Revved Up: Marine Spends Years Refurbishing 1978 Jeep

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

All military, all the time – that’s what a lot of civilians think of service members. But that’s rarely the case. Service members have hobbies just like you and me, and they’re often pretty impressive.

Take Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Orlando Perez. He’s a videographer working at the White House Communications Agency. But he’s also an avid fixer-upper.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Orlando Perez beside his fixed-up 1978 Jeep Wagoneer.

His most impressive project? Rebuilding a 1978 Jeep Wagoneer.

“I didn’t want to buy a new car. I wanted to get an old car,” Perez said. So, in 2011, he found the Wagoneer on Craigslist. It was $2,000. “I’m pretty sure I overpaid for it, but I was just too excited to own one.”

One might ask: why all the excitement for a 40-year-old vehicle? Like many things, it has to do with family.

The 1978 Jeep Wagoneer when Perez first bought it in 2011 for $2,000.

“My father’s from an older generation where you appreciate stuff and how it’s made,” Perez said. “They don’t make cars like they used to anymore. They’re all plastic fiberglass now. This car is pure American steel. It’s solid.”

But then he brought it home and realized he was in way over his head.

Here’s what Perez’s Wagoneer looked like on the inside when he first bought it.

“When I first purchased it, I was in North Carolina. Then I found out I had orders to Parris Island to go be a drill instructor. So before we moved to South Carolina, I decided I was just going to send it back home to Texas and have my dad help me out with it because I wasn’t going to have as much time for it as I wished I did.”

So back to his hometown of Mission, Texas, it went, where his dad was more than willing to help him out. It took nearly three years to rebuild the engine and get it up to snuff. Perez was finally able to take it to his next duty station, the Pentagon.

“That was a journey in itself,” Perez said. “I drove it from Texas to D.C., and in the process, it left me stranded two or three times on the road. I was driving on the freeway with it and I couldn’t go faster than, like, 45 mph.”

It took him about four days to make the trip. But he said that was all part of the process.

“Whenever I turned it on, I had to talk to it a little bit, like, ‘Don’t leave me.’ Because I did not have a backup plan,” he joked. “It’s fun though. I think that’s part of bonding with the vehicle.”

The car is still a work in progress, and Perez occasionally drives it to work. His wife, Kendra, a former Marine herself, and his three kids seem pretty happy with it.

Orlando Perez (right) with his father and son

“They love that it’s loud. They always want to ride in daddy’s car,” Perez said. “Being in the military and being very patriotic, I feel like having a nice American family car that completes the picture. I love it.”

Perez recently bought a 1994 Jeep Wrangler Sahara, similar to the model used in the original “Jurassic Park.” He’s planning on working on that one to have it look like the one in the movie.

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