Imagine driving along a sunny street near downtown Phoenix and glancing to the north. If you were in the right neighborhood, you would see a beautiful historic ’20s Tudor Revival home with a wide grassy lawn. What makes you stop though is an even more rare sight. There are a dozen or more of the most unique Jeep trucks gleaming in the sun. They’re winking like Hot Tamales, Jaw Breakers, and 100 Grand bars in a candy store. Wait. Is that an ice cream truck? Jeep? Truck? It’s hot. The sun is beating down. You’re seeing things. No, you have arrived at one of Jeepdom’s best-kept little secrets: the Arizona FC Roundup. It’s an invite-only, once-a-year affair, and Jp was on hand for this very special event. We attended the 13th Annual FC Roundup hosted by Jesse Ybarra and his wife Andrea.
What and why? The FC Roundup is a three-day weekend of really cool Jeep Forward Controls (FC), all very different and from as far away as Canada. About 200 owners and enthusiasts gather and swap tips and stories late into the night.
If you don’t already know, the Forward Control is a cab-over-engine body style truck first manufactured by Willys, and then by Kaiser from 1956 to 1965. From a design standpoint, it was radical in its efficiency and, frankly, its perception too. Some still debate its oddity. The blueprint allowed for all bed and maximum payload packed into a neat package, though. Its signature is a flat-front fascia with a bubble-shaped cab above the front axle and atop the motor. The aesthetic may have been progressive when introduced in 1957, yet all Jeep, complete with seven vertical grill slots. The FC-150 is essentially on a CJ-5 frame with an 81-inch wheelbase, powered by the F-head inline-4 that produced 70 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. From there, variations on this same theme include models such as the FC-170 and FC-170 DRW (dual-rear-wheel), FC-180, and FC-190. There were also military versions: the M676, M677, M678, and M679. Albeit a bit distinctive, the FC offered itself to a variety of applications one may never have considered. Fire departments, farmers, foresters, and tow companies all loved the maneuverability and utility of the FC models. These days, some even see some rock crawling, but that’s a story best saved for round the campfire. That is also where all generalities and absolutes end.
The FC Roundup rouses the imagination of FC fans near and far because it’s not your typical classic car show or even your average Jeep club gathering. We walked in thinking we would make a few new friends, see some different things, and maybe say “that was nice.” Not the case. There is a lot of personality at the FC Roundup. As aforementioned, if you want in to the “most excellent” FC gathering in the Southwest, you’re literally entering into Jesse’s home and family. Jesse is one of the great patrons of the FC. As Jesse says, “My endless rescue of rust-to-revival, [give] most a new way of life, to become freeway fliers and off-road toys.” Jesse and pretty much every FC-head in attendance know the FCs personally. They also know how to fabricate and authenticate down to hand-painted lettering! There are many stories behind these rigs, and we’re glad to share a few. If you and your FC would like one of the coveted invitations (only about 530 go out each year) to the Arizona FC roundup, head over to thefcconnection.com to learn more.
These stainless steel mobiles are just a few of the artifacts that make their way to the FC Roundup. If you love FCs, Jesse’s den has a wealth of literature, original advertisements, and one-of-a-kind collectors items. Over the past decade, the event has become a consortium dedicated to all things FC.
Nicknamed “Wayne’s World,” this ’59 Willy’s Jeep FC-170 is owned by Wayne Trent hailing all the way from Florida. Although tows like this were once parked outside filling stations in their heyday, the equipment on this rig is custom. The tilt-cab using electric screw jacks, PTO winch in a custom winch-ready bumper, and running boards are a testament to the possibilities available to the imagination within the Forward Control family. Aside from a great look and hefty equipment, it is still powered by the “Super Hurricane” 226ci L-head six-cylinder.
Notice something odd about the grille? The signature seven-slot looks tough as nails with the addition of the extra-wide slot—a clear indicator of a military issue FC. The protruding disk is a blackout headlamp to lower the light beam when in a stealth convoy.
The list bidding to own this vehicle is extensive, but it’s not for sale any time soon. Owned by Jesse, the host of the Phoenix Roundup, this M-679 USMC Ambulance was manufactured by Kaiser in 1964 for military use exclusively. The van boasts a 432ci motor, which Jesse created a custom aluminum engine access lid for (among restoring essentially everything else). Jesse, also a Vietnam vet, says he saved this once-rusty war artifact from an inevitable trip to the wrecker and spent countless hours hand forming sheet metal and the chassis.
Pairing off are two mean-looking creations by Jesse Ybarra. The white ambulance is an epic feat of engineering and a survivor. Yet up against the ’64 M-677 crew cab with a new camper top painted to match in black, they both hold their own. We had the opportunity to ride around central Phoenix in the M-677, which is one of the most recognizable FCs on the road, hands down. The ride was as smooth as floating on water due to the air bag suspension Jesse added, as well as converting the truck to a dually. With a close look at the front axle, you’ll notice a custom step/guard.
Driving in an FC is different from just about any other car or truck. The best way to understand is to climb inside because the bird’s-eye view hardly translates in two dimensions. You can see about 6 feet down the road, and of course there is the advantage of towering above the ground.
Fleet vans, manufactured from 1961 to 1965, really tug at the imagination. The preexisting lettering on the tailgate denotes one’s past life as a laundry delivery service vehicle. The USPS used fleet vans briefly too. Some were also purposed to serve ice cream in Phoenix.
Jesse is in the process of converting one of the postal vans from right-hand drive to left. The truck is also slated for a bench seat (drivers originally operated them standing up) and, as you can see, a MerCruiser 140 I-4 marine motor.
This ’47 Willys Overland Urban Package Delivery (P.D.) is a testament to the power of the Phoenix FC Roundup. Discovered by historian David Eilers, it faced an uncertain fate. The restoration was so huge and without precedent there was chatter as to whether the Willys Overland Script was added from another van completely. It wasn’t, and it is presumed to be the one remaining of its kind in existence to date.
To give you an idea of just how deeply sunk the P.D. was, take a look at the water and decay line midway up the vertical portion between the steps. Jesse and his friends invested the effort to save the step van because of its bizarre history. It had an interesting life before getting a facelift (including a brand-new Jeepster-styled v-shaped front grille). It was initially purposed as a mail delivery van but went on to serve as a refrigeration truck for Hanover Foods Corporation. The body is crafted of aircraft-grade aluminum atop a 36-foot motorhome chassis.
Check out the original headlight housing for the ’47 P.D. Jesse decided on a TJ headlight assembly to replace with, thus modernizing the already futuristic aesthetic.
Another piece of history lies in Andrea Ybarra’s ’60 FC-150, which was once a rock hauler in Sedona, Arizona. Andrea is only the second owner, and it’s basically a time capsule. In terms of original factory equipment, observe the pristine dealer-optioned, dealer-installed camper. It’s a significant role model of original intention and preservation.
Not much to see here with the cover, but the gist is, as the name suggests, that the success of all Forward Control vehicles is that the cab is forward of the engine, atop the front axle. The FC-150s housed the F-head Hurricane, and it is accessible from the cab.
These ’57 FC-170s have a pretty interesting story. At a stock 103-inch wheelbase, they were used as touring Jeeps for the San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours out of Ouray, Colorado, through the early ’80s. These three-row recreational oddities ran about 9-12 sightseers per rig over treacherous mountain roads such as Black Bear Pass en route to the box canyon town of Telluride. Thousands of images have been made of this iconic Jeep tour, which you can still schedule today if you’re near the Million Dollar Highway in southwestern Colorado.
Pictured front and left is one of four of the known historic FC-170 Touring Jeeps. Owner Craig Brockhaus restored it, down to the original hand lettering and surrey top. When Craig acquired this, it sat on tractor tires and was a stretch to restore even for someone as skilled as Craig. Today, Craig has driven back to the San Juan Mountains all the way from his home in Missouri. To see the full story of the Touring Jeep’s history and restoration, it’s well worth checking out Craig’s website, thefcconnection.com
When Craig undertook the project of restoring the FC-170 back to its Touring Jeep glory, it was, well, different. It didn’t look bad at 10 feet tall and more than 12 feet wide, but for Craig, the goal was to bring it back to life to match its extensive history. Huge nod to Craig for not only restoring it impeccably but for not being afraid to use it. Photo courtesy Craig Brockhaus.
If it’s not evident by now, the FC was designed for virtually every utilitarian purpose depending on the outfit. This pickup in the foreground emphasizes how flush to the windshield the driver sits, providing maximum visibility, as well as a tight turning radius (18 feet). The only drawback on the FC-150s was that they had a “tippy” issue because the majority of the weight was situated over the frontend.
All three FCs pictured here are restored/preserved to match their original work form. Looking at them from lest to right (rock hauler, tour guide, and emergency responder), you can compare how practical the FC really was during the 10 years they were manufactured. Arguably, they are a deviation from the Jeep family; however, with increased cargo capacity yet the same 4x4 capability, they’re definitely special Jeeps.