Why would I say that a Jeep CJ-10 is surprising? Obviously they are a pretty uncommon vehicle, being mainly an export-market vehicle, but more than that I would say they are not actually a “Jeep” in the traditional sense of the term. What on earth am I talking about? Read on…
First some background. Jeep had previously had a presence in Australia from 1958 in the form of Willys Motors Australia, based at Rocklea on the south side of Brisbane, Queensland. Products included the CJ-3B, CJ-5, CJ-6, FC-170, Station wagon and J-series trucks with 5,626 vehicles assembled through to the 1970 sale of Kaiser-Jeep to American Motors (AMC) when it was shut down.
Interestingly there were several unique local variants such as long-wheelbase CJ-5’s and 6’s. There was also a predecessor to the CJ-10 in the form of a cab-chassis version of the Station Wagon, as seen above.
After an 8-year gap Jeep Australia was established in 1978 in Salisbury Brisbane not far from the previous Willys Motors location, importing the CJ-7 and CJ-8 Scrambler and assembling the SJ Cherokee (nb effectively a Wagoneer) and J20 pickups. The Cherokee and J-20 were available with a 258 six and 4-speed or a 360 V8 and 3-speed auto, although in some years the V8 could be had with a manual.
I have seen this particular CJ-10 several times, and always thought that it was something not to dissimilar from the CJ-8 Scrambler which is simply a longer wheelbase CJ with a half-cab roof to create a small pickup bed.
However upon reading up on them, the story is quite different and dates back to the 1970’s when Jeep saw that that the Toyota Land Cruiser was doing quite well in global markets and probably taking over from the Land Rover in many as development of that vehicle stagnated.
To make a heavy-duty offroad capable pickup AM General started with prototypes in 1981 that had their full-size pickup chassis with a monstrous-by-Jeep-standards 119” wheelbase; this is the “not a Jeep” part I mentioned at the start. Just to be clear this is referring to Jeep-the-vehicle and not Jeep-the-brand. The core of the cab used familiar CJ bodywork with unique (to be kind) front fenders housing rectangular headlights that may have been influenced by the coming YJ Jeep, plus a nine-slat grille instead of the now-customary seven. Engines were the 258 ci (4.2L) 6-cyl or a Nissan SD33 3.3L 6-cyl diesel.
Only 300 were built at the plant in South Bend, Indiana before AMC sold that off to AM General in 1983 and production moved to VAM (Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos) in Toluca, Mexico. The CJ-10 was not sold in the US, although some were in Canada, but the short-wheelbase CJ-10A version was used in the military as an aircraft tug.
As with the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen from a couple of weeks ago, Jeep also participated in the Australian Army’s new vehicle tender process, however it seems like they should not have bothered. Apart from reports of axle breakages, they submitted a petrol-powered AM-10 vehicle with an automatic transmission against the requirement of diesel power (to share fuel with other vehicle types) and a manual transmission.
It is not clear how many were built at VAM, but I don’t believe it would have been a huge number because of one simple point – in 1982 the Jeep cost almost $4,200 more than a Landcruiser FJ45 utility ($14,925 vs $10,750). The Jeep had more standard equipment, such as a standard limited slip rear diff and better rust-proofing, but not enough to overcome the price differential against an established opponent.
However a series of setbacks decimated Jeep Australia, firstly a factory fire next door damaged their facility in 1983, and then in 1984 a change to import duty applicable to 4WDs made the competition cheaper, but applied to vehicles with a separate chassis so the forthcoming XJ Cherokee would not have benefited – it was not available in RHD at the time in any case. The Australian operation was reduced to parts distribution, but around this time they built this customised CJ-10, one of several done as a sideline to the parts operation. The original diesel engine and four speed were swapped for a 258 and 727 auto (as used in the SJ’s). The front panel from a CJ-7 replaced the original grille, but because the standard CJ-10 headlights were retained the lights in the new grille are spotlights.
All in all, it was a worthy attempt and given some more time to win over customers who may have taken a wait and see approach it may have been successful. After all, Toyota would have been facing the same exchange rate pressures as Jeep. Presumably the CJ-10 was cheaper to build than the standard J-10 pickup, but perhaps they would have been better to use its more commodious cabin that would seat 3 in comfort? As it was there would be another gap before Jeep returned to the Australian market.