drives, but her primary role is to greet our Moab visitors, especially when all of our rentable Jeeps are out earning their keep, leaving the lot otherwise empty. Any Edward Abbey fans? She is named for Bonnie Abzug.
One of the reasons I buy old Jeeps sometimes is to save them from their current owners. There is a whole lot of “what were you thinking” on some of my adoptees. It usually takes a little time and love, and sometimes a hazmat suit, but these Jeeps come back to wonderful.
A friend saw this 1981 Wagoneer posted on Facebook and sent it to me. I bought her with Gambler 500 intentions, but after looking her over, I decided she deserved a more dignified Sunday-cruiser existence. She has a totally straight body, soon-to-be-healthy 360ci V-8 motor, and all functioning gauges, power seats, and windows. After sitting for three years, she had a large population of rodents chewing on her interior. So, we named her Buttercup, because of the Rodents of Unusual Size from the movie Princess Bride and a butter-yellow paint color.
My kids grew up thinking all families go to amazing places and four-wheel over rugged terrain. It’s just another day at the office with Mom, even on the Rubicon Trail.
It’s a tradition to take family selfies on all of our trips. Many of those have Jeeps in them.
Most of my family has learned to drive off-road on the ranch long before it was legal for them to drive on public roads. My kids learned in Jeeps, of course.
Jeeps make friends out of people from all walks of life and all over the world.
I bought a little CJ-3A on a rainy January afternoon. We took turns driving her for at least 50 laps around the shop, just having a grand time. Pete had very little experience with a manual transmission, a fact that Heather and I had no mercy exploiting for our amusement. The 1951 CJ had the motor from a 1986 Buick, the seats from a 1991 Chevy, and oversized wheels and tires. We put her back to mostly stock before a friend adopted her for a full restoration.
Gotta give some love to the square headlights! A two-owner Islander with only 80,000 miles, the 4.0L I-6, and all-original everything except wheels and tires? Yes, please.