As I was on my way out of town after this year’s Moab Easter Jeep Safari, I came across this amazing piece of Jeep history: A Forward Control, surely the weirdest Jeep of all time. Homage has been paid to the Forward Control through two Moab Easter Jeep Safari concepts in recent years; first by the Mighty FC in 2012, and later by the resto-modded FC-150 in 2016. These concepts garnered a lot of attention in particular for their funky, retro-modern style, but what’s the story behind their funky, retro inspiration — the original Forward Control?
Introduced in 1956 while Jeep was under the ownership of the Willys-Overland company, the FC was conceived when Jeep’s management team saw an opportunity for a modular cab-plus-bed utility vehicle. Long-time Willys designer Brooks Stevens was commissioned for the design. In addition to automobiles, Stevens designed furniture, motorcycles and appliances, while also dabbling in graphic design. The FC is highly derivative of his unique aesthetic, which can also be seen in another one of his designs, the Oscar-Meyer Wienermobile.
The Forward Control was based on the CJ-5, and the plan was to first develop a basic, highly practical pickup from which other variants could be derived for use as people movers and utility vehicles. The original FC-150 featured a diminutive 4-cylinder engine, but its form factor is what gave it an edge, as it mated a 6-foot bed to a vehicle only eight inches longer than a modern Fiat 500. The FC-150 spawned a number of longer-wheelbase and heavier-duty variants, the top-dog of which was intended to be the FC-190, which was shown with a V8 engine and dual rear-wheel design — though it never made it beyond concept form. Pictured is an FC-170, which had a longer wheelbase, a longer bed and a higher gross vehicle weight than the FC-150 at 7,000 pounds, compared to the 150’s 5,000 pounds.
Ultimately, the Forward Control proved a bit bizarre for late 1950s American tastes, but it was met with much success in the specialty vehicle market, where examples were adapted for use as airport utility vehicles, military transport, tow trucks and railroad support vehicles. Additionally, the design of the FC was licensed for production in foreign markets, where it was adapted into chassis-cabs, doka-style 4-door pickups, fire trucks, ambulances, vans and mini-buses.
Here in the US, just over 30,000 units were built over nine years of production; the peak came in 1957, when almost 10,000 units were produced.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for a while, helping Germans design cars for Americans. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.