Few vehicles have entrenched themselves in American popular culture quite as deeply as the Jeep. While the carefree Mustang and Corvette certainly come close, the Jeep held a more profound meaning. It was proven in the most grueling conditions on earth, a faithful tool trusted by American soldiers in the throes of war. American Bantam is credited with the earliest prototype; a brilliantly simply yet enormously capable vehicle that impressed military officials. But the government was concerned that the small Pennsylvania-based company did not have the manufacturing capacity to keep up with the expected demand. Willys and Ford were drafted in as they could handle the volume needed to satisfy the Military, as well as provide some engineering tweaks to the Bantam prototype. Once finalized and put into production, nearly 650,000 military Jeeps were built by Ford and Willys over the course of WWII, and this humble utility truck became one of the most recognizably symbols of American ingenuity.
After the war, Ford resumed passenger car production, though Willys wisely cashed in on the Jeep’s wartime notoriety with the Civilian Jeep (CJ) which first hit showrooms in 1945. Willys had gone so far as to trademark the name “Agri-Jeep” but at the last minute, it name was officially changed to “Universal Jeep” in order to appeal to a broader audience and better reflect the truly diverse capabilities of the CJ. In a testament to its legacy, the Jeep has outlived its parent companies on numerous occasions, and it remains one of the most uniquely American vehicles of all time.
This 1959 Universal Jeep CJ5 has been painstakingly restored to near factory-correct standards. Discovered by the most recent owner in Cleveland, Ohio in 2010, it had served as a grounds service vehicle for a local drive-in movie theater before being retired from duty. Despite having been “put out to pasture” the Jeep was remarkably complete and sound, though ready for restoration. Over the course of the next several years, the owner meticulously restored this CJ5 to near factory-correct standards. After careful disassembly, the original body tub was deemed beyond repair, so it was replaced with a new high-quality Repli-Tub sourced from Willys Overland Motors in Toledo. The original fenders, hood and grille and windscreen frame were in fine condition and were carefully restored in order to maintain a high degree of originality. The underpinnings were fully stripped, and the frame media blasted and painted with hard-wearing POR-15 to ensure a lifetime of protection. The axles were fully rebuilt along with new suspension to return the chassis to a factory-fresh appearance.
The high-quality body is finished in a factory correct shade of President Red, which was applied using modern base-coat enamel for ease of maintenance and durability. The presentation of the paintwork is very good, with nice straight body panels and beautiful finish work both inside and out of the body tub. After the restoration was completed, the CJ was enjoyed on local roads and in casual shows, and few very minor touchups have been made along the way. The body features the side-mount spare wheel and folding windscreen that were signatures of the bare-bones CJ5 and it retains the correct Willys-embossed tailgate and the period “Four Wheel Drive” logo on the tail.
Careful attention was paid to ensure an authentic restoration of the interior using period correct materials and fittings. The front seats are trimmed in correct style two-tone red and gray vinyl, and aftermarket, period-look chrome lift-latch seat belts were added. A brand new BestTop convertible top and soft door set is included, which has yet to be fitted to the body. Also included is an extremely rare optional rear seat which requires restoration but would make for a very nice period finishing touch.
Willys’ 134 cubic inch F-head Hurricane Four is well-suited to the lightweight CJ5, feeling peppier than its factory-rated 72 horsepower would suggest. Underhood presentation is excellent, in keeping with the utilitarian nature but nicely executed with high-quality finishes and detailing. Receipts show the engine was rebuilt as part of the restoration in 2011, and it is mated the correct 3-speed manual gearbox and 2-speed transfer case. In order to improve drivability, a set of radial tires were fitted that are close in size to the original bias ply, but provide a bit more pleasant feel on the road. The wheels are the original steels, media blasted and painted in an attractive off-white color that, while not original, look very handsome contrasting the red body.
The sale of this charming CJ5 includes the aforementioned convertible top and rear seat, as well as a collection of receipts and photos documenting the restoration process. Rarely do we encounter early Jeeps that have been restored with such attention to original specification. Far too many have been run into the ground in commercial service, or have been modified beyond recognition for off-roading. This beautifully presented early CJ5 is a true icon of American motoring, refreshingly correct and restored with care by a passionate enthusiast.