WARNER ROBINS -- A couple of years ago John Swindell bought an old Jeep to use for off-roading, but instead it became his ode to those who served in the military.
He thought it was just an ordinary civilian Jeep CJ-5 when he bought it. It was only after he got it home that he discovered markings that indicated it was a 1952 Willys M38A1 used by the military through Vietnam. One of the few replica parts of it is the mounted gun, which doesn’t actually fire bullets.
Swindell, who lives in Savannah, set out on a yearlong odyssey of scouring the Internet and junkyards for original parts to restore it to exacting detail.
He had the results on display at Saturday’s 22nd annual Wings and Wheels Car, Truck and Motorcycle Show at the Museum of Aviation.
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He has spent $44,000 restoring it, but he said the cost has been worth it. Many veterans get emotional when they see it.
“It’s just a love of what the military has done for us and what they mean to us,” he said, when asked why he restored it. “I was unable to serve so I figure this is a way I can help give back by preserving a piece of the history.”
Swindell said he could have done it much more cheaply if he had used replica parts, but he wanted the real thing as much as possible.
The show, as usual, featured a wide variety of vehicles from some of the earliest models to some of the newest. Some were highly customized while others were restored to nearly the exact original state.
Many owners bring their antique cars to the show on trailers, but Mickey Archer of Nicholson drove his 1936 Chevrolet Master Town sedan 134 miles to the show. He bought it 17 years ago from the niece of the original owner.
She had some other people make offers on it but they all wanted to hot-rod it and she refused to sell. When he told her he wanted to restore it to original condition, she told him it was his before he even made an offer.
Cars, he said, have been his passion all of his life and he has restored others, but the one he had at the show is his favorite.
“This car draws more people than anything else I’ve got,” he said. “A lot of people come up and say, ‘My grandpa had one,’ or ‘My first car was one of these.’”
Some cars at the show demonstrate that one person’s notion of classic may differ from another. It’s not often that people restore a economy car, but that’s what Javier Rivera of Kathleen has done.
He had his 1981 Toyota Starlet on display. The 4-cylinder car, similar in style to a Chevy Chevette, sold new for about $4,500 in 1981. Rivera has put about $20,000 into restoring it, even though its current value is probably only about $13,000.
An Army captain with the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System unit at Robins Air Force Base, Rivera is originally from Puerto Rico. When he was growing up there, the Toyota Starlet was the equivalent of having a Trans Am in the states.
“This was the car you had if you wanted to be cool,” he said.
Another man with a car that was getting a lot of attention, but probably wasn’t considered cool in its day, was Wayne Edwards of Houston County. He had an aqua blue 1955 Studebaker Conestoga station wagon. He said it’s not quite pristine enough to be in the running for a trophy, but he likes bringing it to the show anyway.
“A guy came by (earlier) and said it made him wish he was 7 years old again and about to go on vacation,” Edwards said.
He bought it because it was in good condition cosmetically and only needed some mechanical work, which he has done. With only 3,000 made, and not many people restoring station wagons, it’s a rare sight when he has it on the road.
The car show is a fundraiser for the museum. Paul Hibbitts Sr., the chairman of the show, said sometimes people restoring cars might turn a profit, but more often they don’t. “Most of the time its just the love of your car and the enjoyment of working on your car,” he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.