Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Las Vegas is a symbol of excess, full of glitz and glamour. The annual SEMA Show is no exception. Sure, there are some cool new products, but you have to wade through rows of JKs on 24-inch wheels and hideous paint jobs to find them. Imagine, then, what a breath of fresh air it was to escape the convention center one morning to head out to a dry lake bed with Joe Brown and his immaculate Forward Control.
Brown is a native of Las Vegas, he even works on the Strip, but don’t think for a minute that means he has murals of Siegfried and Roy’s white tiger on the doors or a bunch of Carrot Top’s props in the bed of his ’63 FC-170. Joe completed a perfect-quality restoration of his Forward Control that spanned over 15 years. “I would work on it for a year or two and then just lose interest,” he shares. “Some guys dump their projects at that point, but after a while I always came back to my Jeep and kept working on finishing it.”
Joe purchased his FC-170 from a friend in 1996. “I thought that it was so ugly it was cool,” he recalls. Though the body was hacked, the chassis was rust-free after a lifetime in the desert. Additional crossmembers were added and the entire frame was stripped and painted black to serve as a foundation. Joe retained the stock leaf springs, but built custom hangers to provide about eight inches of lift. Dual Rancho RS5000XLs are used at each corner and paint matched to the truck.
Steering is handled by a Spicer manual box that Joe found on an early ’70s GM cabover truck in a junkyard. “I found it bolted to a frame sitting on cinder blocks with the arm mounted to it; it was perfect.” He modified the FC frame to fit the box and made his own drag link to mate to the push-pull steering arm on the front axle.
Power comes from a 383ci small-block Chevy stroker that makes over 400 horsepower thanks to 10.5:1 TRW pistons swinging on a stroker crank and held in place with four-bolt mains. Old-school iron 2.02 heads and an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold wearing a Holley spread-bore 650 cfm carburetor pull intake duties. Hooker headers and dual 2½-inch Flowmaster mufflers take care of the spent gases while the engine is cooled by a Griffin two-row aluminum radiator that is mounted behind the cab and pulls air through a custom shroud and a puller fan. “You don’t want to ride in this thing in Vegas in the summer,” Joe reports. “It gets hot.” Behind the stroker power is routed to a TH350 three-speed automatic transmission and a cast iron, gear-driven NP205 transfer case. The transmission is shifted by B&M shifter with reversed cable-output linkage, since the cab is actually in front of the transmission.
The axles came out of a 1-ton Chevy, with a kingpin Dana 60 in the front and a sturdy Corporate 14-bolt in the rear. “I bought these axles because they came with 4.56 gears and I didn’t want to mess with the differentials,” Joe recalls. “Even though they came out of the same truck I later learned that the rear end had 3.73s for some unexplained reason.” After a build of this magnitude regearing differentials seems rather trivial in comparison. The axles are capped by tall-and-skinny Q78 Super Swamper TSLs on forged aluminum Alcoa wheels. Stopping comes from the original master cylinder mounted under the dash. It operates a remote hydraulic cylinder and works in conjunction with a lever-operated slave cylinder and power brake unit that feed the factory calibration block from the 1-ton donor truck that coughed up the axles.
Body & Interior
Spoiler alert: No one makes parts for a Forward Control! That makes the perfect body on Joe’s FC-170 all the more impressive. “I had to work with what I had, or make it from scratch,” he explains. Freddi and Victor at Nuncio Auto Body laid down the GM Warm Mist metallic green paint and straightened the wrinkled sheetmetal. “They thought I would never get it done, you should have seen the look on their faces the first time I drove up in it finished.”
The Forward Control didn’t even start as a dually, so after buying the Chevy axles Joe created his own rear fenders. He also built his own custom front and rear bumpers, with the front housing a Warn M8000 winch. The original Koenig side boxes flank the bed and provide lockable storage. The boxes are fitted with numerous button-head screws and CAD plated washers, a theme that continues throughout the vehicle. Powder Coating Plus in Las Vegas color-matched the bumpers, side boxes, and other components to the Forward Control.
Inside, the interior is tidy but sparse, retaining the Forward Control’s utilitarian roots. A Chevy steering column turns a Flaming River steering shaft with input from a 14-inch wheel, but Joe says that a 17-inch steering wheel is on the short list of future changes. Behind the wheel the custom metal dash uses white Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges to monitor vital signs. The stock seats were recovered by Jim Heptner and mounted on pins that make them easy to remove to access the custom doghouse in the middle of the vehicle that covers the engine and transmission. They are held in place with CJ hood latches, one of the many clever touches.
More custom details include the headliner, with “Jeep” embossed on it, and the diamond plate door panels. Behind the driver door a Perko lockable battery switch controls two Optima Red Top batteries. Dale Hurt wired the FC from scratch and the results look like they are straight out of a race car. “I don’t have the patience for stuff like this and I knew Dale would take the time to make it as good as it could be, and it is.” Joe reports. Looking at his Forward Control, “lack of patience” is not the first thought that comes to mind.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
Now that it is completed he has taken the FC to car shows and driven around town and it turns heads everywhere he goes. Mopar’s “Mighty FC” concept vehicle has reignited interest in Forward Controls from the Jeeping public, and some actually mistake Joe’s FC for a new vehicle. That is how nice this thing is. Despite the Super Swampers, he doesn’t take it off-road much, but we probably wouldn’t either if we had this much time and money tied up in a vehicle.
Vehicle: 1963 Jeep Forward Control FC-170
Engine: 383ci small-block Chevy
Transmission: TH350 three-speed automatic
Transfer Case: NP205
Suspension: Stock leaf springs on modified frame mounts and RS5000XL shocks
Axles: Dana 60 (front), Corporate 14-bolt (rear)
Wheels: 16x8 Alcoa forged aluminum
Tires: Q78-16 Super Swamper TSL
Built For: Turning heads
Estimated Cost: N/A
Why I Wrote This Feature
If you played a drinking game where you had to take a shot every time I said “custom” in this feature, you would be reading this in double. Joe’s Forward Control should serve as an inspiration to guys everywhere with projects in their garage. Just because you are building your vehicle yourself, just because you are frustrated or behind schedule, doesn’t mean that you should throw in the towel. Take a deep breath and remember that you don’t have it nearly as hard as a guy trying to build a Forward Control.