The Iconic History of the Classic Jeep Truck
With the last of the 1992 Jeep Comanches set to roll off the assembly line, the iconic American automaker’s pickup segment was destined for the rust pile. That is until the much-anticipated return of the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which is proving to be well worth the wait.
There were a total of six different Jeep pickup models produced between 1947 and 1992. Let’s look back at the name and significance of each.
Jeep Willys-Overland 4X4: 1947-65
Following the bare-bones style of post-war CJ series, Jeep Willys offered its first truck featuring a sheet metal front and a 63-hp, four-cylinder engine, reports Car and Driver. The L-head configuration was available in a half-ton or one-ton version.
By 1953, Kaiser Motors merged with Willys. Initially known as Willys Motors, the automaker changed its name to Kaiser-Jeep in 1963.
Jeep FC Series: 1957-66
Although the Overland’s manufacturer continued through 1965, Jeep fans sought design modifications by the mid-’50s. The FC (forward control) series fit the bill.
Extremely rare, the run of 30,000 vehicles included two engine choices: a ¾-ton, 72-hp, four-cylinder, L-head FC-150 or an inline six-cylinder 115-hp one-ton FC-170. The rounded dump truck-like cab appearance and capable powertrain made the FC a favorite.
Jeep Gladiator/J-Series: 1963-88
The Gladiator/J-Series’ 25-year run speaks to its phenomenal success. The two available wheelbases included the 120-inch J-200 and the 126-inch J-300. With a variety of bed choices, the model included the fleetside box Townside and narrow box Thriftside.
By 1964, an economy 133-hp, low-compression version took its place. In 1965, a 258-cubic-inch V-8 became an option. The body style changed slightly in 1970 when the full-length grille replaced the quad-lamp front end. By 1981, the roof visor over the windshield was omitted.
Years down the road, the J’s front-end styling was morphed into the 2012 Wrangler. The Gladiator’s name changed in 1971, and the truck became known simply as the J-Series. The J-10 and J-20 followed suit in the 1970s.
American Motors Corporation (AMC) acquired the Jeep brand from Kaiser in 1970. With Renault as an AMC investor, the company began to control production in 1986.
Jeep Jeepster Commando: 1967-73
A Hurricane straight four-cylinder, 75-hp engine with 114 lb-ft of torque, the original Jeepster/Commando was designed to compete with the International Scout, Ford Bronco, and Toyota Land Cruiser. Jeep introduced its automatic transmission four-wheel-drive compact with the Commando.
In 1971, the Jeepster name was simplified. Known as the Jeep Commando, its front-end styling changed from the slotted grille and round headlights to the full-width grille. Body style options included a wagon, roadster, convertible, and pickup.
Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler: 1981-85
Originally called the CJ-8, Jeep’s Scrambler featured a five-foot pickup bed. It was a long-bed version of the CJ-7 chassis. Two engine options were available an 82-hp four-cylinder or 110-hp inline-six. While automatic transmissions were optional, the standard package featured a four- or five-speed manual transmission.
Combined with four-wheel-drive, the Scrambler offered exciting off-road capabilities. Drivers could choose a soft-top or hardtop body style. The Scrambler’s production of 28,000 makes it even more of a collector’s item than the FC.
Jeep Comanche: 1986-92
Jeep’s answer to the growing popularity of Japanese vehicles, the automaker made more than 200,000 before ending the operation in 1992.
Fashioned after the Cherokee, the extended length of the Comanche’s front-end suspension offered greater off-road capabilities. Unique for trucks of the era, the standard model’s four-speed manual transmission supported by a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine boasted 21 city MPG and 24 highway MPG. Chrysler took up the Jeep mantle in 1987.
Jeep Gladiator: 2020 to now
Now produced under Fiat Chrysler’s banner, the new Jeep Gladiator is designed to directly compete with the major mid-size truck producers. Its rugged good looks are similar to the Wrangler with extra air vents to allow for engine cooling.
Key features include a fold-down windshield, removable doors, and an available soft-top option. The Gladiator’s more-than-capable towing package makes it an off-road contender.