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New life for vintage Jeeps

Markus Schneider, owner and operator of Willys Acres in the Horseshoe Valley, restores and rebuilds World War II vintage Jeeps for collectors who are happy to pay $25,000 for a vehicle that looks like it just came off the assembly line in 1944.

  • Jeep Restore

When a Jeep appears on screen, the battle is on.

General Omar Bradley (played by Karl Malden) arrives by Jeep to tell General Patton (George C. Scott) there’s no more gasoline for his tanks. When the television series M.A.S.H. was filmed in the hills of Los Angeles County, Jeeps made the make-believe army camp seem real. Even the movie version of The English Patient, that addled WW II romance, brings on the Jeeps.

Willys Acres, a business in the Horsehoe Valley owned and operated by Markus Schneider, has the original item.  Professional restoration and parts for your older Jeep his website puts it.

It was a hobby, recalls Schneider, who was born in Germany in 1967 and came to Canada as an 18-year-old, working as a sheet metal technician in Barrie. He did one Jeep, and friends would show up and ask, Can you make me one, can you make me one?

Schneider has all the makings. He takes me into a storage hangar where corroded Jeeps are stacked up ready to donate their parts, and crates of new Jeep bodies (manufactured in the Philippines) await a replicated chassis.

New life for vintage Jeeps

The only thing you need that is original is the drive line the engine, the transmission, axles, steering, and so on, he says. In the workshop, he shows me a rolling chassis, a body in red primer, a partly assembled vehicle and the finished product: a WW II Jeep with American insignia, complete with gas can and digging tools and that can-do attitude.

Jeeps have been manufactured since World War II for both military and civilian uses. (The present Jeep marque the most valuable automobile trademark in the world, many experts believe is owned by Chrysler.) Ninety per cent of Schneider’s customers want a World War II vintage Jeep. However, they are happy to pay $25,000 for one restored or practically built from scratch that looks like it just came off the Willys assembly line in 1944.

Most of those customers are baby boomers, keen to have a Jeep to complement their cottage, and, in one case, to display in a family rec room during the winter. Some of them have 50-calibre machine guns on the Jeep, and they decorate them with helmets, Schneider remarks. It’s an oversized toy, that’s really what it is.

The Jeep design is a classic, a perfect marriage of function and elegance. In 1951, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City displayed the Jeep as one of eight vehicles representing the best in automotive design.

Not that good looks mattered to the original manufacturers, Ford and Willys-Overland, who turned out 640,000 of these vehicles during the war. The simple, tough, versatile four-wheel drive warhorse had many uses: field ambulance, tractor, staff car, gun platform, press car, to name a few. (General Eisenhower listed the Jeep, along with the bazooka, the DC-3 airplane and the atom bomb, as one of the four decisive weapons in the Allied victory.)

We get invited to car shows with Jeeps that could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, displayed by the side of cars that go for a million dollars,” Schneider comments. The Jeep is one of the most recognized vehicles in the world.

You talk to a little Chinese girl, say, and she knows what the Jeep is. You ask her about a Packard, she wouldn’t have a clue. You don’t have to explain a Jeep to anybody.

And it does’t even have to be in the most polished condition. It can still have mud on it, scratches you don’t have to shine and show.

Baby boomers who want a Jeep may have one problem with its classic design, however.

My first question if somebody calls me is “What is your body size? “ Schneider says. They’ll say, “Why do you want that for?” Well, for two things. Body size means you can fit behind the wheel of a Jeep, or it means that you can’t fit behind the wheel.

World War II Jeeps were not designed for wearers of elastic-waist pants. Hefty drivers should opt for post-1945 models, which do offer more space in the front seat. Schneider has an example in his barn, a beautifully restored Jeep that served the Canadian army during the Korean War.

In 1997 Schneider, his wife Sonja and their two sons, now teenagers, moved from Barrie to their present 11-acre home, which allowed room not only for the 20 or so Jeeps on the property but space for the boys to drive the vehicles — the oldest, Ralf, now 16, learned to handle a Jeep as an 8-year-old.

There was also space for their horses. The Schneiders currently own three Trahkeners, a German breed noted for their high performance in equestrian disciplines.

The family are keen re-enactors. When it comes time to repel the American invaders once again, Markus and his sons ride the horses as members of the 19th Light Dragoons, the only British cavalry unit to see action in the War of 1812.

When it comes to scaring hell out of the other guys, however, it’s hard to beat a tank, however. In a re-enactment earlier this year, Ralf drove the StuG3, a replica of the German motorized gun, while his father acted as crew commander.

My dad told me where to go left, right, straight ahead, Ralf recalls. We came under fire from an anti-tank gun, and got taken out of action. We waited 15 minutes to be reborn and went back into action.” On the second go-around, it was the anti-tank guns turn to be taken out by the tanks machine gun.

I like World War II because it involves all the vehicles we built and puts them in their natural habitat, Schneider says, sitting in his office, where models of World War II German Tiger tanks stand in a corner, surrounded by scale model soldiers and trees.

For Schneider, restoration is more than a business. His skills serve a recreational world in which World War II veterans from both sides of the war are distinguished guests and the Jeep, that outsized toy, once again rolls into the thick of battle minus the live ammunition.

If you hanker for old military vehicles, including the Jeep, check out the website of the Ontario Military Vehicle Association 

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