Jeep has always been Jeep. What I mean by that is, there are approximately 467 versions of every model. Maybe that is a touch exaggerated, but the point stands. The original Jeep Gladiator had nothing really to do with the version of the CJ (pre-Wrangler) with the truck bed.
While there was something very similar to the current Jeep Gladiator back in the ‘80s, the original Gladiator was something totally different. How did Jeep mismatch the name so badly? It’s an odd thing that Jeep didn’t carry the proper nomenclature through. So, then what was the Gladiator historically and how does it differ from the new one?
What was the original Jeep Gladiator?
There were a few early Willys-era adapted Jeep pickups during and after the war. These weren’t exactly new models, they were simply the logical conclusion to the Willys Jeep. According to TruckTrend, there were a few other obscure Jeep trucks in the later fifties like the FC-150 and the FC-170, but these were more medium-duty work trucks than around town or even farm pickups. The first real Jeep Gladiator was based on the far more consumer-friendly Jeep Wagoneer.
Some might credit the Jeep Wagoneer as the first of the luxury SUVs while still being super-capable off-road. What really helped to create the Gladiator was the Wagoneer’s body-on-frame construction which supported the easily swappable variations, one of which was a pickup.
The Gladiator begins
The first Jeep carrying the Gladiator name rolled out in 1963. Jeep, being all Jeepy, offered the Gladiator (J-Series) with a wide variety of bed options. According to TruckTrend, there was a narrow box, called Thriftside; wide box, aka Townside; stake bed, Wrecker; and a cab/chassis arrangement. See what I mean?
Over the years, the Jeep Gladiator got several different motors, but the original was a 3.8L (230ci) inline-six making 140 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque. Jeep called this motor the Tornado, and according to TruckTrend, it was the first overhead cam engine in a light-weight truck in production.
Rear-wheel drive was standard, and 4×4 was an option. In only two years, Jeep offered a new motor for the Gladiator, a 5.4-liter V8 making a torquey 250 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque. As Jeep still does, the years went by, and many more variations came and went. No matter what, though, the Gladiator was always a classic pickup truck.
The Jeep Gladiator died
After many, many iterations, the Jeep Gladiator’s name died in 1971. They replace the name with just the “J” series designation. Of all of them, the J-10 configuration lasted the longest, until it too met its end in 1987. The Jeep Comanche was around for a little while until Chrysler killed it off as well. Thus ending not only the Gladiator namesake but also the Jeep Pickup, until now.
So, what’s the point?
What is strange about all this is, from 1981-1986, Jeep made the first version of what we now know as the Gladiator; the CJ 8 Scrambler. If modern the Gladiator is just a wrangler with a truck bed attached, then the CJ8 was just a CJ with a truck bed attached. We are talking about literally the same exact thing.
Now, if there is a precedent for making a Wrangleresque SUV with a truck bed, why didn’t Jeep name the modern Gladiator a Scrambler? The original Gladiators are just regular pickup trucks, the modern Gladiator, while plenty cool, is clearly not a regular pickup.
If Jeep wanted to make a modern Gladiator they should have built an all-new pickup truck to carry on its proper heritage. It feels like such a strange thing to get wrong. To further annoy, Jeep made a “Scrambler” edition of the Gladiator. In the words of young people on the internet, “I literally can’t with Jeep sometimes.”