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1978 J-10 Gladiator Built for Hardcore Trails

Posted in Features on January 25, 2019
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Photographers: Trenton McGee

If the big bomb gets dropped, the zombie thing happens, or that solar flare wipes out all the computers, we’re pretty sure Samuel MacIntyre’s 1978 J-10 would be the perfect vehicle for escaping the pandemonium of the cities and heading to the hills. But it turns out that’s not what Samuel had in mind when he built the truck. His goal was to create and anvil-simple, functional fullsize truck with all the trimmings to make it right at home on just about any hardcore trail. The fact that it also makes a good bugout truck is just a bonus.

We spied Samuel’s creation at Area BFE during Easter Jeep Safari and had to get a closer look. The more we looked, the more we liked. Right off the bat we noticed the classic Gladiator grille, the exo-cage, and the bobbed bed. We’re not normally a fan of exo-cages but this one is unobtrusive and very well done, tying into the cowl and melding into a traditional bed bar rather than making awkward runs along the fenders on the way to the bumpers. Having the exo-cage not only protects the cab, but it also leaves plenty of room inside and avoids the inevitable down-bar trip hazards that are typical of an internal cage. The custom-made body armor looks like it could have been a factory offering, with breaks that match the original body lines and therefore disappear into it.

The J-10 was originally a long-bed truck, but Samuel chopped 14 inches out of the front of the bed and then bobbed another 14 inches out back, moving the rear axle to match the new location of the wheelwell opening. Some additional armor was added to the rear corners of the bed to add strength as well as hide the cut lines, but somehow all the added armor fits right in with the blue patina that is “a combination of 1978 Jeep, rust, and an unidentifiable blue that was applied by some guy in the early 1990s.”

The drivetrain of this truck is all business and borrowed heavily from Chevy donors. The Dana 60 front and 14-bolt rear axle were sourced from a military CUCV. Both are filled with 4.56 gears as well as Spartan and Grizzly lockers respectively. The front axleshafts are 35-spline chromoly units from Yukon that spin Hardcore locking hubs. Upstream is a homebrew NP241/NP205 double T-case setup for a variety of crawl gear choices along with an NV4500 transmission. Samuel initially put the truck together with an SM465 but upgraded to the five-speed “when the adapted flywheel decided it didn’t want to be in the truck anymore.”

The whole combination is hooked together with a variety of Advance Adapters goodies. Motivation comes from a 4.8L engine from a 2004 Chevy truck that runs thanks to a cut-down factory fuel injection harness and a custom tune. The 4.8L got the nod because it was cheap compared to other LS options while offering the same hammerlike reliability as the larger versions.

If you’re going to build an exo-cage, this isn’t a bad way to go about it. Samuel MacIntyre kept the structure as tight to the cab of the truck as possible and went through the cowl in the front, ultimately hiding the tie-in to the frame. Out back, we dig how the ’cage more or less melds itself into a traditional roll bar look, cleverly tying into the bed rub rails that you don’t really notice until you’re looking right at them.

Samuel’s goal with the build was to create something out of the ordinary that was still capable in a variety of conditions. Asked if he would change anything, he mentioned that he wished it was lighter and that he’s contemplating a dovetail, a dove nose, and boat sides (we told him not to do any of that).

As it stands, the J-10 had no problem swallowing up the huge ledges at BFE during our brief time there, and the truck has been all over its home state of Colorado as well as several spots on the East Coast. Samuel may not have set out to build a doomsday truck, but we’d bet money it would fit the bill if the day ever comes.

It’s hard to go wrong with the classic “rhino” grille from the 1960s, especially when it will bolt right to the later 1978 sheetmetal. The front bumper offers plenty of protection for the classic grille and is tied directly to the frame while also integrating a mount for the winch.
The three-link front suspension was fabricated by Samuel and features FOA coilover front shocks as well as air bumps. The flexy front suspension allows the Gladiator to stay planted most of the time as well as provides a comfortable ride on the highway. The four-bolt steering box is drilled and tapped for the homebrew hydro-assist steering and linkage.
The rear suspension is fairly simple, consisting of an XJ main leaf supported by a combination of leaves from both XJ and YJ spring packs. A traction bar keeps axlewrap to a minimum, while Bilstein shocks keep things under control. Note the beefy axle truss and disc brakes.
Other than being obviously much shorter than stock, the bed is functional and understated like the rest of the truck. The fullsize 40-inch spare is mounted via more of Samuel’s custom tube work, and it’s also home to the 20-gallon RCI fuel cell. You can also just see the top of the shock hoops, where the hocks poke through the bed to get the proper length that handles the rear suspension flex.
Not afraid of putting the truck in harm’s way, Samuel took the opportunity to give us a good view of the undercarriage. The fully boxed frame added much needed rigidity, while the tucked-up belly pan keeps the NV4500 and twin T-cases out of harm’s way.
Under the hood it’s all business. A stock 2004 4.8L LS provides more than enough power to get the heavy truck moving down the highway and on the trails. The factory 2004 harness was pared down to just the essentials, while the computer received a custom tune to ensure that it runs properly in its new home.
One of our favorite parts of this truck is the body armor, which Samuel fabricated himself. The 3/16-inch-thick steel was painstakingly formed to follow the factory contours and creases, making it pretty much disappear while offering bulletproof protection to the classic sheetmetal.

Tech Specs

1978 Jeep J-10
Engine: Chevy 4.8L LS
Transmission: NV4500
Transfer Case: NP241/205
Front Axle: Dana 60, 4.56 gears, Spartan Locker
Rear Axle: 14-Bolt, 4.56 gears, Grizzly Locker
Springs & Such: 3-link front, custom rear leaves
Tires & Wheels: 40x13.50-17 Toyo Open Country M/T on 17x9 Raceline Monster beadlock wheels
Steering: Custom hydro assist
Lighting: Stock
Other Stuff: Chopped and bobbed bed; fully boxed frame; custom body armor, bumpers, exo-cage, and rock sliders; RCI fuel cell; Recaro seats

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