Not too many people can claim they were there when Jeep took its first steps. Don Prine can. In 1940, Prine was a 22-year-old Admiral’s assistant. And as it happened, one of Prine’s duties placed him behind the wheel of the Bantam, Willys, and Ford pilot models submitted to the military for testing in the fall and winter of 1940. The young sailor was front and center for some exciting times and Prine isn’t shy about sharing the photo of him driving a Willys Quad up the steps of the Capitol Building as President Roosevelt, members of Congress, and high-ranking military officials looked on. An avid hunter and outdoorsman, Prine had never driven a 4x4 prior to his military service and was so impressed by the capability of the little mules that he told himself, “By God, when I get out of the service I’m gonna get me one of these.” Turns out, he kept his promise to himself, and then some.
After the Navy, he opened up Prine’s Jeep Service in Lakewood, Washington. In addition to operating the full-service shop, Prine would load up in his monstrous ex-US Navy ’60 Ford F-600 and with trailer in tow, scour the country from coast-to-coast retrieving military surplus Jeep vehicles and parts. Nowadays, as he has for the past 52 years, Prine spends nearly every weekday working at Prine’s Jeep Service and weekends tinkering on his impressive private collection of rare Jeeps at his home near Spanaway, Washington.
During a visit to ATV Manufacturing last fall, owner Herm Tillford surprised us with a visit to meet Prine. After viewing Prine’s private collection, including one of each pre-standardized Jeep model: the Bantam BRC-40, Willys MA, and Ford GP, we swung by the unassuming-looking Prine’s Jeep Service to ogle and drool at 52 years worth of parts, projects, and knowledge. The shop is open most weekdays, so if you’re in need of something, swing by and say hi or place an order. Chances are, Prine has what you need for your old Jeep or knows where to find it. And be sure to check back next issue when we’ll share some photos of Prine’s private collection. Trust us, if you’re into vintage Jeeps and their history, you won’t want to miss it.