Cohort Classic: Jeep FC-170 – Jeep’s Unconventional Truck Is Still At Work Hauling Gravel

(first posted 6/27/2017)      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.