Barn Find: Yes, its an impossibly romantic notion best appreciated from the wrong side of a pair of rose-tinted spectacles. It helps, of course, if you like barns and you like finding stuff. And I really like both. I also really like WWII Jeeps and I believe that today, I found one. In a barn. I should say straight away that I haven’t yet closed a deal on the thing and no doubt my leaping up and down about it on here will hardly help my negotiating position. But if nothing else, it has already provided a day of thrilling discovery and anorak-ey bliss for me.
The journey to the barn in question took only an hour or so but it felt, inevitably, like twelve and I arrived a frothy, quivering mess of childish anticipation. Still nothing had been revealed to me of what lay in there and in an effort to manage my own expectations, I had worked hard to convince myself that I was travelling to a remote barn to unearth an old lawnmower. But still there was a part of me, the childish, optimistic part of me, thinking, ‘What if….?”. Gloriously damp, country weather helped put me in the mood and and standing before an appropriately bramble-clad barn bulging with junk wound me back up to a frenzy of anticipation.
Our guide asked if I wanted to clamber into the barn and have a look. I didn’t need asking twice. Inside I found a pile of junk. A huge, towering pile of junk, much of which looked as though it might just be holding up the roof of the barn. But at the back of it I saw what could only be the rear quarter of a WWII Jeep. And I laughed a lot. Mindy was outside and knows that a WWII Jeep has long been on my list of potential prey. She knew what she was doing when she took me to see it.
And then the archaeology began. We dug through layers of junk like the strata in the soil above a dinosaur fossil. Amongst the files and papers and boxes of assorted rubber hoses, distributor leads and unidentifiable detritus we unearthed a board full of different rotor arms, a box of Weber carb rebuild kits, another box full of oil filters, a disassembled compressor, a Ferodo Brake Testing Meter and an old ammo box full of light-fittings. If a deal can be done, I shall return to properly document and catalogue the various strata of stuff to build up a picture of the Jeep’s time in its lonely sarcophagus.
As we dug, my head was buzzing with one, simple question: “Condition?” And as more of it was revealed, it seemed the answer was at least not going to be, “Beyond recovery". What I could see of the chassis was made of metal more than rust; the tinwork too, looks promising if not exactly shiny. This might be because whilst underneath the towering pile of tat it had been stored under plastic sheeting and underneath that was a layer of paper feed bags which maybe wicked the water away.
We dug our way to the floor of the tub. It took our weight. Good sign. The cover on the driver’s seat is intact and the instruments all present. The passenger seat might be in excellent condition, but it's not with the car and neither is there any sign of it having been fitted. Clambering past the windscreen frame to the front of it I stood on an old oil drum and looked into the engine bay. A small rat made a fleeting appearance on a beam above me at this point and the chaps had a bit of a snigger. The engine though, looked far from being a joke. It was pretty clean. I dipped it and the oil looked better than I’ve seen in daily runners. There was no water in the radiator but that’s hardly surprising. I grabbed hold of the fan and turned it. All the pulleys turned with it. ‘Blood hell, it’s turning over!” My archaeological colleagues nodded. "Or all the conrods have snapped". Yes, it did feel a bit light to turn over but I’m guessing compression was pretty low and maybe the rings have stuck in the barrels.
Had I known what I was going there to find I would, of course, have spent the previous evening making sure I turned up armed with locations of serial numbers and how to decode them. This was like turning up on Mastermind and only discovering your Specialist Subject as you sat in the black chair. I got in a tizz, failed to find the engine number or the frame number and instead, took a completely crap photo of the data plates on the glovebox door.
As far as I can tell from the shonky image, it is a Ford GPW and I’m going to stick my neck out and say it’s from 1942 – the first year of serious production for the Ford version of the almost identical Willys. The Date of Delivery stamp is barely visible on my picture but looks like 1942 to me and the serial number falls between 1 and 90-odd thousand, which would confirm it. Word of mouth research suggested it is of wartime vintage and that it spent some time on an airfield and carries the legend ‘Smokey Joe’ on the rear tub. Sadly, the decades of accumulated gubbins piled around it made it impossible to verify the existence of the slogan, or even of much of the rear of the car itself, but from the state of it elsewhere, I’d say we’re in with a good shout that there’s metal down there, at least.
I don’t want to steal it for a song: I’ll be happy to hand over its actual value and if we can do a deal to our mutual satisfaction, I shall be returning to prise the pearl from the shell and then document the doubtless lengthy and unexpectedly expensive process of restoration here on DRIVETRIBE. More news will follow. And now I’m spent, drained and burned out after my day of Barn Finding.