A very special tribute to veterans and first responders at the recent Barrett-Jackson Auction at West World of Scottsdale. A 1981 Jeep CJ-7, restored and customized by Gas Monkey Garage, raised $1.3 million for the Gary Sinise Foundation.
According to a spokesperson for Barrett-Jackson, “The Jeep sold for $200,000 to benefit the Gary Sinise Foundation, which is dedicated to helping our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. To sweeten the deal even more, the Jeep was donated back to be sold again for an additional $100,000. Sunbelt Rentals generously contributed $1 million more, and longtime Barrett-Jackson friend Michelle Mauzy selflessly gave another $10,000 – bringing a total of $1,310,000 to help this incredible cause.”
Gary Sinise, philanthropist and Academy Award-nominated actor of stage and screen, started the foundation after a number of years volunteering. Admittedly, Sinise is not a “car-guy”; however, he developed a very close relationship with Rawlings and his crew and was enamored with the finished product.
“The connection to Richard Rawlings and his amazing team pitched this idea about helping us raise some money,” said Sinise. “They are big veteran supporters and wanted to do their part in helping support our foundation. We just came up with the idea, and they came up with the Jeep and refurbished it within five or six weeks. They were Fast and they were Loud!”
The 1981 Jeep CJ-7 was a great representation of the Foundation. Jeep brings to mind the American military and war journalist Ernie Pyle, who romanticized the utility vehicle in his stories from the front. This particular example was completely restored and liveried in a custom paint scheme to honor all the branches of the United States military.
The chassis has been painted with all fuel and brake lines custom-built to accommodate the four-inch lift package. The original 258 cubic-inch, 4.2-liter engine has been completely rebuilt and is paired with a newly rebuilt BorgWarner T150 three-speed manual transmission. The beefy vehicle also features power steering and power brakes.
“The first time I saw the Jeep was at one of our Foundation events in St. Louis, where we were building a technologically adapted house for a wounded veteran,” said Sinise. “It was great. Richard brought the Jeep and showed it to us, and then we gave the house away.”
The Jeep’s black interior and bikini top complete a very stylish and clean look. There is a white hardtop with full doors included. The interior features custom gauges by Speedhut and Redline Gauge Works. The unique set of one-off gauges was custom-made to represent the Gary Sinise Foundation and bring awareness to all veteran needs. The exterior features the foundation’s logo on the rear quarter-panels, as well as official Gary Sinise Foundation challenge coins affixed to the lower front fenders and the center dash of the jeep. Even the radio is a Bluetooth-ready replica of an original AM radio.
According to Richard Rawlings, “We got a great Jeep from our buddy Dennis Collins. It was old, beat up and rusty, we had to do some rust repair and we stuck with the stock drivetrain, but otherwise everything on it is brand new. It’s a better Jeep than rolled out of the dealership in 1981. Its got a better feel with the bigger tires and smaller rims and the push bar. We chose the Jeep because it represents freedom.”
Rawlings felt that working with the Gary Sinise Foundation was very special. “It’s so important to give back, and what was really cool about it was the recipient of the Rise Initiative home, Sean Adams, actually came and worked on the Jeep with us,” said Rawlings. “We flew him out to Texas from the Atlanta area and he worked with us for a couple of days.”
“There were some big challenges along the way,” Rawlings observed. “Jeep is tough, just like our veterans, but a lot of stuff needed to be tweaked and updated. It was all about getting it to look right, fit right, and have it run down the auction block.”
“I have a lot of veterans in my family, both on my side of the family, and on my wife’s side of the family,” said Sinise. “I started working with Vietnam veteran groups during the ’80s in Chicago, when I was at the Steppenwolf Theater Company. We called it ‘Vets Night,’ where veterans were invited for a free performance and dinner.”
“When I played the wounded veteran in Forrest Gump, I began working with wounded veterans,” continued Sinise. “When 9-11 happened and we deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and they started getting hurt and started getting killed, I just felt such sadness and compassion for the men and women who were going off in response to that terrible attack. I wanted to be a part of supporting them in various ways. Because of the variety of things I did in support of the men and women who serve our country, the Gary Sinise Foundation tries to put its hands in a variety of things as well.”
The Jeep did well, and the lucky bidder has a sleek 4×4 to drive to shows and off-road. There was a genuine warmth between Sinise and Rawlings; they really put their best feet forward.
A two-part future episode of Discovery Channel’s Fast N Loud will document the Gas Monkey Garage build done in collaboration with the Gary Sinise Foundation, from concept to the auction block. Rawlings expects the episode to air around July 4th, 2019.