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We first met Jerry when he was selling his '71 J4000 on and quickly found out that Jerry not only has a flare for custom but he is also very passionate about his Jeeps. Jerry writes " The 71 J4000 I have for sale on
By Jerry Poenitske
- Edited by Mark Smith,
your site has served me well for the past 5 or 6 years. Anyone who has one of these knows that scrounging for parts can be a challenge at times, particularly here in the Midwest. One of the guys at my local parts store told me about a bone yard outside of town with some old Jeeps. So, I headed out and knocked on the door.
Jerry not only has a flare for custom but he is also very passionate about his Jeeps.
Jerry's '71 J4000
He had a small junk yard behind his house. Mostly British MG’s, drop top caddies and some old trucks. Unfortunately, no FSJ’s but he did have a few Willy’s (an old Aero, 2 Jeeps and a station wagon). It was closing in on dark thirty and he didn’t want to sell anything. A few months passed and I got the thought to put that station wagon on a modern chassis so I went back. He was ready to sell it but it was too far gone after I looked at it more closely. Most everything unfortunately is too far gone having sunk to the floor pans. (Those old caddies would be worth something if it weren’t for that.) Anyway, I saw the old Willy’s Jeeps and he wasn’t ready to let either of them go. He was real partial to the military Jeep but that was like most everything else, sunk to the floor pans and rotting away. He said he had started the CJ every couple years but it hadn’t moved since whatever the plates said (1984). The more we talked, the more interested I got and finally he agreed to sell me the Jeep but I had to take the station wagon also. A package deal for $400.00 After me and a friend got them home, we started looking everything over. The Jeep was a 47 and all original. It still has the 6 volt set up and original wiring.
It never had any body work done to it. The worst part about that old Jeep was that it had sat outside for so long everything was shot under it. The first order of business was to see if we could get it started. There was oil in the crank case and antifreeze in the radiator. Good signs. I called my neighbor who owns his own electrical shop. Larry is the man when it comes to all things electric on any vehicle.
His wiring harnesses are sold all over the country. Between him and couple of my buddies we had that old Jeep running in about 30 minutes! The rest of the story is pretty much the same for anyone who restores a vehicle. I start with getting things mechanically sound. I replaced most of the wiring (left the original stuff to the lights), new springs, brakes, shocks, bushings and tires. I had the transmission and transfer case both rebuilt. . I went through the whole thing and did whatever body work needed to be done myself. The final paint job was done by me with a brush just like grandpa did years ago. The only thing that I’ve not done is pull the motor. That is next because the clutch is starting to slip. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
I have scrounged up a better windshield and the correct seats (another 2 for 1 pasture find). I’m going to keep the original flat head and everything else pretty much the way it was. The best part is that this particular vehicle was owned by one of the fellas at my church so it has stayed in the county all of its life.
The wagon was a whole different story.
The wagon was a whole different story. The thing was shot. I parted it out keeping the window trim, regulators, dash, and steering wheel, anything I might need in the future. The title said it was a 49. I couldn’t let it go because along the line I picked
up a 47 Willy’s pickup. The wagon was simply too far gone except that front end. A tree had landed right on the hood. That was the only real issue with the clip. After sitting in my barn with
lots of thinking fluid, my friend suggested turning it into a BBQ grill like what they did on that movie “Gone in 60 Seconds”. Remember at the end of the movie, they are grilling in the back
of an old car? Anyway, that sealed the deal. I could keep part of my 47 wagon and get some use out of it. That same
like what they did on that movie “Gone in 60 Seconds”.
buddy of mine likes to say that metal has memory. I took the hood off, turned it upside down and walked around on it when the ground was wet. It popped right back into place without a dent or crease! So, we used the heat wrench and cut the frontend off at the A pillar and scrapped the rest of the vehicle. I put the 2 best wheels on the front end and welded the spindles to the sway bar.
The grill tracks fine going down the road. The key to that was pulling it down the drive way as straight as possible. I found a piece of heavy pipe for the tongue. I cut a 55 gallon drum in half and it fit perfectly in the engine cradle. I welded the holes in the firewall shut, welded brackets and added expanded metal across the whole engine compartment. I have 10 bucks in the trailer hitch, and 40 in the stainless steel water reservoir where the radiator should sit. That gives the grill moisture when I’m cooking. A few cans of BBQ spray bomb and some money in more “thinking fluid” completes the total costs of this grill.
I’d still like to build some condiment drawers for the openings in the dash and turn the headlights into working tail lights. I welded a piece of pipe for a patio umbrella also. I kept the ash tray where it was for a cigar while
I can cook up to 25 slabs of ribs at a time, about a 150 hotdogs, 25-30 pork steaks or 50 hamburgers.
grilling. I can cook up to 25 slabs of ribs at a time, about a 150 hotdogs, 25-30 pork steaks or 50 hamburgers. We use it for parties and I’ve pulled it to a local car show with my Jeep. The picture shows it best all hooked up. My sons want to take it to the river and sell hot dogs to the boaters in the summer this year.
I get lots of compliments, laughs and the occasional “how much” to sell it. We are keeping it for the foreseeable future but I have another old Willy’s Jeep that is too butchered up so it might become another grill. We’ll see. My next project is a body swap for that 47 Willy’s pickup onto a Chevy Frame. I think it will look pretty good with the right stance when
I get it done. I pulled it out of the woods this past weekend so thanks to you Mark for helping get me some motivation! I’ll be at a car show sometime in the future with my small collection of Willy’s that were restored in my barn on a budget."
collection of Willy’s that were restored in my barn on a budget.
Thanks Jerry for sharing this wonderful story with us. You have done a fantastic job on saving this collection of Willys from the salvage yard. And I might add on a budget to boot. You have alot to be proud of.

On a side note, we also think you have come up with a great way to combat rust. The grease from the BBQ will keep the Willys rust free for years to come while serving up food and fun!
The BBQ season is here and we know you are hungry for this Jeep story!