Behind the Wheel: Jeep restoration is a family affair

By: Jennifer Sigouin | Troy Times | Published July 6, 2017

 Here’s a look under the hood of the Jeep, which Norris said is “loaded” for a 1947 model.

Here’s a look under the hood of the Jeep, which Norris said is “loaded” for a 1947 model.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Troy resident Bill Norris’ historic Jeep came into his life before he was old enough to drive it.

Norris has been a “car guy” for as long as he can remember, working on cars with his dad when he was just 4 years old. So in 1984, when he was 14, his dad enlisted him for a special father-son project — restoring a 1947 Willys Jeep CJ2A, the first civilian model built after World War II.

“He had a toy that looked like that as a kid, and he had wanted one ever since,” said Norris, noting that they eventually painted the car in “Harvest Tan” with “Sunset Red” wheels to match the toy, which was produced by Al-Toy in the 1940s.

According to Norris, the Jeep is 98 percent original and is “loaded” for a 1947 model. It includes an optional passenger seat, back seat and heater; a factory capstan winch on the front, which Norris said is an extremely rare option; a rear power take-off with a pulley drive; an optional factory fuel filter; and fog lamps. The Jeep also has a seven-piece reproduction of the original canvas top, as well as quirky features like a manual windshield wiper and special flaps for hand signals.

“It takes a good half-hour to put the top up or take it off,” said Norris. “It is no surprise that few original tops survived, because they were so difficult.”

Norris also has added a rare 1947 American Bantam half-ton trailer, which is the civilian version of the WWII Jeep trailer.

Getting the Jeep to its current state, however, was no easy task. Shortly after purchasing the Jeep, Norris’ dad had a heart attack, and because of his continuing health issues, the restoration took longer than expected — 14 years, in fact.

But there was a silver lining. Working on the Jeep turned out to be therapeutic for Norris’ dad.

“It became something for him to work on as part of his rehab,” said Norris. “It gave him some motivation. The Jeep gave him a reason to go outside and do something.”

Although his dad died 10 years ago, Norris continues to maintain the Jeep, and he displays it at events throughout the Midwest. He and a friend also have a hobby business in which they publish an antique Jeep magazine called “The Dispatcher” and produce an antique Jeep wall calendar called “Holy Toledo!”

Now, Norris’ kids — Bill and Maria, both 14, and Anthony, 11 — are starting to show interest in the Jeep. They help wash it, and sometimes travel with their dad to various Jeep shows. Norris said that Anthony, in particular, is becoming the “car guy” kid in the family.

“He thinks he gets the Jeep when the other two leave for college,” Norris joked. “We’ll see about that.”

Eventually, Norris hopes to find another car to restore — one that he can work on with his kids, just as his own dad did with him.

“I think car restoration is a good learning tool for kids,” he said. “It teaches them patience, pride in doing something yourself and how to work on things. Those are the reasons my dad got this Jeep in the first place for me.”

Do you own a vehicle that has an interesting history or a special meaning to you? Contact Staff Writer Jennifer Sigouin at, and you could be featured in an upcoming edition of Behind the Wheel.