By on April 28, 2009

Once upon a time, two Jeep Gladiators were built at the great big Jeep factory in Toledo, Ohio. One Gladiator was white, and the other was green. Gladiators were built to be the toughest trucks in the whole world. They could outwork any other pickup. And outlast them too. And for thirty some years, the white and green Gladiators worked and worked, doing all sorts of really hard jobs. Then one day, a couple of years ago, the white Gladiator said to the green Gladiator “I don’t need to do this hard work anymore. I’ve figured out an easier way to make a living!”

The Jeep Gladiator, also known as the J10/J20 after 1972, is one of the more remarkable vehicles ever built. For twenty-five years, virtually the same vehicle rolled out the door at Toledo. Nothing else comes close, except of course its front-half-identical twin, the Wagoneer. Little brother CJ-5 got a whole new longer front end in 1972. And the VW Beetle’s green house kept getting greener. In the country that invented planned obsolescence and craves change, the Gladiator rightfully bears the standard of constancy.

Well, there were some changes, but mostly under that thick, angular and handsome skin. Externally, the biggest one was the loss of its original butch grille after the first couple of years. But look under that later orthodontia, and you can see the old grille’s supporting sheet metal still there.

The changes were mainly to engines, transmissions and the required safety mods. The disk brakes added in ’74 were a welcome change, too. But the overall degree of interchangeability is remarkable, and a boon to the Gladiator’s avid owners. Or, even collectors, perish the thought. Gladiators are still cheap, and that has not gone unnoticed.

The Glad’s engine bay had a high occupancy turnover in its early years. When Kaiser introduced the Wagoneer and Gladiator in 1962, the only engine was the “Tornado” OHC six. We covered its interesting and problematic development and subsequent long exile in Argentina here. Let’s just say the hemi six had a happier second life in the southern hemisphere.

To supply the brute grunt that the Gladiator was all too happy to put to the ground, Kaiser sourced the venerable AMC “Vigilante” 327 V8 for the ’65 and ’66 model years. But after Kaiser bought the rights to the Buick V6 to use in the CJ-5, they must have struck a two-fer deal. Because starting in ’67, the new Buick 350 V8 became the power option. Meanwhile, the excellent new 232 six from AMC replaced the departed and maligned Toronado six.

After AMC acquired Jeep in 1970, they were naturally eager to put in their own engines exclusively. So out with the Buick V8, and in with the AMC 304, 360 and 401 V8s, as well as the 258 six. The torque-rich six and the not-too-big not-too-small 360 were the most common. From 1971 on, stability reigned under the Gladiator’s bulging hood.

It was always there in mission critical areas like axles: nothing but the vaunted Dana 44 in front, and Dana 44 (half-ton), 60 (3/4 ton) or 70 (1 ton dually) to bring up the rear. Yes, the one-ton dually Gladiator was a gnarly, if fairly rare beast. It made a great tow truck for pulling stupid kids out of the sand in the then-undeveloped dunes north of Ocean Beach. I know this from personal experience.

The Gladiator was never a big seller, and its sales chart looks like the proverbial bell curve. The peak came exactly half-way into its long life, in 1978. During that late-seventies 4WD boom, Jeep managed to push some 20,000 Glads. But the gas crisis of the early eighties, and then the Big 3’s own four-wheelers with extended cabs, brought on the end in 1987.

As a lover/driver/abuser of a vintage pickup, seeing a nice old Gladiator stirs me up. I could really see myself behind the wheel of one of these. The green one, that is. Of course, I could rent the white one out to a starving student to live in.

. . . well, we all know how the white Gladiator’s plan worked out, don’t we? And now he sits forlornly in a dusty gravel lot, with his embarrassing little useless house on his back. And when people drive by the busy road and see him there, they point their fingers and laugh at him, for being such a silly Gladiator.

Meanwhile, the green Gladiator is still working as hard as ever. See how hearty and hale he looks. All that hard work must really agree with him. And even though their faces might seem identical, if you look really carefully, maybe you can see the happiness in the green Gladiator’s face, and the sadness in the white Gladiator’s face.

More new Curbside Classics here

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

25 Comments on “Curbside Classics: The Two Jeep Gladiators...”


  • avatar
    superbadd75

    I always thought the J10 was cool, but never realized it was made until 1987! So what was the Comanche, was it a new version of the J10, or completely different?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Comanche was based on the (compact) Cherokee. Comanche came out about the same time the Gladiator died. It competed with the compact trucks.

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    I love these big old Jeeps. Tons of nice Grand Wagoneers in Mexico, I smile with envy everytime I see one.

    I always thought Chrysler should have done a reskin of the Dakota (or maybe Ram) to match the external appearance of the Gladiator and sold it as a Jeep. Do the same with the Durango and sell it as a Grand Wagoneer. Would have sold better than most of the DB era reskins they did like the Chrysler Aspen (really, an SUV sold by Chrysler as an Aspen?) or the Compass.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    That rear end with the full floating axle, speaks of TOUGH in volumes.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    not as good as a Hilux.

  • avatar
    tehfury

    Looks like one gladiator finally fought his way out!

    HiLux indeed..

  • avatar
    Juniper

    toyota probably copied it to make the Hilux. thei first of everything is always a copy.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Sorry, Heathroi, these things will outlast anything. I’ll give the Hilux a solid #2 though. One of my friends in high school had a ’77 Wagoneer. What we did with that thing would get you arrested today. We destroyed acres of lawn, countless mailboxes, fences, drove it through stockade fences, shrubs, street signs. Banged and beaten, salvation from being mired axle deep in the Caroll’s lawn was just a twist of the “emergency” 4wd low control in the glove box. Only a flip in a dry parking lot caused it to land on its roof, and even then the roof structure was still reasonably intact. It did bend enough to blow out the front side door glass and windshield. We were skiing together with our families and saw one still in use. It was a bit rusty but all there.

    This series is one of the best here at TTAC…Like all the coverage about new cars and the lively debate, but when you guys pull the nostalgic strings with certain rides it’s really cool.

    BTW, wasn’t the 360 a LA family Mopar V8? I thought the trans was a torqueflite as well…

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    @golden2husky,

    This 360 is AMC, part of the 304-360-401 AMC V8 family. Automatics were Turbo-Hydramatic 400 until ’79; then Mopar TF727.

    Oh, and we’ll get to the Wagoneer here eventually. And several hundred others too.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I always thought that the Glad and its Wagoneer cousin were attractive vehicles. If I recall correctly, Brooks Stevens (a Milwaukee industrial designer) was responsible for the design. He had also recently done some of Studebaker’s last designs, such as the 62-64 Lark/Commander/Cruiser and the same vintage GT Hawk. Some of the lines of the Stude Wagonaire retractible roof wagon show up in the roofline of the Jeep.
    In the little known fact department, I also recall that AMC went back to Stevens to style the new small Cherokee in the early 80s. Thus the strong family resemblance between the two.

    As always, an enjoyable read.

  • avatar
    poohbah

    In high school my buddy drove an old green Jeep with the “Vigilante” engine mentioned. It was a beast that had served a long stint as a farm truck before being pulled back into full-time duty as his daily driver. That thing could go anywhere.

    He had to pump the brakes a couple times before any retardation of forward progress would begin. How we avoided killing ourselves I’ll never know.

  • avatar
    Cerbera LM

    Grandpa had a J20 that I drove once. Remember it had serve lack of leg room compared to a Chevy/Ford.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Stingray: That rear end with the full floating axle, speaks of TOUGH in volumes.

    Right up there with the Scout. But where I live, salt spray was cruel to them. I’m a sucker for machine turned dash boards too.

  • avatar
    menno

    Saw a Gladiator at the AA meeting which is held at our old church building at the back of the church parking lot on a Weds. night a few years ago (we were there doing some stuff for the food pantry which shares the same building).

    It was parked next to a 1990’s Ford full sized pickup. The Gladiator looked TINY, about like a Dakota with a long wheelbase.

    Gladiator was once considered a full-sized truck and yes, they were tough (except that consarnat POS overhead cam six which used the ancient Continental based L-head six as it’s base motor).

    Just goes to show that American trucks, like Americans ourselves (as well as virtually all other human beings in 1st world countries) have gotten way too fat….

    Me too except instead of AA, I joined WW. Lost 50 pounds from Feb. 2008 through Aug. 2008, and have kept it off. (WW = weight watchers).

  • avatar
    mikey

    Congrads menno I put 10 lbs on first month of retirement 3 months of torture to get it off.I can’t imagine 50. Good for you.

    Any way what did Helen Hunt drive in the Twister
    movie?I do remember the white top she wearing though.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I helped stuff a Buick Wildcat 430 into one of these. 4WD burnouts. The 350 died and since the bellhousing would not work with Chevy or Olds engines we went with a Buick 430.

    100 lb intake manifold. Lots of torque.

    The interior was strictly utilitarian in nature. Nothing of comfort or luxury allowed,

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Been driving Grand Wagoneers for nearly 20 yrs. The only pick ups with the FF rear ends were the J 20s. I hope to replace my current 88 Grand Wag with an I 6/ 3 spd late 70s J10.

  • avatar
    CopperCountry

    These were great trucks – I always felt that the people who bought these things were a bit iconoclastic (and maybe a little weird). But now I think they really saw the value in these workhorses.

    Why restore a ’70 Chevy C-10 (like no one’s done that before) when you could pick up a rust-free Southern J10/20 and drop a 455 Buick in it? 510 ft-lbs of on-demand of torque. 4WD burnouts indeed! Put a big, clunky 4-spd trans behind it, and you can stomp your carbon footprint all over this earth (at least, until gas clips $2.50/gal).

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    I had no idea the Gladiator was a Wagoneer-truck, I guess I always assumed it was just different Comanche. Every time me and my wife see a Wagoneer we wish we had one and keep considering it, who needs new. But a rock solid truck off the same platform could be even better.

    What do these things fetch used, in good running condition, I don’t care about cosmetics as long as the seats are intact and it doesn’t smell like a wet dog or worse. The Wagoneers are still getting a pretty good price even for their age.

    Great series Niedermeyer, I love hearing the history of these old cars from when I was too young to remember or not even born.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Redbarchetta, The Grand Wag is a dinosaur. I know of guys who use them as daily drivers, but the gas and up keep is ridiculous. Back when gas was under a buck, we were pumping 40$ aweek into it just for ’round town driving. I kept 2 of them going for about 10 yrs. I was spending my Saturdays maintaining them. They are rust buckets to boot. However, they will go in snow and make great beach buggies.
    A decent wag will run from 5k$ to whatever. I super clean one will fetch mid 20 K $ The trucks about the same but are rarer and even rustier.

  • avatar
    carnuck

    My Jtrucks use the slightly more economical AMC 6 cyl. I’m upgrading them to EFI (which gives me @250 HP) and O/D auto trans from the Cherokee (AW4 is plenty strong as long as the gearing is matched) and a Rubicon tcase for 4:1 low range.
    20 MPG out of a 3/4 ton truck (mine have J20 drivetrain) is just fine by me!

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    I’m not all that worried about the gas mileage as long as it doesn’t hit single digits. I only live a mile from work and ride my motorcycle most days. I mainly need something cheap to haul stuff in on occation and it be nice to a look alike Ford or Chevy that you see every block. The Wagoneer would have been nice for family trips but I didn’t realize they were so maintence intensive. I figured it would need work from time to time, constant work I couldn’t deal with. Oh well plenty of old dinosaurs out there to choose from.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    I also wanted to say thanks for Curbside Classics! I also remember the Gladiator, and I’d actually consider selling my Jeep TJ if Chrysler had brought back the Gladiator after seeing the concept a few years ago! (drool)

    There is a business that restores Wagoneers and resales them, if anyone is interested: http://www.wagonmaster.com

    The first Jeep I drove was my granddad’s Wagoneer. What fun that was driving around a ranch!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    This 360 is AMC, part of the 304-360-401 AMC V8 family. Automatics were Turbo-Hydramatic 400 until ‘79; then Mopar TF727.…

    Thanks for the info. Everybody I spoke to told me this was a Mopar 360; now I know better.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Great article. More, please.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States