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.