The stylish J-Series Gladiator trucks advanced Kaiser Jeep into the mainstream of the growing American light-truck market when they were introduced in November of 1962. They were a giant leap ahead of the aging and dated Jeep pickups of previous years. The Gladiators debuted with all the features that ’60s light-truck buyers demanded, along with a wide variety of wheelbase, bed, and GVWR choices.
The J-Series trucks were offered in two- or four-wheel drive in two main lines: the 120-inch wheelbase J-200 and the 126-inch J-300 series. Each of those divisions offered a range of GVWRs from a half- to one-ton. In the J-200 line were 4,000, 5,600, 6,600, and 8,600-pound GVWRs. The J-300 line started a little higher with choices of 5,000, 6,600, 7,600, and 8,600 pounds. Both the 8,600 pounders were duallys (models J-230 and J-330). Once past the choice of wheelbase and GVWR, buyers selected between the old-style Thriftside, the flush-sided Townside, or a platform/platform-stake bed. Bed lengths ranged from a nominal 7-footer on the J-200 to an 8-plus footer on the J-300. The duallys were offered from the factory only with a platform bed, but a cab and chassis truck could mount any of hundreds of aftermarket beds.
For the first time, Jeep offered a little luxury and bling in its pickup line. That included the Custom Cab option and (ta-DAH!) air conditioning. For the first time an automatic transmission (Borg Warner AS-8W) was on the options list, except for the duallys. The duallys came standard with a T-98 4-speed, but the lower GVWRs started with standard 3-speeds and the T-98 or automatic were optional. An unusual option for the non-duallys was independent front suspension. It featured a D44 center section and a swing axle type arrangement. It worked well and people liked the ride improvement, but it was a maintenance headache and expensive, so was seldom ordered. It disappeared in the big ’65 mid-year model year upgrade.
There were no engine choices beyond the 140 hp, 230ci overhead cam six. Power was good—for a six—but probably the biggest issue with most buyers was that Kaiser Jeep didn’t offer a V-8 option until midway into 1965. It’s been said some in the company regarded the Tornado as “enough,” but the lack of a V-8 was less a deliberate choice than it was a lack of resources. Getting the J-Series out there in the first place pretty much burned through the company’s resources at the time. They just didn’t have it together enough to include a V-8 right away.
The first dually had been built in October of ’62, but they hadn’t sold like hotcakes. By the same time in ’63, just 233 of the J-330s had been built and even fewer of the J-230s. In June of 1963, an Amber Poly colored Jeep Model J-330 dually rolled off the line in Toledo. It was the 104th J-330 built, and was shipped as a cab and chassis to Sacramento, California.
A timberman from Georgetown, California, came down to Sacramento in 1963 looking for a dually truck and made the rounds of dealers. He told the Jeep dealer, W.V. Morgan Company, he wanted a J-300 dually with a regular pickup bed, but was told Jeep didn’t build them that way. He replied, “Well, I’ll go buy a Ford then.” Wanting to make the sale, the Jeep dealer offered to build him a dually pickup. It wasn’t hard. They ordered a new Thriftside bed painted to match the cab, extended the rear fenders, attached it to the chassis of the J-300, made a rear step bumper and—voilà—instant dually pickup!
The truck was functionally well equipped in other ways. It had the optional power steering, an AM radio, and the factory Jeep compass. The dealer also added Thor auto-locking front hubs and a Ramsey X-246-10R-4SP PTO winch kit. The timberman apparently scoffed at the available comfort options, other than a heater.
The logger then used it hard in the Sierra for about 50 years and, in an odd twist of fate, the Jeep spent most of its life a stone’s throw from what has become the spiritual home of Jeep, the Rubicon Trail. The J-300 was in regular use until the logger died at age 87. When we photographed it at the 2016 Bantam Jeep Festival in Butler, Pennsylvania, the custom dually was there with a group from Matthews Automotive in Salem, New York.
Stormy Powerplant—The Tornado OHC Six
The Tornado was designed by A.C. “Sammy” Sampietro, a Kaiser engineer who had experience building racecar engines. It’s a fascinating design that delivered a very “truck-like” torque curve but also had a lot of high-end power potential. In mainline production, Tornados came with either with a one-barrel Holley 1920 carburetor or a two-barrel Holley 2415. The first two digits in the engine number tell the tale: AS and TS are one-barrel engines. AD, ND, and TD are two-barrels. NS is the low compression (7.5:1) export engine with a one-barrel.
The two-barrel Tornado with an 8.5:1 compression ratio was advertised at 140 hp at 4,000 rpm and 210 lb-ft at 1,750 rpm—respectable numbers for the day. What Jeep didn’t advertise is that it was actually a 155 hp. Published but unadvertised period-certified dyno tests show the two-barrel at 155 hp at 4,000 and 230 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. No graphs of the single-barrel 8.5:1 CR engine have been found, but the 140 hp/210 lb-ft numbers would be a good estimate for that engine. The low–compression engine offered for export was 133 hp and 198 lb-ft—the same as the later M715 military Gladiator. Why Jeep didn’t advertise the higher number for the two-barrels, we do not know. In its 1962 SAE presentation on the engine, the design team cited, “Willy’s conservative policy on published horsepower ratings.”
Jeep also offered an industrial version of the Tornado rated at 85 hp at 2,700 rpm and 165 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. Few of these have been seen. A high performance engine was developed but apparently not offered, at least here in the USA. It had a 9.5:1 compression ratio, a four-barrel carb, dual exhaust, and was rated for 175 hp at 4,800 rpm and 230 lb-ft at 2800 rpm.
The OHC Tornado was a bust for Kaiser Jeep. It debuted in the old-style Willys Utility trucks in May of 1962 and became known for oil leaks and oil consumption, with engine failures resulting when not kept topped off with oil. Kaiser Jeep got a handle on this fairly quickly, but not fast enough to save the reputation. It was an expensive engine to manufacture and had too many mechanics scratching their heads. For all those reasons, it didn’t make sense to keep it in the lineup and Jeep replaced it with the 232 ci AMC six early in 1965. In a slightly different form, it had a revival in the ’67-’69 M715 military and then went off to Kaiser’s Argentina outpost and was in production until about 1980.