Cheap Jeep

This is the Cheap Jeep

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formally a 1958 Chrysler Imperial
The FIRST Cheap Jeep (1972)

formally a 1966 Pontiac convertable
Making the second Cheap Jeep (1974)

a left front view
The Cheap Jeep we use today

a rear view
All packed and ready to go

The following was written by Steve Ricketts
Steve built the Cheap Jeep and organizes the yearly trips

I have always had a love for camping and investigating old ghost towns.  Unfortunately, neither my friends nor I had a four wheel drive jeep.  Since I was a mechanic for over 22 years, I decided to "make" my own jeep.   Occasionally, a customer of mine would sell (or give) me a vehicle they no longer wanted.   The cost of repairs usually exceeded the vehicle's value.  Such was the case in 1972 when I acquired a 58 Chrysler Imperial for the large sum of one dollar.  The person who owned it had three 59 Imperials, so the 58 was the "oddball" of the group.  The 58 required a lot of parts...which were only available by stripping one of the 59s...something he didn't want to do.  Since I faced the same problem, I decided that we could make "functional" repairs to get it running, but not into a condition to sell.  After a short time, we got the idea to remove most of the weight and run it around in the desert.   If we got stuck, or broke down, we could abandon it.  After all, we would only be out a buck! Right?

Using cutting torches, we removed most of the body, and then took off for the desert.  The first "Cheap Jeep" was born.  Naturally, this vehicle was not street legal (we had no fenders or lights).  It did work better than expected as we cruised around in the desert.  We learned several things...including that a skid plate protecting the engine and transmission oil pans would be a good idea.  During the trip home, a warning from the Highway Patrol convinced us that fenders and lights were required.  We learned a lot from that first trip.  After extensive modifications, we were better prepared and street legal for the 1973 trip.   After that trip, I decided that the idea was right, but the vehicle was wrong.

In 1974, I acquired a 1966 Pontiac convertible from another customer.  This time the price was $75.00.  Like the Chrysler Imperial, the Pontiac needed a lot of work.  After extensive engine repair and a transmission rebuild and modification, it was able to be driven to my house where the first Cheap Jeep (Chrysler Imperial) was stored.  The transformation from old cheap jeep to new cheap jeep began.  The finished product is what you see today.   It is highly modified, and works better for our purposes than anything we could buy today.  It is easy to repair on the road, and parts are readily available.  It carries more than "regular" jeeps and is a lot cheaper to replace should it become necessary to abandon.   I would really hate to take a $30,000+, four wheel drive (Blazer/Bronco, etc.) on one of these trips.   At the very least, the paint and body would be badly damaged.   It would also be next to impossible to repair in the field, and a very real possibility exists that I would someday have to abandon it.  After all these years of use and modification, I still have less than $800.00 invested in the Cheap Jeep...and that includes the original purchase price.

Many modifications were made including the wiring of two completely separate charging systems utilizing two alternators and three batteries.  The Cheap Jeep is equipped with two radiators and two cooling fans.  An air conditioning condenser serves as a transmission cooler.  Skid plates protect the engine and transmission oil pans.  Another skid plate protects the gas tank.  A beer keg serves as a second gas tank.  The standard low and high beam headlights are supplemented by 4 additional lights which are aimed low to assist us in locating holes in the ground as we drive at night.  While camped, these lights, controlled by separate switches located near the radiators, illuminate the camping area.  Two tractor lights located on the rear of the vehicle also serve to lilluminate the camping area.  The rear brakes can be applied independently of each other.  By locking one of the rear wheels, we are able to "steer" the Cheap Jeep in situations where standard front wheel steering is useless.  This feature, more than any other, has saved us on numerous occasions.  The "automatic" transmission contains heavy duty clutches and has been modified to shift only in a "manual"mode.  This eliminates the valve body and allows an any gear start from a complete stop.   The two large metal rails with the words "CHEAP JEEP" painted on them are more than decorative.  Located on each side of the vehicle, they serve as side impact protection.  Easily removable, they can be placed in soft sand or mud and used for traction since they are just the right size for our tires.  On the back, two spare tires are mounted on two spare axles. A 100 watt CB radio and a 5 watt cellular phone are mounted inside.

It's unbelievable that after 48 years we are still using the Cheap Jeep.  No one could have guessed that it would have lasted this long.  Although it's a little rusty and has taken quite a beating in 48 years of ghost town hunting, it has proven time and time again to be a versatile and reliable vehicle.  The Cheap Jeep, along with our Ghost Town adventures, can be seen on our video...GHOST TOWN TRAVELS

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Watch our video  GHOST TOWN TRAVELS

Why And How We Hunt For Ghost Towns

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