Friday, September 10, 2010

1956 Willys Jeep CJ5 - Background

As some of you might know (or might not), I purchased a Jeep from my grandfather back in 1998. It is a 1956 Willys Jeep CJ5 "Universal". It has had quite a history in my family. My Uncle Terry purchased it in 1969 while stationed in Alaska in the U.S. Air Force. He's told me many stories of abusing this Jeep horribly during its younger days, but I digress.

When my Uncle Terry left the good old USAF, he decided to drive this Jeep back to the family farm in upstate New York, which is about a 5,000 mile trip. I have done it, and back, and he and I even did it together several years back, but that's a story for another day.

He took the western route through Canada, and encountered engine problems just outside of Seattle, Washington. It was there he purchased a 1955 Chevy, had a local weld on a towbar, and dragged the Willys all the way back to Lee Center.

Back in those days, the G.I. Bill took a while to "kick in", as it were, and in order to start attending the State University of New York at Morrisville, my Uncle Terry asked my grandfather, Joe Bistrovich (may he rest in peace), to spot him the money for tuition and books. As "collateral", Grandpa asked Terry to sign  over the Jeep to him. It was a win-win, as Terry needed the cash, and Grandpa needed a utility Jeep around his dairy farm.

Uncle Terry in the Jeep circa 1972

Well, when it came time for Terry to pay Grandpa back, apparently, Grandpa didn't want to give up the Jeep after all. So, he basically told Terry that they were even, and no worries. For years after that, Terry kept trying to buy the Jeep back from my grandfather, and he always refused.

Fast forward to 1998. I fondly remembered my days as a child of riding in that Jeep to gather firewood. Or maybe just climbing around on the Willys, dreaming of someday driving it myself. So, in 1998, six years after leaving home for the Air Force myself, I decided to see if Grandpa would be willing to sell it to me.  He agreed.

My Uncle Terry was unaware of the deal I brokered, until I stopped by his house on the way back to Illinois with the Jeep on a trailer behind my truck. Needless to say, it was a "WTF" moment for him. Anyway, I got it back without incident, and have been sitting on it for the last twelve years, having done very little toward getting it back on the road again.

In my garage, the project begins...

In the coming months (and hopefully not years), I hope to document the modern rebuild of the Willys as much as I can on these pages. It isn't a restoration, as this Jeep is already well beyond modified already, and trying to take it back to "original, pristine condition" just isn't feasible. My goal is to make an adequate daily driver out of it, substituting modern upgrades whenever safety or convenience dictates.

I hope that you might learn with me as I go about rebuilding nearly every system and subsystem of this 54 year old machine. I will be uploading lots of pictures and documenting the progress as it goes along. I look forward to this, and I hope that you will join me on my trip!

And for those of you who might feel sorry for my Uncle Terry in all of this, he ended up purchasing another Jeep in the '70s... a 1949 Willys CJ3A.  It's a gorgeous all-original flatfender, and it's been sitting up at the farm in one of the barns for quite a few years.  I believe that my interest in getting the CJ5 project rolling has proven contagious, as he is in the beginning stages of starting to putter around with that one as well.  If I get some pictures of that one, I will be sure to post them here as well.


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