November 5, 1995

Daniel A. Janquitto specializes in restoring and selling parts for jeeps

A walk into Daniel A. Janquitto's office is enough to make a sentimentalist hold out hope that bandleader Glenn Miller might still be found.

Shelves are lined with models of World War II jeeps, half-tracks, tanks and other vintage Army vehicles. Leather tanker helmets sit atop mannequin heads. Cheerful propaganda posters lean against the wall, including a famous illustration of a factory worker flexing her biceps and exhorting, "We can do it!"

Photo Graph Of Dan Janquitto

What started as a blending of two hobbies – mechanics and the study of World War II – has become a business that attracts customers from around the world.

Although a few customers are just looking for the necessary parts to make their ancient machines run, most are avid fans of jeeps, and will pay several hundred dollars to get the right part to make a jeep look as though it just rolled off the assembly line, headed for the hedgerows of Normandy or the jungles of the South Pacific.

As a result, Janquitto’s business is most remarkable for the immense number of parts that line the walls. He says he has over 3,500 items in his inventory, including early- and late-model dipsticks, voltage regulators and seat cushions, either filled with foam rubber, as was used early in the war, or animal hair, as was used later when rubber became scarce. The parts that he cannot buy, he and his crew of 8 to 10 workers make or sub-contract out.

"We want to be the L.L. Bean of jeep parts." Janquitto said.

Janquitto started down this road as a child, watching television shows such as "Combat" and movies such as "PT109".

The war fascinated him, as did things mechanical. So when he attended the General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich., for five years, he also started looking for an old jeep to work with.

Eventually he found a 1948 civilian version and spent so much time working on it he almost flunked a couple of classes. He eventually sold that car to a dean and starting looking for a military jeep actually made during World War II.

World War II jeeps were built by three manufacturers – Ford, Willys and American Bantam. The three fought over who had the rights to the design, and the courts eventually decided the design was created by all three in response to government specifications, Janquitto said. However, Willys trademarked the name and produced Jeeps for Civilian use. Willys has since been bought out, and now the Chrysler Corp. owns the Jeep trademark.

Janquitto’s search ended in 1973 in a New Brunswick field, where he found a 1942 Willys Overland MB rusting away. He bought it for $200.

Over the next two or three years, he scrounged around for parts, and those he could not buy he made himself. When he finished restoring it, he took it to car shows, where it stood out among the usual droves of Duesenbergs and Model T Fords.

At the time he was working as an engineer for General Motors Corp., but his reputation as a master of jeeps was growing in the classic car world. He even got a security clearance to study jeep photography in the National Archives.

Using his skills as a mechanical engineer, Janquitto started making some parts that he could not buy. In the 1970’s the hobby started to turn into a business when Janquitto and his wife, Barbara, made canvas roofs for jeeps in their apartment for fellow jeep collectors.

In 1977, Janquitto left GM. He and his wife bought a house in a commercially zoned section of Beachwood and started making canvas there full time.

Initially, they used most of the canvas they made for boats sails, but some went for jeep roofs. His wife did most of the work for some years, while Janquitto worked at a second job for a defunct solar energy business in Wall Township. When that business shutdown in 1984, Janquitto starting spending all his time at the family business.

Gradually the jeep side of the business took over and the Janquittos switched its focus to supplying jeep parts, both for military and civilian versions built from 1941 through 1971. In 1987, they moved to the present Island Heights location, keeping the Beachwood name, which then had become well known in collecting circles.

And those collectors can be fussy. For example, Ford owners often insist on bolts with a small "F" imprinted on them, as all Ford jeeps had.

But since jeep parts were designed to be interchangeable, regardless of the manufacturer, many jeeps have become hodgepodges of parts over the years, making identification difficult. Some customers insist on getting certain parts, even though Janquitto knows those parts are not historically accurate.

Janquitto has expanded his knowledge and inventory of military devices over the years. A Stuart tank sits inside the garage, and a DUKW, a large amphibious car knows as a "duck," squats in the driveway outside. He even owns a pigeon cage used by the Army Signal Corps when its winged messengers were not in flight.

But it is the jeep that clutches Janquitto’s heart. About a dozen full-size jeeps, in various states of repair, line reinforced shelves and are eventually restored or used for research.

"A jeep is form follows function," Janquitto said. "There’s real appeal to that. "On our recent convoy across America, I had breakdowns every day, but it was never anything a little chewing gum or wire couldn’t fix," Janquitto continued. "They’re ugly, but they’re beautifully ugly".

The convoy Janquitto referred to was part of the other great passion in Janquitto’s life –
Finding-a-cure for the rare form of Muscular Dystrophy that afflicts his 8-year son, Luke.

Janquitto and several other collectors zip-zagged across the nation, raising awareness and money for the fight against Duchenne, a disease which causes muscle cells in boys exclusively to disintegrate. About on in ever 3,500 boys gets the disease, which often kills them before they are out of him teens.

Janquitto’s convoy raised about $125,000 in cash, destined to go to a research center at the University of Pittsburgh that is studying the disease.

His son’s disease also has given Janquitto a better perspective on life, he said. His business is profitable, but not by much. He realizes he could make more money elsewhere, but he can survive well enough off the current shop and gets satisfaction from keeping history alive.

"This is better than working at GM for eight years designing one bolt," Janquitto said. "Here I get the raw materials in the front door, and I know I’m going to have to make a product to sell out the back door."

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