Looking Back: 1958 Willys Jeep FC-170

Looking Back: 1958 Willys Jeep FC-170
By Ronald Ahrens for PickupTrucks.com

Whenever one of Mark Stranahan’s two young sons rides in his pickup, the lad’s face becomes unusually serious.

There’s something prepossessing about being surrounded by 19 square feet of glass while sitting aloft over the front wheels. The cab is 79.3 inches tall.

Stranahan’s 1958 Willys Jeep FC-170 is unique. The FC part of the name designates “forward control.” This cab-over-engine design had long been applied to heavy-duty trucks, but Willys brought it to the light-duty market when its Jeep FC-150 compact truck was introduced on Nov. 27, 1956.

“They were narrow, underpowered, unstable and hard to work on,” said Stranahan, an architect in Ann Arbor, Mich. “They rusted. The bed was too short. They were primitive. I can show you some staggering examples.”

The longer and more powerful FC-170 followed on May 20, 1957.

The Jeep brand belonged to the Willys-Overland Co. after the longtime Toledo, Ohio, automaker churned out general-purpose military vehicles during World War II. Willys-Overland merged with Kaiser-Frazer Corp. in 1953, and although Willys passenger cars were phased out, Jeeps continued to be marketed for that make.

Wanting a piece of the growing market for light trucks, the company adapted the Jeep chassis, creating the tall cab and narrow pickup box on the existing mechanical layout. “It was an interesting idea to begin with and quickly proved to be a bad idea,” Stranahan said. “But they stubbornly, doggedly stuck with it.”

FC-series trucks were produced through 1964, but never in large quantities. One source shows 9,796 FC-170 units produced in the first full model year of 1957. They were almost equally divided among regular pickups, stake-bed trucks and cabs sold with bare chassis that were later fitted with dump boxes, wreckers or other utility bodies.

Farmers, service station operators and rural fire and rescue departments were ready customers. While the configuration is nose-heavy — or, as Stranahan puts it, “The center of gravity is ridiculously far forward” — the FC-170 is pretty much unstoppable in snow when four-wheel drive is engaged, making it an excellent plow vehicle.

Stranahan, whose parents came from the Toledo area, is a Jeep enthusiast from his days growing up in Woody Creek, Colo. “I misspent my youth driving around in Jeeps instead of dating or doing homework,” Stranahan said.

1958 Willys Jeep FC-170 Interior

He once drove a Jeep backward over Aspen Mountain in order to win a bet. He claims the ability to work on a Jeep that’s halfway under water. “They have five moving parts, all bigger than your head, and you could build one out of baling wire,” he said.

The FC-170 turned up in an Auto Trader ad placed by an Oklahoma party. Whereas the pickup sold for $2,508 new, Stranahan paid $4,000. He thinks the purchase occurred in 2000.

The truck was shipped to Ann Arbor. Getting his first look at it, Stranahan decided he’d paid “about $3,200 too much. It was worse than I thought.” The body was heavily rusted, and the seller hadn’t mentioned the engine’s broken exhaust manifold. Stranahan spent months in his driveway trying to extract the manifold bolts.

The truck hulked there until eventually finding its way to Rick De Michele, proprietor of Body Alternatives in Milan, about 15 miles south of Ann Arbor. It was the beginning of a multiyear process characterized by what Stranahan calls “scope creep.” In other words, the scope of the project kept expanding.

The restorer of many cars and creator of various custom street rods, De Michele recalls the FC-170 being “pretty trashed. There wasn’t a nut or a screw or a bolt that didn’t need addressing.”

He completely disassembled the FC-170. The manifold bolts came out after patiently heating them with a torch and applying plenty of penetrating oil.

De Michele refashioned the cab by hand, tipping it on its sides, its nose or even standing it on its top while welding in new panels and hammering out the compound curves. The two-tiered, 109-inch cargo bed was reconstituted from three different shorter ones.

“So many bits and pieces had to be hand-fabricated,” De Michele said.

Desert beige and willow green tones were chosen for the paintwork. Of the latter, Stranahan says, “I had this color in mind. It’s almost like the old Forest Service, federal-color truck that they had 50 years ago out West.”

He recalls the day when he first drove his FC-170. “It just was silly. I had one of those silly grins that I couldn’t take off my face,” Stranahan said. The truck glittered in the sun as he played with his new toy. “I felt like I wasn’t able to stay in my adult self because it was fun, and I was excited and smiling.”

The FC-170 came home to northwest Ann Arbor last summer and has since covered about 500 miles. Although he hasn’t entered it in a show, it’s a show-stopper, as evidenced when he comes anywhere near a crowd of people.

Then, his sons’ faces aren’t the only awestruck ones.

1958 Willys Jeep FC-170 Rear Three-Quarter View


I live in the Ann Arbor area and have never seen this truck. But ill keep an eye out for it now though. Its a beautiful machine.

If I had one though, id swap in a 2-53, 3-53, or 4-53
2-stroke Detroit Diesel, turbo or no turbo, jake brake, air starter, etc. That would be bad ass. Ive seen a lot of classic 50' and 60's light duty trucks with the swap I just described and the results are amazing!

Too cool! I've never even heard of this truck before. Great to see and read about. Thanks for the write-up and pictures.

Very intersting. For a minute I though this was going to be the story of yet another Jeep concept vehicle that would never make it into production.

A 4x4 Econoline pickup or 4x4 A100 pickup would have made more sense.Yet,Ford or Chrysler never made one.Guess the FC170 proved that the market wasnt there.

Now the Japanese and Europeans are selling much more stable and capable vehicles like this everywhere.

Cool. Didn't even know these trucks existed.

I love these kinds of stories.

there was one of these poking out of the garage of a house on my street growing up, my friends and i always wanted to chip in together buy it and rebuild it but we afraid of the guy that lived in the house. Nowadays another guy on my street that creates a "haunted house" at Halloween borrows it and makes it look like it crashed into the house with casualtiess falling out.

Saw one a couple of months ago for sale! Went home to get the cash($2500) and was beat by another chap. I now carry $500 on me for "I'll be right back, here's a deposit"

Love it! One of my favourite weird 4x4's!

This truck , FC-150 was manufactured in India till about mid 1990s by Mahindra. You can still see plenty of these trucks driving around in India, especially in smaller towns/cities. Mahindra had an earlier tie up with Willys. Originally these trucks came with F4-134 Hurricane petrol engine mated to a 3 speed gear box - all original from Willys design. After the the tie up was over, the various diesel engine options like cooper , perkins and Simpsons were put in, mated to a 4 speed Korean Kia transmission and also the name FC was changed to FJ.
These were one of most robust trucks for use in the Indian conditions and were a huge success before Bajaj Tempo (Matador) and TATA (407) took over the markets with more modern products.
I had worked extensively on these trucks and can recognize the pistol type hand brake lever operating a small brake drum on the rear propeller shaft ! By the way, the FJ was had a 4WD option also - 2 speed T18 transfer case. These trucks had no brake compensation in the rear circuit (original single brake master cylinder was changed to tandem master cylinder after new MV regulations were introduced in the 80s), and controlling a unladen truck in heavy braking was a skill. The perkins diesel engine had pneumatic governor which had the notorious habit of starting the engine in the reverse direction - this happens when the engine is shut down and the flywheel makes a small direction reversal before stopping ! Now ith intake becoming exhaust and vice versa, the only way to stop the engine is to get out and block the exhaust pipe (which is the intake now!)

Thanks for calling back memories of 20 years back..

Interesting story. Nice to know about FC-170 Jeep.
I think Stranahan paid much for this old product. Now-a-days new Jeeps and pickups are coming to the market which are in demand. The Jeep Wrangler is one of the best among them.

I have a 1964 fc 170 dully/dump/snow equiped,all factory, needs restoration. South Bend IN 5.500$ offer,email for pics thanks frankie

re. 64 fc170 for sale south bend IN frankie 574-233-2563 5.500 offer

Am interested in repair manuals for the FC170. I have a '62 drw that is being restored by myself and others. I have a service manual for Jeep forward control, but I would like to know if there is anything better out there somewhere.
Also does anyone know if there is a show or roundup for the Jeep FC's somewhere in Ohio in 2011.

My first wife and I bought a used FC-170 in 1965, built a camper for it, and drove it from LA to Bolivia and back in the summer of 1966 (except for having to take a ship between Panama and South America). Loved that truck, but had to work on it a lot.
Eventually pretty well rebuilt it--Jeep had an excellent service manual for it that even I with little mechanic experience could follow. The manual went with the truck when we sold it about 1972.

The restoration in the photos above is exquisite, makes me drool.

Allen Stanton
http://store.midwestjeepwillys.com/books---manuals.html has a service manual. It is the only one I could find. Not sure how good it is or if you already have this one. I would like to know which one you have. Hope this helps :)

Allen Stanton

not sure how this works so I will leave my contact info

I Have a 1958 for SALE 40,000 Orig. miles runs excellent, body straight Barn find,EMAIL actingdogs@msn.com

I am starting an off frame restore job on a 1962 FC170DRW. I want to keep it original, so I will be looking for a few parts. This truck is a one owner and is in excellent shape. Was used on a farm needs a lot of cleaning. The only rust is on the floor boards.

This was a great truck. My uncle Bill had a bright yellow Willys F-170 with snow for his market. It was a great snow plowing truck and you could easily see the plowing operation and what the plow was doing. As a preteen, I rode in it a few times and you were sitting high along the road and saw a lot that you could not see sitting in a car. I wish the truck was still around and I had it, but my uncle traded it in on another pickup years later. By then the forward-cabs were discontinued, so he purhased a bright yellow Jeep J-20 pickup truck. This one said Jeep as the Willy's name had also been discontinued also.

Sweet ride! I had picked up a well used one to restore 1957 fc170 . Can't wait to drive it

In the market for a jeep fc150 or 170. Anyone have any leads?

i got a 57 fc jeep that needs to be restored been sittting in a barn out of the weather. the first 2000 cash can come get can send pic just e-mail me. make a great project for someone also will take trade.

every year where I snowmobile I pass by a jeep fc150 sitting in a old fishing camp .thanks for the info on it

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