Mike Hayes has managed to catch a rare vehicle, one that has not yet made its appearance at CC. And it was hauling a load of gravel no less, in true CC fashion. Let’s take a closer look at the long wheelbase version of Jeep’s legendary (if not very successful) forward control truck, the FC 170.
As we’ve discussed a number of times, Willys was very concerned about how to keep Jeep volume up after cranking out so many during WW2. Their first shot was the 1946 Jeep Station Wagon, which played a substantial role in redefining the American station wagon from a primarily commercial vehicle to a family-oriented (sport) utility-vehicle. This was followed in 1947 by the pickup, and in 1948 by the Jeepster, all using the same basic front sheet metal, drivetrains and chassis.
But by the early 50s, the market grew ever more competitive, and these models were getting old, the Jeepster having petered out in 1950. So industrial designer Brooks Stevens was brought in to style a somewhat radical new concept: forward control compact trucks. What exactly motivated Willys to go this route is a bit hard to say, as space was hardly a premium in the US. Presumably it was a way to maximize carrying capacity using the relatively short Jeep frames, as well as just a bit of a Hail Mary pass that these would find success in a niche of the market that no one else had ever attempted to pursue.
But they did, starting with the the FC-150 in 1956, which rode the extremely short 81″ wheelbase of the JC-5. But thanks to the forward cab, a 78″ (6.5′) bed made the most of the space gains. It also used the CJ’s “Hurricane” 134 C.I. F-head hour. Jim Klein found an FC-150 and wrote it up here.
One is tempted to say that the VW pickup might have been an influence, and it’s possible, although VW sales were still pretty small before 1955. But they exploded in 1955, and the concept was clearly different and influential. And of course having it be four wheel drive gave the FC a unique niche, certainly not one anyone else was likely to pursue.
In 1957, Jeep followed up with the FC-170, a decidedly longer version with a 103″ wheelbase, which allowed for a quite long 9′ bed. Power came from the Continental-built 226 cubic inch Super Hurricane flat head six. A B/W T-98 four speed manual transmitted the power to the transfer case and four wheels.
These were tough little trucks, and found themselves hard at work in all kinds of extreme situations. Jeep also offered an FC-170 DRW model with dual rear wheels, which upped gross weights from 7,000 to 8,000 lbs. And Jeep showed concepts (on paper) for an FC-180, with a 120″ wheelbase and 150″ bed, and an FC-190, with a whopping 150″ wheelbase and 202″ (16 3/4 feet) bed.
A minivan prototype, also designed by Brooks Stevens, and built by Reutter in Germany, was shown in 1958.
Fire trucks and other institutional uses with specialized beds were common on the FC. There were some military versions. But the FC never really took off. Sales peaked in 1957, with 9,738 sold. It was too specialized, and the niche in the market turned out to be a hairline crack.
By 1965, production in the US was finished, and the dies and tooling were sent to India, where Mahindra, which had been building licensed versions of the CJ since 1946, gladly put it into production, with the “JEEP” letters still embossed in the front. It was quite a few years before Mahindra finally changed the dies and removed the “JEEP”. The FC line evolved over the decades, and became a popular basis for mini-buses, a significant market in India. FC production in India only ended in 1999.
In Spain, an FC-inspired line of trucks and vans were built by VIASA and EBRO from 1963-1983. These actually used a Jeep Commando frame, and either the 226 inch gas six or a Perkins diesel. Hotchkiss tried to sell them in France, but they were not successful there.
So back to the FC-170 Mike found at a gas station. Its long 9′ bed is being put to good use here with a load of gravel.
It’s a good thing the FC was four wheel drive, as one wonders what the traction would have been like, especially on the very stubby FC-150, given how front heavy they must be without any load in the bed.
Mike even got a small shot of the engine, which does appear to be the original 226 inch Continental. In the summer of 1973 when I was way up in the Rockies in Colorado staying with some folks I knew, one of their sons showed up with an FC-150 that he had lengthened the frame some and installed a Chevy 265 V8. It was a gnarly beast, and I had some memorable rides on some old mining roads in it. The visibility out front, and sitting high and ahead of the front axle, made for some unusual sensory inputs.
Jeep has evolved drastically over the decades, from trying to find markets as an off-road capable work truck to today’s lifestyle vehicles. About the only thing they share are the iconic seven-slot grille and the even more iconic name.
That prototype minivan could’ve been the coolest ever!
Thought the same, that little thing was awesome looking:)
I love that it’s being photobombed by a new Wrangler in that last shot.
For some reason I love the aesthetics of these. Just a very purposeful looking vehicle.
When I was a little kid I was somewhat afraid of all forward control trucks (and there were quite a few variations on the theme in use back in the late 60’s & early ’70’s), I had it in my head that they’d fall forward, as it just didn’t make sense to me that the drivers and passengers sat ahead of the front wheels. The first time I had a ride in and old White (that was the make, the truck was green, actually) semi tractor I was terrified. I remember being sure we’d tip right onto the windshield and the back end of the thing would tumble over and crush us. I guess I was a neurotic kid.
There is a much different sensation riding in a cab over design like this Jeep. In a tight turning maneuver, because you’re sitting ahead of the front wheels, you feel like you’re being swung, as if youre on a carnival ride. Pulling up to the back of a semi trailer or a building can be unsettling to the uninitiated just because you can get so close to things and not hit them. The biggest problem with such vehicles is that if you are in a wreck you are the first one to know it.
I had the same experience when I switched from conventional-style International medium-duty trucks to cabover Mitsubishis and Isuzus.
“I want to turn right here”
Cabovers are ok to drive, theres nothing greatly difficult about steering from above the front axle, I havent seen one of these Jeeps but I’ve plenty of experience of cabovers, I was sentenced to one of these many years ago for what seemed an eternity
As a VW Bus driver, I have an affection for forward control vehicles therefore I love these. There’s one that shows up to Cars and Coffee every so often.
I can attest to the comments above about how odd it can be to drive something forward control. You get so used to not having a front end that it’s awkward when you get back in a normal vehicle.
I learned to drive a stick in a ’66 Dodge a-100, and later owned a 69 Chevy Handi-van, customized. So I have experience with sitting on top of the front wheels driving. Would love to have this FC Jeep and would use it exactly like it’s being used in the photos. In my old hometown of New Castle Pa, north of Pittsburgh. The Post Office used FC Jeeps as tow truck / service trucks for the fleet. Circa 1950’s /60’s
A USPS EXAMPLE.
And as a wrecker. Picture it in USPS livery.
Anyone else notice the familiar registration number on the Wrangler doing the photobombing? (great juxtaposition old and new Jeeps, BTW).
In a twisted sort of CC Effect, I just changed my wallpaper to this picture this morning, WAY before this CC came out.
I know, I’m weird. ;o)
Good eye! Scotty would be proud;) lol
Wow, what a cool find! And still working, no less.
I hardly ever remember seeing these, but am periodically reminded of them after forgetting all about them every time.
The later Spanish version reminds me that Jeep almost got joined by Studebaker in this market. Stude put together a proposal for a delivery vehicle for Westinghouse and built a couple out of standard parts and the frame from the ZIP Van. One of the two made is in the Studebaker Museum.
As you point out, these never made any real volume for Jeep, so Studebaker entering this market would have likely been a quick death for both vehicles.
Just another great, superbly timed CC, what with the recent Corvair Rampside CC. The forward-control Jeep is often forgotten when discussing the early compact pickups (I certainly had). It’s notable since the FC-170 predates the Big 3’s offering by a few years. Along with Volkswagen’s Type 2, could the Jeep have been an influence, as well? I particularly like a few of the user comments on how differently these forward control vehicles turned compared to the normal engine placement ahead of the passenger compartment.
Maybe we’ll soon be treated to CCs on the Dodge A-100 and Falcon-derived Econoline.
These FC Jeeps were very influential in Russia, where they were copied by UAZ in the early 1960s and produced into the 1990s.
Motorweek did an informative review in 1994. Enjoyed the Lada Niva was offered in Canada.
Yeah, I envied our northern brothers. I always thought the Lada Niva was great looking. And never sold here in US. Always reminded me of the original Suzuki Samurai hardtops sold here, or first generation Ford Broncos. Very utilitarian, no nonsense fun vehicles. Climb trees, if you could hold on!
Those are still in production.
Here’s an UAZ van variant:
There is a Tonka version of the FC floating around, seems I or a friend had one as a kid
Such a simple and charming face. The Forward Control Jeeps would have made the perfect Buddy L / Tonka line of toys. Thankfully, Corgi paid homage to them with a nice selection of die casts.
This full sized example has the look of a die cast toy.
When I was a small child, in the ’70s, I had a toy FC-150 tow truck, so I’ve always known that the FC-150 existed, even though I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually seen one in person.
From a web search, the FC-150 that I had was from a line of toys called Tomte Laerdal Rubber Toys (or some sub-licensed variant). The company that originally produced them was Norwegian. There were at least 32 different models produced. Most were of European vehicles, but there were also some American and Japanese vehicles in the line. Although it was the ’70s when I had these (I was born in 1970), most of the models look to have been contemporary to the early ’60s. See the links below:
I had several of these toys. Besides the FC-150 (mine was blue), I remember that I also had a 1960 El Camino, a “Squarebird” Thunderbird, an SWB Land Rover, a Peugeot 403 (back then, I’m not sure if I actually knew what kind of car it was), and possibly one or two others.
Excellent memory MCT. I had several of these rubber cars too in the early 70s. I recall having the VW Bug version, plus the VW T1 Pickup. A Willys Jeep. And others as well.
I learned at the time, these toys sadly had a fatal flaw. Dogs absolutely loved them as chew toys!
I had a few, the forward control Tonkas (the ones I had) were smaller than most Tonkas. Big Tonka pickups often had Jeep or Ford styling. These FC Tonkas (from the 60s) wore their own unique style! Shown is a “full sized” (LOL) Forward control Tonka:
….and a “mini”!
Great write-up, Paul. It always makes me smile when I see some of my photos show up on CC. Speaking of photobombs, that’s my 1992 Prizm in the background of the first picture. Blind luck and a thirsty Geo took me to that gas station at the perfect moment.
I’m curious about what appears to be a step rung? beneath the front bumper, driver’s side of the van, 7th picture down. There also appears to be a handle high, just behind the driver’s door. I guess they’re to facilitate entry. It doesn’t look easy.
Great overview. The FC is only a recent discovery for me and I love its blunt, no-nonsense looks. And thanks for all the variants Paul. Can’t decide between a 150, Mahindra bus or one of those Spanish vans for my garage.
I always thought the design influence for FC type trucks was the pug dog. 😛
We had them assembled in Israel by Kaiser-Illyin and one of the fire trucks survived and restored – it is in fact used for the purpose it was made by the owner (fires are a constant hazard in Israel, so any help is welcome).
I don’t recall seeing any of these FC’s when I was a kid, but there is just something about them that I love, and this green one seems like the perfect example. It just seems like such an elegant piece of ‘form-follows-function’ design. Next Tuesday when they finally draw my Mega-Billions Lotto ticket, I am definitely going to add one to my stable of fantasy cars.
Trucks aren’t my thing, but this one is particularly cool. And the Stevens minivan version is downright beautiful — pity it never got past the prototype stage.
You too can have one, brand new:
I first spotted one of these parked on a piece of property in Longbarn CA, on the way to my favorite 4wd trails. Wanted to find the owner and offer to buy it, but never saw a sign of life there despite the cabin and other vehicles present. A few years later, the FC was gone (And so were the trails—screw you, govt.!!!).
Here’s a decent one…
Boo! I sometimes hate “progress”:P
What a cool looking little truck…it reminds me of big-headed, big-eyed cute toddler ready to tip over headfirst lol Nice find!
For those in the San Francisco Bay Area … or visiting from further afield … this shop is in a very scenic location, and features a lot of old Jeeps including FC’s, which can be seen in a drive-by even if the shop is closed. http://www.willysamerica.com/index.html No affiliation, just rode by on my bike once and was blown away by the sights.
I had one of these in 1981
Mine was an FC-170 with a rear van shell
It had belonged to the University of Cornell
Department of Ornithology
and the rear was a small aviary
It was damaged in a fire in August 1981 and I saw it in a junkyard in Austin
Mine had the Super Hurricane engine and a front power take-off winch.
Sadly I do not even have a picture of it.
That was my 1961 FC-170! I was using it to haul gravel for a home project in Bothell WA. I owned it since 1976, but sadly sold it in 2018 to a collector in CA. That truck never let me down. It hauled everything, from dirt to dirt bikes and jet skis. I miss it to this day, but it’s in better hands now.