In the modest town of Suwanee, Georgia, there lies a remarkable collection of rare, unique, and otherwise significant Jeeps of all types and decades under a single roof. 27 Jeeps – all in full working order – reside at Omix-ADA’s headquarters and have just recently become accessible to the public through complimentary guided tours.
They were kind enough to invite me to Suwanee to see this collection of theirs firsthand. I live within driving distance of this wondrous place, so I happily accepted.
Omix-ADA is a name that many Jeep enthusiasts will likely recognize as one of the world’s largest independent manufacturer and wholesaler companies that specialize in all things Jeep. To those who aren’t familiar… well, there you go. These guys live and breathe Jeep and this new collection of theirs really shows just how passionate they are about preserving them.
This collection is not the biggest or the shiniest around, but if anything that only adds to how awesome it is for enthusiasts like you and I. Click past the jump and I’ll show you what I mean. There’s a lot here so get comfortable and enjoy this virtual tour of some of the best from this collection (note: not everything will be shown).
Omix-ADA’s Jeep Collection was started by none other than the company’s founder and president, Al Azadi (who owns that ’57 Bel Air in the photo above), to preserve Jeep heritage while also showing just how extensive the brand’s catalog is. Many of the Jeeps on display here have replacements for almost every nut, hose, and body panel sitting a few feet away in their massive warehouse. The collection is curated by Dave Logan, a man whose passion for Jeep is contagious.
With a passionate team running the gig, that means everything here is very well preserved and is fully functional (though some just need a bit of coaxing).
Ever since the dawn of the Jeep as we all know it, they were designed to work. They were designed to go to war. Apart from military duties, these things were sold to farmers, government agencies, and other businesses by the thousands for the sole purpose of doing exactly what was required of them. Then there were the crazy guys climbing mountains with them with varying degrees of success.
These things were used for their intended purpose and many were disposed of and forgotten, so that’s what makes a collection like this that much more impressive. Several vehicles here underwent a thorough restoration at some point, but several others are 100% original and perfectly preserved to the point where even the original tires are still mounted.
The Jeep as we know it would not exist had it not been for the U.S. government’s response to rising tensions over World War II leading up to their involvement. The Army realized it needed a light, agile, four-wheel-drive reconnaissance car that could also be adapted for whatever else was needed during wartime. They asked over 130 companies to submit prototypes for such a thing, but only two responded: Willys-Overland and Bantam. Ford later joined after they were “politely asked” to submit something. Several different prototypes were eventually created by each, some of which were built in larger numbers for field testing.
Omix-ADA has one early 1941 model year example from all three manufacturers. From left to right, they have a 1941 Willys MA, Bantam BRC-40, and a Ford GP. All three were of a limited production run and all three served wherever needed in WWII. While each model looks more or less the same, each one is very different when it comes to some of the details. The motors were all different – some good, some eh – and some had more advanced features than others; for example, only the Willys MA had a dual windshield wiper design that allowed the passenger to do the manual labor while the driver didn’t (they weren’t powered). Many of the small details on these trucks were clearly borrowed from whatever parts bin was closest at the time, as indicated by the Ford GP’s larger, fancier gauge cluster lifted straight out of a civilian car.
The Willys MA on the left has by far the most interesting story of these three though as it has the distinction of being the only one sunk in the war. Yes, sunk. It was strapped down to a Marine landing vessel at the Battle of Saipan when it was hit by enemy fire and sunk in a shallow harbor. Sometime after the battle, Navy divers swam by, went “oh look, a Jeep!”, and brought it up. The Willys was repaired, brought back into service, and served throughout the rest of WWII in the Pacific. At the end of the war, some newly retired soldiers decided to drive it home because they figured it wasn’t needed anymore. 1,553 were built and only 25 are known to exist – 8 of which are known to be restored in the US.
The versatility of the Ford GP platform was well demonstrated with this, the 1943 Ford GPA “Seep”. With a name like that, you already know how it turned out. These were built at the request of the US Army who needed it to… eh, Ford rivers in Europe so Ford brought in yacht designers to place a hull on this thing. It was, however, a bit heavy. That brought the water line precariously high, so even the mildest of waves would doom one of these – which many did. This one was a very hard find because of just how many now sit in rivers. Even the correct anchor was extremely hard to come by, because again, rivers.
On the other side of the room are some newer military examples. On the left is a 1942 Willys MB, one of more than 360,000 built. To its right is the only replica in the entire collection, but that’s because the real thing doesn’t exist anymore. That’s a 1944 Ford GPW similar to what would have been used by the British SAS when they terrorized German bombers parked on makeshift runways in North Africa. They had 15 of these filled with brave souls who stormed down runways under the cover of darkness and destroyed more than 400 bombers.
The other two on the right served in Korea and Vietnam as well. The one on the right has its original machine gun training simulator in working order, which means up to 30-foot flames can be shot out of it.
The only pickup in this room was a 1967 Jeep M715 that served in Vietnam. These things were really easy to buy after the war as they were later replaced by Dodges, not least because of the reliability issues that plagued the M715’s engine. Although these can be found scattered all throughout the country or wherever they ended up, it’s not as easy to find one in good shape.
Civilian and Dispatch
Omix-ADA’s civilian Jeeps are even more diverse and they go way beyond the usual suspects. They have your typical CJ trucks and plenty of newer Wranglers on site, but there’s also so much more that you just don’t see anymore.
Take for example this 1978 Jeep J-10 pickup, one of their newest additions. It’s a proper work truck that was bought by a farmer in New Hampshire and lived its life on 100 acres with a barn for winter storage. It’s in remarkably good shape without a restoration and has only 2,440 miles on the odometer.
It also has the best factory option ever offered by anyone: a premium Levi denim interior option.
A Levi. Denim. Interior.
It’s such an awesome feature that even the president of NASCAR owned this at one point before being acquired by Omix-ADA. There’s only a little bit of surface rust in the bed, but they blame that on it being left out in the Florida sun by the previous owner and intend on fixing it soon.
The other new addition to their collection is this awesome 1959 Jeep FC-150, one of the 16,251 Forward Control trucks built between 1957 and 1965 (just 1,546 were built in 1959). These were primarily sold as work vehicles for corporate, municipal, military, and civilian use, so again it’s impressive to see one in perfect condition. It’s also nice to see one that hasn’t done a front flip under hard braking (many people kept weight in the back at all times to prevent that). The truck is 148 inches long and 78 inches high, but it looks like a small fry in photos.
Like many other Jeeps in here, this one was impossible to find a rough spot on. This might just be the most well preserved FC around. The museum’s curator, Dave Logan, compared the FC-150’s driving experience to an old Volkswagen Bus, only you sit higher up in this one so it’s probably even more terrifying. But with its 72 hp and 115 lb.-ft. torque F-head engine, it probably goes a lot quicker.
In the early years, few Jeeps were designed to not work or go to war, but this 1949 Willys VJ Jeepster was one of them. When introduced in 1948, it was intended to bridge the gap between the “utilitarian post-war Universal CJ Series, and the 1-ton family-oriented Station Wagons”. It was only rear-wheel drive so it couldn’t do typical Jeep things. It ended up being more popular with upper class citizens who enjoyed the cloth top and removable windows as well as anyone else who just wanted something cool. 19,132 Jeepsters were built.
Now for something a little more practical: the 1947 Willys Station Wagon. This was regarded as the world’s first SUV and was one of Willy’s most successful post-war models. At a time when America’s returning soldiers got busy and started having larger families, the Station Wagon became popular for its ability to squeeze in about six passengers if you tried hard enough. There were only two doors to this design so they devised a clever front seat folding system to allow people to access the back – a seat folding system similar to what is still being used today in minivans. Despite being a family hauler from the days of post-WWII, this thing was still perfect and drop dead gorgeous inside and out.
Sorry about the bad angle. There was a workbench blocking the better view.
Even civilian Jeeps were still put to some grueling work. This 1967 Jeep CJ-6 was bought by a gentleman in Troy, Michigan who used it in a volunteer ambulance service to transport the sick to hospitals, especially in the harsh winters. When our nameless hero was done with his shift, he parked it in a covered and heated garage so everything has survived in wonderful condition. It only has 14,000 original miles on it so the tires have never been changed. All of his gear is still on board and functional and the removable top is nearly as good as it was new, which is astonishing for an accessory known to go out after several years in the elements.
The nameless hero originally made his fortune by running a funeral home in the area, so if it ever looked like a patient of his wasn’t going to make it, he would have taken an unexpected but supremely efficient detour.
The next Jeep on display also served the general public, but in a much easier and more glamorous environment. This is a 1960 Willys DJ-3A Surrey that was sold to various hotel chains around the Caribbean and Hawaiian Islands. Before rental golf carts were a thing, these were rented out to hotel guests to drive around the resort and the surrounding areas. Most of these ended up at Hilton resorts, including this one. Ironically, this is one of the faster Jeeps in the collection thanks mostly to its gearing. I wonder how many times it’s been jumped…
Some guys were putting up wallpaper in the showroom here, so pardon the mess.
Just because a classic is rare and valuable today doesn’t mean it was ever any good, especially if it was rare because nobody bought it. Exhibit A: this 1971 Jeepster Commando Hurst Edition – or simply Hurst Jeepster. American Motors owned the Jeep brand around this time and they were looking for something to attract a younger audience, so they enlisted Hurst Performance Products to help them make some magic. They came up with this. A Jeep with an identity crisis.
The interior seats were striped and it featured a typical Hurst “Dual Gate” shifter, because “I’m a real muscle car!” It was a 4×4 but had street tires better suited for stoplight races and they gave it a modest blue and red stripe package to make it look like something fast. They even gave it a hood-mounted rev counter like some of the cool muscle cars of the era had, but only this one was enveloped in a wonderfully tacky hood scoop thing that looks like an upside-down lunch tray. The people of 1971 didn’t react too well to this one and only 100 were ever believed to be sold. Even though it’s not as pretty as others, this particular example is in very nice condition and the only imperfections were from the factory.
Last but certainly not least, they’ve got a 1973 CJ5 Super Jeep. The story behind this rare beast is actually kind of hilarious. In 1973, Jeep was struggling to keep up with demand for the popular CJ5 Renegade models and they ended up with a shortage of premium aluminum wheels. Because of this, they could really only work with the stock, less attractive steel wheels and they needed to find a way to cope with the shortage for the Renegade. In an effort to make sure they sold more steel wheels and less aluminum ones, they came up with something wild and called it the Super Jeep.
These featured a curved chrome front bumper, white soft top, patriotic upholstery, and a ‘Murican decal package. This one came equipped with the optional AMC 304 V8 good for 150 horsepower and 245 lb.-ft. of torque. Once again, it had four-wheel drive but also street tires so nobody could get them dirty. They only ever sold a few hundred of these but they’re exceedingly rare today. It’s easy to clone one of these since they didn’t modify the VIN from the factory, but through the long list of documentation they had on this thing, they know it’s real. It also sounds pretty good.
Visit the Omix-ADA Jeep Collection
For being a private collection that’s free to see, Omix-ADA’s Jeep Collection is a wondrous place filled with some real gems. I’ve never seen many of the Jeeps in here before in my life but I walked out knowing so much more. The passion for all things Jeep runs extremely deep there. There were tons of employee-owned Jeeps in the parking lot and they even had several SEMA Show cars laying around, including a white and pink one that none of the guys were willing to claim ownership of. Omix-ADA’s passion for Jeep was contagious, to say the least.
Anyone who happens to be passing through Suwanee, Georgia should definitely take the time to come check this place out. Even if you’re not normally in Georgia, plan a vacation to our wonderful state (lol) and make sure to set time aside for a tour here.
Omix-ADA just recently opened this up to the public and it’s still growing. When I was there, they were putting on finishing touches to their exhibit room and had just bought another Jeep to put on display. It’s an impressive collection and not everything has been shown here – not even close.
Private guided tours are free but require a reservation. They can be arranged by contacting Omix-ADA directly at JeepCollection@Omix-ADA.com or 770-614-6101. More information about the collection is also available at www.jeepcollection.com. Dave Logan, the museum’s curator and the man who knows everything about each Jeep on display, will likely be the one giving the tour. That alone is worth the trip.
[Images © 2015 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian]
[Disclaimer: Omix-ADA invited me to take a tour of their collection. I live an hour away from their headquarters, so I drove over on a day off and got the same kind of tour anyone else can get.]