June 6 of this year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing and the Battle of Normandy. It’s an event that will bring hundreds of thousands of people to France for commemorations and festivities including parades, parachute drops, the setting up of military camps, and concerts.
And joining them on the beach will be an old World War II Jeep that was recently restored by Diamond Springs resident Jimmy Strauss and a team of local craftsmen who’ve remade the vehicle in time for the upcoming event.
Taking nine months to complete at a cost of over $70,000, the 1941 Ford GP quarter-ton reconnaissance vehicle looks like it did the day it rolled off the assembly line, although this time it has $50,000 worth of parts including a carburetor that cost $8,500.
Now ready for duty, on April 3 Strauss and his assistant, Brad Tanis, sent the 73-year-old jeep to England where it will go through a safety check and later be driven under the channel and parked on Normandy beach in time for the D-Day anniversary.
Owned by English businessman Shaun Hannan, Hannan apparently found the jeep on the East Coast and hired Strauss to do the work based on reputation. Strauss said research done by Hannan revealed the jeep was used in the D-Day battle. “That’s why it’s significant,” said Strauss, who originally urged Hannan to buy a different jeep. But because of its history and rarity, the owner wanted this particular Jeep restored and was prepared to pay whatever it cost as long as it was ready for the D-Day event.
“We were really under the gun to finish it in time,” grinned Strauss, who did much of the labor in his workshop behind the family owned business, Strauss Wholesale Foods.
Strauss said restoring the vehicle meant going right down to the metal frame as it was so eroded or eaten away in places that new sheet metal had to be added, with the work done by Hangtown Sheet Metal.
“When we finished this thing, and we pre-fit it a couple of times on the chassis, then bolted it on for the final time, there was no adjustments necessary. It was that accurate,” he said.
However, Strauss said Hangtown Sheet Metal is just one of many vendors who helped do the work. “I want to emphasize that there’s a nucleus of people in this area who have helped contribute to the restoration of this vehicle,” he said, “including Mike Bolton at Bolton’s Portable Welding, Gene Gillihan at Gilly’s Radiator Repair Shop, Tom Taylor at Tom Taylor’s Differentials, Jim Vogel at Hangtown Sheet Metal, Steve Taroli at Casper’s Muffler and Hitch and many, many others.
“There’s a cottage industry of craftsmen around here. And one of my main jobs is to seek them out and be able to use them to their best potential of getting the job done,” he said. “I’ve noticed there are a lot of willing people excited about doing this kind of work and it’s amazing the results we get. It couldn’t happen without them. Some of them own businesses and some are private hobbyists. It’s amazing and it makes me look good.”
As to why a 40-something Englishman would spend so much money restoring an American Jeep, Strauss thinks Hannan sees himself as a docent who wants to preserve a piece of history and pass on to his family the part that England played in winning World War II.
“It’s because of the strong connection those in England and Europe have to World War II,” he said. “It’s like Thanksgiving to us. Reenacting D-Day and the liberation of Europe is like a national holiday and they take it very, very seriously. There will be hundreds of military vehicles in Normandy for the event. They do reenactments of battles and take their tanks out of museums and parade them down the street. People from all over Europe attend. This year someone from the U.S. is even taking a C-47 aircraft over there. The same one used to drop paratroopers that day.”
Strauss believes this year’s event is particularly significant as it may be the last big show of real World War II vets, saying that with many of them turning 90 or older, this could be the last time they are able to make the journey.
As for Strauss and Tanis, they won’t get much respite after finishing their last project as they have two new restoration projects to start on. Hannan has already sent Strauss a second jeep to restore — this time a 1941 Willy’s Flat Grill.
And Strauss recently bought himself a different type of military vehicle to restore. It’s a 1941 WC15 Dodge half ton Command Car used to haul generals and officers around that was named Casanova.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.