‘Unicorn’ 1977 Jeep J10 Prototype Restored Decades After Escaping the Crusher
The Jeep J10 never came in an extended cab version from the factory, but a one-off prototype was saved by the man who built it.
Automakers are very careful with their engineering prototypes, with the vast majority of R&D vehicles crushed once development is complete. However, in the 1970s, a Jeep employee worked on a one-off prototype, fell in love, and managed to save his creation from its fate as scrap. Decades later, his family is restoring the vehicle to its former glory.
As covered by 13ABC, the vehicle in question is an extended-cab prototype of the Jeep J10 pickup truck. Harold “Pete” Johnson was a pivotal figure in its creation, working as a Research & Development engineering supervisor at Jeep in the 1970s. The one-off J10 was built in 1977, with Jeep ultimately declining to put it in production. The story of the extended-cab prototype should have ended there. Instead, it lives on, in the hands of Johnson's granddaughter, Paula Smith, and her husband Michael.
“He loved it so much, he would hide it in the factory in the file cabinet room. When the higher-ups would come in to find it, he would put files in front of it," said Michael Smith, adding "When they would leave, the Jeep would come back out and they’d use it to get lunch." Eventually, Johnson was able to convince his bosses to let him buy the truck for $1 as he was retiring from the company. The truck has been in the family ever since.
The value of the truck wasn't originally clear to Johnson's descendants, with Smith noting he formerly used to store wood on top of it in his shop. However, when Johnson's wife passed on, he made a promise to restore the truck in full. In the process, Smith pulled apart the engine and transmission and stripped the truck down to its frame. It's been a nut-and-bolt restoration job, with no stone left unturned. The family came to call the truck a 'unicorn' for its one-off nature.
Smith put in plenty of hours, hustling on the truck at night around his work as a contractor. Working on a one-off wasn't always easy, but perseverance paid off. "I looked for three months for the interior headliner because I promised grandma on her deathbed that I would put it back exactly the way grandpa had it," said Smith.
While chronicling the journey on Facebook, the family has also heard from many of Johnson's former colleagues, who shared stories of his career at Jeep. The project has been a special way to reconnect with their past. "I wish grandpa was here to see it, but I think he is,” said Paula Smith.
The result of that hard work is a pristine Jeep J10 with a unique configuration not otherwise seen on America's roads. Paula and Michael Smith will be celebrating their hard work with a victorious trip to the Toledo Jeep Fest, taking place this weekend in Ohio. The truck made a splash when it first appeared in unfinished condition in 2019; it's sure to be an eyecatcher once again in fully-restored condition.
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