Esteemed Hoonigans, it is my great pleasure to present to you self-propelled Yin and Yang, Genius and Insanity, Design Intent and Functional Afterthought.; also known as what may arguably be one of the most hooneriffic vehicles to ever see mass-production: the 1956-1965 Willys-Jeep FC-150. A rare breed even its day, our specimen comes to us courtesy of that lot I stumbled upon in Allentown, PA a few weeks ago, waiting to be sprung free; if I had the ready cash it would be in my driveway right now. Sadly I don’t know which year this particular one was born in, but that is absolutely irrelevant trivia, as you will soon see.
Take a good long look at that profile. Seriously, what’s not to love? The ingredients for a fantastic ride of epic scale are all here: Take a proven chassis (from the venerable CJ-5), convert to forward-control, add four-wheel-drive with an RWD bias, shorten the wheelbase, raise the center of gravity, distribute the weight by mounting the motor and spare tire toward the center, chuck anything that might add any weight over the rear axle… and you have a vehicle that’s likely to have the sum handling characteristics of a Shriner bulldozer, making even the most mundane drive-thru run an excercise in hoonage with utility to spare. Stir-fry with a box gastank exposed outside the frame, and you have a statement to shrivel any neighboring set of TruckNutz into raisins.
And oh what a truck! Double nickels were never an affront to the top speed, but then you’d be crazy to tow a house that fast (don’t forget that motor was torqued up for some serious stump-pulling). In trying to imagine what this would handle like I keep remembering the game Marble Madness (which is proof that old beer will get in you trouble, but I digress)… this could probably be made to give a zero-turn lawnmower a run for its money, right before running it over, uprooting your trees, and pissing on them both just for spite. I mean really, let me say it again: Short wheelbase with center-forward-biased weight distribution, forward control, generous ground clearance and attack angle with high center of gravity. Hmm, on second thought, forget using it as a utility vehicle – what we really have here is a Monster Truck for Go-Kart tracks. Not to mention one that would probably flip and roll forward end-over-end when faced with a steep downhill incline, but no matter: being a Jeep of the old-school, it’s indestructible, so such a merry excursion would only help gas mileage, and I want it anyway, and you know you do too.
But let’s give a bemused nod and a hearty toast to the designers as well, because there’s subtle beauty and dichotomous form vs. function on display here. The cab itself looks relatively typical of most cabover designs of the period until you realize just how beautifully round and smooth it is. The designers actually graced the lower front fender dams with the same compound-curve corners as the roof. The windshield is a wonderfully subtle wraparound unit, and those smooth doors (note the french-curve under the a-pillar!) and flanks are just begging to be unburdened of handle and badge. Italian cars may be renowned for applying curves to massaged and sensual high art, but stop and consider for a moment: this Jeep has more curved bodywork than a typical poster Lamborghini.
But wait, this. IS. a. Jeep. Which means come time to earn their paycheck, the engineers banished french curves in favor of design by slide rule, and installed the most brutish, function-first military surplus bed they could find. Those ingress ladders and front bumper? Total ergonomic afterthoughts. A gas tank that’s hip to be square, held on with straps of tin. Rear fenders with absolutely no resemblance to the front whatsoever – hey, why not? One clever touch is the hump in the right-side bed rail, for attaching the spare tire to the fame underneath, between the wheels. But make no mistake, this truck is an inverse mullet: party up front, all business in the back.
Of course at some point the builders had to reconcile their conflicting philosophies and somehow make it look like a Jeep. How did they do that? I’m not sure, but I imagine the thought process went something, simply, like this: “Let’s ram it head-on into a CJ, fast enough to emboss the grille design.” Pow! And thus are trademarks born, resemblance to Hello Kitty notwithstanding. Actually, Hello Kitty came later… somebody should sue someone.
This salty veteran still proudly wears its original dealer sticker like a little button nose, and comes equipped with assorted rigging, gear and signage from its service days with a county road crew, never wandering far from home. But forget the rigging, cool and functional though it may be. What should really be grabbing your attention is that cab-hinge-skidrail-protected, dual-chime airhorn (!) stealthily hidden under the cab. Forget the rough interior and other necessary TLC: it’s an FC-150 with an airhorn!
A truck that wants to be a go-kart that wants to be a truck. The friendly lines of a VW Bus melded with the face-smashing charm of a halftrack. The classic patina of workaday surface rust mixed with Coca-Cola two-tone. And an airhorn.
Why oh why did I leave this in Allentown? Be wise, my friends, and remember: I learn the hard way so you don’t have to!
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