As a young boy, there were many things that caught my eyes that I wanted to have. I always wanted a boat, a nice house, and a nice vehicle to drive around that was built exactly how I wanted it. I always was considered the odd kid out because I was the only one in my class who when we would talk about dream cars, I would bring up a truck. Everyone else would want Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and cars alike. I was the only kid in my class who genuinely wanted a truck.
Come about 3rd grade, my parents bought an old 1980 Jeep CJ. It was real old, barely started, and winced at every bounce and curve in the road. The doors were falling off, the rear windshield was cracked, and the only thing holding the top on was the friction between the fiberglass body and the foam on the bottom of the hardtop. The seats were falling apart, and when you pulled the headlight switch, only one light came on. It was my dream car.
My dad would drive us to practice in the thing, and would take us to school in it, and I wanted nothing more than to someday drive it myself. All of it’s little bumps and bruises are what made the jeep awesome in my mind. There was a tarp out in the back, under it the jeep stayed for years as I grew in age and matured. I hadn’t heard it run in years. Only thing I had to go off of were fading memories of the fun times my father, brother and I had in it. From driving through the woods in Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, to driving it all the way back 2 hours with no top, doors, or shocks doing 75 miles an hour on the highway. True story. The Jeep was never meant for marathon highway drives. The geometry of the vehicle, the years on the suspension springs, and the bald tires were not fit for a highway. Hell it didn’t even have legal mirrors. Better believe that my dad didn’t give a damn. He hopped in that thing, picked up a side view mirror at Pep Boys, drilled it into to the side, and took off with me in the passenger seat. It’s memories like that which were still hanging around in my head, and I wanted nothing more but to be able to add more to that little box of memories from the old white jeep.
The time came around for young Jackson to get to driving himself around, and to start looking at a means for transportation other than his two parents. My first thoughts, thanks to the time passed were to find me a truck as close to as new as possible, and for as cheap as possible. I was looking at F-150s, Rams, and the like. All had the same couple qualities; rust on the fenders, a banged up frame, and a torn up interior. All of them had a lot of miles, but all of them would serve the purpose that I needed, transportation and load capacity. I never came to a decision, because none were “perfect” enough to me. No truck we looked at had the perfect, spotless paintjob. None had that perfect Cadillac glide that is often desired in a vehicle. None of the engines ran perfectly. Time passed, and then one day I was walking back from the shed out back, and I looked at that torn up grey tarp. It reminded me of the white jeep, and all the fun times that I had in it, and how “perfect” life was at the time that thing was still around.
With some help from my pops, we peeled the tarp off, front to back. The first thing we saw was the classic jeep grill, with two headlights and 7 slits in the black sheet metal. The paint has faded over time. Then comes the big flat white hood, then the cracked glass with the 2003 inspection still hanging on. We get the tarp off of where the roof would be, and the sun fills the cab and exposes all of the results of time and no care. There were leaves, spider webs, spiders, dirt, and all the rest. First thing I asked my dad “Let me fix it up”. His response? “Hell no”. This didn’t stop me.
The very next hour, he was in the kitchen cooking up some good dinner. I pulled it into the garage, and got to cleaning it and stripping it down. I vacuumed every little crevice, pulled each seat out, and the roll bar. Now picture this; my dad comes out to the garage to grab something out of the other fridge. He came out that day to his jeep not out in the backyard where it used to be, but parts of it in the garage, back yard, and in the garbage. “What the hell is going on, its 9:30 at night!” were the first words out of his mouth. I got to my explaining, and told him my grand plan. I was going to take that jeep, that has been neglected for years, and restore not only it’s road worthiness, but also the structural integrity of the vehicle.
Even after I presented my grand plan, he had nothing but his doubts. He and I both knew I never worked on a car, and that I left for college soon. His doubts were very reasonable, but somehow to get crazy things done you have to think a little crazy. I believed in myself, and somehow, I got him to believe me.
This event started a 9 month process in which me, by myself stripped the jeep down to a bare frame, rebuilt the frame, suspension, drivetrain, front and rear axles, and steering linkage. I installed new springs and shocks all around, along with new bushings to give it a smoother ride. I put in nice brand new seats and seatbelts, and a whole new dash. The engine was rebuilt, and was ready to run the Daytona. Took it nice and slow, made sure I was doing everything right. Took it one part at a time, one wire at a time, and one bolt at a time.
The time came for me to finally pull that bad boy out of the garage, and man was I excited. The last decade I always wanted a custom built car, and here I am and I am sitting in the driver’s seat of it. I put the key in the ignition, and turned it. The engine started up. At that moment, I swear to god I felt like Richard Petty. I pulled out of the garage, and got on the street.
I drove down to the corner store, and man let me tell you. It drove like shit. You could feel everything in the road, and the engine stalled at a red light. I slammed the transmission in neutral, and coasted that intersection out. Got through the intersection, pulled into a stranger’s driveway, cranked it again. Started right back up, and gave me that lovely backfire of a Bowtie 350 with open headers. The blood was coursing through my veins as I pulled out of the stranger’s driveway as they came out on their patio wondering if that was someone drag racing down Paramus Road. The looks I got sitting at red lights from fellow drivers was a great part of that first drive. I could see the disgust in the face of that mom sitting in the blue early model Prius. I just laughed.
I drove around, and continued to have little tiny issues, like gauges not working, or the vehicle steering more to one side than the other. I decided to conclude my joyride, and turned back home. I got back on the 2nd avenue drag, and hammered it down the street. I’m talking Earnhardt style, downshift, tires spin, throw you damn near out the seat as you rolled on by the 2nd avenue suburb. Slammed on the breaks, because doing that would make it stop as if you were easing on the breaks in a regular car. Pulled up in the driveway and unbuckled myself and got out. As I stepped down, I realized that I finally had the perfect vehicle. While it may not have all the new bells and whistles, it made me happier than a fat kid in a candy shop. I set myself a goal, and achieved the goal. I was proud, full of joy, accomplished, and happy. Nothing in the world can top that.
When you take on and complete a project with the certain magnitude of restoring a vehicle, you are left with two results; a new vehicle, and a new sense of personal satisfaction and confidence. The amount of head scratching, cussing, and dropping shit on your fingers and toes that you will be enduring while restoring a vintage vehicle is enough to fill at least 2 decades of normal life; but when you finish it, every little bit was worth it. This year long experience, filled with many small victories and defeats, has prepared me more than anything for the long life ahead of me that I plan to live.