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Whoa, Nellie!

Marco Scuderi had to have a Jeep. He went to the States and got his hands on this CJ7, a fun, very capable off-road machine with loads of power and true character. Just don’t damage it…

“Whoa, Nellybelle!” Baby boomers of a certain age might recognise the line as Pat Brady's panic-stricken plea to his cantankerous Jeep on ‘The Roy Rogers Show’, which ran until 1957. Nellybelle was a CJ2A Jeep with a mind of her own and often sped away driverless with Brady in frantic pursuit on foot.

Our Nelliebelle here is not quite so cantankerous, but she does have a mind of her own at times. Nellie is a 1978 Jeep CJ7 Renegade originally fitted with a 5-litre AMC 304 V8, auto transmission and the first generation Jeep Quadra-Trac constant 4WD transfer case (a Borg Warner BW1339) and was imported into New Zealand by owner Marco Scuderi.

How Marco ended up with the Jeep is a story in itself. Originally from Sicily, Marco came to NZ in 1997 after a stint in the navy and studies at university in Italy in geology and cartography. He did a master’s degree and then worked for city councils in both North Shore and Palmerston North. After marrying a Kiwi, Alexandra, in 2002, he took up a fellowship to do a PhD at the University of Maryland in Washington DC, USA.

While there he fulfilled his dream of owning a Jeep – in fact his wife Alex maintains the real reason he accepted the fellowship in the States was to search for one.

The advertisement was for a “stock CJ7 Renegade, no rust, original AMC V8, TH400 tranny, constant 4WD” in Las Vegas, so a deposit was paid and he went over a couple of months later to complete the deal. The vendor was a young guy whose job was curator for a local Native American museum, who let slip over dinner that he would hunt in the desert for artefacts and particularly “liked going airborne and landing on the strong suspension the car was equipped with”.

Back in Washington DC, Marco was hit with reality: “The Jeep was now covered in snow, illegally parked on a residential street, no plates, no permit and the parking warden was waiting at the corner. The suspension was a strong set up from Superlift, but the good points ended there. The chassis was, in fact, broken in four different places (from all those jumps, presumably), the carb could not cope with the extreme temperatures, and when Marco tried to clean the windscreen he realised there were no wipers. Who needs wipers in the Nevada desert? The hardtop was not closing well and the snow drifts were piling up inside, helped by the Swiss cheese-like pattern of holes on the body, where a number of external fuel jerry brackets used to be.”

In need of help, the Jeep was sent to a couple of brothers who were experts at working on older Jeeps. Being some distance away, a tow truck was tasked with delivering the vehicle but the driver put the front tyres on a dolly, ignored the constant 4WD system and proceeded to blow the transfer case to pieces…

For the full story, see the May issue of NZ4WD

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