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1985-1992 Pics of My First jeep

• CATEGORIES: Features, Old Images Jeeping This site contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated.

I’ve been going through old photos, from both my collection and my parents, to discard the ones that will mean nothing to anyone else (and save my kids from having to throw them out later). Among the photos were some of these early pics of my first jeep, which I eventually called the “Great Escape”.

I started building it when I was 20, a rig for racing, street, and trail. It was built on a part-time cook’s salary, so most everything was hand-me-down parts or hand built parts (example: the spring-shock plates were hand-saw cut from very old railroad-tie plates similar this. Why? Because it was steel we had laying around the garage. The ones we had were about a half-inch thick.

The earliest build pics:

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Together and running with the original, used, mini-terra tires (also marketed as mini-terror tires):


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Testing in our pasture:

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Some other details: Buick V-6 225 semi-built engine with (eventually) a 4-barrel 390 carb. It had a T-15 transmission, Dana 20 TC with Dana 18 gears (with the Bronco tc gear added). Dana 30 in the front. Dana 44 mail jeep rear (had posi in the rear) with spacers so that 1972-1975 Dana 44 CJ-5 rear axles could be used. The body is a light fiberglass body that was first used as a desert racer in the late 1970s, before sitting outside for six years. The frame was from an M-38a1. The roll cage came with that body, to which I added some strength. The rear springs were from a Pinto station wagon and were outboarded. The front springs were from a wrangler(?) and had reversed shackles. The gas tank was from a 1960s mail jeep I believe.

The pics were taken at the Oregon Coast sand dunes in the summer of 1985 with a few folks from the Wandering Willys Jeep Club, to which I belonged at the time. By this time, I had gathered the money I needed to upgrade to brand new Desert Dog tires and rims; those tires were definitely an upgrade.


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That’s me standing just behind Otis (the blue jeep):


During August of 1985 I raced at Summer Convention. The only photo I have, which shows me after a cross-country race full of mud, was taken by a stranger, who entered it into a county fair competition in Snohomish County. Friends saw the pic and obtained a copy for me.


In September of 1986, me and a friend drove the jeep from San Juan Island to the Beverly Sand Dunes via the Naches Pass (a trip I detail in my first book, Finding Virginia). This first pic shows the beginning of the Naches Trail (as of 1986):


Stuck in a mud hole. It looks some winching to get us out of there!


To get out using the winch and keep the battery from dying, I had to power the engine and wheels. The result was a mess, as the picture shows. Of course, all of our stuff was on the back of the jeep, which got caked in mud.


At some point on the trip I broke the fender (that’s a long story detailed in the book); you can just see my right hand pressing it down. I also broke the grille:


Our campsite at the Beverly Sand Dunes in Eastern Washington:


This pic, also from the sand dunes, shows the grille damage:


This next pic shows some random location in Eastern Washington the next day. You can see I cobbled together the grille; the broken parts didn’t stop us:


We hit CDA about 4pm later that day, then turned around and headed back to Western Washington. The drive over highway 2 pass at 2AM in the morning was cold and dark (no heater and poor head lights). However, we did make the 6am in Anacortes for our trip back to San Juan Island (I had to work later that day).

In mid-October, the season at Roche Harbor ended. My buddy Cullen and I drove to my parents house where I did a quick remake of the jeep. I repaired the fender, replaced the grille, added a top, and repainted the outside during the course of about a week. Then, we hit the road for a journey east. Without a heater, it was a cold drive at times. I remember the windshield fogging up while driving north to Bellingham, which made the highway drive more difficult. This pic below shows waking up at a buddy’s place in Bellingham.1986-blue-jeep-great-escape-bellingham

Here’s my great aunt and uncle in Orville, WA, where we stayed a week. Not only did I have to repair my jeep, but I also fixed his stock, circa 1957 CJ-5 (Oh, I wish I had gotten that). I got it running and drove it a bit (no pics of that left).


From there we drove to CDA. Cullen would fly down to Oregon, while I drove south to Wash State Univ to visit a friend, before turning west to drive through southwest Washington. In this pic, I am lost. None of these roads were on my map. So, I used the sun to estimate where to go, as, I was heading to western Oregon:


At some point, I overheated. This wasn’t an uncommon event. I let it cool, then was back on my way.

1986-blue-jeep-great-escape-east-wash3I ended the trip at the Oregon Dunes (I used to have a few pics of that, but don’t know where they went), then drove back to my parents in Renton.

The next spring, I went back up to work at Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands. In tow, was a Hobie Cat that I bought and repaired. That would lead to another adventure later that summer.


Here’s where I parked the jeep and my camper during the summer of 1987 just up the hill from Roche Harbor (sadly, an area now full of houses):


That summer, fate dealt a cruel blow. While my buddy was driving the jeep, something happened that caused the engine to drive a rod through the side of the engine:


Without time or a place to work on it, the jeep sat for the remainder of the summer of 1987 (having met a girl didn’t help, as I had even less time). During the winter of 1987 I replaced the engine with a Buick 231, but it never had the same power. Moreover, the girl and college loomed, sealing the doom of my jeep-life. It spent the next five years mostly parked under this lean-to.


In 1992, I sold it to pay for a move to Wisconsin.

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Of course, I thought I’d get back into the jeep world after college. Life had other plans. It wasn’t until 2007 that I bought another jeep. By then, the jeep world had changed quite a bit. Those changes, plus my own life changes, led to the formation of eWillys.


6 Comments on “1985-1992 Pics of My First jeep

  1. Mike

    Some great memories here, and most of all, I must say, quite an ambitious project for a twenty year old. As we all age, (myself included) we long for the “good old days” when we had the energy and physical strength to tackle such projects. Back to the future…

  2. David Eilers Post author

    Mike … I just didn’t know any better, lol. Some of my other jeep friends were also building jeeps, while other friends were going to college. I decided that college wasn’t quite right for me, so I followed my own path (to the dismay of my parents I think). Oh well.

    Steve … thanks. I realized I never told the story on eWillys quite that way.

  3. John

    Fun to read about my neighborhood (Eastern Washington…shoulda moved to Idaho 🙂 ).

    Hopefully, I’ll take my M38A1 to CdA for lunch this summer.
    Don’t know if I should go I-90 or the “back way” through Rathrum.

  4. Allan J. Knepper

    Dave…..wasn’t it great to be young and full of energy and dreams ! As an old man…….I got worn out just reading all about your exploits (which I had previously in your book). Great story and great background on our present conversations on ewillys.

    Thanks again

  5. Peter

    Hello: Appreciated the story of sincerity for famy lose.. Reading your story is kinda inspiring to when Purchased my 1st Willy’s at 14yrs of age second at 16 both were 46 CJ 2A was said by Dorey’s Jeep Belchertown, MA, a super low serial number.. Fortunately have moved on will not be going back to my Hometown ever..I’ll locate another 46 think want original as possible MB would be nice to have..Thanks for your time and quick happy memory when wasn’t many however must learn we’re still alive and to move on thankful were realatively safe..Have a super day !

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