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1963 Jeep Gladiator J-Truck 4x4—Collectible?

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I have a passion for old stake bed trucks and Jeep FSJ trucks.  I just stumbled across a 1963 Jeep Gladiator stake bed truck for sale.  I've been catching myself daydreaming about doing a restoration on such a truck both as a show piece (or as close to a show piece as a working truck can be, "parade vehicle" at its best might be a better label) as well as something to use for moving firewood and whatever else I come across that I need to haul.  Here is a photo of the truck:




I already have my hands full with earlier Jeep projects.  Long story short, I guess as much as I want this Gladiator, it may not be practical. Maybe if it was a dually I could make an exception!


Just to satisfy my curiosity though, do you know how rare these were?  I know that the 1963 MY was the first for these trucks, so if this is truly a 1st year factory stake bed all original pickup, is it a hard to find pieces or were there more made than I realize?  As much as I love FSJ trucks, I still have a lot to learn about their history.



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Hi, JTrucker, welcome to the forums!  Your Jeep and 4x4 truck interests will be of real interest to other members and guests...


I understand your excitement about finding a first year J-truck with a stake bed!  This model conjures a string of memories, I was fourteen years old when the model was introduced on the coattails of the all-new 1962 Jeep Wagoneer.  COD Garage, the local Buick/Chevrolet/Jeep dealership at Minden, Nevada did a brisk business around work and ranch trucks, and these innovative, forward leaning four-wheel drive vehicles suited a rural lifestyle.  I clearly recall that year's eclectic Jeep 4x4 lineup—from traditional Willys/Kaiser-era models to these Jeep Corporation J-chassis!


When the transport trucks unloaded these Jeep Corporation J-chassis models at the dealership, kids and adults watched in awe!  I would have never guessed that my growing fascination with Jeep vehicles and 4x4s would eventually lead to a writing career in the Jeep and light truck 4WD community—and authorship of the Jeep Owner's Bible and six additional books (Bentley Publishers).


In considering this '63 J-truck stake body, there are four factors:  1) the "romantic" or nostalgic motivation, 2) the actual vehicle involved, 3) the practical considerations for a restoration of these vehicles and 4) the real value of this vehicle in restored condition.  I'll be frank about each point.


1) Inspiration:  There's always the rationale for why you would restore a particular vehicle.  There must be an incentive, and in our case, a Jeep 4x4 with a legacy would be enough to do the trick.  In your words, this J-truck satisfies your penchant for both Jeep FSJ (Full-Size Jeep) or J-models and also an interest in stake bed trucks!  If these interests run deeply enough, they will sustain your drive through the arduous and often unpredictable vehicle restoration process.


2) Target of Your Affection:  The 1963 Jeep J-truck or Gladiator is a first-year launch as you share.  This could bode well with regard to cache and value, although there is also the practical side surrounding the truck's technology.  The J-truck in its first iteration had many merits and several liabilities.  For a parade truck, the liabilities could be overlooked.  However, when it comes to gathering firewood, some downsides would be daunting.  While sheet metal is sheet metal from a restoration standpoint, I'll tackle this as a mechanical restoration professional. Here's the real scoop on the design, components and mechanical restoration challenges that apply to a 1963 Jeep J-truck:


J-Truck Chassis—A major breakthrough and improvement over a Willys Pickup or Station Wagon that dated to the Postwar Era.  The Wagoneer, in particular, showcased the advanced J-chassis that took us into the modern full-size SUV world.  The Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer legacy survived to 1991 and now has a cult following. 


For the J-truck, the ladder frame, stout driving axles and wider track width made these trucks competitive.  There were wrinkles like the optional pivoting beam front axle, a pioneering stab at "IFS 4WD" if you will.  (Visualize a closed knuckle IFS axle design launched years ahead of Ford's F150/F250 4x4 "Twin Traction Beam" front end.)  The experimental "Independent Suspension" at the front driving axle raises concerns regarding vehicle performance and parts availability.  Be sure to get photos of the front axle, I can furnish archival drawings of the "IFS" front end. 


The front and rear axles are traditional Spicer (later Dana), outsourced and of decent quality, hampered a bit by the "closed knuckle" steering design.  Closed knuckles mean more wear points, parts availability issues and steering angle limitations.  Make sure axle housing ball ends are not scratched badly, rusted or damaged, otherwise expect to be chasing a scarce axle housing. Then there are the primitive Gemmer worm and roller and Ross cam-and-lever manual steering gears that leave much to be desired and are always worn out—with rare or obsolete replacement parts.  Be aware that the "Cab and Chassis" J-200 or J-300 has a variety of GVW ratings from 4000# GVW to 7600# GVW in the SRW models.  Dual rear wheel models did exist and drove the GVW to 8600 pounds*. 


*Note: If you furnish the serial number prefix for this vehicle, I can identify its GVW.  The prefix is four numbers and a letter followed by a hyphen.  I can even furnish shipping weights for the cab-and-chassis, which does not include the dealer-installed stake bed.  I even have the add-on weight for various options available.


Powertrain—This is the kicker.  The original engine is the OHC 230 Tornado inline overhead camshaft six.  This engine was strange for the era.  The overhead camshaft cylinder head, though a breakthrough, stood atop an obsolete inline six short block design with only four main bearings, similar to its predecessor, the 226 Super Hurricane L-head six. 


In 1962, GM introduced its 7-main-bearing 194 pushrod engine, followed in 1963 by the 230, then a 250 and 292, each 7-main bearing designs.  AMC took this pushrod OHV and 7-main bearing route in 1964 with its 199 and 232 inline sixes, the two engines that became the backbone for every inline six Jeep engine from that era forward—yes, right up to the 2006 TJ Wrangler 4.0L legacy six.  7-main bearings, even with a basic OHV pushrod approach, was so sensible that by 1965 Jeep Corporation abandoned the civilian use of the OHC 230 and its failure-prone valvetrain and outsourced the AMC 232 inline six for the Jeep J-model base engine.  The AMC 327 V-8 was also added as an option. 


While the U.S. military put up with a Gladiator looking M715 and M725 J-series truck and 230 OHC engine for several more years, the civilian trucks bid the Tornado 230 OHC inline six goodbye after 1964.  So, you have an engine with limited use and questionable reliability although its military use does increase availability of backup engine cores and some surplus parts.  Many of these trucks underwent engine transplants, mostly small-block V-8 swaps, which would be an option but also detracts strongly from the originality and "collectible" value...


The transmissions were reliable during these early years of the J-truck, outsourced Borg-Warner manual types and Borg-Warner automatics until the mid-'sixties introduction of the GM THM400 automatic behind the AMC 327 V-8 and later the Buick 350 V-8.  I've rebuilt many B-W automatics, my first time was 1969, the unit from a 1960 I-H Metro Van.  Since then, there have been many Ford, Studebaker and early-'sixties Jeep applications.  In the stake bed, you'd likely find a T98 four-speed manual with compound low gear, though there were many early J-trucks with the much lighter duty column shift 3-speed.  Be aware here, these vintage 3-speeds do not have synchromesh on first gear and are often brutalized by previous drivers!  We can get into more detail if you move this vehicle choice forward.


Body, Wiring, Steering Column and Dash—This vehicle was "modern" in most ways.  The J-trucks and Wagoneer took Jeep out of the WWII and postwar design era and delivered more complex and less accessible components.  The steering column and under dash were each difficult to work on though certainly easier than today's Jeep vehicles!  The cab was well constructed and durable, as long as the vehicle you're considering is not rust riddled.  If rusted, repairs of sheet metal and the labor cost will reflect the contours, dips and channels found in these more modern light trucks.  I would not call any J-model "easy to work on" when compared to a Willys Pickup, Wagon, CJ or military 1/4-ton.


3) "Rabbit Holes" During Restoration—The closed knuckle axles at high mileage can require a good deal of work, parts are not always readily available and the IFS front driving axle would really need to be in good condition at the time of purchase.  The 230 OHC, your engine of no choice for an authentic restoration, would be buildable as long as the cylinder head core and block assembly have not been severely damaged.  Parts can be found, though not always readily.  NOS or surplus would be possible though getting scarcer all the time. 


Even manual transmission parts have become more challenging to find.  When I did mechanical restoration work commercially (2005 through 2008) on vintage postwar and muscle era powertrains, geartrains, steering gears and axles, I watched NOS parts inventories reach critically low levels for many vehicles.  Parts often go to scrap, and later restorers discover that parts are "obsolete", a trend that has escalated on vehicles from the WWII through muscle car eras—including iron like your J-truck prospect.  The early Gladiator is not a CJ flatfender or Willys/Kaiser CJ-5 or -6 that has traditionally seen support from a healthy aftermarket.  With no collectible interest and relatively low production numbers, the pre-AMC J-trucks likely receive their best support from military surplus parts.


4) So What's It Worth Restored?—This is the loaded question.  I worked on mechanical assemblies from postwar Packards, Buicks, a muscle era Shelby 500KR Mustang, mid-'50s Chrysler hemi and poly-head V-8 cars, Baby 'Birds, you name it, blueprint building engines, manual and automatic transmissions, manual and power steering gear assemblies, drive axles and engine-driven accessories.  For these vehicles, nothing was a simple "overhaul".  To maintain authenticity, critical parts restoration could require metal normalizing, TIG welding, machining and restorative heat treating. 


I did transmission and steering gear projects where there were no replacement parts available, only equally worn out used pieces...That noted, the value of a vehicle is not about its restoration costs, which can include this level of exotic repair.  The value of a vehicle is its perceived worth in the marketplace.  This is predicated on a variety of complex factors:  the make and model, the vehicle design and public perception, the number of vehicles produced and remaining, the unique features of a particular vehicle and its options, and the climate of the market. 


A metaphor I like to use is that given the intensive, detailed labor and fixed parts costs involved, I could not discount the rebuilding costs for a vintage Buick Dynaflow or Packard Ultramatic transmission restoration.  I did many vintage automatic transmissions like these.  The client with a 1953 Buick Skylark V-8 convertible (a car valued at $250K-$400K in top restoration form at the peak of the "Bubble Era") did not hesitate to pay for this level of blueprint work on his vehicle's most complex mechanical assembly.  Reciprocally, a customer who inherited a 1953 Buick Special four-door sedan from a family member, the last straight-eight engine model, simply could not afford this level of work.  The same applied to a Packard Carribbean convertible versus a four-door Patrician sedan, or a '57 Ford F-Bird transmission versus virtually the same Ford-O-Matic transmission out of a '57 Ford station wagon.  You get the point—when it comes to mechanical components restored properly, the cost is the same—although the return on investment varies widely.


There is a slight upsurge in interest around vintage J-trucks and Wagoneers, as these light trucks in a pre-restored state are generally more affordable than cars.  Quite coincidentally, the latest issue of American Car Collector magazine, published by my friend and colleague Keith Martin, has an article about the J-truck's growing collectability of sorts.  Considering quality trucks as those that are frame-off, fully detailed restorations, the author shares that you should expect to pay $7,000-$22,000 for a "good example".  That said, a good example, restored from perhaps the level depicted in your 1963 Gladiator stake bed photo to Barrett-Jackson auction status or "Condition 1" would easily cost $40,000-$60,000 to produce—perhaps even more. 


I know that many restored trucks look and allegedly perform "as new", the latter point dubious in my view.  I know of only a few shops that "blueprint" build everything like I did.  Most restoration shops concentrate on cosmetics and pedantic body issues like whether the door and hood seams have uniform gaps, which the factory seldom accomplished.  (This largely satisfies an audience, judges and auctioneers who have limited mechanical skills and take comfort in words like a vehicle's "provenance".)  These vehicles, regardless, usually sell for 1/3 of their acquisition and restoration costs. 


Note:  I'm not talking here about "hobby cars and trucks" that get painted with the dinged and tarnished chrome in place or get powertrain "overhauls" that consist of a valve grind and steam cleaning the engine.  I'm talking about true restoration to presumed professional standards, a willingness to restore the vehicle to OEM standards or higher during the restoration process.


It also comes down to "what is your labor worth?"  Some individuals will do as much of the restoration as possible, that's the more serious DIY customer for Eastwood Company products and T-P Tools equipment.  These owners may sublet only the machining and more complex tasks to pro shops. 


Building up four tall bookcases packed with OEM workshop manuals that cover every project undertaken, I was willing to do the research and "textbook level" factory steps for any project that came my way.  I restored or rebuilt anything mechanical that came through the shop door, from reconstructing a 1931 Reo Speed Wagon's single cog Ross steering gear (fabricated, heat treated and replaced the cog tooth in the process) to repairing teeth on an obsolete cluster gear during the rebuild of a late 'sixties T89N Ford truck overdrive transmission.  I did not have the tooling for certain specialty machining processes, nor a heat treating facility or equipment for high end body and paint work.  Those niche processes were sublet.


Note:  The Borg-Warner T89N transmission, found in rare 1966-71 Ford F-series trucks equipped with 3-speed overdrive transmissions, has a one-of-a-kind counter/cluster gear.  This transmission has no synchromesh on first gear during an era when "straight 3-speed" transmissions had evolved to full synchromesh.  Owners and unaware valet drivers tore up the 1st gear cluster teeth by downshifting to first without stopping the vehicle completely...The aftermarket NOS sources for new replacement gears had nothing to offer, FoMoCo had stopped supplying this gear decades ago, and I had to repair the original, damaged gear teeth.  Below you can see the "before" and "after" results of a painstaking job that required a series of processes: http://www.4wdmechanix.com/Metallurgy-&-Heat-Treating.html.  Often, a cast iron gear case casting is obsolete and flawed or damaged.  For examples of cast iron casting repairs on two 'fifties vehicle restoration projects, see this article at the magazine:  http://www.4wdmechanix.com/TIG-Welding-Technique.html.  There were many projects that required detailed metallurgical processes and TIG welding with custom filler metals that I sourced from Weld Mold Company.


Gear%20Repair.jpg Gear%20repair%20by%20Moses%20Ludel%20(2)


When subletting becomes the majority of a project, the cost soars.  If you can do the heavy lifting yourself, be realistic about what your time is worth.  Factor that into the total cost of the restoration.  "Labor of love" projects that compete with other time commitments, family demands and even relationships often lose appeal or create a crisis at some point.  I've seen the strain on relationships when the checkbook came out to pay for a major rebuilding project that, let's just say, the husband thought was more important than life itself, and the wife cannot understand the project at all.  Consider the collateral damage that can occur alongside major automotive or truck restoration projects. 


Weigh whether this vehicle is truly a collectable "investment" or not.  Search the current market for a properly restored model similar to this FSJ stake body truck.  Frankly, the more likely ROI would be the restoration of a rarer J-truck panel body model from that era.  In my after school gas station job, I drove a J-panel around briefly, it was hefty and grossly underpowered with the AMC 232 six and a three-speed column shift transmission.  Manual steering was extremely slow by modern standards, the only way to manhandle this weighty vehicle.  In the mid-'sixties, I didn't know any better and thought it was a great truck!


Try to estimate the return after investing the necessary time and parts in this restoration.  Consider the sublet costs and talk to body/paint and machine shops that would do your sublet work.  Ask about hourly rates and approximate time and materials for specific sublet work.  Overall, be informed before buying any vehicle or beginning the project.


If you have further questions or need more details on this truck or other prospects, I'm here!



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Wow Moses. Thanks for the in depth answer. I have a FC170 that I am restoring, and Im trying to keep it correct in outward appearance with some upgrades to the driveline. when I got the truck it did not have any driveline. So I have installed a AMC 360 and th400/dana 20. One mistake was that the amc engine's oil pump sits directly over the front axle differential. So I had to raise the Jeep for clearance. If I do it over again, Ill install a 4.6L inline 6 for clearance. One drawback to the truck is the ride - - on rough roads or concrete freeways it rides like the proverbial lumber wagon. Possibly I could make a elastic spring shackle fit the rear to improve this somewhat. But like you said above, there are certain things you just have to put up with to keep the truck's character.

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yellow CJ6...You have a great vehicle, though it's engineering roots are definitely a postwar and 'fifties truck paradigm.  Many opt for planting these classic bodies on a later truck platform, gaining the full advantages of a factory engineered chassis and powertrain that has modern features and amenities, improved handling/suspension and stouter components than the vintage trucks.  There are some vintage trucks, however, that are just too valuable for anything but a bolt-for-bolt restoration.  Be cautious which body gets sacrificed here.


If the body is not so rare that a late chassis mate-up is impractical, you can begin by finding a later model with a similar wheelbase and reasonably close track width for the body and fender fit.  There are several AMC/Jeep J-truck platforms that could be possibilities:  the Wagoneer, Grand Wagoneer and Cherokee (FSJ type) in two wheelbase lengths.  You'd pick a chassis with a desired wheelbase and powertrain, then begin the major task of mounting the vintage body to that later chassis.


You have a unique situation with an FC170 in that the model is "cab forward" with the steering at the very front.  There would be a need to carefully consider the steering column needs and the "dog house" fit to the later chassis.  If you're curious about some of the later frame possibilities, I can furnish chassis layout and dimensions for models I've described here. 


I recently provided Jeep FC150 and FC170 dimensions in a forum reply to Biggman100 at:  http://forums.4wdmechanix.com/topic/462-identifying-a-jeep-fc150-versus-fc170/.  See the PDF illustrations of the FC170 frame layout.  In realistic terms, the FC Jeep models, despite their unique forward cab and body features, were classic Willys/Jeep derivative.  This Kaiser FC170 chassis and powertrain were still years before the J-trucks and more like the existing Willys Pickup and Station Wagon models.  The FC150 shares many components with the CJ models of that era.



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  • 8 months later...
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Hi, Matt...Have you collected vintage Jeep or 4x4 utility models and light trucks? In addition to my magazine and book Jeep and Toyota Land Cruiser projects, we ran a mechanical restoration business for years. I specialized in engine, transmission (manual and automatic), axle and steering gear (Ross, Gemmer, G.M./Saginaw) rebuilding. Projects included pre-war through the muscle car era with a concentration on postwar through 'fifties Packard, Studebaker, Hudson, G.M., Ford and Thunderbird, Cunningham and Chrysler transmissions and steering gears. I understand the "value" issue from the standpoint of crating and shipping items like a '53 Buick Skylark Dynaflow transmission across country or handling a Packard Ultramatic and straight eight engine after a blueprint rebuild/restoration...

Welcome to the forums!


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Wow... Moses Ludel thank you for the wealth of knowledge. 

Last month I finally got my first Jeep. A 1963 j200 thriftside. It's in very good shape minus an engine. After researching engines I stumbled upon a 1965 wagoneer with a 327 vigilante in it, so I picked it up too. I'm thinking frame up restoration. We'll see how things work out.

So much excitement in the future. 

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Congrats, Aaron, keep us posted!  The J200 and a restorable 327 V-8 (Rambler/AMC design with rocker shafts, not to be confused with a small-block Chevy V-8 of this displacement) make great sense.  Photos would be welcome during your build.  Please share.

Plenty of tech resource material and memory recall available here...


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