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Former NH governor treated 1960 Willys Jeep with TLC

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 07. 2013 12:44AM
This 1960 Willys Jeep Sportwagon, once owned by former New Hampshire Gov. John King, has logged only 27,000 miles. Its current owners are selling it for $26,500. (COURTESY)

GOFFSTOWN — When he relaxed from his duties as governor and later as chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, John King would sometimes go fishing or hunting.

But he wouldn't risk dinging the finish on his 1960 Willys Jeep Sportwagon on those trips into the wild. King, who served three terms as the state's chief executive, preferred to risk dents and dings to his suitable-for-a-judge Cadillac, according to a member of the family that now owns the venerable Willys.

"He really loved his Jeep," said Emile Charest of Pennsylvania,

With just 27,000 miles on the odometer, King's green Willys is up for sale, after having two owners in 53 years — King and Charest's dad, the man who cared for the car at Leon's Texaco in Goffstown.

Under each of its owners, the Jeep spent far more time in garages than it did on roads.

"I used to hang around the station, and I remember the vehicle well," said Charest who went on to a career as an automotive engineer, including stints with Chrysler Corp. and Mack Trucks Inc. "Sometimes we'd service it for him and my dad always kind of took a liking to it."

Willys is a brand that has long disappeared from the American automotive world. Willys-Overland Corp. was one of three automakers who helped develop the Jeep used in World War II. It later gained exclusive right to the name before being sold to Kaiser Motor Corp. and eventually became part of American Motors, which itself was acquired by Chrysler.

Willys is considered by many as having built the predecessors to today's SUVs. In the late 1940s, the company took the Jeep design used in the war and made a station wagon out of it. Later versions included the Jeepster, which enjoyed a revival in the 1960s.

Today, few would think of leaving the SUV in the garage for an entire New Hampshire winter. But four-wheel-drive or not, the King green Sportwagon was not exposed to the hazards of the New Hampshire winter.

Every spring, the Charests, father and son, would head down to King's Manchester home to charge the battery, which inevitably had been depleted during a winter in storage.

Eventually Charest's father bought the green Jeep from the King family. It was later re-painted in its original color, and some minor rust damage was repaired by Manchester auto restorer Jay Doerfler at his Second Street shop.

Following the death of Charest's father, the family put the Jeep up for sale. Emile Charest said he was hoping a collector from New Hampshire would buy it.

"The engine runs nice and smooth, but it is a rough riding," Charest said. "It has leaf springs on all four corners and manual steering; it's a task to drive."

The 1960 Willys Jeep Sportwagon is for sale as a collectible or a show-piece. With a base price of $2,901, King paid $3,546.43 for the car as equipped when he bought it in March 1960, while serving as House minority leader, the post from which he would launch the first of his successful campaigns for governor.

The asking price is now $26,500.

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