No Fixed Abode: You Don't Want A Jeep Pickup, You Pansy!

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Last week, rookie TTACer Aaron Cole called the RAM Rebel a Jeep pickup. I don’t think it would be impossible to make the case that the Rebel is a successor of sorts to the J10 and J20 full-sizers like the one that Jalopnik is rebuilding right now. Those pickups were discontinued after Chrysler acquired AMC because there just wasn’t enough money in the hopper to update them and do a new Dodge Ram truck. Shame, really, because the “FSJ” did have some fans and there are still people willing to pay sixty grand for a ’91 Grand Wagoneer.

Chances are, however, than when you think of a “Jeep pickup” you’re not thinking about a full-sizer at all. Rather, you’re envisioning what’s known as a “CJ-8”. It’s perfectly possible to buy a modern CJ-8. It’s also perfectly impossible that Jeep will ever be willing to sell you one. The reason? Why, it’s basically the same reason that the Camry V6 is not the most popular cop car in existence.

Over the weekend, my son and I went to the Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio. It was his third trip to the facility and maybe my twentieth. It’s a great place to visit and it’s completely free. It is also under military jurisdiction. This is important in the event that, say, you have a felony assault warrant in your name and you’re looking for a place to hang out all day where you are absolutely guaranteed to not see a police officer. I’m just mentioning that for your future awareness.

The focus of our trip was cargo planes. Having just finished the LEGO Technic cargo plane, the boy was eager to take a close look at the real thing. In the Korean War gallery, tucked back near the double-decker Superfortress variant, there was a Jeep — more properly, a quarter-ton Willys truck. It looked, frankly, like a toy; like something adults had no business owning or driving. It took me a second to put it into perspective and remember that my idea of “Jeep” was based on the last CJ-descendant I drove: a forty-thousand-dollar, long-wheelbase, leather-lined, Pentastar-powered super-Jeep of sorts. Next to my lady friend’s Sahara Unlimited, this quarter-ton Willys stacks up like so. First number is the Willys, second is the Sahara:

  • Length: 132.2 / 184.4in
  • Width: 62.0 / 73.9in
  • Height: 69.0 / 73.7in
  • Curb Weight: 2,453 / 4,255lb

While the original composite Willys/Bantam M38 was always overweight from the very first prototype — the Army had hoped for a curb weight in the 1,500-pound range — it was remarkably compact for its carrying capacity and durability. This compactness had at least one unforeseen effect: When the Army replaced the M38 with the semi-monocoque Ford M151 “Mutt”, the Mutt’s sixty-four inch width meant that only one row of Mutts could fit into the C-141 cargo plane, compared to the double-row loading possible with the Jeep for which the C-141 was originally designed. And if the Mutt was a little bit bigger than the Jeep, the AMC-built Jeeps that followed were bigger still, with the coil-sprung 1997 “TJ” model representing the most complete break from the past in terms of both construction and dimension. The current Wrangler, of course, casts a larger shadow than any “CJ” or “Wrangler” before it.

While the original M38 had a utility body that was most often configured as two seats and a small open bed, most civilian Jeeps were four-seaters. It wasn’t until the long-wheelbase CJ-8 arrived in 1981 that you had a Jeep with a “real” pickup bed. The CJ-8 offered a 61.5-inch box in an era where a “short-bed” pickup came with a six-footer, so it still wasn’t considered a serious challenger to existing mini-trucks from Toyota, Nissan, et al. It also didn’t sell worth a damn.

I could end this article right here and say, “There’s no Jeep pickup because nobody bought one the last time such a vehicle was for sale,” but to do that would be to ignore both the vast changes in the personal-transportation market since 1987 and my personal duty to give you more than a glib answer on the subject. Let’s instead focus on what a current-model Jeep pickup would need to be successful and whether it would be possible to build such a creature. To do that, we need to think about the changes in pickup trucks since 1987.

The most obvious change: today’s pickups have become physically massive two-and-a-half-ton beasts that frequently bring around four hundred horsepower to the table and are expected to meet the ride and handling standards for full-sized sedans of the previous decade. No vehicle that was even approximately based on the JK Wrangler could approach the exterior size or interior space of something like the current F-150. So any Wrangler-ish truck that you could buy would be closer to a Chevrolet Colorado or Toyota Tacoma in size. That’s a problem right there because the American public has shown again and again that it will only really take interest in a smaller pickup if that pickup comes from Toyota or Nissan. They’ve also shown that they don’t want to pay full-size prices for mid-sized trucks.

No chance, then, for something that was related to a Wrangler but looked more like a regular truck. Any Wrangler-based pickup would have to literally follow the CJ-8 template and simply be a Wrangler with a long bed. As it turns out, such a vehicle can be purchased for about $70,000. It’s called the AEV Brute Double Cab and it’s a Wrangler with a sixty-one-inch bed. You can also get it with a HEMI installed, if you’re so inclined, making it basically a ninety-grand Tonka toy.

The AEV price premium of forty to sixty thousand dollars exists mostly because they have to take a Wrangler apart to build a Brute. I cannot imagine that the price premium for a factory-built Brute Double Cab HEMI from Jeep itself would be more than ten grand. Maybe less than that. For between forty and fifty grand, therefore, you could have a proper Jeep pickup. That’s pretty much heads-up with the RAM Rebel, and who can doubt that a Jeep “Double Cab” HEMI would be significantly cooler and more capable off-road than a Rebel? There has to be a reason that Jeep doesn’t build one, and that reason cannot have anything to do with avoiding intra-company competition. We live in a world of niches now. If BMW can make at least three different versions of the 3-Series with a swing-up hatch, then surely “Fiatsler” can offer two bad-ass off-road trucks at once.

I’d suggest that my comment above about cops and Camrys has something to do with it. Once upon a time, cops just drove the same car as everybody else, only with some extra “cop motor, cop brakes” beefing-up. As late as the early Eighties, you had plenty of people who bought Dodge Diplomats for police use and plenty of people who bought Diplomats for personal use. Yet when the M-body Diplomat private buyers traded in for a K-based Dynasty, the cops didn’t follow suit. Why? I’m sure every police officer who surfs TTAC has his own reasons, but the real reasons for the refusal to follow the American public into FWD mid-sizers was simply a perception of required capability and required image.

Cops didn’t like the look of the Accord or Camry, and they didn’t like the low-testosterone connotations of driving a FWD car. It didn’t matter that even a four-cylinder Accord could dust a Crown Vic around a handling-test course. They didn’t like the lack of “law enforcement presence” that came with the short hoods and friendly faces of the modern mid-sizers. The actual capabilities of the cars, which were proven to be entirely adequate in most cases, didn’t matter. Police departments all across the country began dreaming-up specifications that FWD cars couldn’t meet, like “jump a curb at 40mph”, to make sure that they stayed in Crown Vics and the like.

When the Crown Vic was discontinued, some departments panicked at the idea of being forced to drive a Taurus. Yet when the Explorer Police Interceptor appeared, they went for it in droves, even though the Explorer is basically a Taurus. Why? It’s simple: they liked the visual presence and implied capabilities of the Explorer. It said “cop car” to them in a way that a Taurus does not, even though a Taurus is superior to an Explorer in every dynamic test you can dream up.

Cops are people too, and pickup-truck buyers are also people, and those people are also obsessed with perceived capabilities and required image, and that is why you can travel this great land and rarely find anything beyond a bag of groceries in the back of a pickup truck. The people who buy trucks buy them for the look, for the perceived capability, and for the image. Nobody uses their truck for anything that can’t be done with a Camry, at least not often enough to justify owning a truck over owning a Camry and renting a truck. As Heath Ledger once said, I’ll show you: If you have an F-150 instead of a Camry, and you drive 15,000 miles a year, you’re buying 1,000 gallons of fuel instead of 500. That’s a $1,500 annual cost of F-150 ownership. My local Enterprise will rent me an F-150 for about seventy-five dollars a day. So, if you owned a Camry instead of an F-150, you could also have an F-150 for twenty days a year, and it would always be a nearly-new F-150. Do you use the additional capabilities of your pickup truck twenty days a year?

By the same token, getting a Jeep pickup truck over a standard Jeep Wrangler would impose additional costs — in fuel economy, purchase price, parking space, garage-ability, and so on. Even if it’s only five grand extra for the Scrambler body, that’s still $100 a month the way everybody (but you, Cash Money Internet Millionaire) buys cars. Jeep people will pay five grand extra every day of the week for a Rubicon package or a winch or something like that, but a pickup bed? They’ve already got the image thing covered, because they’re already buying a Wrangler. The only reason they would buy the pickup bed would be if they honestly needed the pickup bed. And since nobody needs a pickup bed, they don’t bother.

In case you’re wondering, that’s what killed the El Camino and Ranchero. Nobody needs a pickup bed, so buying a family car with a pickup bed makes no sense. People buy pickups because they are pickups, not because they have pickup beds. They buy pickups because they don’t want CAFE-friendly snub-nose FWD blobs, because they want to at least sit level with the SUVs that dominate traffic, because they think pickups last longer, because they think pickups are safer in a crash. Most of all, they buy pickups because the modern American life is an out-of-control spiral to the bottom where your healthcare costs more every year and your job pays less and your home is worth less but renting an apartment costs more and there is absolutely nothing you can do about any of it. Owning a pickup is what Margot Timmins would call your “horse in the country”. It’s a machine that deceives you into thinking you have some control over your life.

Which is also what a Jeep is.

So the real reason there’s no Jeep pickup is this: A Jeep and a pickup are the same thing. And you’re not a rebel for owning either one, are you?

Photos by AEV; AlfvanBeem (Own work) [ CC0], via Wikimedia Commons; and Jeep.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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4 of 188 comments
  • JR42 JR42 on Aug 19, 2015

    Meh, I daily drive a smallish truck for a few reasons: 1. It's paid for; 2. I love it; 3. I use it, more than the magic rental threshhold in the article, thankfully. I think the article's operating on a big fat red herring. Since when is a Camry a benchmark? How does your Porsche/ Hellcat/ Veyron et al compare mileage-wise, to a Camry? JR

    • See 1 previous
    • JR42 JR42 on Aug 20, 2015

      @Jack Baruth Ha, maybe someday I'll learn to research before I post. That's pretty good mileage by any standard. JR

  • George B George B on Aug 20, 2015

    I find the idea of having a pickup truck more appealing than the reality of actually driving a pickup truck. They've become too expensive to just have one sitting around as a spare vehicle and they're a little too big to easily fit parking spaces in the suburbs.

  • Hermaphroditolog Good hybrid cars use ICE implosion mode.Mercedes-EQXX uses implosion turbines (turboexpanders) for regeneration from heat losses.
  • Kosmo I, for one, and maybe only one, would buy a 5.0 L, stickshift variant of the sedan/hatchback that is Ford's "Not A Mustang EV" tomorrow.I'd buy the sportwagon version yesterday.
  • Akear I am counting the days when Barra retires. She has been one long nightmare for GM. People don't realize the Malibu outsells all GM EVs combined.
  • Redapple2 you say; most car reviewers would place it behind the segment stalwarts from Honda and Toyota,........................... ME: Always so. Every single day since the Accord / Camry introduction.
  • Akear GM sells only 3000 Hummer EVs annually. It is probably the worst selling vehicle in GM history.