FRANKEN-JEEP

1966 Jeep Gladiator

Photos by Jan van der Walt

This 1966 Jeep Gladiator started life serving in the old South African Defence Force. When the time came for the Gladiator to retire. Martin’s grandfather Dan bought it at an Army auction for a mere R500. Dan did the first restoration on the Jeep in Klerksdorp, using parts form a ’74 Gladiator and a Jeep Wagoneer. He retained the original 3.8 litre straight 6 engine and three-speed manual gearbox. 

By 2014, Dan had stopped using the Gladiator and wanted to sell it for scrap and metal parts. Martin convinced Dan not to do that, saying that if he could not find a buyer for the Jeep, he would buy it. As any good grandfather would do, Dan decided to give the Gladiator to Martin as a gift. 

Three months after the Jeep had been delivered to Martin, he could no longer wait to start the restoration. Martin promptly sold his Honda Fire Blade and Opel OPC to fund the project. The original engine was replaced with a Lexus 1UZ 4 litre V8 and 5 speed automatic gearbox. The original power plant and gearbox setup was very strong but proved to be a true “gus guzzler” and ultimately impractical for everyday use. Martin still treasures the original engine and gearbox in a storage unit because you never know…..

The Gladiator is a bit of a Frankenstein monster as parts from Isuzu, Mercedes, Ford and Land Rover all contributed to making this a truly unique build. The Jeep’s deep green colour took quite a while to be perfected. The base colour was “Marine Forest Green”. After looking at several paint samples, the colour was chosen and is a mixture of the aforementioned Marine Forest Green with some olive and a bit of copper flake added into the mix for good measure. 

The Gladiator stands tall on a set of 33×12, 5×15 BF Goodrich tyres which definitely get envious looks from other bakkie drivers. The original speedometer and gauge cluster integrated much more easily with the modern engine and gear ratios. Martin reluctantly switched from the original headlamps to LED units even though he was not sure if they suited Jeep. The lens and globe stopped working and a complete replacement would be needed. Considering this is a 1966 model, that would be an expensive exercise.

The oversized bench had to be re-upholstered and restored as some of the springs were completely worn from years of use. The original steering column and steering wheel were kept, adding to the patina of the Jeep. Some might say the modern parts, such as the instrument cluster, is out of place on this vehicle but keep in mind that this is more than just a project car, more than just a dream build, this is a time capsule of multi-generational memories and it thus seems fitting that old meets new in a build which is sure to stay with Marin for a very long time. Speaking with Martin, you can see the sentiment made up of years of memories embodied by this Jeep. He opens the glove box and shows me some old photographs of the first restoration that Dan did, as well as a photo of himself, as a young boy, on the back of the Jeep during a fishing trip he went on with Dan, his father and uncle. 

Martin would like to thank the amazing team at Totally Tuned Customs for the fantastic work they did on this build.