Cherry: Father and son ’56 Willys Jeep Wagon |

Cherry: Father and son ’56 Willys Jeep Wagon

The Willys Jeep station wagon was introduced in 1946 and might be considered the first SUV, sports utility vehicle. It was produced until 1965.
Submitted by Ron Cherry |

Traditions are important. Ed Houtz V is a believer in that. His father, Ed Houtz IV, was an avid car lover and a gearhead.

In fact, his whole family has been into cars for many years. His dad had helped his grandfather build a Ford woody years before. So when it came time for Ed to do his senior project at Bear River in 2007, he chose to do an automotive one.

Although Ed and his dad had not been very close, they did share an interest in cars. A friend of his father let Ed and his dad know of a 1956 Jeep Willys station wagon in original condition, covered by a tarp in the owner’s backyard.

The body was rusty, so much so that the corroded floorboards provided easy access to drag your feet on the pavement in case the brakes failed. But, in those classic hot-rodder words, it had potential. And they bought it.

After pulling the body off the frame, Ed and his dad sandblasted the accumulated rust and painted the frame. Then they replaced the rusted out floorboards and firewall before mounting the body back on the frame.

Next, they dropped in a 351 CID Windsor Ford engine mated to a T-18 Borg Warner 4-speed trans from a ’79 Ford F150 pickup.

A 1980 International Scout kindly donated a T-20 transfer case and front and rear axles. All the suspension and the brakes had to be rebuilt with new components. For the wiring, they took the loom from a ‘70 Ford F150 pickup with new NAPA gauges installed in a custom dash.

They replaced the original steering column with a new one from Ididit.

Ed said the plan was to go “stock, but with improvements.” He and his dad “worked up until midnight after school. Whatever had to be done, we did it.”

Although not completely finished by the end of his senior year and lacked doors, Ed said he was able to “drive it around the parking lot (at school).”

That fulfilled the requirement for his senior project, but it was not enough for Ed and his dad.

Even after graduation. Ed said that he and his father kept “plinking away” on the body. For Ed, it was a time to really get to know his father. They hadn’t spent that much time together before, working on the Jeep changed that. Having a project they both enjoyed brought them together in a way that nothing else could have.

After repairing or replacing all the rusted body panels, they painted the Jeep. It was a first for both of them, painting a car.

Ed said, “We’d never done it before. It took a lot of paint, but we got it done.”

After installing plywood on the floors and carpet to keep the noise down, they put in an AM/FM/CD player with Jensen speakers. The seats came from a Chevy S10 pickup.

But when all seemed well with Ed and his dad’s senior project Jeep, tragedy struck. On July 4, 2013, Ed’s dad unexpectedly passed away. He was only 49 years old. For Ed, the Jeep has become a “sentimental remembrance of my dad.”

“I want to keep it all going,” he said.

It’s not about the Jeep itself, but the time together as they rebuilt the Jeep wagon, a common interest. For Ed, his ’56 Willys wagon is very much the physical element of a father and son tradition of the love of cars.

Ron Cherry has published two books, a mystery titled “Christmas Cracker” and a noirish suspense titled “Foul Shot.” For more about his writing, go to

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