It seems like forever and a day that we have been waiting for the new Jeep Wrangler JL to rid itself of the character- disguising camo and expose the Jeep faithful to what has been hiding beneath. Honestly, it’s like trying to pick out your prom date when all the girls are wrapped in tarps. We’ve been baited along with the promise of the new Wrangler JL model and then diabolically teased of a truck to be built on the same platform and delivered to us in the year to follow. It’s hard to digest that this wait may finally be winding up.
You may ask “Why all the fuss?”. It’s not like we haven’t been treated to a Jeep truck before and you would have a valid point. I believe the upcoming Wrangler JT pickup will be different though. In the past, Jeep has offered quite a few trucks in their lineup, each one special in their own distinct ways but, for the most part, they were always trucks first and Jeeps secondly.
What I mean by that is, with the exception of the 81-86 CJ-8 Scramblers, Jeep trucks have always segregated themselves from the true Jeep four-wheel drive, short wheelbase off-roader that embodies all of the elements that define the Jeep name. The CJ-8 was essentially a CJ-7 lengthened with a small truck bed in the back; a feature that more than made up for in looks what it might have lacked in practicality.
The very first origins in the evolution of the Jeep truck would date all the way back to 1946, when Willys-Overland offered a Jeep pickup that shared its exterior countenance with the Willys Station wagons of the day. The high hood, flat-topped fenders and buglike headlights gave indication that the two were loosely related but yet independent at the core.
One progression of the Jeep truck is the ultra-unique FCs, or Forward Control trucks. Introduced in the mid-50’s, the FC-150 defied easy explanation. With it’s odd cab-over-engine design and “big rig”styling, the FC models are usually presumed to be anything but a Jeep. The forward control models are highly sought by collectors due to their bizarre appearance and a distinctly wonderful driving experience . With a monstrous steering wheel that sits horizontal in front of you and no hood in front of the windshield, it’s hard to not feel like you’re wheeling a semi down the interstate trying to get a load up to Dubuque by sundown. It’s even harder to hide the smile the FC puts on your face.
One of the most underated and least seen of the Jeep trucks are the Gladiator and J-Series models that were manufactured for an astounding quarter century, beginning in 1963. While other truck manufacturers toyed with rather swank styling cues that felt need to change every few years, Kaiser-Jeep found a solid and simple design that stood the test of time; making the J-Series truck almost instantly identifiable regardless of it’s vintage.
I think what I like most about the Gladiator and J-Series trucks is that, in all their simplicity, they just look tough. I would go so far as to say that if Chuck Norris was going into battle in a new big screen blockbuster, maybe Missing In Action 9, he could very easily drive one of these. The Kaiser M715 is, in fact, the military version of the Gladiator and it literally looks like it’s coming to save the world and lay under tread anyone who tries to stop it. It’s so excessively packed with unbridled masculinity, it might even cause Chuck Norris to second-guess his level of adequate manliness to man the controls. No vanity mirrors on the back of sunvisors, if even so equipped; just brawn under the hood and bulges on the bedsides. A seriously hard act to follow.
But follow Jeep did…with the CJ-8 Scrambler in 1981. For the first time, traditional Jeep owners were given their beloved Jeep fitted with the added utility of a short truck bed on a wheelbase 10-inches longer than the CJ-7, to boot. While such an offering did not evolve the new CJ into a formidable cargo hauler, it did undoubtedly help solidy the Jeep CJ’s overall position as America’s favorite off-road vehicle and tested the waters for what interest might exist for another Jeep truck.
In 1986, Jeep delivered to market a brand new pickup based on the wildly succesful Cherokee XJ utility wagon. The Jeep Comance (MJ) was built using the same mechanical componenets, drivetrain and exterior styling as the Cherokee but with the choice of either a 6 or 7 foot truck bed. The truck was failry well accepted in the marketplace but always had a clearly defined persona separate from it’s close kin, the CJ/ Wrangler. After seven years of production, Chrysler determined that the truck building was best left to its Dodge division, so the Comanche slowly faded into the background; making way for its reinvention under the name Dodge Dakota, with no considerable fanfaire.
The world would have to wait an antagonizing long 25 years and counting for a new pickup from Jeep. And from all visually-hindered appearances it might be one that’s really worth waiting for. Besides, we do actually get a brand new Wrangler to tide us over, in the meantime. But really, who are we kidding? OlllllllO