There was no shortage of creative ideas at Willys Motors back in the early days. A relatively small company needs to generate more market splash to compete with the big guys but the chances they take on the more “risky” ideas has the potential to hurt them more. An off-the-wall vehicle can make or break a company. The Forward Control did neither for Jeep, but it now provides an interesting collectible.
The Brooks Stevens-designed Forward Control trucks were first offered in two models, the FC-150 and the FC-170. The FC-150 was built on an 81-inch CJ wheelbase and nominally rated at 1⁄2-ton. Its 74-inch bed was equivalent to a regular short-bed truck but because of the cabover design, the truck could be much shorter. Along the same lines was the FC-170, which was built on a 103.5-inch wheelbase, had 9-foot bed and a 1-ton rating (which was a bit optimistic). Again, the cabover design made it much shorter than a regular long-bed pickup. Both trucks had the advantage of standard four-wheel drive, something most of the OEs were not yet offering in any numbers.
The FC-150 debuted in December of 1956 as a ’57 model and the FC-170 came a few months later in May of 1957. There was a lot of initial press hoopla and sales were decent, but never really developed into blockbuster status. There were many variations on both chassis, and you’ll see some in future installments of “Jeep Encyclopedia,” but the basic trucks were sold from 1957 into 1965.
The first FC-150 bore a lot of mechanical resemblance to the CJ, using the same F-head 134-cube four-cylinder engine, T-90 three-speed manual transmission, and Spicer 18 T-case with similar front Spicer 25 and rear Dana 44 axles.
The FC-150 was available as a pickup, a stakeside, or cab & chassis for conversion. During most of the time it was available, you could special order them with one of several specialty bodies. Changes were few over the FC-150’s nearly eight-year life. Most prominent among them was a change from a narrow 48.4-inch wheel track (same as the CJ) to the 57-inch track of the FC-170. Along with that went an upgrade to a Spicer 44 front axle and springs moved outboard of the frame. Another less-heralded addition was a rear weight. Empty, the short FC was more than a little nose heavy. Of course a steep downhill in a forward control is a real perceptual “treat” but in the early days, a few drivers experience the “yeeha” of an endo or lifted rear wheels with empty trucks. A couple hundred pounds of iron just forward of the rear bumper did the trick.
Some 6,637 FC-150 Jeeps were built for the ’57 model year and never again would that many be produced annually. In other words, they didn’t roll off the lots in record numbers. Production stopped in December of 1964, but there were enough left in stock to sell and retitle them as ’65 trucks. By the time production was done, 16,251 had been produced.
Had the FC been a better seller, some interesting variants would likely have appeared, including a carryall/van type vehicle. This vehicle did, in fact, appear as a low production military rig for the USMC…but that’s the subject of another article. Ditto for the FC dually that appeared in 1959.
Today, the FC-150 and bigger brother the FC-170 are almost of cult status. They are less loved by Jeep fans in many ways than by the rest of the “car guy” world that finds them fascinating. A few of the best restored FC-150s have sold for as much as $30,000 at the big auctions, but generally sell in the $10-15,000 range.
Vehicle: ’57 Jeep FC-150
Serial Number Range: 10,001-16,635 (‘57)
Engine: 134ci F-head
Power: 72hp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 115 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transfer Case: Spicer 18
Front Axle: Dana 25
Rear Axle: Dana 44
Axle Ratios: 5.38:1
Wheelbase: 81 inches
L x W x H: 147 x 71.4 x 77.4 inches
Curb Wt.: 3,278 lbs
GVW: 5,000 lbs