Life has a habit of getting away from all of us. A lot has changed in my life over the last three years and while I won’t bore you with all those details, I wanted to give an update post of what I’ve been working on in that time.
For reasons I’m still not quite sure of, a couple of years ago I decided to take restoration to the next level, to the antique car level. I didn’t really grow up a gear head, I didn’t grow up loving antique cars, I didn’t own all that many mechanical tools, I didn’t even really understand all the components of a vehicle, yet for some reason in mid-2014 I decided I had to buy and rebuild a Willys Jeep. I guess I just had too much free time.
I went to a couple of auctions chasing Jeeps and finally was the winner of a 1959 Willys CJ-5 from a small farm in West Virginia. As the owner of the estate later told me, he bought the Jeep from a kid in North Carolina and “brought it home in buckets” several years ago; great.
The Jeep started up and ran, the tub (body) had some issues but the floorboards had recently been replaced and the frame completely sanded and repainted. I didn’t truly understand the value of those things until later.
Upon getting the Jeep home and trying to drive in high range, it became clear there were problems. While it ran fine in low range (basically, 4wd) in high range it was underpowered, sputtered, and barely moved. A friend and I checked the cylinder compression numbers and found basically zero compression happening in two cylinders – it was clear the motor needed to come out and be rebuilt.
I had the motor rebuilt by a local shop – it was just too much for me to take on with limited knowledge at this point and the nervousness that I might have just bought myself a certified money-pit. In the end, among other issues, it had two bent pushrods which would explain near-zero compression in two cylinders. After nearly 6 weeks, it was done. In that time however, I did manage to pull the transmission out and rebuild it, while replacing the clutch, going over the brake system, checking steering, etc. The 4th picture below is of the gravel that came out of the bottom of the T90 transmission.
With the newly rebuilt motor and transmission installed, the Jeep ran great and was almost road worthy. I continued throughout the winter checking/replacing/cleaning various parts and systems on the Jeep and worked to make various upgrades where possible. Though I wasn’t concerned with a completely 100% original restoration, I was interested in keeping the spirit of the Jeep the same (no V8 upgrade, no bucket seats, LED light bars, mud flaps, etc.) – I wanted it to at least have the appearance of a 1959, working, farm Jeep, not a rock crawler.
Throughout the course of the following year, body work and electrical issues were the main focus. Lots of hours were spent with wire brushes, grinders, bondo and “learning” how to “weld”.
And so it went for 2 years. Always something needing to be done, many…MANY late nights in the garage and lots of learning as I went. In the end, I think ultimately that’s why I bought it: I wanted to learn about motors and vehicle restoration and there isn’t anything out there much simpler than a classic Willys; as one forum post read, “the things were designed for “good enough” engineering”. Over that time my workspace has transformed from a woodshop to a mechanics garage. I own tools now I didn’t even know existed 3 years ago. The experience has been pretty amazing.
Today, the Jeep is a member of the family. Major restoration work has dropped sharply and given way to just routine maintenance that comes with any vehicle. Since the pictures above, I’ve added military tires, a custom rag top that my mother sewed, a back seat, an overdrive, and even dual wheels. The Jeep is now something that I didn’t know I always wanted: something to just tinker with. Even if I have no pressing projects around the house, there’s always something I can do with the Jeep.
Currently the Jeep is a grocery getter – if you replaced the grocery store with hardware store. The small 4 cylinder and low-geared transmission don’t allow you to go much above 50MPH so trips outside of town are somewhat rare. You can see in the pictures below however, it’s become a part of our lives: it’s gone on vacation with us and we’ve even taken vacations revolving around it. Around the house it also pulls it’s weight. As it’s so narrow, it makes it easier to navigate through the woods than the tractor and every year it’s been key in hauling firewood out of the woods. Most recently my wife and I took it camping deep in a national forest and my three-year old son enjoys learning how to drive with it in our field.
I apologize for a long silence. I really should have been putting updates on this site as I went through the entire experience. If there is particular interest in a part of the project, please comment below and I can respond and perhaps provide more pictures. I hope to be posting more regularly in the future. Thank you for reading.