CC Capsule: 1987 Jeep J-20 – Retired, Looking For A Second Career

The concept of retirement is many-layered.  For millennia, the concept was a non-starter because there were no options: Without work, you starved.  Today, the average life expectancy has made a lifetime of work, in some cases, physically impossible.  Additionally, there’s the specter of ageism in the hiring process that keeps those of many years from positions in which they’d excel.  Add in a few recessions and some unwise investments, or some company pensions going belly up (as in my grandfather’s case), and the gateway to one’s golden years can be an anxious transition in one’s life.  This old Jeep pickup is certainly parked at those gates.


I’ve read conflicting data on 1987 being the last year of Jeep J-20 production.  Some say that there were a few 1988 models to hit the road before being awarded the mantle clock, but others say that the 1988 model was merely a paper tiger.  Regardless, the Jeep truck put in a long career of stolid service.  Originally labeled “Gladiator,” the Jeep truck was introduced as a 1963 model along with its even longer-lived linemate, the Wagoneer.

It may be required by law to mention that Brooks Stevens was on the hottest of hot streaks in the early 1960s.  In addition to designing the Wagoneer (and probably the Gladiator, although I’ve never seen it mentioned), he was also responsible for the gorgeous Studebaker GT Hawk.

Regardless of its handsome, rugged looks, it’s clear that our featured J-20 has put in a long career of hard work.  Michigan’s perennially salty roads have done their worst, and the rusty plow that ostensibly goes with the truck intimates that the remnants of the transmission’s clutches may be taking up residence in the pan.  Then there’s the color: No deep greens show up in Jeep’s color palette for 1987.  The Jeep is parked only a couple dozen miles away from a large national forest; could this be an ex-government employee on pension, looking for a part-time job to fill the hours?

The tan bench seat harmonizes well with that forest green, and it’s clear that the interior has been painted the same color as the exterior, so it’s likely a factory job.  According to my Standard Catalog of 4x4s, a mere 1,153 Jeep trucks (including J-10s AND J-20s) were produced in 1987, so this is a rare truck even without its intriguing and attractive color.

Many will look at this J-20’s potentially career-ending rust and condemn it to the scrapyard, and that may not be unfair.  Here in the rust belt, however, there’s no reason not to give this truck a second chance at a part-time job to give its life some purpose.  There are plenty of rural driveways to plow and small loads to carry slowly down a secondary dirt road.  Age has its way with all of us, some more than others.  It would nevertheless be a shame to write us all off as a result of some age lines, minor arthritis, or rust.