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Bringing A 1957 FC-170 Tour Jeep Back To Life

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2012 Comment (0)
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Bringing A 1957 FC-170 Tour Jeep Back To Life

The obvious way to preserve four-wheeling history is by restoring a vehicle back to factory-stock splendor. But what if a vehicle has a history that transcends its original manufacturer? Such was the dilemma faced by the notable Jeep historian and Forward Control (FC) restorer, Craig Brockhaus, when he came across one of the iconic San Juan Scenic Jeep Tour rigs of the ’60s.

An iconic image brought back to life. This is one of four FCs built and modified as San Juan Scenic Jeep Tour trucks. Two other are known to have survived, one of them recently restored.

The San Juan Scenic Jeep Tour Jeeps are one of the most evocative 20th Century mechanical images of Southwestern Colorado. Since the ’50s, various Jeeps in that company’s stable have carried tens of thousands of tourists. Most four-wheelers, and all Jeep history fans, have at least passing knowledge of these iconic Jeeps.

The company started doing tours in 1946 as Davis Scenic Jeep Tours, run by Buddy Davis. He sold out to the Kuboske family, which ran the company for many years until their long-time employee, Greg Pieper, took over. Jeeps have been a part of the company since day one, when modified flatfender CJs were used. They’ve used CJs of all eras, chopped-top utility wagons, FCs, J-series trucks, fullsized Wagoneers, and big Cherokees in 63-plus years of existence.

The paint was barely dry when Craig trailered the Jeep back to its former stomping grounds in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. It’s shown here at a creek crossing on the way to Sydney Basin, southwest of Ouray.

Brockhaus had long been seeking the fates and histories of the San Juan Tour FCs but the one he eventually found had been hacked beyond what he thought practical to restore. In 2004, when that truck was days from the crusher, he was forced to refine the definition of “practical,” or a piece of history would be lost forever. Craig has a jaw-dropping collection of Jeeps, cornerstoned by the ’57-’65 Jeep Forward Control models, and he’s considered one of the world’s leading experts on FC trucks. His website, The FC Connection, is the pivot point for collectors.

What a nightmare! The old tour Jeep had fallen onto hard times in 2004 when Brockhaus saved it from the crusher. The irreplaceable body parts were still there but the restoration was the literal embodiment of the old adage, “Jack up the body and drive a new truck under it.”

Step one was vehicular forensics to determine which of the four San Juan Tour FCs he had purchased. There were thousands of photos taken of those Jeeps by tourists, magazine photographers, and the company owners. You can still find the lurid Jeep Tours postcards on eBay. The I.D. job was made easier when Craig was given access to a huge photo file kept by the Kuboske family. His FC turned out to be the very first one, a 1957 FC-170 acquired and modified in 1964. The next FC didn’t appear until the late ’60s. Two more came in the early ’70s but they had all been retired by the early ’80s and replaced by Jeep J-series pickups or converted Cherokee SJs.

All aboard! The rear body was fabbed by Bernie Kuboske and his staff back in the early ’60s to carry 12 passengers. It held up very well over the years. The lettering was painstakingly reproduced and Brockhaus uses 1964 vintage Colorado plates when showing the truck.

Mechanically, the tour Jeep was a disaster. The last owner had turned it into an ersatz monster truck (emphasis on “monster”) by welding the original chassis and body to a military truck chassis fitted with tractor tires. With the original drivetrain gone and the chassis hacked beyond repair, Craig’s solution was to substitute the virtually identical restored chassis of a ’62 FC-170.

The fabricated tour body was carefully removed from the old chassis and found to be very solid. The cab required lots more work. It wasn’t so much rusted out as hacked away. So much material had been removed for a ’70s Chevy six-cylinder conversion that the cab had to be internally braced before removal from the old chassis to prevent collapse. The entire rear section of a donor cab was sliced off, modified as it was done in ’64, and welded onto the original front section. Along the way, Brockhaus carefully uncovered the painted-over 1964 markings and made tracings for later reproduction. Five coasts of paint were then sandblasted away and the body prepped for a gleaming coat of President Red.

The pilot station isn’t complicated. The original Jeep was equipped with the standard three-speed Warner T-90 ahead of a Dana 18 T-case. A four-speed T-98 was optional. Axle gears are 4.88:1, with a Dana 44 front and a Dana 53 rear. Brockhaus added an overdrive.

The restoration was finished in 2008, just in time for a family vacation to Colorado. The tour Jeep was trailered to Southwestern Colorado and driven over many of the same trails it had spent decades running, with the Brockhaus family playing tourist.

The seats are surprisingly comfortable and all were equipped with seat belts. It was quite an investment in upholstery to get the truck reupholstered, including the striped Surrey top.

“The old Jeep seemed to still know the way,” said Brockhaus. “It did really well in the mountains and a few times we were mistaken for the real Jeep tour people.”

In Ouray, it’s old hometown, the restored Jeep turned a lot of heads and the old locals were unabashed in their admiration. The Jeep, of course, made a pilgrimage back to it’s former stable. Yep, San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours is still in business. Current owner, Greg Pieper, was literally freaked out to see the restored FC and some of the Kuboske family also got to see it. Since then, another of the Tour Jeeps has surfaced and been restored. In 2011, both showed up to Ouray’s Fourth of July celebration and received accolades from old-timers and spectators alike.

You can’t see much of it under the “doghouse,” but here’s a 226ci “Super Hurricane” flathead six. It was rated for 105hp stock. The standard compression ratio was 6.86:1, but many Colorado trucks were fitted with the optional high-compression, 7.3:1 ratio head. At the time, it was the most powerful engine in the Jeep lineup.

Sometimes fate is kind. In this case, it brought a tired old Jeep with historical significance into the hands of the person best equipped and most motivated to save it. All is right in the Jeep world!

The Details
Vehicle: 1957 FC-170 Tour Jeep
Owner: Craig Brockhaus
Estimated value: $100,000
Engine: 226ci I-6, Super Hurricane
Power (hp): 105 @ 3600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 190 @ 1400 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 3.31 x 4.38
Comp. ratio: 7.3:1 (hi alt. head)
Transmission: 3-spd, Warner T-90
Transfer case: 2-spd, Spicer 18
Front axle: Spicer 44F
Rear axle: Spicer 53
Axle ratio: 4.88:1
Tires: 7.50-16
Wheelbase (in): 103.6
Passenger capacity: 13 (including driver)
Fuel capacity (gal): 22
Min. grd. clearance (in): 9
Approach angle (deg): 40
Departure angle (deg): 30

Sources

The FC Connection
http://www.thefcconnection.com
San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours
970-325-0089
http://www.historicwesternhotel.com

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