The Jeep FC-150 – A Unique, but Forgotten Four-Wheel Drive Vehicle

During the mid-1950s, Jeep, which was then owned by Willys Motors, Incorporated (a subsidiary of Kaiser Motors), was the leading manufacturer of 4-wheel drive vehicles in the United States. Although Jeep enjoyed a great deal of renown, the firm started to encounter more competition as other manufacturers, most notably the American Big Three automakers, started to enter the 4-wheel drive sector. In response to the increasing competition, Jeep sought to build something not offered by any other manufacturer of the day. The end result was as not a huge success, but did go down as one of the most unique-looking, albeit forgotten, four-wheel drive vehicles to appear on America’s market: the Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog for the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog for the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Also known as the “Forward Control” and “Flat Front,” the FC-150 was the first all-new Jeep vehicle since 1947. Engineered by A.C. Sampieto and marketed as a work vehicle suitable for both civilian and military use, the FC-150 was based on the much-beloved Jeep CJ-5. The FC-150 was built on the CJ-5’s chassis and rode on an 81-inch wheelbase. It was powered by Jeep’s well-proven Hurricane inline-four engine, which displaced 134.2 cubic inches, and was good for 75 horsepower. In FC-150’s standard form, the engine was mated to a Borg Warner three-speed manual transmission. Like other Jeep 4-wheel vehicles, the FC-150 was equipped with the firm’s famous “Hi-Lo” 4-wheel drive system, which permitted on-the-fly shifting between 2-and 4-wheel drive.

But the FC-150 was most memorable for its unique looks. It was clothed with a boxy “Safety View” cab, which featured an unusual cab-over-engine design. Styled by Brooks Stevens, the body took its design cues from cab-over-engine semi-trucks and was given Jeep’s familiar seven-slot grille. The cab was remarkably roomy, and designed for visibility and comfort. Fitted with an unusually large amount of window glass, it allowed for an exceptional amount of driver visibility. Wide doors, concealed steps, and rubber front fenders eased the entry and exit of the FC-150’s occupants. Access to the engine was provided by an easily removable fiberglass engine cover, which was designed to reduce engine heat and noise inside the cab.

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

In terms of performance, the FC-150 was a very capable and versatile vehicle. Like other four-wheel drive vehicles in the Jeep model lineup, the FC-150’s 4-wheel drive system gave it extraordinary off-road capabilities and allowed it to safely traverse all kinds of terrain. Like its Jeep stable mates, the FC-150 was also very durable and could take a lot of abuse. Its compact size blessed it with exceptional maneuverability. The FC-150’s forward control cab allowed for a surprisingly large 6-foot cargo bed, which could carry an impressive amount of cargo.

The Jeep FC-150 was introduced to the public as a 1957 model in November 1956. Although it was initially well-received by automotive critics of the time and well-liked by those who bought it, the FC-150 proved to be a disappointingly slow seller. Its overall design was arguably a little too advanced for its time. Because it was marketed primarily as a work vehicle, it is also possible that it did not appeal to more casual owners. Nevertheless, it enjoyed a surprisingly long production life (1957-1965).

The Jeep FC-150 was discontinued after the 1965 model year. Because it was not a big seller, the FC-150 has largely been forgotten and surviving examples are seldom seen today.

Sources

Ackerson, Robert C., Standard Catalog 4x4s, 1945-2000, Second Edition, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2000, p. 596-601.

Donnelly, Jim, “1957-’65 Jeep Forward Control Pickups, The oddball little pickups that Jeep produced,” Hemmings Motor News, October 2006.

How Stuff Works

Jeep Forward Control, FC-150, The All New 4-Wheel Drive Truck, Turnpike Performance Plus Off-Road Traction: Willys-Overland: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Jeep, ca. 1945-1963.

Jeep Forward Control – Wikipedia

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1966 Studebakers

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Cruiser.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Cruiser.

During the 1960s, Studebaker was clearly on its last legs as an automaker. Due to falling sales and overwhelming competition from the American Big Three, Studebaker shuttered its South Bend, Indiana assembly plant in late 1963 and moved all vehicle production to its smaller facility in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. By this time, the company was also in the process of de-emphasizing its automobile division in favor of its other more profitable business ventures, which included being the makers of STP engine additives and Paxton superchargers.

For the 1966 model year, Studebaker made its final attempt to remain in the car business. It sought to do this by offering a line of compact cars for the American market. The end result was not successful, but instead became significant for being the last cars produced by a once great American automaker: the 1966 Studebakers.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Daytona.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Daytona.

Essentially warmed-over versions of the company’s 1965 cars, the 1966 Studebaker lineup consisted of four models built on the same platform: the Commander, Cruiser, Daytona, and Wagonaire. Designed by Brooks Stevens and the Detroit, Michigan design firm of Marcks Hazelquist Powers, the 1966 Studebakers were reasonably modern American compact cars for their time. Depending upon the model ordered, the cars rode on 109-inch and 113-inch wheelbases. Customers were offered a choice of three engines supplied by General Motors: a 194 cubic-inch inline-6, a 230 cubic-inch inline-6, and a 283 cubic-inch V-8. The cars were clothed in body shells styled in what the company advertised as the “Smart New Look,” which featured a new grille, single headlamps, and restyled side panels.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Wagonaire.  Note the sliding roof.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Wagonaire. Note the sliding roof.

In keeping the company’s reputation for engineering prowess, the 1966 Studebakers also offered features that were novel for their time. Most significantly, all 1966 models were equipped with the “Refreshaire” ventilation system, which is widely considered to be Studebaker’s last technological innovation. Essentially a system in which air came in through front vents and went out through openings placed above the taillights, Refreshaire eliminated the need for ventilation windows and was praised by automotive critics of the day. 1966 Studebakers could also be ordered with one of the first electronic ignition systems (standard on the Daytona, optional on all other models) to appear on an American car. Last but not least, the Wagonaire station wagon could be ordered with an optional sliding roof, a design feature not seen again until 2001, when it re-appeared on the Pontiac Aztek.

When the new Studebaker lineup was introduced in late 1965, it received a chilly reception from the American motoring public. Customers were very reluctant to buy cars from a company they feared would soon disappear. Enough cars were sold to make a small profit, but it was not enough to suit the company’s board of directors. In March 1966, Studebaker announced that it was ceasing all automobile production. The last Studebaker car, a timberline turquoise Cruiser with a white top, rolled off the assembly line on March 17th.

A little over 8900 1966 Studebakers were built. The very last Studebaker is currently preserved at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. A photo of this car can be viewed on the museum’s website

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1534.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 762-763.

Studebaker National Museum

Studebaker Nineteen Sixty-Six, The New Smart Look, Studebaker: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Studebaker Range, 1955-1966, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Wikipedia – Studebaker

Wikipedia – Studebaker Lark

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

2013 Auburn Heights Invitational Auto Display

A Stanley Steamer and White Steamer on exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

A Stanley Steamer and White Steamer on exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

On Saturday, September 18th, we at Hagley had the honor of presenting an exhibit on the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at the second annual Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display, which was held at the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights Preserve in Yorklyn, Delaware. Held on a beautiful September day, this year’s show was a great success, attracting a fine crowd and an impressive contingent of antique cars dating from the early 1900s to the 1930s. The theme of this year’s show was “An Era of Elegance,” which spotlighted Packard, a renowned American manufacturer of luxury cars that was in business from 1899 to 1958. True to the theme, some truly elegant examples of pre-World War II Packards turned up at this year’s show. Not be outdone, a number of beautiful antique cars from other legendary high-end makes, including, but not limited to, Cadillac, Marmon, Pierce-Arrow and Stanley made their appearance as well.

Trade catalog for the Packard 8 Speedster, which was displayed in the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

Trade catalog for the Packard 8 Speedster, which was displayed in the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

For this year’s Auburn Heights Invitational, Hagley was invited to present an exhibit for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. The exhibit was set up inside the Marshall Steam Museum’s exhibit hall, in which a number of cars from the museum’s wonderful automobile collection are on display. In keeping with this year’s theme, we exhibited several original pre-World War II trade catalogs for Packard and other high-end makes represented at the show, including Cadillac, Marmon, Pierce-Arrow, and Stanley. A colorful sampling of Vinson Collection trade catalogs for automakers not represented at the show, including American makes such as Lincoln and Studebaker, and foreign makes such as Renault and Saab, were displayed in the exhibit as well.

Close up of the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

Close up of the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

Over the course of the day, a number of show attendees took the time to view the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Exhibit. The exhibit was enthusiastically received and those who viewed it were delighted to have the opportunity to look at the various trade catalogs we had on display. Attendees were also very pleased to see trade catalogs for automakers represented at the show and were excited to learn that the Vinson Collection will soon be open to researchers.

If you are interested in learning more about the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, we strongly encourage you to regularly check back with this blog to see some of the unique and rare items in this collection and to learn about the latest project developments. If you were unable to attend the show but would like to view individual items from the collection, we encourage you to visit the Z. Taylor Vinson Digital Library Preview on the Hagley Museum and Library’s website.

Last but not least, we at Hagley encourage you to visit the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights Preserve and check out the featured attractions that are found there. For further information, please visit their website.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.