THE 1959 CJ-5 RESTORE: PART 1

I’ve always wanted an old classic Jeep. Ever since I was a little boy and got my first Matchbox Jeep.  The model has changed throughout the years, it’s been a Scrambler, a CJ and even a Wagoneer, but the idea of bombing around town and trails in a proper classic Jeep has always been a dream.

In Sevierville Tenn, just a couple hours from Nashville was sitting a 1959 CJ-5, the price was right, the engine had just been rebuilt and it was surprisingly free of visible rust and damage, showing no signs of ever having lived a life off-road, it even came already equipped with manually locking hubs. This would be the perfect starting point for me to build the classic Jeep I’d always wanted….

Although it looks good here, the paint was full of deep chips and under the paint, rust eating away at the metal.

I headed down to Nashville to visit my lifelong friend Cullen Marriott, and from there the two of us took off to go meet up with the CJ’s owner, Dan. After thoroughly checking over the Jeep and getting some of its history, as well as documentation on work done to it, and a short test drive we shook hands and swapped paperwork for cash. Getting home to Columbus was a simple matter of finding a good transport and once it was here the fun would begin. Getting the CJ painted, a few upgrades, some small modifications here and there, lighting, winch, new wheels and matching tires and I’d be on the trail.

After it arrived and my Dad and I had a few test drives, as well as a more thorough inspection, it was clear there was a lot more work to be done than first appeared. The engine was rebuilt because of compression loss according to the paperwork, an issue we are still having. The steering components were loose, pedals crooked and wires I hadn’t noticed before were hanging loose. I also found out thanks to Grove Cities finest, that my rear lights stopped working, even though they were hooked up correctly. Thankfully the officers were kind enough not to worry much about it, and truth be told, I think they were more interested in the CJ! I’ve actually been pulled over twice just to talk about the Jeep!

Then there was the paint job. Not a huge concern of mine when buying the CJ, because I’d already planned on painting it a different color. But when I started sanding away some of the divots, I found rust and poorly done Bondo work. When the Jeep was “restored” prior to Dan’s purchasing it, they shop just quickly painted over the old color with some tractor paint. Any chips, divots, rusty or worn spots, were simply painted over. So underneath these spots, there was rust forming in pockets all along the fenders and side. The gas cans were also mounted on the sides, and had been rubbing against the paint, so there was rust eating away the bare metal. None of the gauges worked, so when I drove it around I was shining a flashlight into the tank to check the fuel level… This gets a few laughs at the pumps.

The list goes on, and we’re still finding things as we get into it more. But it was still a great starting platform. The body and frame are solid, the engine runs well and has been completely rebuilt. It’s pretty cool to be driving around talking to other Jeepers with an original engine in a 1959 Jeep. Many do an engine swap and I, for now at least, want to keep this original.

So where do we start? After running around town, we got a better idea of what we needed to address before it was trail worthy. These are things on top of any modification I wanted to make. A few days ago we started pulling it apart, cleaning it up, getting the inside painted first, and working our way out. Getting out all the uncomfortable MilSpec seats, removing the jerry cans and mounts off the sides, so we don’t bang them on every tree on the trail, and getting new seats installed.

Getting the seats installed is tricky, although many say they bolt in, none of them really are in a ’59. The MilSpec seats are cushions and frames all in one. So when you pull the seat, you have no frame and no mount. And frames are $100+ each with no clear idea of which one you need for an old CJ-5. I called up multiple seating companies, no one had any idea which frames were needed for any of their seats. So my Father, being who he is, came up with a workable, and awesome, solution. Build em.

While he’s fabricating seat frames, I’ve been stripping it and cleaning it. Using a Bosche orbital sander with P60 grit paper and a grinder with paint removal wheels, to get down to the bare metal where necessary and clean it up. Where it isn’t essential, I’m just smoothing it out, so the next paint job looks a lot better (we hope). This work has taken the better part of two work days, and we still have work to do. Getting the Bondo work fixed, cleaning out the surface rust, some of it starting to eat away metal, and fabrication is all taking longer than we estimated going into it. But this time, the restoration is being done right. A steady stream of parts are coming in, replacement lighting, new grill bar, old-school light guards and the new seats all have to wait until we get the bodywork done, frames built and installed and the whole thing painted.

It’s going to be a lot of work, but when this Father/Son project is done, we’ll be bombing down the trail is a fully restored and modified 1959 CJ-5 that’ll be the classic Jeep I’ve always wanted. FP

Author: JefPrice

Former this & that. Exploring & Photographing since I was 11. Founder of FieldPhotographer.org

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