Jeep will forever be embedded in history as America’s go anywhere vehicle. With the brand’s roots stemming from the Willys Jeep of World War II all the way to the Jeep Wrangler we see traversing the off road trails. American heritage oozes from the design of modern Jeep models, from its iconic seven slot grille, to the basic body design. Did you know that the rich history of Jeep included pick-up trucks?
Jeep Trucks of Yesteryears
Towards the end of World War II when the wartime manufacturing was ramped down, Willys started designing a vehicle for post war America. Dubbed as CJ or “Civilian Jeep,” the first road vehicles were modified with a tailgate, lowered gearing, and a canvas top. 1947 saw the emergence of the first truck in the brand’s history simply named Willys Jeep Truck. Based on the CJ and the Willys Jeep Station Wagon, the Willys Jeep Truck was to be the third vehicle in the Willy-Overland model line-up. This 1-ton four-wheel drive truck came in four variants—the pick-up truck, platform stake truck, chassis cab, and a bare chassis. Over 200,000 units of the Willys Jeep Truck were sold during its 18-year production.
The 1950s saw the purchase of Willys-Overland by Kaiser Motors subsequently renaming the company Willys Motors. This time also saw the emergence of competition in the segment prompting the creation of a new truck. In 1956 Willys Motors debuted the Jeep Forward Control, a front engine four-wheel drive truck keeping the iconic front fascia seen on the CJ models. During its short 9-year production life, the Forward Control’s applications ranged from being a flatbed, a tow truck, dump truck, and a fire truck just to name a few. This model also saw international production after being licensed by Mahindra in India and Vehiculos Industriales y Agricolas (VIASA) in Spain.
The introduction of the Jeep Gladiator in 1962 (as the 1963 model year) entered Jeep in a segment with stiff competition. Based off of the larger SJ or Wagoneer platform, the Gladiator began Jeep’s foray into the consumer centric full-size pick-up truck segment. In the 1960s, Chevrolet and Ford already had a stronghold on the pick-up truck segment which prompted Willys Motors to introduce new features in the Gladiator. Powering the Jeep Gladiator was a new 3.8-Litre straight-six overhead cam Jeep Tornado engine. It was the first production overhead cam engine in an American light truck or SUV and one of the first overhead cams to be produced by an American manufacturer. Also, it was the first four-wheel drive pick-up truck to offer automatic transmission and innovations trickled down to the power steering and power brakes.
Early 1963 saw the name Willys Motors transition to Kaiser Jeep Corporation changing certain features of the Gladiator for the next year model. From the Jeep Tornado engine, Kaiser Jeep Corporation transitioned to an American Motor Corporation (AMC) overhead valve inline-six engine. The turn of the century saw Kaiser Industries leave the automotive industry, selling Jeep to the American Motor Corporation. 1970 also saw the first design change of the Gladiator when the front grille was changed to one that is used on the Jeep Wagoneer SUV. In addition to that, the AMC logo was added to the new front fascia.
The name Gladiator was dropped after 1971 but the truck continued on as the Jeep J-Series. Throughout the 70s the J-series truck remained relatively the same. Minor developments included changing the variant names to make identifying the specific capabilities of the J-series trucks simpler, and in 1977, disc brakes become standard equipment.
Discontinuation of the J-Series
Chrysler, which bought out AMC in 1987, had a broader range of trucks under the Dodge brand immediately calling for the discontinuation of the J-Series full-size truck. The new direction of Jeep still kept the platform of the J-Series but kept it on the Grand Wagoneer. Replacing the full-size truck segments was a compact pick-up based on the Wrangler named the Comanche.
Even if Willys Motors transitioned to Kaiser-Jeep Corporation which was then bought by American Motors and was purchased yet again by Chrysler, the Gladiator/J-Series pick-up truck stood the test of time and continued to be produced as a single generation on the same automobile platform for 26-years.
Jeep Truck Teasers
Concept cars are a sneak-peek to what can be done in terms of design and technology. When manufacturers make concept cars, they won’t always bring the vehicle to production. Jeep has been teasing the public since 2005 when they released a concept truck with the Gladiator badge. That particular concept never made it to the production line but Jeep never stopped teasing us with the idea of a new Jeep Truck. Through the years there have been a number of Jeep Truck concepts following the 2005 Gladiator concept like the J-12, the “FC” based on the Front Control, the new Comanche, and the Crew Chief. In 2016 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced that Jeep was going to release a new pick-up truck based on the Wrangler.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator
The fourth generation Jeep Wrangler (JL) was unveiled at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show which would become the platform for the new mid-size Jeep pick-up truck. The buildup to the debut of the new Jeep pick-up truck had fans creating 3D renderings of what they thought the truck would look like. Exactly a year after the Wrangler (JL) was unveiled, FCA revealed the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. The Gladiator hit showroom floors in spring 2019.
Design of the Jeep Gladiator interior and exterior is heavily influenced by the Wrangler (JL.) It was made to look like a Wrangler with a bed attached in the rear. Unlike the concept in 2005 and Jeep trucks in the past, the 2020 Gladiator didn’t place the spare tire on the side of the truck. Features like the optional vinyl soft top and the aluminum three-piece roof made it the only truck available with a retractable roof.
Most Jeep fans wondered why FCA decided to name the truck the Gladiator. The original Jeep Gladiator shared a platform with the Wagoneer SJ rather than the Wrangler. A more suitable name would have been Scrambler, a 1980s Jeep truck based off the CJ or even the Comanche. Nonetheless FCA made a Scrambler and Comanche concept to address the diehard Jeep fans.