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1957 Jeep FC-150 Wrecker - Backward Glances

Posted in Features on August 20, 2014 Comment (0)
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In December 1956, Jeep was the first American truck manufacturer to introduce a production light-duty forward control (FC) truck. Ford, GM, and Dodge would soon follow, but Jeep would always be a step ahead because the FC had four-wheel drive. The Jeep FC was offered in two models, the FC-150 short-wheelbase ½-ton and the FC-170 long-wheelbase ¾- and 1-ton.

The sales literature touted the compact size and high maneuverability of the FC trucks, in particular with the FC-150. The FC-150 was only a little longer overall than the CJ-5 Jeep (with the same wheelbase), yet it had a bed that was close in size to a shortbed pickup of the era, and that gave Jeep a lot to crow about. For example, a ’57 Chevy shortbed ½-ton 4x4 was 188.25 inches long, 76 inches wide, had a 114-inch wheelbase, and a turning circle of over 25 feet. It had an optional payload of 1,800 pounds and a 78.13x50x17.56-inch bed. The Jeep FC-150 was 147.31 inches long, 74.42 inches wide, had an 81-inch wheelbase with an 18-foot turning circle, and had a standard payload of 1,727 pounds. It also had a 74.22x58.78x17.93-inch bed but had a little less usable volume than the Chevy because of large inner wheelwells.

Power for the FC came from the perennial 134ci Jeep F-head four-cylinder that was backed up by a standard Warner Gear T90A and the usual Spicer 18 T-case. A Warner T98A four-speed was optional but is seldom seen. The standard rear axle was a Dana 44 with a 3,000-pound capacity. A heavy-duty 3,500-pound Dana 44 axle was optional for $35.95. The front axle was a Dana 25, the same as the CJ with a little more load-carrying beef (2,300 versus 2,000 pounds). This was soon to change.

The dual-rear-wheel conversion was a wise choice on the original owner’s part considering the narrow track and towing duties. Believe it or not, these 7.00-16 Goodyear All-Service non-directional tires are 1957 vintage and original to the truck. The Towboy was a light wrecker apparatus that was hand operated and could be removed in five minutes to enable the truck to be used as a hauler. The factory literature shows an FC-150 hauling ’50s big-iron Fords, Cadillacs, and Chevy trucks.

The ’57 and early ’58 FC-150 axles had the same 48.4-inch wheel track as the CJ, which made for a rather tippy rig. It was also discovered early on that the short FC was rather nose heavy and had endo tendencies on steep descents. To cure the tippy problem, FC-150s built from May ’58 were fit with 57-inch-track axles front and rear, with the front axle upgraded to a Dana 44 with a 3,000-pound rating (the same as most FC-170s). The HD 3,500-pound axle was made standard at this time also. To address the endo issue, a 250-pound iron weight was mounted between the framerails, just behind the rear bumper. A Powr-Lok limited-slip rear was optional for $42.96.

Jeep initially offered three rear bodies: pickup, cab and chassis (with or without a top), and a stakebed. You could also get a stripped chassis or a flat-faced cowl for conversions. Jeep offered the FC with a Standard or a Deluxe Cab. The Deluxe upgrades included dual sun visors, dual armrests, rear quarter windows, acoustical trim on the doors and roof, chrome dash handrail, a better padded seat, and a few other goodies. You almost never see Standard cabs (no quarter windows). As usual for the era, a heater and defroster were extra. Normal seating was for two, but an optional 2⁄3-passenger seat ($10.70) offered seating for one more (unhappy) passenger on the engine doghouse. The Equipment Group included a heavy-duty oil-bath air filter, turn signals, and engine oil filter, which most FCs had.

The Brooks Stevens-designed FC line made a big splash at its debut. Tom McCahill, of Mechanix Illustrated, said of the ’57 FC-150, “It’s rugged as an Olympic weight-lifter and as able as a three-armed Irishman in a bar fight.” McCahill recorded a 15.3-second 0-50 time. Sales were decent through the FC’s ’57 to ’65 timeframe, but that was by Willys’ standards, not the “Big Three.”

The Deluxe interior short a few interior panels. These are the original seats. Driving an FC is a lot like a VW bus. The steering wheel is flat, but overall the seating position is good. The hardest part is getting in and out—especially if you are vertically challenged.

Some 22,534 FC-150s were built from ’57-’64, with production stopping in December 1964. In truth, it had ramped way down by September, but in August 1964, remaining stocks were retitled as ’65s and sold until they were gone—so you will find “official” ’65s even though none were built that year. Today, the FC-150 makes for a very interesting collectable. Remaining numbers are unknown but there are enough of them left to satisfy the market. Occasionally you see one at an auction get big numbers in the mid five figures. FCs can be a difficult restoration because they are prone to rust and there are few sources of new body parts. For the most part, the mechanicals are a breeze since they are standard Jeep fare.

This ’57 FC-150 belongs to Craig Brockhaus, a notable FC expert, collector, and restorer. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because we covered another of his FC restorations in the July ’12 issue, the San Juan Tours FC-170 Jeep. This FC-150 truck was one of Craig’s first major restorations.

He found the ’57 in 1989 just a few miles from his home in Missouri. It was only showing 2,817 miles but had been sitting a very long time. It started life as a service station truck in Des Peres, Missouri, and the original owner installed a dealer-accessory dual-rear-wheel kit as well as a Towboy wrecker. He didn’t use the truck very long. In the mid-’60s, the land upon which his service station was built was purchased to build a mall. The truck went to his home and sat for about 25 years before Craig came along. The truck now has 2,892 miles on it.

The Willys F-head four is buried under a doghouse in the cab. The standard compression ratio (CR) was 6.9:1, but a high-compression 7.4:1 head was optional at no cost from the factory. The high-CR engine was for high altitudes but offered a little extra power at sea level. In this era, Jeep often advertised the engine at 75 hp, but that was for the high-compression engine, not the low one. Later, 72 hp was the advertised rating and that was about the difference between the two ratios. Net power (the way we commonly rate power today) was 62 hp and net torque was 111 lb-ft for the low-compression engine.

The Details
Vehicle: 1957 Jeep FC-150 Wrecker
Owner: Craig Brockhaus
Estimated value: $40,000
Engine: 134ci. F-head four-cylinder
Power (hp): 75 @ 4,000
Torque (lb-ft): 115 @ 2,000
Bore & stroke (in): 3.13 X 4.38
Comp. ratio: 6.9:1
Transmission: three-speed, Warner T90A (std.), four-speed T98A (opt.)
Transfer case: Spicer 18
Front axle: Dana 25
Rear axle: Dana 44 (HD)
Axle ratio: 5.38:1
Tires: 7.00-15
L x W x H (in): 147.4 x 71.4 x 77.4
Wheelbase (in): 81
GVW (lbs): 5,000
Curb weight (lbs): 3,274
Fuel capacity (gal): 16
Min. grd. clearance (in): 8.52
Approach angle (deg): 36
Departure angle (deg): 43
Ramp breakover (deg): 30

This truck cost $2477.47 new. Add in the Deluxe Cab ($48.22), equipment group ($55.32), heater ($79.93), All-Service tires ($25.59, maybe a little extra for the wide whitewalls), heavy-duty rear axle and Powr-Lok limited slip ($63.67), two-tone President Red/Glacier White paint ($18.67), tinted glass ($12.47), and electric wipers ($15.89), it left the showroom at about $2,800, which is about $23,600 in 2014 bucks. Then you have to add in the Ramsey 200 PTO winch and bumper, as well as the Towboy wrecker, it would have added up to another $750, which is about $6,300 in 2014 dollars.

Sources

The FC Connection
http://www.thefcconnection.com

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