It’s got dings and dents. It’s been rolled. It’s neither the first nor the last of its breed, has no particularly special equipment, and is one of thousands like it to roll off an assembly line. But the Historic Vehicle Association saw fit to choose President Ronald Reagan’s 1962 Jeep CJ-6 – even over the pristine CJ-8 that the president also owned – as one of a pair of presidential vehicles to go on the National Register of Historic Vehicles.
“It’s the one he loved the most,” said HVA President Mark Gessler. “He used it all the time; it was his ranch hand.”
Indeed, as Marilyn Fisher of the Reagan Ranch Center noted, the Jeep that Reagan bought new essentially defined Reagan the man, as opposed to Reagan the president. “He could’ve afforded an expensive vehicle, but this Jeep represented his freedom, the freedom he felt when he was on his ranch.”
In his lifetime, Reagan owned two California ranches. The first, Malibu Creek Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, he bought in 1951. To tend it, he eventually bought the extended-wheelbase CJ-6 (serial number 21156), originally painted green and fitted with the 134-cu.in. F-head four-cylinder, T90 three-speed manual, Spicer Model 18 transfer case, Dana 25/44 front/rear axles, and factory optional Ramsey 8,000-pound PTO winch. Though he sold the ranch in 1966, he kept the Jeep and moved it to his second ranch, the 688-acre Rancho del Cielo in the Santa Ynez mountains.
Photos by Casey Maxon, courtesy Historic Vehicle Association.
The purchase of the second ranch, in 1974, came during a time of transition for Reagan. He was on his way out as governor, and to mark his time in office, members of the California National Guard repainted the CJ-6 for him in red with white pinstripes. However, according to Fisher, patches of green paint remain visible and the California National Guard left the original green seats as well as the various dents Reagan had inflicted on the Jeep.
According to Gessler, Nancy Reagan disliked the red Jeep and later bought the president a blue 1981 Jeep CJ-8 Golden Eagle. Yet the president insisted on driving the CJ-6 whenever he made it back to the ranch, including during an interview with Barbara Walters, who shared the First Lady’s feelings toward the red Jeep. “This is the scroungiest Jeep I’ve ever…” she told him during their interview. “I know we have an austerity program, but this is ridiculous.”