The Grill Master

Originally Published in Issue 33 of 4Low Magazine

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Story and photos by Dave Adams

While living in Moab, Utah, I was out for a drive and saw this cool old Willys Pickup grill leaning up against a rock wall. It was enough that I stopped to check it out. It was awesome. Chrome crossbars on it, nicely faded paint, beautiful patina, couple of the lights were there, a couple missing. It just looked like it had an awesome story to tell. I pulled into the yard and noticed the property had quite a few old Willys Pickup and Wagon parts around. I knocked on the door and found that the current occupants were just tenants, but were able to get me in touch with the landowner. After a few phone calls and probably not just a little begging, the gentleman agreed to sell me the grill and a few other parts I had fallen in love with. Little did I know, the purchase of this one, simple grill was the beginning of an obsession. An obsession to collect every Willys and Jeep Grill made between 1941 and 1990.

This wasn’t an instant decision, but rather one that came about over the next few months as I began scouring Facebook, Craigslist, and pestering Jeep friends I knew to see how many different types of early grills I could collect. I figured I might end up with a dozen or so—just a sampling of some of the different makes and models. But pretty soon, it became more than that.  Easter Jeep Safari 2017 brought many grills my way. I was lucky enough to find a handful of grills scattered throughout the country,  many of them within driving distance of friends making the annual pilgrimage to Moab. Due to the graciousness of these friends, I had grills delivered from as far away as Texas, Nebraska, Michigan, Delaware, Colorado, and Arizona. I was able to find quite a few grills within a reasonable distance of Moab, it made it easy to get those, but many were across the country. Distance didn’t stop me from having them shipped from Florida, California, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. I got pretty good at being able to guesstimate the shipping cost of various size grills.

About the time I moved from Moab to St George Utah, I had a decent collection of about twenty-five grills from different Jeeps and Willys. I was pretty pleased with myself, it gave me a good sampling of most of the traditional Jeep vehicles from the World War II-era MB stamped grill to the various CJ models, and most of the Willys Pickup and Wagons. I figured that would be good enough. After I got settled in St George and finally had a decent place to display my collection, I decided what the heck, might as well go for gold. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to get them all. It was then that I decided to go after ALL of the Willys and Jeep models made between 1941 and 1990. Not an easy task, and one I wasn’t sure I’d be able to accomplish, due to the scarcity of so many of the grills.

After hours of research and learning way more about Jeep grill designs and variations than anybody probably should ever know, I came up with a comprehensive list of all of the different makes and models, and the associated grills that went with them. One by one, I began to find each of them. Much to my surprise and delight, the list of grills I needed began to get smaller and smaller. Including many rare grills, and some grills I had never heard of. By early 2020, I declared my collection complete by adding the last missing piece to my collection, a Jeep M715 pickup. As of now, I have a list of the 40 unique grills in my collection. I’m not saying I won’t find some obscure grill out there that isn’t currently on my list, but I’m pretty confident that I now have the most extensive, unique, and complete grill collection of any private collection in the world.

Grills in the collection (In mostly chronological order):

– Willys MB slat Grill
– Willys MB / Ford GPW stamped Grill
– CJ-2a
– Willys Wagon or Pickup 10 slot flat nose
– Willys Jeepster VJ
– Willys Wagon or Pickup V-nose with 5 horizontal bars
– CJ-3a
– DJ-3a
– FJ-3 / FJ-3a
– M38
– CJ-3b
– M606
– FC-150 or FC-170
– Willys Wagon or Pickup V-nose with three horizontal bars, middle bar being towards the top
– Willys Wagon or Pickup V-nose with 3 evenly spaced horizontal bars
– Willys Wagon or Pickup V-nose with three horizontal bars and air intake hole
– M38A1
– CJ-5 or CJ-6
– Ford M151
– FSJ Rhino Nose
– DJ-5a
– Jeepster Commando
– FSJ Razor
– Jeep Commando Bullnose
– FSJ Cheese Grater
– DJ-5b through 5m
– CJ-7 or CJ-8
– FSJ Egg Crate
– FSJ Pig Nose
– CJ Laredo stainless steel overlay
– CJ-10 or 10a
– FSJ Muscle
– YJ
– Mitsubishi J54
– MJ or XJ early style
– FSJ Final Type
– XJ later style
– JK
– JL

Now I realize I don’t have a TJ grill, or very many other grills from any of the Jeeps made since 1990. I’m okay with that. There have been so many different types and varieties of grills made in the last 30 years, that it seems unnecessary to collect them all. Plus, many of them were plastic. I don’t have a lot of interest in plastic, I would rather collect good, old American-made steel Jeep parts.

It’s crazy to think that all of this started with one lonely grill leaning against an isolated rock wall. In addition to all of my grills, I’ve also collected over a dozen unique tailgates, and more than half a dozen different hoods. My collection has just about overgrown my house and yard, with pieces displayed throughout my home and yard. My goal is a big garage or shop where I can properly display all of my collection in one place.

To see individual photos, and get more details about all of my grills, tailgates, and hoods, feel free to check out my album on Facebook. https://m.facebook.com/MoabDave76/albums/10157066620434566/

After coming through my front door, you are immediately greeted by my little Willys homage display. It is centered with a 1946 Willys CJ-2a grill, the first year of the iconic civilian Jeep. It’s just one of over a dozen different grills I have throughout my home, not to mention the 30+ I have throughout my front and back yard. You could say I have a little bit of an obsession.
My most recent acquisition is this 1984 CJ-10 grill. The CJ-10 was quite a unique vehicle, with probably one of the least typical Jeep grills. It has no headlights on the grill, and 10 slots compared to the traditional 7. Domestically, they were used exclusively as little airport tugs for the United States Air Force, with only a few thousand of them being made. There were some made with full truck beds, but they were all export exclusively to Australia. Just recently someone posted this grill up on Facebook, however he wasn’t willing to a ship the grill. But, the deal was good enough, and the rarity dictating, that despite the fact that we’re in the middle of the covid-19 quarantine, it was worth driving 14 hours round trip to California and back in one day to go pick it up.
My piece de resistance. I would love nothing more than to be able to sit down with each of my grills and have them tell me about their life, and experiences. But none more so than my 1942 Willys MB grill. While I don’t know all of the details of this grills story, I do know that in late 1942 it was built here in the United States, it was then shipped over to the Soviet Union as part of Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program during World War II. In early 1943, during the huge, and bloody siege of Stalingrad, there were a few smaller battles outside of the city as the Germans were trying to reinforce their surrounded troops. One of these battles happened outside of the city of Karkov in March 1943. Somehow, during that battle, this Willys, so far from home, was destroyed, and buried in the Russian soil. There is laid until May of 2018 when a group of Ukrainian World War II salvagers discovered it. While most of the Jeep was completely unrecognizable, this battle damaged grill had miraculously survived. One of the men who found it posted it up on Facebook, and after communicating with him extensively about it, making sure it was legal for me to purchase, he was able to ship it to me, and I had it displayed in my home within just a few short weeks. A good friend of mine mounted it on this board with the original shipping labels it had on it after being brought over here from Ukraine, reminiscent of the way the Jeeps were packaged and shipped during World War II. I refer to this grill as my MIA veteran returned home. It’s a story of a Jeep that was built by Americans, driven into war by Russians, destroyed by Nazis, and after 75 years in the Russian soil, was finally able to make its way home.
I think few people would argue that the Willys Jeep Fleetvan FJ-3 is one of the most unique, and interesting of all of the Jeep Vehicles. Approximately 3000 were originally built under contract with the United States Postal Office to use as a small delivery van based off of the Willys DJ-3 chassis. Originally, all of the postal versions were right hand drive, and you stood up to drive them. As a result, the contract with the post office was that at the end of their service life, rather than go into civilian hands with their odd driving configuration, they had to be crushed or destroyed. As a result, few of them exist today, and even fewer are running and driving, my research suggests less than 50 running and driving worldwide. I am very happy that I own a 1961 Willys Fleetvan. It is currently being converted into a handicap accessible vehicle for me, and we are hoping it will be debuted at the SEMA show in Las Vegas in November 2020. This is the only grill in my collection that is still attached to a vehicle. I would love to find one I could display separately, but with the extreme rarity, I may just have to go with the one still on my Fleetvan.
A couple years ago, after posting up some pictures of my grill collection, a Facebook friend contacted me and said he had a grill he would like to donate to my collection since it was something I didn’t have, and would probably not be able to get. While technically not a Willys, or Jeep grill, this Mitsubishi J54 Grill was one of many Mitsubishi J series made in Japan under contract from Willys by Mitsubishi between 1953 and 1998. The vehicles were based very closely with the original Willys CJ-3b, but over the years had a few different design changes, but always kept the very iconic Jeep front end. The friend who I got this one from had been stationed over in Japan in the military, while there he purchased one of these vehicles and after his time there was able to get the vehicle shipped home. He also brought home a few extra parts in case he ever needed them. This grill was one he brought home, and was willing to part with to add to my collection. During my time in Georgia while I was competing on Truck Night in America, we were able to meet in person, and he brought down his awesome Mitsubishi, right hand drive, diesel “Jeep”. We talked for a long time, at the end, gave me his extra grill. I then put it in my Jeep after the competition, and it was shipped across the country with my Jeep back to my home in Utah.
The Jeepster Commando has always been one of the odd ducks of the Jeep family having only been produced in this body style for four years. It’s one of those things, you either love it, or hate it. Me personally, I fell in love with it from the first time I saw one. Not too long after that, I was able to purchase one for myself. This grill is actually the grill that came from the factory on my 1968 Jeepster Commando, which was my daily driver for almost 8 years.
Before I began my collection, I didn’t even know that this type of grill existed. It is a 1970 DJ-5a, the first of the iconic postal Jeeps. However, the first two years of them, they shared many of the same attributes as the early CJ-5, including a very similar, yet not identical, seven-slot grill. It wasn’t until 1971 when AMC took over Jeep from Kaiser and they introduced the straight six motor in lieu of the previous four cylinder that they had to redesign the front end of the DJ pushing the grill out past the end of the hood, and reducing the number of slots from 7 down to the more recognizable 5 slot postal Jeep grill.
This 1961 FC-150 grill came to me from a good friend who owns a vintage Jeep parts house in Western Pennsylvania. The interesting thing about the FC Jeep is that unlike most other Jeeps, the grill is not a separate piece from the rest of the vehicle. It is an an integral part of the front of the vehicle. So there’s no way to just take out the grill. My friend literally had to cut the front end off of the FC and send it to me. But don’t worry, the rest of it was almost completely rusted out, and what little of that was salvageable was saved and sold to others. From what I’m told, this little FC-150 lived its life as a Buick Pontiac parts runner truck, where it would go out and pick up parts for the service department for the largest Buick Pontiac dealer in the Northeast. That’s why it is painted the way it is. This Grill, and it’s matching tailgate, definitely constitutes the largest package I had received, being shipped through Fastenal in a box too big even to fit in the back of my Jeep Grand Cherokee. We literally had to unbox it and put the pieces in my Jeep separately as they wouldn’t fit any other way.
This early Willys MB grill is one I didn’t think I would ever have in my collection. Of the 650,000 Jeeps produced during World War II, less than 30,000 of them had a hand welded slat grill such as this. They were the early models produced by Willys in late 1941 before they decided they were too labor intensive, and switched to the more common stamped grill design. The tale of how I acquired this grill is one of my favorite stories. A guy on one of my Facebook groups had posted up a picture of it and said that if anyone was interested, he knew where it was. I pestered him several times trying to find out the location of the grill, and after about a month, he finally gave me the phone number for the gentleman who owned it. I literally cold-called the guy out of the blue. We ended up getting along wonderfully, and chatted for almost an hour. He told me that back in the 90s he had bought a pallet full of old Jeep parts at a farm auction. After getting home and digging through the pile, he found this slat grill on the very bottom. He really didn’t have much use for it, and after I explained my grill collection to him, he was willing to pass it on to me for a reasonable price. Gratefully, he wasn’t too far from one of my friends in Maryland, and she was able to meet him halfway, in Southern Delaware, where she picked it up, and was able to bring it out to me during the following Jeep Safari. This is the original picture which was posted on Facebook that I fell in love with the first time I saw it. Trust me, I don’t keep this one outside.
The grill that began it. Leaning up against a secluded rock wall, somehow it just called to me. Gratefully I snapped a photo that day, it brings me happiness looking back and remembering the one that started it all.

 

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