Gary Sinise Jeep raises $1.3 million for veterans, first responders

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A total of $1.3 million was raised for charity during the sale of this custom 1981 Jeep CJ7 built for the Gary Sinise Foundation during the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. | Rebecca Nguyen photos
A total of $1.3 million was raised for charity during the sale of this custom 1981 Jeep CJ7 built for the Gary Sinise Foundation during the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. | Rebecca Nguyen photos

A total of $1.3 million was raised Friday for the Gary Sinise Foundation, which benefits the families of veterans and first responders, through the sale of a custom 1981 Jeep CJ7 at the annual Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Jeep, designed and built by Richard Rawlings and Russell Holmes of Gas Monkey Garage, originally hammered sold for $200,000. However, the buyer donated the vehicle back for bidding, and it sold for a second time, this time for a hammer price of $100,000.

During the sale, Sunbelt Rentals — which also partnered on the build — announced it would donate $1 million to the Gary Sinise Foundation on top of the hammer sale prices.

Thus, when the Jeep rolled off the block amid cheers from the crowd, a total of $1.3 million had been raised for the benefit of U.S. military veterans.

Sinise (right) and Rawlings pose near the Jeep as it was readied to go on the block.
Sinise (right) and Rawlings pose near the Jeep as it was readied to go on the block.

“They’ve done an exceptional job on this Jeep and I’m just thrilled at their generosity to support the Gary Sinise Foundation and what we’re doing for our veterans and our military families,” Sinise said in an interview with the ClassicCars.com Journal prior to the sale.

And the Jeep sure is something. Rawlings said he selected the vehicle because of its military heritage.

“To me, Jeep means freedom,” he said. “That’s what these guys and gals are out there fighting for, so we can enjoy that, so I think it’s a good tribute. We were just glad to be a part of it.”

Rawlings added that the Jeep is nicer now than when it rolled off the showroom floor. He said the inspiration behind the build was the 1976 Super Jeep, an incredibly rare vehicle — just 17 were made — that was painted with the stars and stripes.

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The stars and stripes appeared on the '76 Jeep to mark the American bicentennial.
The stars and stripes appeared on the ’76 Jeep to mark the American bicentennial.

“We kind of built our twist on the CJ7 Super Jeep and we put some Gas Monkey style into it,” Rawlings said.

The Gary Sinise Foundation Jeep was completely restored and given a custom paint job that included the foundation’s logo and specialized coins. It was personally designed by Rawlings to honor each branch of the military.

The original 4.2-liter engine was rebuilt and paired with a newly built BorgWarner T150 3-speed manual transmission. The CJ7 is also equipped with power steering and brakes. The interior includes one-off gauges that feature the foundation’s logo.

Sinise was the first to admit that he knew very little about Jeeps.  “Nothing,” he answered with a laugh when asked what he helped design. But he said he was thrilled with the outcome.

Sinise speaks about the Jeep prior to it hitting the auction block.
Sinise speaks about the Jeep prior to it hitting the auction block.

“When they pulled off the tarp, I was stunned by the beauty of it, first of all,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was going to be and they really outdid themselves. I didn’t expect to see our logos all over the car, our coins on the side of it, our logo on the speedometer. It’s just really an exceptional piece of work.

“They’re artists, these guys.”

Selling it at Barrett-Jackson, a company known for charity auction sales, was a plus for Sinise. It was his first time at the auction.

“It’s really something,” he said. “It’s like the Super Bowl of cars. It’s got that atmosphere here.”

The foundation's logo was tastefully added around the Jeep.
The foundation’s logo was tastefully added around the Jeep.

But what he was most pleased about was the $1.3 million his foundation now has to help Gold Star families, veterans and first responders with everything from special programs to donating houses to vets wounded in battle.

“[This is] going to help us help a lot of people,” he said.

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Carter Nacke is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He began his career at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix, the largest news radio station in Arizona, where he specialized in breaking news and politics. A burgeoning interest in classic cars took him to the Journal in 2018. He's still on the hunt for his dad's old 1969 Camaro.

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