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 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.
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.