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Travel & Tradition: The 2017 Jeep Heritage Expo

There are few modern automobiles that resemble the shape and spirit of a brand as much as Jeep. Park a 1941 flatfender next to a 2017 Jeep Wrangler, and you’ll see that even 76 years later, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We recently got a chance to visit Suwanee, Georgia, and attended the second-annual Jeep Heritage Expo. Held at the Omix-ADA headquarters, the event merges the past with the present. Omix-ADA founder Al Azadi opened up his massive personal collection of vintage Jeeps for the public to enjoy.

Omix-ADA specializes in Jeep replacement parts. This includes large items such as complete tubs and fenders to small items like mirrors and seat belts. Under the same roof is Rugged Ridge and Alloy USA. Rugged Ridge focuses on accessories for everything from CJ’s to the modern Jeep Wrangler JK. From lightbars, floor liners, and half-doors to wheels and soft tops, Rugged Ridge has an expansive catalog. The Alloy USA side is geared towards drivetrain components for older and modern Jeep vehicles.

The one-day Jeep Heritage Expo is open to the public and completely free. With hundreds of Jeeps on display, prize raffle with proceeds going to charity and lots of entertainment to keep the young and young-at-heart engaged, it was a great way to spend a warm weekend in the South.

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Omix-ADA owner Al Azadi owns one of the finest collections of early Jeeps in the U.S. Included in his fleet are three very special prototypes. From left to right: A 1941 Willys MA, the "M" stands for Military and "A" for its model designation. This was a prototype built for Army testing prior to the U.S. entering WWII. Parked next to it is a 1941 Bantam BRC (a third-generation prototype). Third in line is a 1941 Ford GP, which was Ford’s second prototype of the like.

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In addition to the early flatfenders, there's an assortment of mint-condition Willys vehicles from the 1950s. Possibly our favorite was this 1955 Willys Pickup. With so much speculation about the new Jeep pickup on the horizon, one can only hope that it invokes this level of style and craftsmanship.

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Here’s another absolutely amazing piece of history. It’s a 1943 Ford GPA known as a Seep. It was originally intended to ferry soldiers to and from off-shore ships. However, the Seep was much heavier than originally anticipated, which made it sit very low in the water. This meant it couldn’t handle excess cargo or rough water. While 12,778 were built, many were met with a watery death. In March of 1943, production was finally stopped for the vehicle that was too slow for the water and too cumbersome on land. 

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You may have noticed oil catch pans sitting under the vehicles. This is a result of the rigs being actively used. Since we got there a day before the event, we were fortunate to take a spin in a few of the classics they set out for the show.

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While we wouldn’t say this 1959 Jeep FC-150 was the best handling of the bunch, it gets all the style points. The FC (short for Forward Control) was produced by Willys, then Kaiser Jeep from 1957 to 1965. The cab-over design created space for large bed with plenty of room to haul cargo, but didn’t do much to make the 81-inch wheelbase 4x4 with mostly CJ underpinnings easy to drive.

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The company’s 230,000-square-foot warehouse was also accessible during the expo for those wanted to take a tour. Here, you could check out some of the test fixtures and see some of the 20,000 parts.

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In addition to reproduction parts, Omix-ADA houses a healthy inventory of OE NOS (new-old-stock). We even spotted entire body panels for the ’84-’96 Jeep Cherokee XJ.

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The Jeep Heritage Expo is a family friendly event with a great mix of prizes, activities, and of course, Jeeps, to keep the entire family entertained. They even had the local Boy Scout troop come out and raise the flag to kick off the Expo.

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We came for the Jeeps and were not disappointed. Fernando Viloria was there with his 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Sitting on 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers, Currie 1-ton axles and a 3.5-inch Rock Krawler suspension, it was one of the cleanest and most heavily modified in attendance.

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We’re not sure if this Jeeper is afraid of the dark, but five lightbars (and two pod lights) mean he should be able to light up the path anywhere he wants to go. While there was a mix of “Mall Assault Vehicles” and hardcore off-roaders, we still appreciate the time people spend personalizing their rides.

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Anyone remember the Smurfs?

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This JK on Mud Grapplers had a very cool trailer setup. We’d love to hear the story about what happened to the other half of the Jeep! You can see more snaps of the trailer in the gallery at the bottom.

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Once the parking lot was completely full, the attendees headed for the grass. We estimate a few hundred Jeeps were on hand. Many of them the wildly popular Jeep Wrangler JK.

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Bonus action! While heavy rains had closed down the local trail system, we did get a chance to take a back-country cruise with some of the crew from Rugged Ridge. We even managed to get a little dirt (and water) between the treads.

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Looking for a Jeep event even further south? Be sure to check out Jeep Beach!

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