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Buying a Beater

Posted in How To on May 1, 2001
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Photographers: John Cappa
Forget the newspaper, if you want to score real junk you’ve got to look to the Web. Only computer geeks are savvy enough to give up junk for nothing, and only we’re dumb enough to buy it. Forget the newspaper, if you want to score real junk you’ve got to look to the Web. Only computer geeks are savvy enough to give up junk for nothing, and only we’re dumb enough to buy it.
There were a few paranoid-looking civilians watching Cappa pop the ATM photo. We thought about mugging them for a “budget buy” story, but figured their weapons were probably better than ours. There were a few paranoid-looking civilians watching Cappa pop the ATM photo. We thought about mugging them for a “budget buy” story, but figured their weapons were probably better than ours.
The owner said it hadn’t moved in decades and it looked like it. Even after a thorough douching to remove the bird turds the Willys doesn’t look much better. Make me an offer on the Continental kit—PLEASE! The owner said it hadn’t moved in decades and it looked like it. Even after a thorough douching to remove the bird turds the Willys doesn’t look much better. Make me an offer on the Continental kit—PLEASE!
Oh horror of horrors! No, someone didn’t barf on Cappa’s trailer, but you wouldn’t know it by looking. Aside from the doors, it’s remarkably rust-free, had an unmolested frame, and came with a Smittybilt roll bar. Still, it has doors! Oh horror of horrors! No, someone didn’t barf on Cappa’s trailer, but you wouldn’t know it by looking. Aside from the doors, it’s remarkably rust-free, had an unmolested frame, and came with a Smittybilt roll bar. Still, it has doors!
With all the dead critters cleaned out, every inch of wiring was unceremoniously yanked to prevent unwanted fireballs. If anyone out there knows what the hell this thing really is give us a shout. If it’s rare, sorry, ’cause it’s already stripped. With all the dead critters cleaned out, every inch of wiring was unceremoniously yanked to prevent unwanted fireballs. If anyone out there knows what the hell this thing really is give us a shout. If it’s rare, sorry, ’cause it’s already stripped.
The “Camaro 350” turned out to be an ’86 305 with ’68 350 heads. The aluminum LG-4 manifold and Holley carb are about the only good things under the hood. Don’t even ask about the Powerglide tranny. The “Camaro 350” turned out to be an ’86 305 with ’68 350 heads. The aluminum LG-4 manifold and Holley carb are about the only good things under the hood. Don’t even ask about the Powerglide tranny.
At daylight the real assessment began. After junking the 60/40 bench seat we found what remained of Flopsy the rabbit. We thought about making a hat out of it for Jp staffer Verne Simons, but we figured he was homesick enough already. At daylight the real assessment began. After junking the 60/40 bench seat we found what remained of Flopsy the rabbit. We thought about making a hat out of it for Jp staffer Verne Simons, but we figured he was homesick enough already.
The DJ in all its glory. The DJ in all its glory.

Sometimes when the bug bites it’s best not to scratch. Most times you just make things worse and wind up with an infection. After almost three decades and several piles of crap I still haven’t learned that lesson. Just once I want to walk away from a vehicle purchase without feeling like I just dropped the soap in a prison shower.

All I wanted was a simple, ordinary flattie—just like everyone else. When it was hip to own a Camaro I had an Olds. When ’67 Bugs were cool I had a ’72 Superbeetle (more like dung beetle). And even though everyone and their brother wheels a nimble little Jeep, I’ve been bashing a land-yacht ’85 Ramcharger through places it doesn’t fit. Enough already! It was time to join the Jeep crowd.

The Search

You never realize how many people must be addicted to crack until you pick up a Los Angeles auto trader. After wading through a sea of way-overpriced garbage and CJ-2As that looked like someone puked chrome on them, we stumbled across an on-line ad that seemed too good to be true. It read: 1953 Willys CJ-3A, Chevy V-8 conversion, doesn’t run, needs work, $400 OBO.

After soiling myself, I called the dude who said it had an auto tranny (bad but easily remedied), the T-case had been removed (OK, a little worried), and the front differential had been cut out and the axle sleeved (cool, it’s a sand rail). “Dude” also informed me that the seat fabric was gone from sitting in the desert for the last 20 years (bitchin’) and that there was only a little rust on the doors (way-deep panic). Sure, anyone knows flatties don’t have doors, but his description conjured images of cobbled Billy-Bob-made half doors (sold!).

The Mission

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to buy a vehicle at night, with a full moon, and with half a brain, but what the hell? After enlisting the help of Editor John Cappa (more specifically his trailer) here’s how the evening progressed:

5:30 p.m.

Find unbelievable deal of the century that’s sure to be gone in 30 seconds if action isn’t quickly taken. Get Dude’s address, but don’t tell him we may be coming tonight.

5:45 p.m.

Put in call to wife and emphatically tell (beg) that I won’t be home tonight because I’m going to the middle of desert to look at (buy) incredible deal (piece of junk).

6:00 p.m.

Think to call Dude back to check for registration, which he says he has. Still don’t tell him we’re coming.

6:30 p.m.

Grab Cappa and bail office. Go to pick up tow vehicle at Editorial Director Cole Quinnell’s pad.

8:00 p.m.

Arrive at Quinnell’s and steal Sport Truck test vehicle to serve as tow rig (swank).

8:15 p.m.

Arrive at Cappa’s and hook up trailer. Finally, think to tell Dude we’re coming but can’t reach him on cell phone.

8:20 p.m.

Take off from Cappa’s for desert not knowing if Dude is home or not.

8:30 p.m.

Stop at ATM, which only gives up $280. Make Cappa draw his card and bum $120. 8:42 p.m.

Enjoy hearty dinner in parking lot of finest (only) Burger King in area.

8:46 p.m.

Hit road for middle of nowheresville in the high desert of California.

9:48 p.m.

Finally reach Dude after an hour of trying and scare the skids out of him telling him we’re on the way with a trailer. We’re stupid.

10:12 p.m.

Stop for directions from nice junkie at scariest gas station we’ve seen in a long time.

10:18 p.m.

Arrive at Dude’s pad but the Willys ain’t there. Follow Dude at way faster-than-sane speeds to his “mom’s house” with visions of getting whacked for $400 swirling through heads.

10:23 p.m.

Arrive at compound housing Jeep. Turn corner and almost lose it to see the thing has actual doors. CJ-3A my ass, it’s a damn DJ!

10:23 p.m. to 10:48 p.m.

Look Willys over and dig on cool speedo and steering wheel. Continue to gag on doors and Continental kit. Decide to buy it just for the grille insert alone.

10:49 p.m.

Barter with Dude over price. Apparently Dude is from magical land where “or best offer” means “exactly what I asked and not a penny less.”

11:06 p.m.

With ass hurting from getting taken for $400, load Willys on trailer and bail before a shotgun mysteriously appears from somewhere.

11:06 p.m. to 11:55 p.m.

Have serious doubts as to what the hell I just did. Just wanted a regular old flattie but bought a DJ. Cappa makes first “Dodge Jeep” joke (bastard!) and I want to dive out of still-moving vehicle.

11:56 p.m.

What, oh what, did I do? Stop at gas station and see purchase in light for first time. There’s something really wrong with me.

1:07 a.m.

Back trailer into Cappa’s driveway and receive last of “door Jeep, Dodge Jeep, dumb Jeep, dork Jeep” comments for night.

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