(first posted 8/26/2014) Certain cities are inextricably linked to the vehicles their residents made. Everyone who knows cars can pair the Michigan cities of Flint with Buick, Lansing with Oldsmobile and Dearborn with Ford. Outside of Michigan, say ‘Kenosha’ and everyone thinks of AMC. Ditto South Bend and Studebaker. And the northern Ohio city of Toledo is every bit as identified as the home of the Jeep.
In 1910, John North Willys bought a six-years-old bicycle manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio, where he consolidated the operations of the Willys-Overland company. This marked the beginning of an automobile manufacturing operation that remains to this day. Willys-Overland made it through the Second World War, eventually being purchased by Kaiser in 1953. Kaiser and Willys passenger cars were produced there into 1955 and forever thereafter, Toledo’s one and only famous automotive product has been the Jeep.
We have already covered a good bit of the history of the Jeep Gladiator (here), so there is no need to plow that row again. Instead, let’s just wallow in and enjoy this truck and native son of Toledo.
The Jeep CJ series (and the earlier Station Wagon) vehicles never were intended to anchor and carry an automobile company, but carry the company they did after the 1955 cessation of the Willys Aero passenger car. The 1963 Gladiator and Wagoneer, on the other hand, appear to have been designed with the implicit belief that they would be the company’s core products going forward.
Almost immediately, these trucks stubbornly occupied a significant niche: the slightly smaller-than-average, 4-wheel drive truck. The Internationals and the Dodge Power Wagons were the big dogs in the field, and trucks by Ford and GM were out there as well. A full size down were the Scout, and the soon-to-be discontinued Jeep pickup based on the old 1940s Willys design. In this truck, Jeep found a nice, quiet little place where it could do its thing, out of the way of the bigger and better financed competition.
And didn’t every young baby boomer own the Tonka version? I know I did.
By the ’60s, the Jeep name had plenty of cred among truck buyers, and Kaiser Jeep certainly provided a vehicle that lived up to the reputation expected of a Jeep. And the Gladiator of these years may have been as modern and as civilized a truck as anything made: Not only was there an independent front suspension, but these may well be the first 4×4 trucks offered with an automatic transmission, the Turbo-Hydramatic 400 from General Motors. This interior would not have been out of place in a lower-priced car of the period.
It is hard to narrow down the year of this fellow. We know that it has to be between 1965 and 1967, that short stretch during which Kaiser Jeep employed the AMC 327 V8 engine that Jeep christened the “Vigilante V8”. I see that the J-3000, which we previously covered here, has what appears to be a switch on the steering column for hazard flashers, so if forced to guess, I would peg the red J-3000 as a 1967 and this one as a 1965 or ’66.
The AMC V8 engine is another interesting Toledo connection. This engine bore no relationship to the more famous Chevy 327, but was instead largely designed by engineer Dave Potter in the waning days of Kaiser-Willys. As the air was leaking out of the K-W automotive business, Potter found his way to the fledgling American Motors Corporation, which was desperate for a new V8 engine. Potter’s previous work on the Kaiser design greatly sped the AMC design work, taking the engine from drawing board to production line in a scant 18 months. The first AMC V8 began life in 1956, as a 250-cubic inch mill, before being enlarged to 327 cid (5.4 liters) in 1957.
Unfortunately for Jeep, AMC discontinued the 327 after 1967, and Jeep had to go shopping again. This time, the result was Buick power under the hood until AMC’s 1970 purchase of Kaiser Jeep, when AMC engines returned.
It was fitting that I should spot this old Gladiator while attending a family wedding, about 60 miles east of Toledo, last year. When in Jeep Country, what else should I have expected to find? I will acknowledge that this example is only 2/3 the J-3000 that Paul wrote up last year (both in GVWR and the relative amount of sheetmetal still attached to the frame), but that makes the find no less interesting. Actually, for a northern truck this one is remarkably free of rust mites.
About that rust – wintertime salt spray was probably the Gladiator’s greatest foe. I have long been amazed that the slushy, salty environment where almost every postwar vehicle in the U.S. was designed and built was the same environment they could not withstand. It would have been easier to figure had all the design work been in southern states. “Gol-ly Herb, I just got back from a trip up north, and all the fenders have holes in ’em. Gol-dangdest thing y’all ever saw.” But no. Engineers in Detroit, Kenosha, South Bend, Fort Wayne – and Toledo- lived and worked every day around rusted, swiss-cheesed car and truck bodies: “So it rusted. Kwitcherbitchin’ and buy another one.”
When it closed in 2006, the Jeep Parkway plant was the oldest operating automobile plant in the United States. Think about it: The same assembly lines built the Willys-Knight, the Americar, the later Kaiser Manhattans and about every Jeep from the beginning up through at least the modern Wrangler. Amongst all of those famous products, the Gladiator stands right with them, a product that the people of Toledo could be proud of.
Quite a few northern industrial cities have lost their automotive benefactors over recent decades, and have had their difficulties in moving forward. But Toledo, home of the Jeep, continues to chug along under a long line of different owners. This old Gladiator reminds us that there was more to Jeep in the 1960s than CJ-5s and Wagoneers.
Related reading: CC 1967 Jeep Gladiator J3000 – The Truck of the Future