If you’re the kind of person who likes taking long journeys by off-road vehicle, you’re probably well aware that the overlanding world is full of wild custom builds, parts, and mammoth expedition vehicles. I’m continually surprised by the sheer scale of the overlanding industry. Many overlanding vehicles are built on awesome Toyotas, Jeeps, and even Fords, but I think I’ve found one of the coolest ones out there. This 1962 Jeep FC-170 build maintains the truck’s incredible looks but adds in some clever gear. It even has sealed-beam LED headlights!
If you go to the Los Angeles Auto Show this year, you’ll find a rather large display of custom overland vehicles. Most of them are things you’ve seen before, from the Easter Jeep Safari Grand Wagoneer to all sorts of trucks wearing roof tents on them. Overlanding, the activity of taking a long journey in a 4×4 with camping mixed in, has grown in popularity. It’s hardly a new thing, either, as people were “overlanding” decades before that term was even invented.
I was about to leave the overlanding area of the LA Auto Show before one vehicle stopped me in my tracks. This 1962 Jeep F-170 build sticks out in a crowd of roof tents, and it drew me in, oil leaks and all.
Now, I won’t say this is the best overland vehicle or even a good one, because I haven’t driven it yet. However, its cool factor cannot be denied. The Jeep gathers a crowd on the show floor and when I showed people pictures of it, I heard expletives of appreciation. So, I’m definitely not alone.
The Mighty FC
Admittedly, I’m not much of a Jeep person. Sure, I loved driving David’s clean XJ, but I didn’t find myself desiring to add one to my fleet. Really, few Jeeps really get my motor running. The exception to this, aside from Jeep’s weird diesels, is the Forward-Control. Oh yes, a cute cabover is an express lane to my heart.
The Jeep FC is a piece of history and I’ll let Jeep explain why:
In a bold departure from previous designs, Willys Motors unveiled its highly-maneuverable Forward-Control (FC) series of Jeep four-wheel drive trucks. These highly maneuverable workhorses featured a unique cab-over-engine design gave them a hoodless, flat-nose appearance. While its “cab forward” styling had little in common with traditional Jeep vehicle body design, the FC-150 was actually built on top of the existing CJ-5 chassis.
“More cargo space! On less wheelbase! And goes ‘anyplace’!” chirped FC ads of the time. And indeed, with the FC-150/170, workers and farmers had a vehicle that could go virtually anywhere (due to its eighteen-foot turning radius) while also hauling a load. The FCs were remarkably convenient trucks—their unusually low beds making them easy to load and unload—that enjoyed popularity in foreign markets.
Essentially work trucks – the cab-over-engine Jeep vehicles came in two models: an 81-inch wheelbase FC-150 with a four-cylinder F-head engine, and the 103.5 inch wheelbase for the FC-170 with a six-cylinder L-head engine. Both models included pickup, stake bed, chassis & cab, and assorted special editions including the clever FC-150 railway track inspection vehicle.
Something Jeep doesn’t say in its retrospective is that the FC was designed by none other than celebrated industrial designer Brooks Stevens. If you’re not aware of Stevens’ work, I’ll give you a handful of examples. Stevens is the mind behind many 1950s appliances as well as the designer behind the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, the Jeep Wagoneer, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha observation cars, and even an RV! Stevens was inspired by cabover heavy trucks and brought the design down to a smaller scale. As Jeep notes, this rode on a new body, but a familiar CJ-5 chassis.
Reportedly, one of Willys’ goals for the FC was to create a truck where the vehicle’s curb weight to payload ratio was 1-to-1. In other words, the FC is basically just a giant loading tray plus a cab. I sat in David’s FCs before he sold them and the cabs reminded me of sitting behind the controls of an old bus. The FC was born during a time of experimentation at Willys.
The FC-150 was introduced in 1956, featuring an 81-inch wheelbase, a 78-inch box, and up to 1,727 pounds of payload. Willys advertised a tight turning radius and said the FC’s cabover design allowed for 200 percent better visibility than the typical truck. Power came from a 134.2 cubic inch F-Head Hurricane four making 75 HP.
A year later, Jeep released the FC-170. Built on a modified utility wagon chassis, the FC-170 was longer with a 103.5-inch wheelbase, wider, and carried a hefty 3,510 pounds in its bed. Willys met its goal of creating a truck with a payload matching its curb weight. Power comes from a 226.2 cubic inch Super Hurricane L-Head six rated at 105 HP and 190 lb-ft torque. The FC-170 also maintained a great turning radius, hooking in at 21 feet. To illustrate how tight this is, a 2008 Smart Fortwo has a turning radius of 14.3 feet!
This Jeep FC-170
A Jeep FC-170 is already a great truck in stock form, but I like how builders 1st Gear Off-Road and Roy Wallace upgraded and modernized one for the job of overlanding. The completed build made its debut at the SEMA show, but now it’s here in Los Angeles, where it’s captivated this writer.
The folks at RealTruck say Wallace constructed this truck to be an off-road racing support truck. To achieve that, the factory engine was lifted out and a 5.3-liter LS V8 was dropped down into its place. That fires power through a 6L80 transmission to a 14-bolt differential in the rear and a Dana 60 in front. With power taken care of, the truck put on Raceline wheels and a bunch of parts from RealTruck’s expansive catalog.
The truck wears a lot of custom one-off parts, from its Raceline wheels to its suspension, tires, and Summit Expedition Trucks aluminum flatbed, its aluminum box, Rugged Ridge bumpers, and more. There are a lot of Rugged ridge parts in this build, including bushings, snorkel, off-road jack mount, gas can, recovery kit, and even these sweet headlights.
From a distance, these headlights look like sealed beams but look closely, these things are LEDs! It’s a clever design and I’d love to see more of this with classic cars and motorcycles. Modern stuff can ruin a vintage look, but these lights look the part.
The truck appears to be able to write checks it can cash. In addition to the aforementioned mods, the truck also has a roof rack a Warn winch, and custom hubs. There appears to be some decent protection underneath, though, the engine does seem a bit exposed. That chunky V8 was leaking oil out onto the floor, too! A Hinterlands Industries roof tent caps off the build.
It gets even more awesome as this isn’t even Wallace’s only FC build. He has another four-door Jeep M-677 out there, too. Again, I’m not sure this is the ultimate overland build. But you know what? I bet driving this Jeep is a ball. It probably turns a ton of heads on the road as well. I’d love to see this beast off-road, or perhaps even drive it?
(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted.)
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