NORMAN — Fred Hill’s old “Jeep” didn’t have that familiar name when it rolled off the assembly line in 1943.
Seventy years ago it was simply called a Quad, in reference to its four wheel drive capabilities.
“I wanted to have this Jeep restored to its original condition because of my interest in the military after spending a couple of years in the U.S. Army,” he said.
Hill is my father and was serving in Occupied West Germany when I was born in 1954. The small vehicles were made by Willys-Overland, Ford Motor Company and briefly by American Bantam Car Company. Pygmy along with several letter and numeral combinations (GWP, GP, MB, MA etc.) were all names for what eventually became known simply as the Jeep.
Originally these tough light-utility vehicles were all made under contract for the U.S. government for military use in WWII. After the war, surplus Jeeps were sold to the general public, including various other parts of the world where they had been used by our troops.
“My friend Fred Stuckey gave me the Jeep back in the ’70s,” Hill said. “He had used it on elk hunting trips in Colorado.”
The Jeep had been in disuse and stored in a rural shed for three decades. In 2012, Hill contracted with Dan McGrath of Olathe, Kan., for restoration of the Jeep to exact military specifications. The completed job is remarkable. It was the only military vehicle chosen to be a part of the highly exclusive 2013 Kansas City Art Institute’s “Art of the Car Concours.”
No expense was spared or detail overlooked to bring the old Jeep back to military-type readiness and appearance. The only modern additions were seat belts and turn signals to make it street legal.
“I wanted it to be just as it had been when it was delivered to the government in 1943,” Hill said.
Even the front and rear “black-out” lighting system works. It was required for tactical situations when regular headlamps would attract enemy fire.
It’s not a comfortable vehicle to drive and wasn’t intended to be. The engineering is simple with access of components designed to be repaired or replaced by GIs who weren’t necessarily mechanics.
“The brake and gas pedals are really close together so you have to be careful,” Hill said. “And the clutch is hard to press down.”
There’s an instruction plate on the glove box door for engaging and disengaging four-wheel drive and shifting it into high or low. In two wheel drive it’s a standard three speed. The engine is a 134 cubic inch, in-line four cylinder.
The gas tank is under the drivers’ seat, which you raise to add fuel. There’s a rack for an axe and shovel on the right and a full size spare tire and jerry can of reserve fuel mounted on the rear.
“You might need the shovel and axe to dig a fox hole if the Luftwaffe was coming after you,” Hill said.
The windshield wipers are hand operated by either the driver or passenger. A small set of tools in an interior compartment could be used for most repairs. Except for the windshield and overhead canvas top, driver and passengers are largely exposed to the elements.
Hill was a 12-year-old lad living on a Caldwell County, Mo., farm with his folks when the 1943 Jeep was first assembled.
“I can remember to this day that Sunday afternoon when it was announced on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked,” he said.
His dad was too old for the service and agriculture was part of the war effort.
“We didn’t have television but followed events through newsreels at the movies,” he said. “Some of it was propaganda, even if it was true, and they made us hate the Germans.”
Hill recalls scrap drives, war bonds, gasoline rationing and scarcity of sugar and tobacco. As a kid it was fun times and not until later did the war’s actual death and destruction sink in with him.
Hill’s Uncle Joe Place served with the U.S. Army in Europe and was awarded three Bronze Stars but later was always reluctant to discuss the war.
“I do remember him talking about being in vehicle convoys and using the black-out lighting systems,” he said. “You could see the small lights of the truck in front but they couldn’t be seen from above or from the sides.”
Hill’s own first-hand experience with Jeeps and Dodge half-track vehicles initially came when he was drafted into the U.S. Army right after graduating from Central Missouri State College in 1953.
“We all thought we were going to Korea but the war ended and everyone was relieved,” he said. “Instead I was assigned to a 7th Army artillery outfit in Hammelburg, Germany.”
Part of Hill’s job was teaching GIs, primarily from southern states including Oklahoma, with less than an eighth grade education to read.
“It wasn’t ‘Dick and Jane’ but pretty close to it,” he said.
Hill found the German citizenry to be helpful and friendly during times he traveled alone.
“We had won the war but they didn’t hold a grudge,” he said. “They were fabulous people.”
In remembrance of that time Hill had the 7th Army and other pertinent divisional number graphics stenciled onto his Jeep’s paint job.
“I like pretty red Corvettes and sports cars in general, but this Jeep doesn’t fall into that category,” he said. “The appeal for me is that it has been restored to the original military condition.”
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. E-mail him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.