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Big Ten: The last Jeep CJ-10 - Jeep Encyclopedia

One Rare Truck

Jim AllenPhotographer, Writer

Some long-lost Jeep models came and went without many teary eyes. The CJ-10 is one that has inspired a second look from many Jeep fans lately.

By the late 1970s, the financially strapped AMC Jeep was looking for an export model to bring in overseas money from vehicles produced in American factories. The CJ line was its best chance. So in 1980 they began the development of a light-utility pickup loosely based on the CJ line.

It was clear the CJ chassis wasn’t up to being stretched anymore, but the answer was pretty simple: They took a 118.7 inch wheelbase J-10, Model 25 pickup chassis, and adapted it to CJ sheetmetal. A simple cargo box was designed and voila, a suitable export pickup was created.

Dubbed the CJ-10, the new pickup came in two GVWs and had three engine choices. The differences between the 5,900-pound and 6,700-pound GVW were spring rates and axles. The lower-rated unit had a 31-spline semi-float Dana 44 (3,500 pounds GAW) and the higher-rated model had a 35-spline semi-float Dana 60 (4,300 pounds GAW), both as rear axles. An NP208 chain-drive transfer case was used for both.

Engine choices included the 2.5L AMC four-cylinder, 4.2L AMC six-cylinder, or a 3.3L Nissan naturally aspirated diesel, none of which had federal emissions equipment. Transmission choices were either a Tremec T-176/177 four-speed or the ubiquitous Chrysler TF727 automatic. The front axle was a Dana 44, and the gear ratios ranged from 4.10:1 for the 4.2L gasser and 3.3L diesel, and 4.88:1 for the four-cylinder.

The cab used a shortened CJ tub, with a more-or-less standard CJ dash, hood, and windshield, but the fender and grill arrangement were unique. It was “Jeep-ish” but unique to the model. The doors were very much like a CJ-7 or CJ-8 but just different enough that they didn’t fully interchange. The top was also very CJ-8 in its look but made of metal and not interchangeable. Reputedly, an open-topped unit was also considered but not offered. The 7-foot bed had a very “Toyota FJ-45 Land Cruiser” look to it.

Up to 300 CJ-10s were built from ’81 to ’83 in South Bend, Indiana, at the AMC Jeep commercial products division that later became AM General. When the division was sold in ’83, production moved south to Vehiculos Automores Mexicanos (VAM), where another 500-600 were reportedly produced.

The primary export target market for the CJ-10 was Australia, and it was well-received there, marketed alternately as “J-10” or “Jeep One-Tonner.” Australia is a tough market, made tougher by the monetary exchange rate, shipping distance, and established Japanese manufacturers willing to sell at a loss to starve out any competition. The CJ-10 was a good fit in the Aussie “Ute” market (their slang for a compact pickup), but when the exchange rate really went into the toilet shortly after they were introduced, the J-10 ended up overpriced in the market. The subsequent “kiss of death” came quickly. During this ’82-’85 timeframe, the Australian military was looking for new trucks and militarized CJ-10s were tested. Reportedly it did well enough against the competition but, again, price was an obstacle.

Other markets included Canada, New Zealand, and various South American and southwestern Asian countries, but, for the most part, they didn’t do well because AMC Jeep was in too much financial distress to market them well. The last CJ-10s were built in ’85, and it looked as though they were doomed to fade away—but not so fast!

PSI-Mobile, a specialty builder of emergency vehicles and flightline tugs, assembled a CJ-10 based flightline aircraft tug starting in 1984 and got a contract to produce them for the U.S. government. The project was started by AMTEK, another arm of AMC. Limited production of the basic chassis/cab was at VAM in Mexico, and PSI modified them in their Michigan facility. Dubbed the CJ-10A, the chassis was shortened to an 88-inch wheelbase and featured an extremely heavy rear body that contained the fuel tank, a large tool box and a compressed air system. The extra gear added about 2,000 pounds, but that weight added to drawbar pull. With a rated drawbar of 4,000 pounds, a properly ballasted CJ-10A was could tow up to 40,000 pounds on level ground.

Power came from the same Nissan naturally aspirated SD-33 diesel as the civvy versions, and it cranked out a whopping 81 net horsepower and 138 lb-ft. A Torqueflite 727 automatic and NP198 transfer case backed up the Nissan. The NP198 was a fixed-yoke, rear-output NP208 permanently locked into low-range. It had the front output but no shift mechanism, inside or out. Up front, a “dead” 8-lug tubular axle from Dana was used. The rear axle was replaced by a single rear wheel Dana 70 8-lug axle with 4.88:1 gears and a Powr-Lok. Top speed was 25 mph.

The CJ-10A was produced from ’84 to ’86. Sources vary as to how many, but numbers of 1,000-1,500 are commonly seen. They were in military use well into the 2000s and, for all we know, may still be. They are often seen in surplus sales and more than a few have been returned to full 4x4 masculinity, given a new rear body and wheeled like a Jeep should be. The civvy CJ-10s are in short supply here in the States, with only a handful in private hands. One of the common questions is whether the CJ-10 platform could have been more successful, both overseas and here in the States. Most think it could have, but the sad truth is AMC Jeep was on the ropes and had many other things to worry about. Another great idea lost to bad timing.