1963-1987 Jeep Gladiator and J-Series Pickups
The Gladiator, later renamed to J-series, was Jeep’s base pickup truck for many years; starting with the 1963 model year, replaced the practically un-named “Jeep Pickup Truck” (model FA-134). Kaiser Jeep created the Gladiator alongside the new Wagoneer luxury off-road wagon starting in 1959, sharing some common engineering; former Jeep engineer Bob Sheaves wrote that the first Gladiator mule came alive around May 1960, three months after the first Wagoneer, and used a live axle/Hotchkiss suspension. Some early Gladiators appear to have had an independent front suspension with the 4x4 setup, similar to Wagoneer, but Mr. Sheaves believes that few, if any, were made this way.
The Gladiator (later referred to, á la F-150 or D-100, as “J-xx”) was a conventional design for a pickup, other than the 4x4 equipment; it used a body on frame architecture, sharing a basic frame with Wagoneer as Chevy pickups would share with Chevy Suburbans. Given Jeep’s international nature, it should not be surprising that the company built different versions of the truck in various other countries, including military versions.
In its 1963 launch brochure, Jeep wrote:
Here’s an entirely new series of versatile, powerful, virtually indestructable trucks. Most loadable, roadable, work-loving trucks ever built. Loadable-all steel pick-up boxes with low bed height. Roadable—balanced truck weight and firm-riding suspension make Gladiators hug the road, corner safer and easier. Work-loving—Gladiator pick-ups take hefty loads up to 3,977 lbs. and with 4-wheel drive, take them anywhere. Yet, its short turn radius and high steering gear ratio provide the handling ease of a passenger car. And a highly advanced independent front suspension system is available . . . plus optional automatic transmission, power brakes and power steering to make the going still easier and safer.
Townside styling sets this truck apart from ordinary pick-up trucks, just as its performance puts it out ahead of competitive vehicles. For capability, economy, efficiency and styling, the truck to drive is the new 'Jeep' Gladiator Townside ... in J-300 Series with 126 in. wheelbase and J-200 Series with 120 in. wheelbase. G.V.W.'s up to 7,600 lbs. All new, all ‘Jeep’ Gladiator . . . world's most advanced, most useful pick-up truck!
The Gladiator and Wagoneer might never have been built under the old Willys management; Kaiser had built cars since the end of the war, and was indeed created largely to fill the massive post-war need for new cars. Their management was much more in tune to the mass market’s tastes and needs, and their engineers had been quite innovative despite having few resources. Though they were focused on the practically non-competitive truck market, after barely escaping from the GM-Ford sales wars, Kaiser brought new resources and attitudes to Willys which helped build sales and profits year after year, at least for a time.
The Gladiator came in chassis-cab, pickup, and platform stake versions; they were divided into the Thriftside and Townside, based on whether they had flared or slab fenders, and were the first 4x4 trucks to have automatic transmissions (supplied by General Motors — the THM400—until being replaced by the Chrysler A-727 Torqueflite in 1980).
The trucks came with 110, 120, and 126 inch wheelbases, in half, three-quarter, and one-ton capacities. In each case, the 230 cubic inch “Torando” overhead cam six cylinder engine was standard. Oil changes were advertised as being needed only at 6,000 mile intervals, with major lubrications spaced at 30,000 miles, a substantial savings over many vehicles of the time.
The Jeep Gladiator pickups had a unique 4x4 system with an independent front suspension, and with Wagoneer, were the first off-road vehicles to have independent front suspensions. All one-ton Gladiators were 4x4s.
The Tornado overhead-cam six was the only overhead cam engine made in America; it had domed pistons, large valves, and closed crankcase ventilation. Power output from the 230.5 cubic inch (3.8 liter) engine was 140 hp at 4,000 rpm and 210 lb-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm, making it roughly equivalent to contemporary the 225 cubic inch slant six from Chrysler Corporation.
Both a manual transmission and an automatic were available; the manual was a three-speed, with overdrive optional on rear-drive models. One unusual feature for a family-appropriate wagon was a Power Take-Off unit; there were also snow plow and pushplate options.
The base price, in 1963, was $1,913; they weighed 2,901-3,304 pounds, the chassis cab being the lightest and the Townside the heaviest. Overall, Jeep built 25,156 trucks for the year, helping to create record sales of 110,457 in total; sales also set a record, of $221,000, up 42% from 1962. In 1964, sales of trucks were more than double, at 59,180, easily out-selling the old Jeep Universal (CJ/DJ), helping beat the prior year’s record with a total of 120,830 Jeeps sold.
For 1964, Wagoneer buyers could get a lower-compression six with just 110 hp, but this engine did not last long, and does not appear to have been available on Gladiator, which had no major changes from 1963. 1965 brought the first mention of Kaiser to nameplates, and also brought a new series of trucks. The two series were easy to tell apart: the carryovers had three-digit numbers (J-200 to J-330), while the new trucks had slightly higher gross vehicle weights and slightly different styling, with names from J-2500 to J-3800. Both series continued into 1966 unchanged.
The steering was improved for 1965 to cut driver effort. More significantly, a brand new 327 cubic inch “Vigilante” V8 was added, pumping out 250 horsepower (gross) at 4,700 rpm and 340 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,600 rpm.
The V8 came with a 60 amp-hour battery, steel-backed bearings, hydraulic lifters, full pressure lubrication, and overhead valves; it ran on regular gas. The Tornado Six was still standard.
The company produced 108,601 vehicles in total for 1965; however, this includes Fleetvans, sold mainly to the government (as postal trucks), and all the other vehicles.
Low sales led management to slash the number of Gladiators made for 1967, cutting all the rear wheel drive versions except for the J-100. The base engine remained the 232 cid, 145-horsepower straight-six, with the 250-horsepower V8 optional. Military production started, with 30,500 M715 trucks, based on the civilian J-series pickups, made from January 1967 to the summer of 1969; ironically, these replaced the aging M37 Dodge trucks.
There were more model cutbacks in 1968 as Kaiser tried to match Gladiators to sales, this time with the flared-fender Thriftsides dropped; there still remained no less than 24 Gladiator models. The company also launched a camper option for J-3600 Gladiators, at $267, and added a V8 option using the Buick 350. The next year brought similar moves, with full-ton pickups on the 120 and 126 inch wheelbases being dropped; and the J-3800 downrated to three-quarter-ton. The camper package was discounted to $148.
1970-1986: the AMC years
AMC bought Kaiser-Jeep in 1970, renaming the company “Jeep Corporation,” and setting up a new development group to both create new vehicles and update current models. AMC would create impressive and popular new Jeeps, while slashing the proliferation of slow-selling models.
The 1970 Gladiators switched to the Wagoneer’s grille and new color combinations. It now started with J-2500, costing $3,361 for chassis-cab and $3,516 for pickup; weight came in at 3,152 and 3,555 lb. The cheapest Platform Stake truck was the J-2600 half-ton with 4x4, at $3,804 and 3,949 lb. Just 45,805 Jeeps were made across the entire line, less than half as many as in recent years.
In mid-1971, AMC’s V8 engines, the 304 and 360, replaced the Buick 350 on J-series trucks; their big 4.2 liter straight six was now standard, replacing the older Jeep unit. Production rose somewhat to 54,480 across all Jeeps, still far less than in the late 1960s. 1972 brought larger clutches and brakes, and new cloth patterns inside. A mere 9,238 pickups had been sold.
|1972||4.2 Six||304 V8||360 V8|
|Net hp||110 @ 3,500||150 hp||175 @ 4,000|
|Torque||195 @ 2,000||245 lb-ft||285 @ 2,400|
1971 was the last year for the Gladiator name; after that, it was called “Jeep pickup.” Sales do not appear to have increased from the new anonymity.
The J-2000 and J-4000 versions were all that remained in 1972-73.
Not until 1973 did AMC’s efforts pay off in the product, aside from more powerful engines; The J-series gained a lighter, wider tailgate that could be opened with a single hand, a longer-lasting clutch linkage, double wall side panels in the bed, and a redesigned instrument panel with safety padding and bigger, clearer gauges.
|GWR F/R Axle||3200/3200||3500/4090-5500||Hip Room||60.6||60.6|
|Axle Ratios||3.54, 4.09||3.93 std, 4.09 opt||Head Room||38.3||38.3|
|Standard Brakes||Man. Drum, 11x2||Power Disc, 12.5”||Length||193.6||193.6 or 205.6|
|Clutch Area||10.5” (V8, 11”)||11.0 - 110.96||Width||78.9||78.9|
|Transfer Case||Dana 20||Dana 20||Wheelbase||119||119 or 131|
|Turning Diam.||41.9||45.4||Cargo, cubic feet||38.6||38.6 or 44.4|
|Leg Room||45.0||45.0||Betw. wheelhouses||50.1||50.1|
While those items made life easier for buyers, selling the trucks also became easier with the addition of the Quadra-Trac full-time four wheel drive feature, which required the 360 engine; it used a limited slip differential to let each wheel operate at a different speed, and allowed for a low-gear add-on unit (this was available on some models in 1973 and across the board in 1974).
The Jeep Quadra-Trac system was more advanced than most designs; it used a unique, controlled-slip third differential to automatically distribute power between front and rear axles, minimizing the possibility of skids and loss of control. There was no need to engage hubs or shift levers. An optional low range was available for low-speed, high-power-demand situations.
Jeep production shot up overall; how much of that was due to improved CJs and Wagoneers, it is impossible to know.
For 1974, the company put larger brakes into the Gladiators, while also cutting the turning radius, and the Quadra-Trac system was available on all engines. The company also simplified the names, dropping J-2000 and J-4000 in favor of J-10 and J-20. Still, the company sold under 14,000 of the J-series trucks — an improvement over 1972 but still quite low compared with Chevy, Ford, or even Dodge.
For 1975, the company tried creating a consumer-friendly Pioneer package with woodgrain exterior trim, fancy interior trim, chromed front bumpers, window moldings, and wheel covers, with woodlike interior trim, dual horns, and other “car” features. The J-10 series, now costing $4,228 and up, sold just under 7,000 units, with the J-20 selling nearly 3,000 more — a truck total of well under 10,000. In the same year, they sold over 32,000 CJs.
1976 saw an upgraded frame with splayed side rails allowing more widely spaced rear springs for greater stability; stronger crossmembers and box section rail construction; new multi-leaf springs and shocks for a smoother ride; and new body hold-down mounts to minimize vibration and noise. The windshield washer was improved. This year, they sold around 13,000 J-trucks, total.
AMC kept trying, and in 1977, gave the J-series trucks higher payload ratings, going from 6,500 to 6,800 pounds for the standard rating and adding 400 lb to the optional one. An odd Honcho package was added to J-10, with denim cloth, chromed front bumper, and blue steering wheel. More to the point, the company made power front disc brakes standard, made the 360 V8 mandatory on J-20 (with an optional 401 V8), and boosted power of the 4.2 liter engine; the company started using Dana’s part-time four wheel drive system as the base 4x4. Sales did go up, passing 15,000, but remained minor, especially given the numerous improvements.
1978 saw few real changes but a Golden Eagle package, combining the Honcho and Pioneer features with gold striping and wheels, a grille guard, and other items. A 10-4 option was also added. The 1978s did provide over two more inches of legroom, thanks to modifications to the floor and the gas pedal. This time, sales shot up past 17,000; in 1979, with a refreshed front end appearance, sales exceeded 22,000.
1980 brought a delayed reaction to the fuel shortages of past years and re-increasing gas prices, with QuadraTrac getting viscous drives instead of cone clutches; many other drivetrain changes were made to conserve fuel and cut weight. The company also continued to add creature comforts, such as power windows, a Laredo package, and now part-time four wheel drive (similar to that of the CJ). Sales fell, however, to under 9,000 trucks again. In this year, Chrysler’s fine TorqueFlite automatic replaced the old GM unit; this would help Jeep a year later, when lockup torue converters became standard on the J-series.
Fuel economy work continued in 1981 with a lightweight, plastic grille, standard front air dam, lighter-weight 258 engine, and low-drag brakes; J-10 was also lowered, and all models were given power steering. Production was now around 10,000, with Ward’s reporting total U.S. sales of 5,562. The full truck series was less popular than CJ-based Scrambler alone, with one third the sales of Wagoneer, and under one fifth of CJ; it did, however, beat Toyota Land Cruiser, IH Scout, and the Mitsubishi pickup. That said, in the same year, GM sold nearly half a million full-size pickups, Ford sold 408,000 light F-series pickups, and even perennial underdog Dodge sold over 82,000 of their D-series.
1983 saw the new full-time four-wheel drive system, Selec-Trac, replace Quadra-Trac; it was optional on J-10 and included a two-speed transfer case. The 4.2 six was boosted in compression from 8.6 to 9.2:1, and now used an electronic fuel feedback system and knock sensor. The J-10 was six-only, the J-20 V8 (360) only.
The company built fewer than 7,000 J-trucks in 1983 (U.S. sales, 4,263), and just over 4,000 in 1984 (U.S. 1984 sales, 3,404); the writing was on the wall, but there was still a 1985 J-series truck, as the Comanche 4x4 pickup was being readied for 1986. Fewer than 2,000 ’85s were built (U.S. sales, 1,974); fewer than 1,700 of the 1987s were made, along with 1,056 1988s as the practically unchanged J-trucks soldiered on. U.S. sales fell to an absurd 1,515 for 1986, in a market where 1.2 million full-size light pickups and 1.4 million compact pickups were sold.
In 1987, Jeep sold 1,347 J-series pickups — with nearly 112,000 Cherokees, over 14,000 Grand Wagoneers, 12,000 Wagoneer XJs, 38,000 Comanche pickups, and 30,000 Wranglers. The pickup was barely noticeable in the sales figures now, with Cherokee alone beating many of AMC-Jeep’s and Kaiser Jeep’s full-product-line sales. J-series was easily the lowest-sales vehicle in the entire Chrysler/AMC lineup, by a factor of ten.
Chrysler Corporation purchased AMC in 1987, the same year J-series trucks were finally dropped. The once-Gladiator had long been on borrowed time; in its first year, AMC sold over 46,000 Comanches, and the Wagoneer itself had outlived its sell-by date. AMC veteran Bob Sheaves confirmed that the process of dropping the J-series had been started by AMC just before the buyout, which is one reason why the process dragged out; ironically, the Chrysler purchase may have extended its life, as Chrysler let them run longer than AMC had planned (according to Mr. Sheaves.) As a result, American Jeep dealers still had 221 J-series trucks to sell in 1988, finally clearing them out with what appeared to be a major effort in May. After that last 101-J-sales month, there were no further J-series or Gladiator sales.
The J-series pickups, born as Gladiators, had enjoyed a long 24-year lifespan, despite sales that could never be called “lively.” They filled a unique niche, in a unique fashion, but never seemed to catch on. The new products created by AMC — Cherokee and Comanche, Wrangler, then Grand Cherokee — would all be immediate successes, drowning out the last vehicles designed under Kaiser.
The military trucks
Industry veteran Bob Sheaves wrote that the Gladiator was the basis of the first post-war U.S. Army trucks designed to be civilian vehicles and adapted to military use; they replaced the tough Dodge M37s, which were built solely for the military and used engines that were no longer available to civilians. The idea was to make a “Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle” (CUCV) for the Army to save money; it was intended as a 5/4 ton tactical vehicle, derived from and sharing with the normal production-line trucks.
Military Trader wrote that there were several contracts for these trucks, starting in March 1966 for the first 20,680; through the end of 1969, “more than” 30,500 were made. The site reported that the 5,500 pound truck used Gladiator tooling for most of the sheet metal and cab, with the upper part of the cab and doors opened so a canvas top could be fastened, while the front fender were cut so the big Army tires could be used; and the windshield was a fold-down variety. The cargo bed was unique to the military. The truck had a 225-mile range and a top speed of just 60 mph. The site estimated that an M715 could cost around $10,000 in fine condition (as of 2013).
The military Jeep pickups did not work out well, according to Mr. Sheaves; they were too light duty and purchase-cost reduction dominated long-term durability eneds. The old Willys six cylinder engine was not tough enough for the uses to which it was put in the military vehicles, and it would blow bearings, rods, and cams; it simply had not been made for the purpose to which the Army was putting it. The bodies rusted and disintegrated in use. The trucks cost less than the custom-made ones, but they also failed to last. Part of the problem may have been with the Army itself; the Dodge M880 which replaced it also suffered from many problems. Mr. Sheaves, who was lead engineer for General Motors on their replacement — the M1008/M1009 — said that part of the problem was inaccurate descriptions by procurement officers of how the vehicles would be used, coupled with poorly developed testing. The same problems encountered by GM may have been part of the reason why the Dodge M880 and Jeep trucks failed.
According to Mr. Sheaves, Jeep had two plants in Toledo at the time; the Parkway plant built cabs and bodies, while the South plant made everything else. For civilian vehicles, Parkway would build the cab and body and ship it by truck to the South plant, to be finished; military chassis would be created in the South plant first, and trucked back the other way to the Parkway plant to receive cabs and bodies. In that way, trucks were full going both ways on their seven-mile journey. The military unit did not split out production of the various trucks it made, leading to potential confusion in the figures over the years.
Gladiator and J-series specifications, 1964 and 1972