Welcome to wheels, Gregory. How did your passion for motoring begin…
I started driving as soon as my feet could reach the pedals and have not stopped ever since. As soon as I passed my driver’s test I bought a 998cc Morris Mini Cooper for £120 as a student in the UK and I travelled all over Europe in it. I was shocked to find one day that it was stolen from outside my residence, but by then my budget was healthier and I went on and replaced it with a 1,275cc Mini Cooper S MKIII.
I love the freedom driving provides and I like the sensation controlling a car gives me when I am driving it.
Now you own a couple of real gems; how did you find your 1943 Ford GPW, a military workhorse designed for World War II to move troops, help the wounded and so much more?
I was always attracted by the classic lines of the WWII jeep, its minimalist simplicity combined with its tremendous capabilities and reliability. I was scouring the specialist sites and publications for the right vehicle worldwide, but as luck had it I found this particular one in Abu Dhabi! It was owned by the estate of a government official and was kept in a warehouse. As soon as I saw it there was no turning back — I had to have it. My persistence finally made me the proud owner of this piece of motoring history.
Was it used by any high ranking officials or did it see any action during the conflict?
I do not have the full history associated with this jeep at the moment, but I am planning to do the research at some stage based on the serial number, which confirms it to be a “Truck ¼ Ton 4x4” built on the 24th Feb 1943 by the Ford Motor Co. for the US Army.
I believe that after the war it must have found its way to the Greek Army through US Military Aid, as I found some letters and a name carved on the steering wheel in that language and records show that in the Sixties a batch of surplus jeeps were exported from that country to the UK to eventually find homes with collectors worldwide. The previous owner had it restored in what was then Czechoslovakia before bringing it over to the UAE. Quite a journey!
I’ve had it for over four years and it was in good condition both structurally and mechanically when I bought it. The previous restoration work was done to a very high standard and all parts found in the jeep are either original or NOS (New Old Stock). There is still a plentiful supply of original surplus parts as over 600,000 of these vehicles were built by Willys and Ford combined, but reproduction parts are also becoming available as the demand for restored vehicles grows. The only concession to modernity was that its original 6V electrical system was at some stage converted into a 12V system and ironically it is this conversion which gave me the most problems. I spend a lot of time and effort getting the electrics right, but it is now working very well.
The rest of the work involved some minor corrosion repairs, brakes and shock absorbers. I also had to install seat belts and extra mirrors in order to register the jeep in Dubai.
What is it like to drive?
It is great fun to drive especially with the top and the windscreen down which then gives you a feeling that you are not driving in the jeep but on it! In the summer this is only possible after sunset but winter in Dubai is just perfect for this. It is quite easy to drive too — once you realize that there is no power steering, no servo assisted brakes and that the gear stick pattern puts reverse where normally first gear is found in other vehicles.
The suspension is very stiff, the vehicle bounces a lot and the driver’s seat concessions to comfort consist of a cushion on the fuel tank, which is located immediately underneath.
I drive it every other day all year round, alternating daily between the GPW and the M151A2. These vehicles need to be driven regularly otherwise leaving them idle creates problems.
And what is it like off-road after all these years?
It is very light and has amazing off-road capabilities, particularly when you take into account that it is 75 years old. The construction is body tub on a ladder frame. It has rigid live axles, a three-speed selectable 4x4 transmission and a reduction transfer gearbox providing high and low range when in 4x4. It is really the ancestor of the current 4x4 SUVs! The engine is a 2,200cc Willys Go-Devil four-cylinder side valve, giving a nominal 60bhp. Not a lot by today’s standard, but then again the weight of the vehicle is only 950kg. I primarily drive to an off-road spot not far from my home and I get both a little tarmac and a little sand driving all at once. I rarely drive long distances in order to keep the wear and tear down.
I really enjoy owning this jeep — it makes me happy to be able to preserve it and at the same time enjoy a timeless piece of motoring history. Like all things mechanical, it requires regular maintenance and does develop some faults from time to time. I would not call them problems, just reasons to find new things about it and to develop new skills.
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That is a great way of looking at it!
Part of the fun of owning such a vehicle is that you are always fixing something and adjusting something else. For me this is part of the pleasure of having it, giving me as much fun as driving it.
It is such a welcome departure from today’s motoring standards and never fails to put a smile on my face.
We love it, and your 1970 Ford M151A2 — where did you find this one?
I wanted to get an M151A2, the last of the ¼ Ton trucks developed for the US Army, and again, I started looking for one worldwide, but most were cut up for liability reasons. I was looking for one which had no modifications done to it and was not affected by rust and finally found one in Greece. It belonged to a retired colonel who had bought it as surplus from the army when he left the service.
You took a little bit of a chance on this one but it worked out rather well...
That’s right, I bought it sight unseen based on the photographs he sent me and had it shipped by RoRo ship to Dubai. Although I took a chance by not inspecting the vehicle before I bought it, it was in a very good original condition, unrestored but very sound. I have had it now for three years.
It had the longest service history of any jeep type vehicle in the military and was eventually replaced in service by the “Humvee”, no longer a ¼ Ton vehicle and in a totally different weight and operational class. The M151A2 was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in 1970. Ford developed this vehicle and was one of the three manufacturers who produced the vehicle. It uses a unibody construction, there is no separate chassis and this was specified by the US Army in order to keep the weight down (1,070kg), increase space inside the vehicle and provide more ground clearance.
It has all coil sprung independent suspension, with trailing arms at the rear, which were introduced in the M151A2 model in order to improve handling and minimize the risk of flipping over when driven hard, which was an issue with the previous M151 models. The engine is a four-cylinder 2,300cc overhead valve, developing around 70bhp. The gearbox is four-speed with selectable 2 and 4-wheel drive transfer box, but this time there is no high and low selection as the normal first gear is a crawler gear.
It’s fabulous. Did it require any restoration? If so, what have you had done to it?
Apart from replacing a member of the lower unibody, which was dented and had to be refabricated, there was no major structural work required. The major restoration work went to the fuel system, which suffered from rust and the cooling system which was overheating. The seat upholstery was re-done locally as per the original pattern with the correct materials. The correct maintenance markings were stencilled on to the body and the pioneer tools were obtained and installed to the body sides. All lighting units were cleaned from corrosion and restored. As a matter of interest the electrical system is 24V.
Currently a new canvas top set is being fabricated for it in the UK, again with the correct spec materials and as per the original pattern.
It’ll look even better with that. What sort of reaction do these two classics get and what do your family and friends make of them?
The car culture in the UAE is very strong and wherever I go inevitably these vehicles attract attention. I get lots of “thumbs up” when driving around and a lot of questions when parked. People are inevitably surprised to hear that both jeeps are Fords, because the name “Jeep” is associated with Willys in people’s minds.
My family is very supportive because they understand that it is my hobby. They are even tolerant to the fact that two additional vehicles take up space in our carport.
Does the fact neither have doors cause any issues?
Yes, when registering the jeeps with the RTA I had to get exemptions for this along with the “army colour”!
And you have experienced several funny incidents with these jeeps haven’t you...
Plenty — but the one that stands out the most was when I was called to explain to customs and the police why I was importing an axe in Dubai from a military surplus company in the US! An axe was of course part of the standard pioneer tools fit on the jeeps but I must say that in every case the authorities were very supportive and understanding.
What else would you like to add to your collection?
I would like to add a ½ Ton WWII military vehicle and I am seriously considering a Dodge WC51 or WC52. I am casually looking around but if the right vehicle becomes available I will not be able to resist it. Parking may become a more acute problem though!
You can worry about that later! Finally, what is your dream car?
A classic Ford GT40 — this is why it is called a dream car, I can only dream about it!
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