Brandon Girmus has been a vintage Jeep enthusiast since his very first ride in a World War II Willys when he was five years old. Today, Girmus is Jeep’s Senior Brand Manager for the Wrangler and Gladiator.
Movies are made from stories like this: A kid grows up fascinated with vintage Jeeps. His grandfather and father had numerous Jeeps on the family farm in Nebraska. Kid buys a vintage Jeep at 15, rebuilds and restores it during high school, becomes an engineer, and then works at Jeep.
Over the last few years, we’ve frequently rubbed elbows with Girmus during new vehicle ride-and-drives, public trail events such as Easter Jeep Safari, and a few other organized off-road excursions. We knew he was a vintage Jeep fan as well as a Jeep company man.
However, it wasn’t until just recently that we sat down with him to talk in-depth about his passion for Jeep vehicles and how it has influenced his work at Jeep. Girmus shared all the details of his first vintage Jeep, his favorite trails, plans for future personal Jeep projects, and the responsibility he feels for carrying on Jeep’s iconic heritage.
A Vintage Jeep Fan From The Start
Girmus grew up around Jeeps; they were part of his daily life, but the match that lit the fire was his first ride in a vintage Jeep.
“I was probably about five years old. We went to an air show, and there was a World War II Willys MB you could take a ride in. Something about that experience really resonated with me. Not only did I fall in love with the early flat fender Willys jeeps, but Jeeps as a whole. That day I told myself, ‘I want to own an old Jeep someday.’ Just before I got my driver’s license, I got it,” he said.
Originally, he wanted to go after a World War II Jeep, but Girmus was still in high school and didn’t have a lot of money. But his persistence eventually paid off.
“I found a 1946 CJ-2A in my price range and did it a frame-off restoration with my dad. It took about two-and-half years. I rebuilt the engine, transmission, and transfer case. I got a sandblaster from my grandparents for Christmas one year and did all the sandblasting and prep myself. I basically made a beach in my parents’ side yard,” Girmus said.
The CJ-2A, which Girmus bought when he was 15 years old, was restored to its former glory during the two-and-a-half-year rebuild.
A Life’s Work Influenced by Vintage Jeep Design
Girmus’ life-long passion for all things Jeep has influenced his work life. He’s had his hands on the JK, JL, and JT (Gladiator) platforms, and the connections between old and new run deep in his philosophy toward the present state and future of Jeep vehicles.
“My CJ-2A is obviously a bit of a different animal than the new Wrangler (JL), but at the same time, there are striking similarities. Both have body-on-frame construction, solid axles front and rear, and a two-speed transfer case with a low range. To me, that’s cool,” said Girmus.
When working on the Gladiator, Girmus looked to the past to see what had been done with early Jeep pickup trucks.
“I went to my little library of Jeep history books and Jeep literature and dug up some old Jeep Comanche and J-truck brochures. I took some ideas from them but evolved those ideas for the things that today’s customer demands of a pickup truck. And especially what would be demanded of a Jeep pickup truck,” Girmus said. “I’ve been able to work on new Jeep products and make sure they live up to what the Jeep brand has always been and what it needs to continue to be — rugged and capable.”
Girmus told us it was satisfying to deliver a pickup truck that people could tow with and haul cargo in, but at the same time had all the traditional characteristics of a Jeep.
“It’s incredibly capable and has the basic design aspects of the early CJs and current Wranglers. Gladiator is the only open-air pickup truck on the market. You can take off the doors, take the top off, and fold-down windshield,” he said.
All Work And Some Play: His Favorite Jeep Trails
Knowing Girmus attends many Jeep-related events and trail rides and heads out Jeeping with friends and co-workers, we had to ask the inevitable question — favorite trail or favorite location. Girmus was quick to answer.
“Even though I have done quite a few, there are still lots of trails out there I want to conquer. But when thinking about my favorite, I always go back to Moab,” he said. “Moab is just so hard to beat. Not only are the trails around Moab challenging, but they also offer incredible scenery.”
“If I had to pick one, it would be Hell’s Revenge. It’s not the most difficult, but that trail embodies what makes ‘wheeling in Moab so incredible. You’ve got the views of the snowy La Salle Mountains to the east, Hells Gate for those who want the ultimate challenge, lots of steep climbs and descents, and plenty of sandstone fins and domes to crawl on,” he said.
While discussing his favorite trails, Girmus also talked about ideas for future vehicles or new features which the Jeep team often develops while on the trail.
“We’re all enthusiasts, and out on the trail, someone might say: ‘There’s a better way of doing this’ or ‘we should do this next time.’ A lot of those ideas made their way into the new Wrangler (JL). The power top was one of them. With the press of a button, you can experience open-air driving without having to get out and remove windows or remove freedom panels,” Girmus said.
The new door design is another innovation from their time on the trails. While out testing the vehicles, the Jeep team completely stripped the Wranglers down, taking the doors and tops off the vehicle.
“Someone remarked that it would be really nice if there was somewhere inside the door panel that we could grab to help lift the door off, and then once you have the door off, put it somewhere for safekeeping. That thought became the built-in grab handle surface on the interior of Wrangler (JL) and Gladiator (JT) doors,” said Girmus.
Girmus added that the team is also always talking to customers. “That’s my favorite part of going out to events. Being able to connect with the customers, talking to them, and figuring out what they like and what they don’t like about their Jeep,” he said.
Modifications that Jeep owners make to their vehicles are also of interest to Girmus and other members of the Jeep team.
“There are so many clever modifications that we see Wrangler owners perform on their vehicles. We often see interesting and useful modifications at Jeep events. Those just might make their way onto a production vehicle one day,” Girmus said.
Future Personal Projects
When asked about his next vintage Jeep project, Girmus said he is going back to his roots.
“I would love to get a Jeep Forward Control (FC) someday. My grandfather went through a string of vintage Jeeps on the family farm in Nebraska, using them for all sorts of jobs like irrigation and fieldwork. He started out with a surplus Willys MB, at some point moved up to 1948 CJ-2A, and then eventually stepped up to an FC 170,” he said.
That FC 170 was the Jeep Girmus’ father learned to drive in. “Part of the reason I want to get an FC is to drive it around with my dad or let my dad drive it,” he said
However, Girmus suffers from the most common Jeep-project dilemma. “But I need to get a bigger garage, then the projects can follow,” he said.
While his next personal vintage Jeep project is on the back burner for a while, Girmus said a major road trip with his 1946 CJ-2A will likely happen soon.
‘The next thing I’ve got on my radar is taking my CJ-2A out to Colorado in September. I’m going to attend the Colorado Flatfender Fall Color Tour. They usually get about 50 flat-fender Willys jeeps out there for the annual autumn event. It’s not hardcore four-wheeling, mostly old mining roads, but it will be fun to get the CJ-2A out there in the mountains and see what it can do,” he said.
Vintage Jeep Lovers Are In Good Company
“I’m not the only one in the company who’s a vintage Jeep enthusiast,” Grimus reassured us. “Every day, whether it’s working with teams in the design office, in engineering, or the sales and marketing end, I am surrounded by Jeep enthusiasts working on the future Jeep. And that’s a good feeling.”
“Knowing that we have so many people that are in tune with the Jeep brand, what those products are about, and what they need to be moving forward helps me sleep at night. As a vintage Jeep enthusiast, it’s comforting to know that there are plenty of others working on the next Jeep vehicles that are just as enthusiastic about the brand. There are lots of people at Jeep who are fighting for the right thing for the vehicle and for the Jeep customer,” said Girmus
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