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 ’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.”
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.
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
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