1The way most people spin it, the Gladiator concept from 2005 spurred the Wrangler pickup fever burning the foreheads of Jeep fans today, but the pangs have been cutting our gut far longer than that. Jeep produced pickup trucks continuously between 1947 and 1992, but when the Comanche quietly dipped out of the market—despite its platform-mate, the Cherokee SUV, living on through 2002—the well ran dry. Perhaps Chrysler, after acquiring Jeep in 1987, didn’t want a small pickup overlapping with the Dodge Dakota. Maybe Jeep simply wanted out of the truck business. Whatever you believe, know this: Jeep is doing a new pickup, and before that Wrangler-based creation arrives, you should get a load of the brand’s bed-tastic history.

 

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1947–1965: Willys-Overland Jeep 4×4 Truck

Shortly after introducing the CJ series, little more than a civilian-ized version of the wartime Jeep, Willys-Overland brought out the larger “4×4 Pickup.” Available in 1/2-ton panel-van and 1-ton pickup forms, the truck was initially powered by a 63-hp L-head four-cylinder engine and was about as bare-bones as the CJ.

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1947–1965: Willys-Overland Jeep 4×4 Truck

While it was modern when first put on sale, the nameless “pickup” was decidedly stale by its final year, 1965—a full three years after the more modern J-series came online. There were a few updates over its nearly 20-year life cycle, including a switch to the Willys F-head four-cylinder in 1952 and the addition of a 115-hp (SAE gross) inline-six in 1957.

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1957–1966: Jeep FC (Forward Control) Series

Far and away one of the coolest pickup trucks ever made, Jeep’s FC-series hit the market in 1957. Engine choices included a 72-hp (SAE gross) L-head four-cylinder in the 3/4-ton FC-150 or a 115-hp inline-six in the 1-ton FC-170. Two wheelbases were offered, but both iterations were solidly stubby in appearance; combined with the FC’s endearing face and go-anywhere capability (not to mention a bevy of power take-offs and tractorlike attachments), it was a natural mechanical farmhand from day one.

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1957–1966: Jeep FC (Forward Control) Series

The FC, like the Willys-Overland 4×4 Pickup sold alongside it, went through life with few updates. A dualie rear axle was briefly available with the FC pickup but after 1962 was available only on FC chassis cabs. Recently, Jeep sent its fans into a veritable freakout when it created the Mighty FC concept, an endearing and brutally capable experiment that wore cab-over styling evocative of the original FC’s.

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1963–1987: Jeep Gladiator / J-series

Jeep’s longest-running pickup, the J-series, first debuted for 1963 and refused to go out of production until 1987. To put that in perspective, the J-series overlapped with the Comanche for two model years and saw the Jeep name passed from Kaiser to AMC and, 17 years later, to Chrysler. Initially sold with the ludicrously bad-ass “Gladiator” name, eventually that moniker gave way to J-series, becoming the J-10/J-20 in the 1970s.

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1963–1987: Jeep Gladiator / J-series

The J initially came with a 230-cubic-inch inline-six making 140 horsepower, but in 1964 a low-compression, 133-hp “economy” version of the same engine because the truck’s base motor. A V-8 became optional for the first time in 1965, but the entry-level engine was swapped for a 258-cubic-inch AMC lump good for just 110 horsepower (SAE net) in 1971. The front-end styling was adapted to the megasweet Wrangler-based J-12 pickup concept in 2012.

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1963–1987: Jeep Gladiator / J-series

The original quad-lamp front end was swapped for a Wagoneer-like piece with a full-width grille in 1970; it would be updated again in 1979 with square headlights. The J’s famous roof lip—essentially a horizontal visor that stuck out over the windshield—disappeared in 1981 as part of an effort to improve fuel economy, and the truck would soldier on for another six years.

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1967–1973 Jeep Jeepster Commando / Commando

If you’re beginning to gain the impression that Jeeps tend to be long-running, tough-to-kill workhorses, get ready for the Jeepster Commando. Initially conceived in the late 1940s, slow sales killed the Jeepster by 1951; but, like a cockroach after a nuclear blast, the Jeepster would improbably return in 1967 with mildly revised front-end sheetmetal and the old L-head four-cylinder engine making 75 horsepower. A Buick-sourced V-6 was optional. Apparently, someone at Kaiser-Jeep figured the Jeepster could compete with the Ford Bronco and the International Scout. There were four body styles available, including a convertible, a roadster, a wagon, and a pickup.

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1967–1973 Jeep Jeepster Commando / Commando

The Jeepster was a curious entry to the Jeep lineup, not least of all because Jeep had other, more modern rides to shill. Nevertheless, this relic survived for six years before finally being snuffed out in 1973. Jeep actually saw fit to update the Commando’s styling for 1972 (the Jeepster part of the name was dropped that same year), but the changes not only made the rig look a lot like an International Scout or maybe a Chevy Blazer, they came too late to stave off its execution.

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1981–1985: Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler

Look at the mania today over a Wrangler with a pickup bed, and it’s easy to pinpoint when it all started. In 1981, Jeep released the CJ-8 Scrambler, which, like the J-series, was immediately cool from day one. With a five-foot pickup bed fitted to a CJ chassis, the Scrambler could be had with either an 82-hp four-cylinder or a 110-hp inline-six. There were hardtop and softtop variants, too.

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1981–1985: Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler

The Scrambler’s pickup bed wasn’t so much a bed as it was an open cargo bay that was separated from the cabin by way of the removable top. Regardless, the CJ-8 featured a big open bay that, technicalities aside, was a usable and spacious area. Its variety of sticker packages, available white wheels, and our crushing sense of ’80s nostalgia put the Scrambler up there with the J-series and the Comanche in our hearts. The CJ-8’s life was cut short by the one-two punch of the Comanche in 1986 and the CJ-murdering Wrangler in 1987

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1986–1992: Jeep Comanche

If it were possible to encapsulate the 1980s automotive landscape in a collection of creases, angles, and rectilinear design details, the Jeep Cherokee nailed it. Jeep then cranked that dial to 11 with the Comanche, a regular-cab pickup based on the Cherokee that shared the SUV’s gloriously ’80s angularity, only with a pickup bed and an optional roll bar. It’s pretty damn sweet, right?

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1986–1992: Jeep Comanche

At its launch, the Comanche boasted three engines, three transmission options, and a seven-foot, four-inch bed. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder with throttle-body fuel injection and 117 horsepower was standard, while a Renault-sourced 85-hp 2.1-liter turbo-diesel was optional. (Yes, a stick-shifted diesel Jeep truck was a thing, but it came during a time when most Americans were still choking on thoughts of GM’s terrible diesel cars.) A GM 2.8-liter V-6 engine with fewer horsepower than the 2.5-liter four (but greater torque) stood at the top of the range.

Happily, this mess of engines was cleaned up over time, starting in 1987 with the phase-out of the diesel and the replacement of the sad V-6 with the now-legendary Jeep 4.0-liter inline-six. The six put out 173 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque, and later it was bumped to 190 horsepower. The 2.5-liter four received more advanced fuel injection in 1991 (it was then good for 130 horsepower), and Jeep added a short-wheelbase body style with a six-foot bed to the lineup in 1987.

Jeep Wrangler MOPAR JK-8 Independence conversion

2011– : Mopar Jeep Wrangler JK-8 Conversion Kit

Okay, so we said Jeep’s pickup-truck well ran dry in 1992, but that’s not entirely accurate. What we meant to say is that Jeep’s factory-offered pickup-truck line ended years before the Nintendo 64 came out. Jeep pickups, sourced elsewhere, were far from dead. Take the JK-8 conversion kit, released by Chrysler’s in-house parts and accessories arm, Mopar, in 2011 for the current-generation Wrangler Unlimited. For a few thousand bucks, owners of four-door Wranglers can purchase the parts necessary to convert their ride into a regular-cab pickup that looked the absolute bomb. Beyond that, there also are things like the hand-built, bring-piles-of-money coachbuilt AEV Brute Double Cab.

2011– : Mopar Jeep Wrangler JK-8 Conversion Kit

Forget that the JK-8 kit required fairly extensive fab work to complete the conversion—spot welds in the stock Wrangler Unlimited’s body needed to be cut and new pieces welded in—it was (and still is) cheap, and shadetree mechanics likely would enjoy putting it together. We don’t yet know whether the new, factory-built Wrangler pickup will resemble the next-generation Wrangler, or if it will go its own way while using Wrangler mechanicals. But if you can’t wait until 2017–2018, the JK-8 remains the only game in town when it comes to a brand-new Jeep-created Wrangler pickup.

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