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1961 Jeep Utility Pickup

Posted in Features on October 13, 2015
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By the time the ’60s debuted, the Jeep truck and station wagon lines were nearing 15 years old and were very dated in the market. Just about all the truck manufacturers had moved past Jeep in the styling and technology departments, though that didn’t make them bad trucks. By the time 1961 rolled around, Willys Motors (a division of Kaiser) was working on replacements,and had been since 1958. Jeep’s development budgets were a fraction of the big guys, so it always took longer to field new models.

Originally designed in the mid-’40s, when Willys-Overland owned Jeep, what had started off as a stylish Brooks-Stevens design, though was pretty dated, still had a lot of fans. There had been a few styling upgrades since the May 1947 introduction of the truck. Among the relatively new ones were the new bright trim on the ’60 models and a one-piece windshield for the ’61s. Originally introduced in both two and four-wheel-drive models, by this time four-wheel drive was offered in pickups, except for special fleet orders. They were offered in four body styles: pickup, cab and chassis, stake bed, or cab-and-windshield. Each had a separate five-digit serial number prefix starting with “55.” Digit 3 indicated the body: 1 for cab and chassis, 2 for pickup, 3 for stake bed, 4 for cab and windshield. Digit 4 indicated the engine, with 4 for a four-cylinder and 6 for the six. The final digit for all was “8.”

You had a choice of two engines: the F-head F-134 four-cylinder engine that made between 70 and 75 hp (depending on the optional compression ratio) or the 6-226 L-Head Six that was rated for 105 hp. On next model year, the 140hp OHC 230 Six was an option. A high-altitude head was a no-cost option if you lived at high elevation or had a friendly dealer. The engine gave the truck adequate power, but it was still no hotrod.

The drivetrain consisted of a T-90 three-speed floor shift, Spicer Model 18 transfer case, a Spicer 53 semi-float rear axle and a closed-knuckle Spicer 25 front axle. Standard axle ratios were 5.38:1 for four-cylinder trucks and 4.88:1 for the Sixes. A 6.17:1 ratio is sometimes listed as an option for four-cylinder trucks, and you could order 5.38:1 for the six-cylinder trucks. The trucks were ostensibly called a 1-ton and had a 6,000-pound GVW. With a curb weight at a touch over 3,000 pounds, a six-cylinder truck could be called a 1-ton.

By the time Howard Thomson’s ’61 was built, the new Gladiator was on the horizon, due for a late ’62 models. The Gladiators would trump the old Willys-designed trucks in every way, but Willys Motors would keep the old truck in production into the ’64 models and sell the remainder until the ’65 models. Today, the Willys wagons and trucks are a stylish Jeep collectable. In the declining years of the model, they were a bit anachronistic but still popular with the tight-pocket crowd who were always a few years behind the styling curve anyway. The general body style would go on to be produced under license in India and a few other places into the ’70s.

Resplendent in a Mallard Blue/Plantation White two-tone, Howard Thomson’s restored ’61 had a base price of $2,490 with the six-cylinder engine. An anomalous feature on this rig is the split windshield. With Jeep, the credo for historians is “never say never, never say always,” but it remains to be discovered how this one ended up this way. The driving lights and bumper guards are period bling that adds to the retro flair.
A 6,000-pound GVW almost yielded a 3,000-pound payload if you looked at it optimistically. The nominal bed dimensions were 6 1/2 by 4 1/2 feet. The receiver hitch was added later. Unlike many early pickups, the fuel tank (15 gallons) was mounted in back with the filler on the passenger side. By this time, the famous and artistic “W-O” stamping was gone from the tailgate.
The 226ci flathead Six was a boon to the Willys truck line when it was introduced in the ’54 models after the merger with Kaiser. It was none other than a Continental Red Seal engine with a name change to Super Hurricane. By 1961, almost all flathead engines were gone from America’s car and truck lines, with Rambler, Jeep and Dodge being about the last holdouts. The Super Hurricane was a good one, making an honest 105 hp and 190 lb-ft and delivering great reliability.
Not many frills were available for the Jeep Utility Truck line, but the plain interior has a simple beauty all its own. Thompson added some embellishments in the form of improved upholstery, with the embossed W-O emblem being one element. Back in these days, a radio and a heater was about all the luxury a truck guy could expect. This truck is also equipped with an overdrive for improved high-speed cruising. High speed was considered anything above 60 mph.
The Spicer 53 semi-float has more or less fallen through the cracks of time, fading from the scene not long after this truck was built. It was between a Spicer 44 and Spicer 60 in strength and could be called an early ancestor to the Dana 60. It began life as a big-car axle used in Lincolns. The ring gear was 9 1/4 inches, and it commonly used 20 spline tapered ’shafts and had a weight rating of 4-4, 800 pounds. A Powr-Lok limited slip was optional. Parts are tough to find for these oddballs today.

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