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Forward Control 101: The M-Series

Posted in Features on November 28, 2016
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In 1962, the United States military was in the midst of a massive tactical vehicle modernization program. Kaiser Jeep was working to get on that contract bandwagon but soon discovered that the United States Marine Corps was also looking for a few good Jeeps to be used in non-tactical garrison support and utility roles.

Because the Navy Department was already using civilian Forward Control Jeeps, and forward control layouts were the “in” concept at the time, engineers at Kaiser Jeep thought the USMC might be interested in a variant of its FC-170. A militarized FC-170 Pickup prototype (XM-676) and a Carryall van (XM-678) were built and tested in 1962. Four production models were eventually approved and built: the M-676 Cargo Pickup, the M-677 four-door Cargo Pickup, the M-678 Carryall and the M-679 Ambulance. All four FC variants shared an identical backbone: a reinforced FC-170, 103.4-inch-wheelbase chassis that featured a 170ci, 85hp Cerlist three-cylinder two-stroke diesel engine, three-speed T-90A transmission, Model 18 Transfer Case, Spicer 44 front axle, and Spicer 53 rear axle. Axle ratios were 4.88:1 and Powr-Lok limited slips were used front and rear. The specified tire was a 7.50-16, and initially, they were commercial mud-and snow types. Later, you might have seen non-directional tires mounted on them.

The M-676 was a pickup with the same 7,000-pound GVWR shared by all the M-Series, and a curb weight of 4,240 pounds, leaving a payload of approximately 2,700 pounds, including passengers. The 9-foot bed could carry 12 personnel in the traditional military troop seats. They were seen with or without a Gem-Top full-length aluminum cap. The model number, seen in the serial number as a prefix, was 9326.

The goal was to replace the aging Dodge M-37 tactical rig as an everyday utility. The Marines still needed four-wheel-drive capability for garrison duty but they didn’t need the increased operating costs of using a frontline rig for that purpose. In fuel-economy comparison tests, the M-676 delivered 22 mpg versus 9 mpg for the M-37 in the same driving cycle. The M-37 carried eight men in the back with a 100-cubic-foot “cargo cube” and a 2,000-pound load capacity (off-road it was 1,500 pounds). The M-676 could carry 12 men, had 50 percent larger “cargo cube,” and was rated for 2,700 pounds. No, it wasn’t a frontline tactical rig, nor was it as “tough” as the M-37, but it was a practical, taxpayer-money-saving unit for any Marine or Navy base.

The M-677 (Jeep model 9327) was a crewcab pickup with in-cab seating for five people, plus a 6-foot bed that had troop seats for eight. A Gem-Top bed enclosure was commonly seen on this model. Because of the heavier curb weight (4,750 pounds), it could carry only 2,250 pounds of cargo. These rigs were often seen at Naval or Marine Air Stations carrying flight or repair crews—and their gear—out to the flight line.

If you count the prototypes, production of the M-Series FCs started in ’62, but the majority were built in ’64. The number produced isn’t exactly clear. The best guess, based on the highest of the known serial numbers, is in the 400-plus range, but some estimates run as high as 700. The vast majority of them were M-677 four-door pickups. Based on the few survivors, the Carryall is likely to be the lowest production unit, followed by the Ambulance and the Pickup.

Why the military FC didn’t go into volume production isn’t exactly clear, but there were many likely influences, with military procurement check-writers being one. At the time the M-Series was in development, Kaiser Jeep was also starting on the XM-715 interim tactical vehicle program that eventually led to about 30,000 M-715 units. It’s clear from period documents that Jeep management really wanted to sell a militarized J-Series rig, so it’s possible they simply left the M-Series FC to wither on the vine and didn’t push more FC sales. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the FC line went out of production not long after the last M-Series FC contract was fulfilled, and it isn’t clear whether or not another large contract might have kept the civvy FC in production.

The M-Series FCs began to appear on the surplus market in the ’70s, and the majority of them were soon repowered with about any engine you can imagine as the new owners discovered life in the 55 mph lane was not to their liking. Today, the M-Series FCs are enjoying a small but growing following, and the values for survivors have gone up considerably.

The Carryall (model 9328) had a van-type body with rear doors and a door on the passenger side. It also had windows in back on both sides. It had a 4,660-pound curb weight, a capacity of 2,300 pounds and could be configured for cargo or passengers.
The Ambulance (model 9329) could carry two patients in litters and four or five seated personnel. It weighed 4,750 pounds and had a payload of 2,300 pounds. The only cargo compartment windows were in the rear doors, but the interior was equipped with lights that illuminated in red or white, and there was a surgical lamp.
The Marines demanded a diesel, and the Cerlist 3C diesel fit the FC doghouse with minimal adaptation. A co-development of American engineer Peter Cerf and German engineer Dr. Hans List, the engine was a modular two-stroke, loop-scavenged diesel. The engine was designed for numerous configurations (two-, three- and four-cylinder inlines and four-, six- and eight-cylinder V-types) with approximately 25 hp of output per cylinder. The unit used for Jeeps was the three-cylinder version displacing 170ci, making 85 hp at 3,000 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 1,900 rpm. Many were used as stationary powerplants, as well as marine engines. Cerlist became a division of Waukesha Engines and were built into the ’80s.
Nearly every piece of equipment the Marine Corps owns is upgraded for transport by ship, so their requirements for bumpers, tow hooks, or tie-downs result in numerous upgrades to any vehicle they buy even if only used in garrison duty. A 24V electrical system with standardized switches, blackout lights, and the like were also part of the requirement, as was a brush guard.

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