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The Royal Treatment

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Rumour has it this ceremonial RAAF 1958 Willys Jeep once transported the Queen. Following a horrendous accident, it’s once again fit for royalty and for Anzac Day parades.

Paint gleaming in the Queensland sunshine and adorned perfectly with military stickers, this Jeep’s distinctive face hides a chequered history. From its glory days as a little-used RAAF ceremonial vehicle, life for this 1958 model took a disastrous turn when it was brutally rear ended by a truck, rendering it, to most eyes, good only for scrap metal.

Clive Plater thought otherwise. This expert restorer picked up the crumpled and smashed Willys CJ-6 Jeep for a mere $700. And why not? He had a 1958 Willys CJ-3B already in the shed and this broken example could, at worst, serve as a parts car. “I thought if I can’t fix it there’d be a lot of interchangeable spares,” Clive said. “It made it easy to justify buying it.”

Thankfully, and due to its history, Clive was compelled to help it live again. While there’s no photographic evidence to prove it, Clive was told the Queen once rode in this very Jeep on one of her visits to Australia. “The Air Force museum didn’t keep records of individual vehicles, and I’ve not been able to find a photo, but there’s a little bit of clear plastic tubing on the Jeep’s chrome rails, apparently for the Queen to hang on to,” Clive explained.

It’s a special enough vehicle whether Her Majesty rode in it or not. “When I discovered its history, I thought it was worth saving,” Clive said. These CJ-6s were long-wheelbase civilian versions introduced in 1955, but Clive’s example is a one-off supplied to the RAAF as a ceremonial vehicle, and used at Amberley Air Base near Brisbane between 1958 and 1967.

As a result it features numerous military- specific parts, including a two-piece instead of one-piece windscreen, bonnet tie-down shackles for aircraft transport, and, of course, RAAF livery.

It was retired with just 9000-miles on the clock in 1967, when an Ipswich mechanic enjoyed it until his death. His wife reluctantly sold it on, but the new owner had just a few months driving it before a truck hit it, smashing its panels and bending its chassis.

“The chassis was bent almost 90-degrees just forward of the rear wheels,” Clive explained, showing horrifying photos of just how substantial the accident impact must have been. “I bought a second-hand chassis, just to get the exact measurements, straightened the original chassis, and plated where it had been bent.”

With such low mileage, what hadn’t been mangled in the crash remained in excellent order. “The bonnet and front fenders were okay, and basically everything forward of the windscreen was undamaged,” said Clive.

Not so the rest. He needed to source two second-hand rear quarter panels, plus fit a new floor on the back and weld it all back together. In the accident the rear tailshaft had been driven through the transfer case, so Clive built a new tailshaft and sourced a new transfer case housing. The engine had been pushed forward through the radiator, so a new one was needed, plus, of course, new engine mounts.

“Clive Thinks The Entire Job, From Totalled Wreck To Ready-For-Ceremony, Took Only Eight Months.”

The Jeep’s wiring was in a bad way so Clive set about re-doing this little-loved task, while to prove his all-round restoration ability, also took his spray gun and treated this old classic to new paint in a new colour. “Originally it was a very dark blue, almost black,” Clive said. “That meant not great visibility at night, which, along with small rear lights, was probably why it got rear ended by the truck. I had to brighten it up.”

He’d seen a Peacock blue colour on an RAAF plane used for training, and set about replicating this attractive and very military-esque hue. “I’ve had a fair bit of practice painting before, but none of my paint jobs are 100 per cent or to be confused with $10,000 ones,” he said. “That’s why I like playing around with Jeeps; the paint doesn’t need to be perfect to still look good.”

Clive thinks the entire job, from totalled wreck to ready-for-ceremony, took only eight months. He completed every job himself except the re-upholstery, which has seen bright white vinyl covering the seats. Old photos showed exactly what stickers were required for the body and dashboard to bring back the military look, and the finished article is fantastic. Distinctive RAAF roundels with bouncing red kangaroos adorn the flanks, as does a side-mounted spare wheel.

Looking at the post-crash photos, it’s a miracle to witness the transformation. Hard to believe that Clive isn’t a mechanic by trade either, but a civil engineer in the construction industry. He’s got plenty of experience though. His grandfather owned a 1925 Willys-Overland, which sparked his interest in getting a Jeep aged 17. “I enjoyed bush mechanics, and had always been playing around with vintage cars,” he said.

“Looking At The Post-Crash Photos, It’s A Miracle To Witness The Transformation.”

A visit to Clive’s rural Queensland property revealed a treasure trove of mechanical goodness, including his collection of locomotives. Yes, locomotives. He has about 200-metres of track outside his back door, which he’s laid to run his rather large toys. He has two diesel locomotives that are working and a steam one that doesn’t. His 12-tonne diesel Ipswich coal mine, before ending up going around the Sunshine Coast tourist haven of the Big Pineapple.

It must make work on the Jeep feel like child’s play, and Clive reports his RAAF special is an easy thing to care for. “The only real issue with any of these Jeeps not used regularly are the hydraulic brakes,” he said. “Every couple of years I’ll need to loosen a stuck cylinder or something like that, and give a carbie a bit of a tickle up every so often.”

It’s clear he still gets great enjoyment from this ceremonial special. “Like all Jeeps, with the windscreen up or down, they’re good fun to drive,” he said. “It’s not all that manoeuvrable as it’s a long-wheelbase, so three-point turns become four-point turns. It’s slower than most Jeeps on the road as it has the lowest ratio diffs they fitted at the time. These were needed as it was a parade ground vehicle that had to travel very slowly.”

As you’d expect, the Jeep’s been in huge demand at Anzac Day parades. Leading the way, Clive puts it into low range and low cylinder is good for 54kW and 154Nm, and is mated to a three-speed manual gearbox. With the diff ratios though, its top speed is a rather leisurely 65kmh.

As a ceremonial special, that’s plenty. It may well have been good enough for the Queen herself, and during Clive’s ownership, he’s carried the Governor General in this 60-year-old survivor. A lovely touch is fold-down steps at the back to access the rear benches, which have survived from its parade ground life from the 1950s. Ideal, you’d have thought, for older Diggers to climb up and be deserved centres of attention on Anzac Day.

This Willys Jeep could have been put out of its misery after such serious injuries, but in true Aussie military fashion, no-one gets left behind in the field of battle. Clive’s incredible salvation mission now sees this Peacock blue beauty with its shiny black wheels, white seating and unmistakable Jeep face looking at its best once more. It stands, proudly, ready for inspection at its new parade ground.

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