Two friends restore 1970s Jeep, take 2nd place in national auto show


Coutesy of Tristan Hanford

Tristan Hanford (left), and Will Fiedler (right) pose next to their 1974 Jeep CJ5 nicknamed Tiny.

Cameron Rozek, Editor-in-Chief & Head News Editor

Taking a rust-bucket car from the 1970s and restoring it to show car state is no small feat, but one that Naperville Central senior Tristan Hanford and Naperville North senior Will Fiedler undertook at the start of their high school career. 

Complete with a fresh coat of paint, a sound system from a boat, 35 inch mud tires and a rumbling 5.0 liter V8 the duo’s 1974 Jeep CJ5 is the work of four years of labor that culminated in a second place finish at the Autorama World of Wheels auto show. 

Hanford and Fiedler had always worked on summer projects together, and the Jeep started out the same way. 

“[Hanford] saw the car on Hillside Avenue,” Fiedler said. It was really just parked in the driveway, basically dumped there for years.”

After leaving notes for the owner and seeking out the owner, they got in contact and sealed a deal for the Jeep at just $750. 

“This specific Jeep didn’t have any huge value in the very beginning,” Fiedler said. “We started off small just cleaning it out and getting rid of the mouse droppings and nest.”

Fiedler has taken automotive classes at North throughout high school, but Hanford was working on a car for the first time. They worked on fixing little things to begin with since neither of them were very familiar with the car.

“In all honesty, we were [fixing things] very, very wrong,” Hanford said. “But we learned. We just learned through practicing and trying stuff. It was cool because the car was so cheap and already broken down, so our mistakes didn’t really matter.”

Hanford and Fiedler both felt that they learned a lot through experimentation, and it gave them the opportunity to try out modifications they may otherwise shy away from. 

Fiedler had always been around and working with cars with his grandpa, so the Jeep was a place for him to apply more of his skills. 

“I started learning all about the mechanics and how to actually use proper methods these past two years,” Fiedler said. “I started learning how to build engines, I started learning how to  work with transmissions and then apply it to our Jeep.”

Fielder’s favorite part is the 302 cubic inch AMC V8 they put in the car. The Jeep originally came with a six cylinder engine, but was in disrepair and low on power. 

“They’ve used a period-correct original AMC engine,” said North automotive teacher Greg Ditch. “That was a pretty neat thing for them to do.”

The old school engine paired with its bright red shade of Alfa Romeo red paint instantly attracts attention.

“It’s really loud, So it’s pretty hard to miss,” Hanford said. “That’s what we both love about it. And I think my favorite part of it is seeing young and old people alike just jaws drop and neck snap to look at it.”

Hanford and Fiedler have gone with a unique style of restoration usually called a restomod, meaning a restoration with modifications. Their Jeep isn’t necessarily exactly what it would be if restored to factory specifications. 

“It’s got a sound system from a boat, a lot of lighting in the wheel wells, the headlights, fog lights and tail lights, they’re all upgraded.” Hanford said. “All of that took total custom wiring harnesses.”

Four years worth of high school summers and weekends enabled the project, but long stages like the body transfer and electrical wiring took big time commitments. 

“You have to learn a lot of new things,” Ditch said. “ One thing we say is that a project requires TLC: time, labor, and cash. And that’s it, you know, these guys stuck it out, and they did it.”

All of the modifications up to this point don’t come cheap though, the duo have put about $12,000 dollars into the project over four years.

“We hear ‘daddy’s money’ a lot,” Fiedler said. “Which is funny because it’s not really true. Basically every paycheck of ours has gone into [the Jeep].”

For Hanford, working for his check at Sweet Home Gelato wasn’t the hardest part. That was building the transmission. 

“The transmission took a lot for both of us,” Hanford said. “We rebuilt it but I actually had to rebuild it four or five times until we got it right. Then the last time every single part of it was right, but some bolt threads totally stripped and went on crooked. So then came the sixth time.”

All the work was worth it for the result though. 

“It’s one of those topics that everybody looks at and they see the final product and think wow, that’s really cool, but I could never do that or that’s so complicated, it would take me years to learn how to do that,” Hanford said. “And there’s a little bit of truth to that. But the last thing I want is for anybody to think looking at that car is that they can’t do that, the whole point is that it is possible.”

As the summer gets closer, they’re excited to make use of the vehicle in nice weather and take it around. The Jeep doesn’t have a roof, so the winter puts it out of commission. 

“We’ll be getting it out, driving it around, enjoying it,” Fiedler said. “Some people love it and some people hate it, but that’s what you get when it’s as unique as this. Hands down, you won’t see another CJ like this.”