We find out what makes these trucks so collectable while we Explore Charlie's perfect workshop.
The rules are writing themselves. Find something that’s worth ten a penny and in a few years you’ll have something that is really quite special, in more ways than one. Charlie Rowland’s Jeep is one of those Americanisms that was a common sight for years over the pond. Over here it’s a different story. “They’re just unusual, nobody knows what they are. They phased them out in the early nineties - going for peanuts in the states.” Now with three Jeeps in this collection Charlie is a certified mail truck nut. “Once I started I just got into ‘em.”
The design modifications on the Mail Jeep are convenient improvements ready for life in drizzly old Blighty. There's the roof for starters, not standard on the old CJs and the sliding doors; great for busy cities. The most convenient modification is its right hand drive conversion. This was standard for the mail service Jeeps in the US because it meant being able to get out straight onto the pavement. “It's very logical really, especially in America when you’ve got the mailboxes at the end of the drives.” Charlie pointed out there would usually be a mail tray where the passenger seat is. In the back there’s a collection of old jiffy bags, it’s even got the original driver warning stickers on the dash; “The middle one’s the best one - that it might fall over if you go round corners.”
Charlie explained that two of his Jeeps were in a workshop in town so we decided to head down and take a peek. We jumped in the Jeep (Tom D drew the short straw and got bundled in the back) as we trundled down the road. We wondered aloud what the performance of the 2.5 litre four cylinder petrol engine was like. Charlie planted his foot and with a firm kickback the Jeep surged forward confidently. It’s got more power than you would expect. "It’s light, it bounces around - the suspension’s quite hard but this one drives nearer to a car than the others do. They’re pretty useless though, the back’s not really big enough to get anything in.”
After just a short drive into town, down a few sleepy industrial streets with their peeling paint we arrived at an interesting yard space. Unlocking the door in the large red fronted shutters we were greeted with the rear end of a Morris Minor Traveller. Stepping inside revealed a workshop with enough tools and spare parts needed to spend hours, days and weeks on a motoring 'lock-in' at the mercy of your need to tinker.
The workshop or ‘Old Fart’s Garage’ (as printed on the door) is a shared space between Charlie and a few other members of the Bexhill 100 club - Bexhill’s answer to classic cars. It’s a brilliant solution to have access to a workshop with enough space to store and maintain a fleet of classics worthy of flying the flag of the Bexhill 100. “Any of the club are welcome to sort of pop in and have a coffee.”
Upstairs the goodies continue. There are shelves and shelves of parts, a sewing machine for re-trimming and enough spares to last the lifetime of any classic. This garage is more than a storage unit though. It’s not just somewhere for a caffeine fuelled rush to prepare for the next season of shows, it’s a hub. A home for the Bexhill 100 chaps to keep their pride and joys in top condition, but most importantly have a great time doing it. I’ve heard it said that these shared garages are an American thing - there need to be more of them over here!
Charlie is the sort of classic owner that requires a space to work on his cars. His attitude is a lesson in going about things properly; committing to a concept with your friends and making it work. Charlie would describe the place as messy but really, it’s heaven.
How it started
There's a story behind Charlie's collection. Currently owning three Jeeps, all originally based on the Mail conversion, it’s hard to deny there’s something in the water. “I love oddballs, I just love oddballs.”
It all started with a 3.7 litre straight-six version of the Jeep Charlie loves today. “One look and I was smitten, the little 1973 Jeep was still wearing it’s US mail livery.”
“I’m big on impulse buys. I just used it as a daily driver. The straight six was a little bit juicy but there you go.” After the gearbox fell off (somehow) Charlie laid it up, returning after a few years to find it had totally rotted away. Buying the red CJ conversion for £100, Charlie then got hold of one of Jeep’s Diesel prototypes from 1978. “The serial number on that blue one - It's got no year code, no engine code, no build code, it’s just the 460th chassis they built on that series.” Jeep didn’t pursue the Diesel power-plant in the end, the effort involved in marrying it up to the auto gearbox was too expensive. After the prototype was used as a runaround by Perkins before being dumped in a field, Charlie embarked on his first restoration project. Now finished, Charlie isn't unaware of its value; "I was talking to the guy I get bits from and he reckoned it would be a minimum of £5000 dollars upwards to the right collector."
This white US Mail companion is Charlie’s latest Jeep. After starting with the red CJ conversion and wanting to put the work into the blue diesel prototype, Charlie wanted to find a body good enough to replace the one on the prototype. Finally collecting it from a reluctant seller, “It was just too good to break. so just gave it a touch of paint and re-did the decals on it” - taking it back to US Mail livery.
I suppose the message with all this is: drive what you love, whether its collecting or restoring, but most importantly it's better when you club together with your friends because a garage like Charlie's is more than ideal for any classic lover.