If you’ve been paying attention to the world of concept vehicles as of late, you know that there has been talk of a throwback Jeep being produced in the future. What Jeep may that be? Well, it’s the Jeep Gladiator–Jeep’s once beloved full-size pickup truck. In honor of this concept vehicle and with hope that it really does make a comeback, we look to the original Kaiser-Jeep Gladiator for this week’s Vintage Monday.
The Kaiser-Jeep Gladiator saw its market debut in 1962 for the 1963 model year. A traditional body-on-frame pickup, the Gladiator offered the same basic frame and front end setup as the Jeep Wagoneer atop a 120-inch wheelbase (J2000 models), but came with either a rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive option with an available independent front suspension or a solid front axle.
Gladiators could be had in a variety of sub-models, including Townside (a regular bed), Thriftside (a side-step bed with flared fenders) and Stake Bed configurations, as well as tow trucks and camper-equipped models with the camper shell attached right to the chassis. Extended wheelbases (132-inch wheelbase vehicles were J3000 models while models with 165-inch wheelbases were J4000 models) were part of Gladiator options, as were dual rear wheels.
Powering the first Kaiser-Jeep Gladiator models was a new 230 ci Jeep Tornado inline-six engine good for 140 hp. This was traditionally tied to a three-speed manual transmission but could also be had with a three-speed automatic in four-wheel-drive models. Other perks of the 4×4 models were power steering, power brakes and even a power take-off unit for those models setup as tow trucks or snowplows.
By 1965, the Gladiator saw a boost in power with the standard engine being replaced by the 232 ci AMC OHV inline-six engine and the introduction of the optional 327 ci AMC Vigilante V8, capable of producing 250 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque.
In 1968, the truck saw another engine introduced in the form of the 230 hp 350 ci Buick Dauntless V8. Also that year, the Thriftside sub-model went away and a new camper-equipped model was introduced.
In the last couple years of the Gladiator’s first generation, extending through 1971, AMC took over ownership of the Kaiser-Jeep brand. This did away with the Buick Dauntless engine option in 1970, but brought about 360 ci and 401 ci AMC V8 options. That same year, the Gladiator saw its first aesthetic change since its debut- incorporating the front grille from the Jeep Wagoneer SUV and an AMC badge into the model’s design.
By 1971, the Gladiator had entered its second generation, of which just one model year retained the Gladiator moniker. Following 1971, the vehicle was just referred to as the Jeep pickup, designated as either J2000 or J4000 models. This lasted through 1973 when the pickups were designated as either J-10 or J-20 models.
For 1971 and 1972, AMC offered a 210hp 304 ci V8 engine option, followed by a 258 ci inline-six engine starting in 1972. A 360 ci AMC V8 was also offered from 1971 on, first capable of producing 175 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque (remember, this was the peak of emissions and gas mileage crackdowns by the government) and then bumped up to producing 195hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. By the mid-70s, the famed full-time four-wheel-drive Quadra-Trac system could be had with any engine option.
In 1974, AMC once again upped the anty on its engine choices, introducing a 225 hp 401 ci V8 engine. It was available through the 1978 model year.
Later in the 70s, equipment like Dana manual four-wheel-drive systems, heavy-duty axle tubes and power front brakes could be found on standard Jeep pickup models, with the full-time Quadra-Trac system, automatic transmission and engine options up to 401 ci models available. In 1983, the truck received a new full-time four-wheel-drive system in the form of the Selec-Trac, doing away with the earlier model Quadra-Trac.
In 1987, AMC was bought out by Chrysler, who opted to end the production of the Jeep pickup. While other Chrysler and Jeep truck models remained, the once-named Gladiator faded into history; that is until it popped back up as a concept vehicle.