The 22nd Annual Spring Midwest Willys Jeep Reunion and Swap Meet will be May 16-18 at the Clarion Inn and Conference Center at 6625 Dean Memorial Parkway, Hudson. Published author and Willys America owner Paul Barry will be the guest speaker at the Saturday night banquet.
The Willys Jeep Reunion traditionally happens twice a year, in the fall and spring, but this year there will also be a summer reunion. The spring reunion and swap meet this year will have tech events, vendors and 70 to 80 classic Jeeps from 1941 to the present day with an emphasis on Willys Jeeps from 1945 to 1965. The topic this spring is Public Service Jeeps, a hidden treasure in Jeep's history which few today are known exist. On this subject, Barry is uniquely qualified to speak.
This reunion will be the third Barry has spoken at, though he has been attending them as a vendor almost since the beginning.
"Willys America has been involved with the Willys reunion since the second one they ever held - over 20 years ago," he said.
Barry himself has been in the business of Willys Jeep restoration for 37 years.
When he was young, Barry fell in love with the uniqueness of the Jeep brand as he worked on his friends' Jeeps. He purchased a fixer-upper of his own and began tuning and tweaking it, collecting additional vehicles for parts as he went.
"The next thing you know, I had about five of them in my yard," Barry said.
Paul was a certified mechanic and pretty soon the Jeep owners in his town began approaching him for repairs on their vehicles. That was the '70s and many of what we consider classic Jeeps were daily drivers then. The problem was, the dealerships were one of the only places who could do repairs on the vehicles - and that's how Paul's business began to bloom.
Willys America began in Southern California but is now located in Cazadero.
"We do heirloom restorations of an American icon," says Paul. Willys America specializes in repairs and restorations of classic Jeeps from 1942 to the 1960s, even doing full "body off frame" work and transforming classics into daily drivers by arming them with modern engines and automatic transmissions. Willys America is also home to a museum of restored public service Jeeps.
"Willys made utility vehicles for nearly every occupation or trade imaginable," Barry said. The list is seemingly endless and includes the traditional hunting and off-roading Jeeps known today as well as fire engines, ambulances, tow trucks and more.
Many of the classic public service Jeeps followed a similar style to the beloved Jeeps of today - round headlights, trademark grill pattern, prominent Jeep bumpers and boxy body, but they also had some unexpected twists. "Jeeps back then might have had saws or farm equipment attached to the back," says Reunion President Bob Christy.
Paul has owned several hundred Willys Jeeps in his time and his knowledge of public service Jeeps is unsurpassed. He is excited to be speaking on the topic at the Willys Jeep spring reunion, which brings together hundreds of collectors and enthusiasts alike each year.
Sponsors like 4 Wheel Parts, multiple vendors and enthusiasts like Bob and Paul work together to keep the unique Jeep history alive and well. As Paul says, "We're trying to keep this near-orphan car from falling into extinction."
Rachel Bowes is a copywriter with 4WD
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Willys America: http://www.willysamerica.com/