Jeepsters (and rock) creepers! Jeep collection is large, historic

Omix-ADA not only produces and sells Jeep parts but is preserving the brand’s heritage

Al Azadi was 24 years old when he moved to the U.S. to attend college in the mid-1980s. He had grown up in Iran, where his father had a small Jeep dealership. Supplies his father needed for the dealership were expensive in Iran, but Azadi was able to buy both surplus and even name-brand Jeep parts in the U.S. and ship them home to his father.

At the time, Azadi didn’t realize that he’d end up buying not just Jeep parts, but entire and historic Jeeps, assembling what is believed to be the best and likely largest such collection in the world.

A portion of the Omix-ADA collection of historic and significant Jeeps | Omix-ADA photos

Soon, Azadi was buying lots of Jeep parts and not only sending them to his father but selling them to Jeep retailers in the U.S. and overseas. He’s joked that if he knew his company would grow to be so successful, he’d have named it something better than Omix-ADA.

The name may not roll delightfully off the tongue, but people who own Jeesp have come to know it as the source for parts, many of which are engineered and manufactured by Omix-ADA.  The company, based in Suwanee, Georgia, acquired the Rugged Ridge and Alloy USA brands to become the world’s largest independent manufacturer and wholesaler of Jeep parts and accessories.

Recently, Omix-ADA was acquired by Truck Hero, a publicly traded corporation based in Michigan.

While building his business, Azadi also built what is considered not only the largest but the most significant private collection of historic Jeeps on the planet, some three dozen vehicles collected in part to preserve the brand’s heritage, in part to use as test beds for ongoing product development.

For example, if the Omix-ADA technical staff is developing a new part for an old Jeep, it heads into the collection, where it can take accurate measurements and even test-fit prototype parts during the development process, said Dave Logan, the Omix-ADA Jeep collection curator.

Logan grew up in Pennsylvania, where his family had “an old flat fender” Jeep it used to snowplow the driveway in the winter and to collect firewood in the forests during warmer months. He started four-wheeling as a hobby in the early 1990s, went to work at Omix-ADA doing data, marketing and sales, and then helped build the company’s Jeep collection.

While the company collection has grown into the largest and most important, Logan said that on a personal level, he is much more the typical Jeep collector. 

“I have six,” he said, “but two are for sale. I attend vintage events, so I need a vintage one, and I do trail rides and need a modern one.

“Most people who have Jeeps have them because they have a sentimental attachment and maybe have two or three, or they’re practical vehicles they’re still using on a daily basis.

“You’re not going to see 6-figure Jeeps going across the auction block at Barrett-Jackson, unless it’s for charity,” Logan said, “but it is an iconic American brand, and has been in continuous production and hasn’t changed radically.”

Porsche is proud of a silhouette that has barely changed, but Jeeps may be the most instantly recognizable vehicles on the road. Or off-road.

Jeep owners don’t simply collect, they use their vehicles rather than store them in collections. For example, President Ronald Reagan cherished his 1962 Willys Jeep, a Universal CJ-6 he used on his Ranch Del Cielo in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara, California.

Reagan’s Jeep was among the first 10 vehicles of any type entered into the Historic Vehicle Register by the Historic Vehicle Association, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Library of Congress. 

Another of those early entrants to the Register was the 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1, known as the Pygmy and originally used in testing by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. in its evaluation for a quarter-ton “reconnaissance” vehicle.  

Omix-ADA annually displays several of its Jeeps at the SEMA Show. Here, a 1966 Wagoneer pulls a vintage Fire-Ball camping trailer | Larry Edsall photo

Azadi started his collection for business reasons, as promotional vehicles, but also to preserve the brand heritage. In fact, the collection really got going when Azadi was taking part in a Jeep drive on the famed Rubican Trail and learned that Mark Smith, founder of the Jeep Jamboree, had three early prototype vehicles — the Willys MA, Ford GP and Bantam BRC-40, the so-called crown jewels of pre-production Jeeps — that he was considering selling.

“Some we strategically go after, some we stumbled upon,” Logan said of the collection’s growth. “We have quite a network. People call me, saying ‘I have this…’ “

Jeeps in the collection are restored and are maintained in running order, and often are taken to a variety of Jeep and other events each year, for example, Omix-ADA takes part in the spring Jeep drive in Moab, Utah, various Jeep Jamborees, and has a major display every year at the SEMA Show, where aftermarket parts manufacturers showcase their products.

The Jeeps are in such demand that Logan had to add a 52-foot trailer to the collection to carry them to events from coast to coast.

The collection includes more than early military Jeeps. There’s a 1947 Willys steel-bodied station wagon (sport utility vehicle), a 1949 Jeepster, a 1959 FC-150 cab-forward and several other Jeep pickups, a couple of Jeep fire trucks, a 1973 “Super Jeep,” a 1986 CJ-7 with a Dana rear end and an automatic transmission, a 1990 Grand Wagoneer, even a 2001 Cherokee.

Of those I’ve seen at SEMA, my favorite is the 1946 Willys CJ-2A, an 8-wheel (front and rear dualies) farm Jeep that has six implement attachments including a welder, a side-arm mower, and a Newgren buzz saw.

Is that a ’57 Chevy in the Jeep collection? Yes, Al Azadi grew up watching American movies and wanted a car like those he’d seen on the screen

While his collection might be the most historically significant, Azadi isn’t the only person collecting Jeeps. Many of those collectors are expected to gather August 10-12 in northern Ohio for the second Toledo Jeep Fest. The huge and historic Jeep assembly plant is in Toledo and the inaugural festival, staged in 2016 as part of Jeep’s 75th anniversary celebration, drew 1,100 Jeeps and 40,000 people.

Logan will be among them, likely with enough of the Omix-ADA Jeeps to fill the company’s 52-foot trailer.

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