Remarkable 1959 Willys Jeep Reunion

by Anthony Perera
(Hamilton, New Zealand)

This story is about my father's beloved 1959 Willys CJ5.

This Jeep has some history and a fantastic story behind it. It all started when it got imported from the U.S.A in December 1959 by the Department of Forest Conservation in Ceylon as Sri Lanka was then known. It reached Sri Lanka in 1960 January and immediately started government service in the Forest Conservation Department.

In 1978 almost two decades later having been subject to use and abuse in the Forest Conservation Department, it was auctioned off to a guy in Homagama in Sri Lanka who then sold it on to a guy doing tourism in Negombo who used it to take tourists on sightseeing excursions. He operated it on open papers (not registered into his name legally).

At around that time, my Dad (at the time was 17 in 1985) was looking for either a Mini or any 4WD Jeep. My Dad and Grandad went searching all over, but the problem was that they were either too expensive or not to my Dad's taste. Then one afternoon, they got a phone call from a guy whom they had told to call my Grandad if there was a good jeep out there. Grandad got told there was one in Negombo, which was cheap but needed work.

They immediately went, and found the jeep of their need. There was work to do though. The petrol tank cap was lost so it had been replaced with a plastic brake oil bottle cut in half, and the 4 wheel drive shaft had been removed to improve performance, etc. But it was running and considered roadworthy (Sri Lankan standards!).

Even though spewing oil at every oil seal one could imagine, and the running gear accompanied by humming in the differentials and gearboxes, the engine was amazingly purring away perfectly.

After a bit of haggling and negotiating it was bought for Rs/12,500. As soon as the Willys got home after the maiden run it almost caught fire due to a electric short circuit in the chronically deteriorated original wiring. So as a matter of priority it was time to have it mechanically (oil seals and transmission) and electrically attended to.

After a few years in 1987, even the paint work and upholstery were spruced up to the taste of my father who was in high school and rather rebellious then! School Big Matches, Cycle Parades, etc.

A little more than a decade later in 2001, I came into life and my Dad moved to another house where me and my family were living. We had four cars over there: 1988 Mitsubishi Lancer Station Wagon GLX (1 owner car which we still have), 1959 Willys CJ5, 1990 Maruti 800 and a 1990 Toyota Townace 4WD. We eventually ended up moving to New Zealand selling 2 of the 4. The Mitsi and CJ5 remained due to sentimental reasons.

With our moving to New Zealand in 2005, my Grandad decided to move the Willys up into the hill country where our tea estate was, saying it was a 'tourist
attraction'. My Dad was furious, as he had it for 20 years at our house and now it had been taken up into the hands of the caretaker at the estate, who was a guy who had no idea of how valuable a classic jeep such as this was.

Eventually in 2007 my Grandad had the Willys sold to some guy living in Hatton (near our estate in the hills). The Willys by then had been rather run down due to inadequate maintenance and severe deprivation of that most essential TLC. My Dad was devastated and outraged to say the least.

We knew the next time we saw the Willys (if we were lucky enough), it would very likely be fitted with a diesel Japanese engine, because all the CJ5s in Sri Lanka are either scrap metal or have been refitted with diesel engines and severely modified in various ways which needless to say spoils originality.

Ours at the time we owned it, was a rare sight with the original petrol engine and running gear. So whoever got there hands on it would very likely first throw in a diesel engine for 'fuel economy'.

We moved back to Sri Lanka in 2011, when my Dad got a phone call from our former mechanic, who did the restoration work on the jeep way back in 1985. He had said his boss whom he was now working for, had our jeep and that it was still in original condition, at his workshop. Doubtful, we went over to check it out.

Voila! It was indeed our old pal, the Willys! It was awesome! He had changed the color from black to beige and it looked fabulous. The new owner said that he had checked with the RMV (the authorities) to find out how many of these original CJ5s remain. To our surprise they said none but this one.

He also said it changed owners twice since we owned it, and surprisingly with none of them changing the engine (or even selling it for scrap iron). What was even more surprising was how it came back to be acquainted with us after 4 years and two owners. Remarkable to say the least.

All of this was good for us. A never to be missed chance to get our dear old pal back into the family. So my Dad asked the new owner if he would sell it back. He then said he bought it with no intention of selling it but then went onto a solemn, "How can I refuse you?" after we told him the stories and adventures my father and the Willys had together for 20+ years. My father in fact had gone for his driving license test in 1986 in the Willys. Needless to say the new owner gave in and sold it back to us.

It was a remarkable reunion, the jeep is back as one of the family now, and it will never, ever change hands again!

Editor's Comment: Great story, Anthony. Nice CJ5 and something to be very proud of.

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