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.
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.
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.
Ackerson, Robert C., Standard Catalog 4x4s, 1945-2000, Second Edition, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2000, p. 596-601.
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.
Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.