As Jeep collecting gets into full swing, many rare and forgotten Jeeps are rediscovered. The CJ-10 is one not familiar to everyone and was designed from the outset for export markets, Australia in particular, where light 4x4 utility pickups, a.k.a. “utes,” were (and are) very popular. With Jeep’s enviable name recognition, it was thought a CJ-based unit would have the suds to knock Toyota, and others, off their high-horse export markets. The serious design work on the CJ-10 started in 1980, but there is rumination on the topic in export product planning materials as early as 1977.
The original platform for what would become the CJ-10 was the J-10 series Jeep ½-ton trucks; though by the time it was finished it had been altered considerably. Originally, it was conceived in two GVWs (5,900 and 6,700 pounds) and a choice of three engines. The running gear remained fairly standard fullsized Jeep stuff, a rear semi-float Dana 44 (low-GVW) or Dana 60 (high-GVW), Dana 44 front, NP208 transfer case, Chrysler TorqueFlite 727 automatic or Tremec T-177 four-speed manual. Engine choices started with two gas engines, the 151ci two-barrel, four-cylinder and 258ci two-barrel six-cylinder, and a 3.3L Nissan SD-33 six-cylinder diesel. Gear ratios were 4.10 for the 258 and diesel but 4.88 for the four-banger. The CJ-10s were offered as hardtops or softops.
The initial prototypes were tested in 1981 and the first almost 300 were built at the AM General (AMG) plant in South Bend, Indiana. When the ailing AMC sold off AMG in 1983, production was moved to VAM (Vehiculos Automores Mexicanos) in Mexico, where between 500 and 600 were built. Most of those, and the AMG units, went to Australia, but some found their way to places in South America, Sri Lanka, Canada, and New Zealand. Jeep Australia rebuilt some to compete in a failed attempt to land a contract for a new Aussie military vehicle.
The CJ-10s in Australia were most often called the J10, marketed at times as the “Jeep One-Tonner.” They were well received in Australia but the universe didn’t align to knock the Japanese off their domination of the Aussie 4x4 ute market and imports had stopped by 1985. The Australian dollar was low against the U.S. dollar and dropped even more, effectively pricing the CJ-10 out of the market. But the CJ-10 wasn’t quite dead yet.
In 1984, a CJ-10-based flightline aircraft tug was developed for the military. It was based on the VAM-built CJ-10 and the first prototypes were built in Michigan for tests. Once greenlighted for production, VAM parts were assembled by PSI-Mobile, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, into the bobtail CJ-10a tug. The 4x2 CJ-10a was produced into 1986, to the tune of a few over 2,000 units and that’s when the CJ-10 DNA finally died.
The ’85 CJ-10 you see here belongs to Virginian Steve Hendricks, owner and operator of Leesville Road Auto Service, in Evington, Virginia. It’s one of a handful that found their way into private hands in the USA. It’s a left-hand drive, 6,700 pound GVW model, with the Nissan SD-33 diesel, 727 automatic and instruments in kilometers. It’s been restored back to original glory, except for the half doors. Hendricks is having trouble finding some of the weatherstrip for the original hardtop full doors, which are different than regular CJ doors of the era. The Jeep Gladiator truck hubcabs are also not original… but they look just right!
The civilian CJ-10 had all the right attributes to succeed in the markets in which they were introduced. Currency exchange rates and an ailing AMC/Jeep conspired to prevent exploiting the CJ-10’s obvious virtues. Until recently, CJ-10s had almost been forgotten, except by some in the hard-core Jeep collecting crowd. In Australia, they have already become a collectible. If the remaining CJ-10s could talk, they’d more than likely be wailing the old Brando On the Waterfront line; “I coulda been a contenda! I coulda been somebody!”
Vehicle: 1985 Jeep CJ-10
Owner: Steve Hendricks
Estimated value: $25,000
Engine: 3.3L diesel, I-6, naturally aspirated Power (hp): 92 @ 4,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 137.5 @ 2,000 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 3.31 x 3.94
Comp. ratio: 20.8:1
Transmission: 3-spd automatic, TorqueFlite 727
Transfer case: 2-spd, NP208
Front axle: Dana 44
Rear axle: Dana 60, semi-float
Axle ratio: 4.10:1
Wheelbase (in): 119
Fuel capacity (gal): 20 (main), 15 (aux. opt.)
Min. grd. clearance (in): 9
Curb weight (lbs): 4,300
GVW (lbs): 6,700