NORTHWEST FORSYTH — Many retirees pick up a hobby to keep themselves occupied, but Claude Whittle of northwestern Forsyth County rebuilt a 1952 Willys M-38 jeep, affectionately known as Col. Maggie.
Though Whittle, a retired flight instructor and Vietnam veteran, is not sure about the history of his particular vehicle, the model was produced for the Korean War.
“Korean vintage, they produced 45,473 between 1950 and 1952,” Whittle said. “It’s a three-speed, four-wheel drive. You’re sitting on a ... gas tank that holds about 15 gallons of fuel, which is another thing that made it dangerous.”
Maggie is named for actress Martha Raye, who entertained troops during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Because of her efforts, she was named an honorary colonel in the Marines and lieutenant colonel in the Army. In addition, she’s the only woman buried in the Special Forces Cemetery at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“She worked with Bob Hope, and a lot of his tours,” Whittle said. “Where Bob Hope usually hung around the big bases with the big crowds, she would go out to the boonies, and the firebase camps with the special forces and all those guys. And they loved her.”
When Whittle got the vehicle, the underside was rusted out and the body needed work. He had to completely take apart the vehicle and rebuild it.
“It looked good from the outside, but it had a lot of dents and dings,” Whittle said. “Every nut and bolt has been off it at least once, sometimes more than once. But I took it right down to the frame and rebuilt the engine.”
Today, Maggie sports a new top, paint and a machine gun mounted between the driver’s and passenger seats. Whittle takes her to military vehicle conventions.
According to Whittle, he handled the mechanical work with the restoration, while his friend worked on the body.
“Everybody tells me this was done in record time,” he said. “It took seven months, but that was an everyday job. I was down here every day working on this thing, scrounging pieces and parts and finding what would fit and what wouldn’t fit.”
Whittle got interested in restoring a vehicle through a buddy from officers’ school.
“A friend of mine over in Loganville has a jeep that he bought already restored,” he said. “I had dinner over there, and he said let me show you my toy, and he had that jeep out there. I was bitten.”
Whittle finally found a jeep on eBay, less than his estimated budget. But he said he has put a lot more into it.
“I set myself a limit and said I will not pay more than $5,000 for this thing. I think I ended up getting it for $4,600,” he said. “I kept all my receipts on it for everything I’ve done and I’m afraid to add it up.
“I’ve already been offered $15,000 for it, but I ain’t selling,” he said.
Whittle, who served as an aero weapons platoon commander with the 17th Air Cavalry in Vietnam, plans to continue his love of aviation. His next target is restoring a 1940s-era airplane.
“My next project is going to be a J3 Piper Cub,” he said. “I can’t get anybody to talk to me (about selling one). I would give my left arm to get my hands on that vehicle.”