Friday, August 29, 2014

The Commodore's Jeepster

When you’re the Commodore and you can buy any new car you want, what do you choose?  It’s a weighty decision.  After all, as Commodore, you set the standard.  That means you can’t just buy a mass-produced idea of style and form.  You must create your own; an expression of automotive craftsmanship fine enough to park beside the finest hand built yachts. You commission a motorcar as others commission a new kitchen.

It’s a hard choice, but someone has to make it.  American or foreign?  You’ve got both, and for this car, it’s going to be American.  They build some beautiful yachts in Europe but our native craftsmen are very fine too.

Sedan or utility?  That’s an easy question.  This vehicle’s job is to travel to the waterfront, and there may be a need to carry rigging, guests, live bait or giant fish.  An open utility is the only answer.

Open car or closed?  It’s summer on the oceanfront, folks! The only way to ride is under and open top.  How else will you move the fishing poles, and how will parade guests stand and wave? Open tourer it is.

Now we’re getting down to it.  Who makes such a vehicle?  Not Cadillac.  Not Lincoln. Not Chrysler. International Scout?  Too boxy.  One of the best loved open top sport utilities in the postwar period is the Willys Jeepster.  That, folks, is the Commodore’s Choice.  Isn’t this a magnificent example?



The common Jeepster had an economy level of finish, with inexpensive vinyl seats and basic, simple trim.  But even simple can be interpreted with beauty.  Basic lacquer can be replaced with the finest Glausurit urethane finishes.  Basic vinyl seating can be replaced with the finest leathers.  Wilton wool can pad the floor better than tar paper.


It didn't start out that way.  This is what we began with. And it was described as "restored!"



What did we do instead? Try powder coated seat frames, new marine plywood bases and cushions, Connolly leather upholstery and top-grade Wilton carpet. Which seats would you prefer?




Some people would change the engine for a new hot-rodded piece of iron.  But why? This engine was good enough to take American solders to victory all around the world.  Surely a rebuilt version can take a few modern day connoisseurs to the club and back!

This is the famous Go-Devil motor, the engine that earned a reputation as “the motor that won World War II” in the original Jeep.

Here's how it began . . .


And he she is today . . .
1948 Jeepster engine bay with Go Devil engine


You won’t win any drag races in this old Jeepster, and you won’t be running the fast lane on the Interstate, but in a car like this you will have something truly unique.  Like a fine wooden boat, this is a car to treasure for a lifetime.


There’s restoration, and then there’s Restoration.

We started with what was optimistically called "a well restored example."


In the image above expert body man Al Keinath looks at what we're facing.  Three different shades of burgundy on the nose alone. A full quarter-inch of plastic filler in some spots. Rust holes covered in household caulk. A cardboard firewall that's painted car color to hide the crumbling. Chips, bangs, and nothing fits. It takes two hands to shut the door, and a good kick to get it open.  The bottom of the hood has a layer of black goo to hide the imperfections.  And the condition of the undercarriage . . .

But we will make it new again! Better than new, in fact. We'll be finishing this with the level of  craftsmanship you find in a fine wood boat. No corners cut in this job . . 

Reshaping the rear contours

The body work is done on a stand

A thousand little parts to refinish or rebuild

Almost ready for paint

Lots of metal work

The burgundy paint is on!

Painting the gloss black two-tone

Some final welding on the body

The convertible top attachments are handmade wood

Inner panels get painted first, in Glausurit

Fitting the frame for the convertible top


Fitting up the interior

The finished body

Rebuilt engine and transmission ready to install.

The Go-Devil engine goes back in place

Installing new vintage wiring



Summer has arrived, and this 1948 Jeepster is once again . . King of the road . . .




At Robison Service, we started out restoring European classics, many years ago. We were lucky to find patrons who appreciated our work and commissioned more and more. As we grew, people asked for higher and higher standards of workmanship.  I wasn't surprised - after all, we worked on some of the finest cars in the world.  Mercedes-Benz, Bentley, and Rolls Royce. Then people said, "Can you do that level of work on my father's old Willys?" And of course we can.  And we did.  These are the cars America grew up with and loved, interpreted in a whole new way.  You may have seen Jeepsters, but I guarantee you've never seen one like this!

The greatest thing about these projects is that each one is totally unique. I'm proud to call them expressions of the auto restorer's art; translating our client's visions into drivable pieces of sculpture..


John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent restoration and Bosch Authorized Car Service specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Porsche, and Rolls Royce Owner's Clubs, and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665






No comments: