December 1956 perhaps represented the official start of our current era of popular culture. When the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the year was tabulated, not only were three of the top ten records of 1956 by one artist -- Elvis Presley -- but they were also "rock 'n' roll". Although they were the only three rock 'n' roll records in the top ten, the music industry saw the future.
Also in December 1956, the Willys Motors division of the Kaiser Corporation thought they saw the future of four-wheel-drive.
The Forward Control Jeep, introduced that month, was a symbol of the resurgence of the Willys division, now turning a healthy profit after several years in the red. This profit was largely the result of concentrating on building Jeeps rather than passenger cars, and successfully selling the Jeeps not just in North America, but around the world. (See "Pulling Willys Off the Rocks," Business Week, 15 December 1956, pp.111-112.) And now the company apparently felt the time was right for the next generation of four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The Forward Control trucks were given the most colorful and dramatic advertising Willys had used since the introduction of the CJ-2A in the mid-1940's. See a larger copy of this FC-150 ad (50K JPEG) and a larger copy of the FC-170 brochure, above (70K JPEG).
The Forward Control design was the latest vision from Brooks Stevens, who was probably the foremost industrial designer of the era, and had previously worked for Willys on the design of the Jeep station wagon and the 1948 Jeepster. Also in his portfolio were the 1939 Steam-O-Matic iron, the Miller High Life beer logo, the 1948 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the Excalibur automobile, the Lawn-Boy lawnmower, and the 1956 Evinrude Lark Runabout motorboat.
What was perhaps most impressive about Stevens' vision of the Jeep of the future, is that the first version was built on an almost off-the-shelf CJ-5 chassis and drive train, allowing it to be developed quickly and cheaply. (He used the same approach for his 1958 Oscar-Mayer Wienermobile.) By 1957 the axles of the short FC-150 were widened for better stability, and it was joined by the longer FC-170, but the changes were minimal.
See a larger copy of this photo (70K JPEG) showing Buck Toenges' restored 1960 FC-170. See also a side view photo (70K JPEG).
The FC-170 came with the Super Hurricane inline-six engine, and was available with a T-98 four-speed transmission. Many of them had stake bodies or speciality bodies such as a dump box (60K JPEG), street painter (40K JPEG) or utilities truck (50K JPEG). A dual-rear-wheels version was built from 1959-61.
See a larger copy of this photo (70K JPEG) by Jolly Goodfellow, of an FC-170 wrecker in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. See also a front view photo (70K JPEG).
Some of the most unusual FC's were the M679 military ambulance and the M677 crew-cab pickup, built for the U.S. military in 1964-65 on the FC-170 chassis, with a 170 cubic-inch Cerlist diesel engine. See M678.com for more on the military version.
Bill Brennan photographed this 1964 M679 at Willys America in Cazadero, California. See also a front view photo (40K JPEG) showing the M679 with a 1959 FC-170 fire truck.
Rock 'n' roll was here to stay, selling many millions of records by the time the Beatles cemented it into the mainstream and it became just "rock" in 1965. But although the Forward Control Jeeps were built until 1965, total production in nine years was not much more than 30,000 units according to Jim Allen in the Illustrated Buyer's Guide: Jeep.
Maybe the Forward Control design was in fact ahead of its time: the Big Three automakers were all trying cab-forward pickups and vans by the time Kaiser dropped the FC's in 1965. But maybe it would never have been right for the North American market, which has always preferred styling based on power and speed, to styling based on efficiency. The FC looked more like a European vehicle, and some years later EBRO in Spain built a successful series of Jeep cab-forward trucks (125k JPEG) not unlike the Forward Controls. Until about 2000, Mahindra & Mahindra in India continued to build vehicles reminiscent of the FC, such as the FJ460DP four-wheel-drive minibus (16K JPEG).
This illustration of the 1957 Jeep lineup comes from "Form CS 5-57", the brochure seen at the top of this page. See also a full-size version of this illustration (100K JPEG).
Thanks to Steve Chabot for the brochure, and Bill Brennan, Jolly Goodfellow and Buck Toenges for photos. Archival photos from the Jeep House collection. -- Derek Redmond
Also on CJ3B.info, see Forward Control Fire Engines. And for more about Elvis see his 1960 Jeep Surrey Gala and his movies Blue Hawaii and Fun in Acapulco.
Elsewhere on the web, see a Biography of Brooks Stevens. Danny Hartling's Jeep Forward Control Page and Craig Brockhaus' FC Connection have almost anything you might want to know about the FC's.
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