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How to build the ultimate Jeep collection one 4x4 at a time

Written by Luna Bondesan, Photography by Federico Vecchio

Mar 25, 2022

With over 60 Jeeps spanning 6 decades of the brand’s greatest hits, there is undoubtedly a piece of America in Italy in this hidden Jeep collection. Just outside Milan, tucked away in an industrial complex is the temple of Bruno Tinelli, dedicated to all things Jeep—likely the largest in all of Europe.

He’s built a house in his garage (yes, not the other way around). Interestingly, his job has nothing to do with Jeeps. His family never particularly cared for Jeeps. He developed this passion all on his own. But his passion isn’t just about accumulating and being surrounded by great Jeeps day and night.

I drove it for 330.000 kilometers from Italy to Spain, Greece, Turkey—as far as the eye could see and the Jeep could follow.

“This would all be worthless to me, if I didn’t have the chance to share it—passions are nothing unless other people are part of them. And without others, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today; I would be just a guy with one or two 4x4s, probably in pieces, in a garage”, Bruno shares.

His core mission in life is to share his love for Jeep and get more people involved in the hobby. Yes, collecting 60 cars sounds intimidating. But Bruno started with one or two Jeeps (in pieces) in the '80s, and unlike other collectors, his Jeep empire was built thanks to a purer form of wealth, made of phenomenal friendships and boundless passion.

Forty years later, he’s leading the foremost Jeep movement in Europe, founded the Jeepers Meeting—Europe’s largest Jeep gathering—and turned his collection into a museum and workshop where fellow enthusiasts can meet, restore and plot their next adventure.

Recognized internationally as one of the most knowledgeable historians and pillars of the Jeep community, we met with Bruno to gain insights on both his story and lessons learned in collecting for next generation enthusiasts.

Luna Bondesan: Where did you get the Jeep bug?

Bruno Tinelli: It was 1985. In Milano there was a lifestyle and fashion phenomenon called “Paninari”—youth who dressed cool and talked cool, wore Italian designers clothing and accessories, in line with a very specific style of American influence. The group gatherings of this social movement started at “Al Panino”, a famous sandwich place, later spreading to other bars and fast food spots in the rest of the country. For how ridiculous it may sound, that’s what inspired the name Paninari (“The Sandwichers” in English). The philosophy behind being a “paninaro” was nothing more than pure life enjoyment, cool aesthetics, and rejection of any form of social commitment or political interest, after a tumultuous previous decade.

Whenever I tried to avoid spending money that I didn’t have for something that I didn’t need, in came one of my friends who offered to help, eliminating any reasons to leave any Jeep behind.

Collector profile: Bruno TinelliCollector profile: Bruno Tinelli

American movies and commercials had a huge impact on the stylistic features, determining what was cool and what wasn’t. Amongst the automotive icons of the Paninari subculture, together with the Chevy Sportsides and various muscle cars, there was the hero of the story: the CJ Renegade which was on all the covers of the magazines dedicated to the Paninari style. While my friends went inside the “paninoteche” (sandwich bars) to chase girls and try to escalate their status, I would just sit outside, staring and drooling over the CJs that were parked in front of the hot spots.

When I finally managed to put together every single penny I could, I bought my first CJ7 which had a 2.4 Diesel engine, in my mind a super cool car, but also fuel efficient. I was so excited about it that I went on a trip all across Europe with it. I drove it for 330.000 kilometers from Italy to Spain, Greece, Turkey—as far as the eye could see and the Jeep could follow.

Luna: Tell us how the collection evolved from there.

Bruno: My passion dictated all of my trips. I’d go wherever I thought I could find a Jeep to take home with me. I found a Renegade 1 and a Super Wagoneer on a trip in the US, but I was out of money at that point. My friend offered to pay for them until I could pay him back—and this, luckily or unfortunately, happened several times. Whenever I tried to avoid spending money that I didn’t have for something that I didn’t need, in came one of my friends who offered to help, eliminating any reasons to leave any Jeep behind.

Not that the foundation of any friendship should ever be monetary, but it's another example of why having great relationships around a shared passion can be incredibly helpful.

Luna: Even though you have such a large collection, is there a particular philosophy you have when sourcing new cars?

Bruno: My favorite era of Jeeps is the '70s and '80s when AMC owned the brand. That was obviously muscle car domination—time for American cars, and the majority of Jeep’s lineup carried V8 engines because of that influence. If you think of the CJ7, the Scrambler, the Cherokee SJ, and the J20 pickups that were designed in that era have the best looks, and sound. Also, the '70s gave the ultimate special aesthetics inspirations to liveries, with colorful stripes, decals, and limited production buzz models such as the Super Jeep and the various Renegades. In 1986 Renault took over production control and began downsizing engines. The V8s disappeared making them even more special today.

Jeeps aren’t necessarily smart, or fast, or efficient cars, so if you still find reasons to love them like I do, you have to be part of the family.

Luna: Original or restored?

Bruno: Original, because there’s only one of each. Every old car has a different story to tell which is inimitable and unrepeatable. Once they get restored, I believe they become ‘neutralized’ to a degree. The original smell of a Jeep tells a story and triggers a nostalgia from another life. Once you own an original car and make it your own, you can recognize it blindfolded.

Luna: Tell us more about the car we see here.

Bruno: It’s a 1978 Cherokee Chief in original condition with just 29k miles—a special edition they only made for two years, with larger axles and wider fenders which allowed bigger tires to be installed for better off road driving experience. In general, the huge body associated to the 2-door coupe style and the 6.6 V8 made it the most modern, sporty, and cool SUV of that period. Also, matching color interior-exterior makes my heart beat stronger.

My favorite part is the interior was done in collaboration with Levi’s and only made between 1975 and 1978: the seats are made of jeans and have little buttons that say ‘Levi’s Strauss’. This is a car that collectors often overlook because they prefer CJs or Grand Wagoneers over Cherokees of that same decade, since those are more well known and popular as far as iconic Jeeps are concerned. Because of this, I bought the Chief for less than $10k a few years ago. It’s not the first car on the list for most collectors because it was limited production and arguably overshadowed by its peers. To me, that’s what makes it very cool to the discerning eye.

Collector profile: Bruno TinelliCollector profile: Bruno Tinelli

Luna: For a first-time Jeep collector, what highlights stand out in the community element?

Bruno: Simply how democratic the Jeep community is. You’ll find virtually every type of person behind the wheel of a Jeep. From the collector who saved money for decades and endlessly argued with his wife to buy himself one, to the collector who could afford to buy the whole factory. I’ve gotten to know a broad variety of people thanks to Jeeps and I have friends of all kinds and cultures all over the world. It’s welcoming to all.

Luna: Any closing thoughts for those looking to enter the Jeep world?

Bruno: These cars are special and the people who like them are naturally unified by the passion for them. Jeeps aren’t necessarily smart, or fast, or efficient cars, so if you still find reasons to love them like I do, you have to be part of the family. I find pleasure in sharing my cars and my experience with whomever is interested.

More about Bruno

You can follow along with Bruno and his amazing Jeep collection on his Instagram (@bruno_jeep).

Meet our contributors

Luna Bondesan is an Italian journalist living in California with a deep background in all things motorized and a special passion for 4x4s.

Photographer Federico Vecchio's roving eye finds both great cars and great people in Italy and across Europe. You can find his work on Instagram (@federicovecchio_).


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