I wasn’t 100% sold on converting the Jeep. It wouldn’t be accurate, it wouldn’t be cheap or easy, and I have a history of abandoning projects. This all meant that the Jeep needed to be returned to normal. Since nothing could be permanent, the first changes would be small, subtle items.
I chose to start with the mirror tag. It was something I’d see from behind the wheel, motivating me to keep going, yet would be small enough to go unnoticed by onlookers. Before I could start, I first needed to decide on a vehicle number, a crucial element of the tag.
Since 2016 was a big year for me, being my son’s birth year and the year I changed careers, bought the Jeep and began this project, the number 16 called out to me. Besides, since my Jeep wasn’t the same body style as the movie Jeeps, I felt I had flexibility, leaving me open to more than just the handful of numbers used by the production team.
I found a template from www.jurassicparkjeep.com, downloaded a font from Adobe TypeKit, and printed the tag onto a couple of sheets of 4×6 photo paper. I then trimmed away the whitespace and stuck the cards into a self-laminating pouch, and hung the whole tag onto a ball chain.
A week later, things changed. My wife went into labor at 5pm on March 19th and, nearly 24 hours later, my son was born. Coincidently, my wedding anniversary also fells on the 20th, though in a different month. If there was ever a number that I felt should be painted onto my Jeep, it would be 20. I remade my mirror tag.
Declaring this as my permanent number, I ordered 2 custom license plates from Celebrity Machines. There would be a permanent one for the front of the Jeep and a spare one for the rear that I’d install if I were to take it to a convention, a movie theater premiere, or for a random photo shoot.
Jeeps are heavily customized, because each owner has their own idea of what a Jeep should be. Maybe it’s because the Jurassic Park Jeep was one of my first exposures to how a Jeep should look, it’s not a true Jeep without big overhead roof lights, a winch, and a CB antenna. Even though those are all things from the movie, they’d also be things I’d have put onto my Jeep. I ordered a 102″ whip from Amazon, along with a Hustler SSM-1 stainless steel ball mount and spring. (Both of these can be purchased using the links provided.) I waited anxiously for the parts to arrive. I was a radio operator for over a decade, so having a vehicle that I could install a large whip antenna onto was exciting.
The movie Jeeps look like their antennas are mounted as high as possible on the tub, directly alongside the roll bar. Unfortunately, the roll bar is in the perfect spot to obstruct drilling from the interior, and there’s so little space to fit the mounting bracket that drilling from the outside risks putting a hole in an unreachable location. In all, it’s an extremely hard location to drill into, though with a little bit of patience and ingenuity, I prevailed.
A 9 foot long antenna is a little excessive to have swinging loose, and so it needed to be tied down somehow. The movie Jeeps used a small bracket on their light bar frames, but I didn’t have a bar yet. Instead, I chose to use some 550 cord to fashion a tiedown, securing the antenna, through the door crack, to the rollbar. The whip was held down, and the spring tension kept the antenna from hitting against the windshield or the FM antenna.
With the antenna in place, the Jeep looked better, but I didn’t want a vehicle that was just for looks. I wanted it to be functional. I had a vision of my Jeep becoming a full mobile communications rig, listening to weather reports, police and fire dispatches, military and civilian air traffic, and all of the amateur radio bands across HF, VHF, and UHF frequency ranges. I spend a lot of time on Air Force bases, have several friends still in the airborne communication community, hold a civilian pilot’s license, and spent a few months as an Air Force pilot, aviation frequencies were a requirement. The Kenwood TM-V71A met that requirement, and I began to think about how to install it.
Not wanting the cabin littered with radios, it had to be clean and professional. It could’ve fit easily under the driver’s seat, but I was also fearful of water damage from rain or driving through a river. It needed to be up high, and in a dry place. I stumbled onto a large empty spot in the dash that fit perfect for the transceiver. A single bolt to secured the radio’s mounting bracket to the steering column.
The Kenwood’s remote head unit needed to be mounted somewhere accessible and out of the way. Jeeps are easy to break into, and I didn’t want an expensive ham radio to draw in thieves. Conveniently, Jeep TJs have a large empty trim piece between the sun visors that is a perfect fit. Taking a drill and an utility knife to the plastic, I cut an opening. With the cable running inside the window trim, it almost looked factory. Since the Kenwood doesn’t operate on the HF bands the whip is designed for, I still needed another antenna mounted somewhere, but a small spot lamp bracket on the windshield hinge made for a good location.
Taking a drill and a utility knife to the plastic, I cut an opening for the remote head unit, accidentally cutting through one of the clips that held the piece in place and through a stop to prevent the assembly from being pushed into the windshield frame. It had to be done though, for the unit to fit, and the face plate is thick enough to add stability along with the four other clips holding the piece in place. With a cable running inside the trim along the side of the frame, it couldn’t look much cleaner.
I still needed to mount an antenna for the Kenwood somewhere, since the radio didn’t operate on the HF bands the whip had been designed for. I had a radio without an antenna, and an antenna without a radio.