Craig Yee has this thing about getting stuck.
He’s not for it.
Yee, 55, has spent nearly $100,000 over the past four years to build the ultimate off-road vehicle, combining a 1953 Jeep Willys Wagon with a 2005 Jeep Rubicon Wrangler. It’s a semi-holy union of styles, eras and technologies that, for a Jeep aficionado like Yee, has a singular goal.
“I want to be able to go anywhere and not get stuck,” says Yee, sitting in his Laguna Niguel garage, where he is surrounded by a neatly stacked pile of Jeep dashboards and other components.
Yee knows stuck. He’s been working to rehabilitate his legs since 2002, when he was rear-ended while driving north, from San Diego on the I-15 in his Jeep Wrangler. After careening off the freeway, Yee eventually ended up at St. Jude’s Hospital in Fullerton with a broken neck.
And a long road ahead.
Yee credits the staff at St. Jude’s for helping him regain some function in his legs. He says his ability to use a wheelchair and walker is a credit to their dedication, his determination and a higher power.
“I don’t blame anybody,” Yee says of his injury. “This is what happened.”
Over the years, Yee, a one-time machinist, has had several Jeeps, using them mainly to explore the outdoors.
“I like to go places,” he says. “I don’t have to conquer things.”
Since his injury, the Willys restoration project has become a central part of Yee’s therapy. It keeps him busy and focused.
“Whenever I felt down, I thought about the Willys.”
“The car is my therapy. They go hand in hand.