The tale of Jeep pickups is a short but sweet one. Starting in 1947 and ending in 1992, it was normal to drive to a Jeep dealership (be it Kaiser, AMC, or early Chrysler) and drive home in a Jeep truck. Right in the middle, from 1963 to 1987, there was the Gladiator/J-Series, and it was as amazing then as it is now.
Finding one of these rigs alive and well is all but impossible these days, but for Chris Overacker, it is a reality. After finding his J-10 online, we reached out to Chris to get the full story.
Background of the Build
Hailing from Rifle, Colorado, Chris’ love of off-roading started when his grandfather’s 1946 Willys CJ-2A was bequeathed to him. “I started building on it in the ’70s and that’s how the passion began,” said Chris.
Chris went to automotive trade school and got hired on by an off-road shop, where he realized this was what he wanted to do. In 1983, he started his own business and remained self-employed ever since. Along the way, he started Mountain Off-Road Enterprises, better known as M.O.R.E.
Building one-off vehicles became a way of life for Chris. When he first purchased the J-10 back in November 2011, he knew he had something special on his hands. Not just because these vehicles were so rare, but because he had a vision he wanted to become real.
“Growing up in the desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico, my friends and I were always into going fast,” said Chris. “We tried doing it in CJs and it just didn’t work; you had to have a longer wheelbase.”
Not wanting to shed the Jeep lifestyle, Chris came around to the Honcho. “Roger Mears used to drive one with Budweiser as his sponsor,” he said. “So I learned to love them. It’s something different, and they only built 1,200 stepsides in total, so that’s why I signed on to rebuild one.”
The Build Begins
Chris kicked off the build with a complete teardown of the $1,500 Jeep. “We threw away the stock wiring, all of the rubber, all of the body panels, everything,” he said. “We got it down to a bare frame and had it completely, professionally sandblasted. The only sheet metal reused was the cab. Once it was down to bare steel, it got epoxy primed so we could fabricate on it with no fear of rusting.”
The Honcho was reassembled to a rolling chassis to keep it somewhat mobile. Next, the cab received a cage and went onto the frame. Before long, it had fiberglass fenders, a custom bed, and a drivetrain to do impromptu test drives in.
“We’d drive around, pull it back in, and rip it apart again,” said Chris. “It’s been apart and back together probably three times over the years. That’s what it took to do all of our test-fitting and electrical work.”
Once the J-10 was on its final round of re-assembly, Chris took all of the body panels and cab over to his paint pro friend to receive their colors. “I chose a more modern Jeep color from 2013 called Dune,” said Chris. “I liked the desert-esque look of it and thought it would be unique. It would certainly look better than the old-school colors on the Honcho, which didn’t do anything for me.”
Even then, things have still been subject to change on the J-10. As recently as November, Chris realized that if he was going to ever have a shot at selling the truck someday, it needed to have air conditioning. So he tore apart the dashboard and engine bay and installed air conditioning.
Keeping It Going
With tens of thousands of dollars devoted to his J-10 (not to mention blood, sweat and tears), Chris has definitely made an investment in this truck. That’s not to say that the project made Chris go a little mad, however.
“There was a point in the build, probably about 40 percent of the way through,” he explained. “It was primered and driven around a little bit, and it had taken us about a year at this point. We’d just discovered Polaris RZRs and we were having fun with them, and I have this Jeep truck stuck in my garage, and I think, ‘I’ll just sell it the way it is.'”
Whenever there was spare time and money, Chris was working on the truck. Thankfully, Chris dismissed that thought and set out to complete the J-10, no matter how long it took. Now, seven years later, it’s a pristine prize worthy of the work put into it. “Am I ever going to sell it? Probably not,” commented Chris. “But I’m not going to give it away either.”
Up front and outside, the J-10’s outer grille shell was coated in Hippo Liner and then painted black. The front bumper was custom-made to resemble early prerunners, while the rear was given a swing-out tire carrier. “The spare tire sticks out of the back about six inches,” commented Chris.
Lighting consists of three LEDs on the front bumper, and a light cage resting on the bed-mounted roll bar. There, Chris installed five seven-inch Lightforce halogen lights. These lights can tilt up and down thanks to an actuator, making the truck park-able in a standard garage.
The hood is an Autofab fiberglass piece, and has Daystar hood vents installed. On the roof of the Honcho, a hole was made thanks to previous owners, ostensibly for a sunroof. “I talked to my body shop guy, and he offered to patch it for a ton of money,” said Chris. “He took a piece of rolled aluminum and fitted it into the hole, and then glued it shut. We bedlinered on the inside of the cabin, and that’ll stop it from ever leaking.”
The drivetrain begins with a 360 cubic-inch AMC V8, keeping the build true to its Jeep heritage (in actuality, Chris wonders whether it would have been easier just using an LS V8, but that’s a story for another time). Chris took it to BC Engineering in Grand Junction, Colorado to have it given the works – decked, milled heads, valve work, and bored .030 over. “We had Wiseco build us forged 9.5:1 compression ratio pistons,” he said. “We did a mild COMP Cams camshaft, and I had my own oil pump made, since the stock ones are terrible on these engines.”
Paired to the V8 is an AMC automatic – “basically a Mopar 727,” as Chris stated – three-speed transmission. This was, as Chris stated, part and parcel of his vision to keep the J-10 as AMC as possible. He threw in an 1800 stall converter and a modified valve body as well, and it keeps cool with a Derale transmission cooler.
The transfer case is an NP208 with a low-range ratio of 2.72:1. This splits into a rear 1350 driveshaft and front 1310 driveshaft, both made by Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts in Ogden, Utah. The front axle is a Dana 44 that came stock, while the rearend is a GM 14-bolt with semi-floating axles and a 9.5-inch ring gear. “It’s a unique rearend, and it completely dwarfs what came on the stock J-10,” said Chris.
The whole idea behind this project was an old-school prerunner. I wanted a retro truck that looked like an ’80s prerunner that the racers would have used back then, in league with the designs from back then. – Chris Overacker
For suspension, Chris went with BDS four-inch lift leaf springs on all four corners. “The front is spring-under-axle and the rear is spring-over-axle, like Jeep did from the factory,” said Chris. “I couldn’t tell you why they did it back then, but it helped with making the Jeep lower overall.” The shock absorbers are 2.5-inch remote reservoir Fox units.
For wheels, Chris chose 15×8 Superior Magnus units. “These were very popular wheels for off-roading racing back in the ’80s,” said Chris. “They rest on 5/8-inch Moroso wheel studs. The lugnuts have no taper on them – again, period-correct – so they rely on extreme torque to stay on.” The brakes are Wilwood dual-piston disc brakes on the front and GM drums on the rear. The tires are 35×12.50R15 General Grabbers.
Last but not least, for the interior, Chris swapped in Smittybilt six-way power bases. “Luckily for me, everything on the Honcho interchanges with the Wagoneer,” he said. “So I put Wagoneer-designed bases in and bolted the seats to them.”
The upholstery is black vinyl, with custom gold stitching to match the Dune paint on the outside. That work was care of JT Custom Upholstery in Silt, Colorado. The custom dashboard houses AutoMeter Phanton II gauges, and all of it is protected by a two-inch .120-wall tube cage. “I put gussets all over the place,” said Chris. “The cage meets the floor in six places, and I put gussets wherever the cage met the floor.”
Whatever way you slice it, Chris’ achievements on this uncommon Jeep truck are worthy of recognition. In the span of six years, he worked and slaved away to get the J-10 from a bucket of bolts to a beautiful 4×4. Not to mention, he didn’t just do the resto-mod treatment; he sought to recreate an AMC Jeep-like feel wherever possible, and make it safe to boot.
We salute Chris and those who helped him along the way to realizing this dream. To see more of the Honcho and what else Chris is up to these days, check out his website.