Other differences between the two FCs were mainly in mechanical specifications related to intended work use. FC- 150s were shod with 7.00X15-inch four-ply tires, while FC-170s rolled on 7.00X16 six-ply rubber. And while the FC-150 made do with a six-volt system, FC-170s apparently came with a 12-volt electrical system. (In later years, both would feature 12-volts standard with, oddly, a six-volt system optional.)
Axles were another area where big differences showed up; the FC-150's Spicer front axle was rated at 2,300 pounds and the rear was rated at 3,000 pounds, while the FC-170's front axle -- also Spicer -- was rated at 3,000 pounds and the rear at 4,500 pounds. Both FCs carried a side- mounted spare tire. Although it looked fine on the 170, the 150's short wheelbase made the spare tire mounting look somewhat awkward.
A Warner Gear three-speed manual transmission came standard, with a four-speed optional. Perhaps having learned from prior experience, Willys made dual-range (Hi-Lo) four-wheel drive the sole driveline configuration on FCs. The transfer case could be shifted into four-wheel drive at normal road speeds without having to stop the vehicle. Both series came standard with Bendix 11X12-inch hydraulic brakes (with power assist optional) and cam-and-lever steering.
Both series could be ordered in pickup, stake-bed, and cab-and-chassis models. Actually, the chassis models came four ways: a stripped chassis (frame, engine, running gear, and steering wheel), a chassis with flat-faced cowl and windshield, an open cab and chassis, and a closed cab and chassis. The various chassis models were aimed at buyers who required specialized equipment and/or work bodies offered by specialty manufacturers. These included wrecker and dump bodies, even fire-apparatus bodies, as well as special equipment such as backhoes and street sweepers.
Not surprisingly, it was Brooks Stevens' "Safety View" cab styling that grabbed the most attention. Willys saw many advantages to the FC's design, claiming it offered "Maximum cargo space on minimum wheelbase ... go-anywhere maneuverability ... greater visibility." Visibility was excellent, thanks to a big wraparound windshield that offered almost 1,200 square inches of safety glass, plus a rear window with another 628 square inches. Willys claimed the FC's forward visibility was nearly 200 percent better than in conventional vehicles.
Seven standard colors were offered the first year, with another seven attractive optional "Tu-tone" choices available. In the two-tones, the the grille face, wheels, and window frames were painted a contrasting color from the body and roof.
As in most Fifties trucks, the FC cab interior featured lots of painted metal surfaces, but overall it was a pleasant enough place to spend a workday. Standard features included dual windshield wipers, key locks on both doors, a "dispatch box," color-keyed interior, "Plasti-Strand" upholstery, ash tray, sun visor on the driver's side, dome light, and an adjustable seat. The Deluxe cab option included dual sun visors and armrests, acoustical trim on doors and headliner, foam-rubber seats, front kick pads, cigarette lighter, and rear-quarter windows.
The instrument panel was a simple and rather stark design that grouped the few instruments and gauges (a large speedometer dominated) directly in front of the driver. The steering wheel was a bus-like, nearly upright, three-spoke unit; Ralph Kramden would have felt right at home behind it.
Of course, the interior also had a rather substantial "doghouse" situated between the seats. That's one drawback of cab-over design: The engine is nestled within the cab just inches from the occupants. However, the Jeep FC's engine cover was insulated with a thick layer of fiberglass to keep out engine noise and heat. There were two floor shifters, one for the transmission and one for the transfer case. Modern suspended pedals were used.
Getting in and out of an FC was different from most other vehicles because one exited right over a wheel -- an awkward step with a high potential for dirtying trousers. A concealed step like that found on many vans of the
day eased entry and egress. To safeguard against snagging clothes on the front-wheel openings, FCs had rubber fender extensions.
Stevens had created a marvelously compact vehicle. The length of the cargo bed on the smaller of the two models was 74.25 inches. Yet, amazingly, the FC-150's overall length was just 147.5 inches, a full two inches less than Nash's tiny two-seat Metropolitan. The diminutive size and four-cylinder engine might lead one to expect the FC-150 to be a lightweight. However, due to its heavy frame and sturdy construction, the FC-150's curb weight was 2,925 pounds and its gross vehicle weight (GVW) rating was 5,000 pounds, meaning the 150 could handle one- ton payloads. In addition to its standard 7,000- pound GVW rating, the FC-170 could be equipped for 8,000- and 9,000-pound GVWs.
Beyond the Deluxe cab, two-tone paint, and four-speed trans, Willys offered a comprehensive list of optional equipment: radio, fresh-air heater, windshield washer, power brakes, seatbelts, double passenger seat, front bumper guards, E-Z Eye tinted glass, oil filter, and oil-bath air cleaner.
Severe-service options included a locking rear differential, heavy-duty rear axle, heavy-duty springs and shocks, draw bar, "hot climate" radiator, and power take-off unit. There were also two governors offered -- variable and constant speed -- and a variety of optional tires, along with lock-out hubs that disengaged the front drive for reduced tire and front-end wear. Task- specific gear ran to bulldozer blades, snowplows, bed- or front-mounted winches, and wrecker equipment.
The Willys Forward Control trucks were introduced for the 1957 model year in two phases, starting with the FC-150 series, which arrived during December 1956. The FC-170 series had its formal introduction in May 1957. According to published reports, dealers received these new products with a great deal of enthusiasm, and expectations were high that the trucks would be strong sellers.
To ensure that dealers were up to the job of selling the FC, Willys offered training sessions on how to merchandise Jeep vehicles. This involved hands-on training in how to demonstrate the myriad (and complicated) work accessories that were offered. Willys salesmen were taught to emphasize Jeep's rugged design and go-anywhere capability. "Jeep tough job traction can take your full payload up and down hills impossible for conventional 2-wheel drive vehicles" noted one sales brochure. Jeep claimed the FC could climb grades of up to 60 percent.
For the most part, the automotive press liked the new vehicles. Jeep had a
well-earned reputation for toughness and reliability, and the FCs benefited from that. Tom McCahill told his Mechanix Illustrated readers, "The four-wheel drive, which I first tested up a mountainside during a rain squall, has all the surefootedness of a telephone lineman going up a pole." Response to Jeep's new styling approach was mostly enthusiastic, too. Motor Trend, which opined that the cab looked like a whirlybird's bubble cockpit, dubbed the FC's styling the "helicopter look."
The overall market for commercial vehicles was down in 1957. Willys suffered along with the rest, selling 60,500 vehicles, roughly five percent fewer than the previous year. For the year, Willys (since 1953 a unit of Kaiser Industries) earned a bit over $5 million on sales volume of $140,676,000. The company continued to shine in overseas markets and was the largest U.S. exporter of vehicles in the 10,000-pound-and-under GVW category that year, as well as the third largest U.S. exporter of commercial vehicles of all types.