Heaps of Jeeps!

By Eric Bryan Spring 2021 | ISSUE 79

Corgi released its first forward control Jeep in 1959, a full five years before Land Rover joined the diecast toy market. As Eric Bryan writes, the miniature turned out to be more successful than the real thing.

The FC-150 Jeep was based on the standard CJ-5 Jeep, and was in production from 1956 to 1965. But the FC (‘Forward Control’) never attained the totemic status of the CJ-5 Jeep, Land Rover, Unimog, Commer or Ford Transit van. In fact, FC Jeeps are rare sights on the roads these days.

In the world of miniatures, British diecast maker Corgi Toys’ Forward Control 150 Jeep model had a somewhat more successful run than did the real vehicle: The first model entered the range in 1959, and the FC-150 wasn’t withdrawn until 1972. Corgi also produced several variations of its basic FC-150.

Willys FC-150: The advent of the FC-150 was announced in Willys News in November, 1956. The machine premiered at the New York Auto Show and went on sale that December. Constructed on a Jeep CJ-5 chassis, the FC-150 initially had a 45 horsepower F4-134 Hurricane engine (also used in the CJ-5). The forward control arrangement meant most engine access was accomplished through the cab: a small hatch opened for quick oil checks, a larger cover removed in order to reach the sparking plugs etc, and a two-section skirt came away quickly if the starter or generator needed attention.

The FC-150 had an 81inch wheelbase and the early versions a 48 inch track. In July 1958, Willys fitted the vehicle with heavier 3000lb capacity axles and broadened the track to 57 inches. This modification included an upgraded, heavier suspension system, adding to the new versions’ stability on turns, grades and rough ground. With its long ledges either side, tailboard and rear lighting, the bed and hindquarters of the FC-150 were rather Land Rover-esque.

The FC-150 could be had in a huge array of variations for a multitude of purposes. Beyond the basic pick-up, these included a stake truck, a wrecker, a mini tractor-trailer (which got at east as far as a concept model), a fire truck and a tipper. The vehicle’s four-wheel drive capability, compactness, manoeuvrability and forward-control visibility also made it popular as a car park snowplough.

Manufacture of the FC series (first by Willys, then by Kaiser-Jeep) continued until the FC program was scrapped in 1965. One of the reasons why the original vehicles are scarce today is that the forward control design didn’t catch on in the US, resulting in a relatively low total FC production number of approximately 30,000 units (according to Jim Allen’s Illustrated Buyer’s Guide: Jeep). Versions of FC models were also made in Spain, and in India up until recent times.

Corgi Forward Control Jeep FC-150: Released as No. 409 in 1959, this model was issued in sky blue offset by a distinctive red grille with cast ‘JEEP’ lettering, silver painted headlamps and front bumper. The cab was fitted with window inserts and had no interior. The model also had spun wheel hubs and a metal tow hook.

An excellent piece of detailing on this Corgi was the spare wheel wedged into specially-cast recesses on the right side of the bed. The upper recess which accommodated the wheel created an arch in the ledge in the bed, adding further realism to the model. Though without other working features, the doors and tailboard were clearly delineated in the casting. For good to excellent examples of the No. 409 with boxes, recent auction results show a range of $45 TO $100, while minty models with boxes have fetched $130.

Corgi Hydraulic Tower Wagon: In 1961 Corgi introduced its Gift Set 14, Hydraulic Tower Wagon with Single Lamp Standard and Electrician. The vehicle was the FC-150 with a bed-mounted boom lift that raised and rotated, with a yellow plastic cradle attached to the end. As the boom raised and lowered, the cradle stayed level to the ground via a dual boom arrangement. The electrician figure which rode in the cradle was posed with arms overhead to emulate the changing of a lamp in the included freestanding lamp standard.

The model was issued in red with a white grille. Like the No. 409, this variation also had window inserts, spun hubs and no interior, but lacked the towing hook. Some rare sets included a double instead of a single lamp standard. (The New Great Book of Corgi notes that the Lamp Standard was from the 606 Kit Set series.)

For 1965 Corgi brought out an updated version of the model on its own as Hydraulic Tower Wagon on Forward Control Jeep FC-150, No. 478. This time issued in red with a silver grille or metallic green with a red grille, Corgi added an interior and spring suspension to this variation of the Jeep. (Anyone who grew up with 1960s Corgi Toys will attest to how much play value and realism the suspension and realistic treaded rubber tyres added.)

The Corgi Gift Set 14, mint and complete, has realised $235 at auction. A set in the same condition but with the rare double lamp standard could fetch a bit more. For the No. 478, the good to minty range is $100 to $200.

Corgi FC-150 Jeep with Hood: Also for 1965 was No. 470, the Forward Control Jeep FC-150 With Detachable Hood. An upgraded version of the No. 409 with spring suspension and interior, this model had a grey plastic tilt which fastened to the bed. Issued with a mustard, blue or light blue body, it had red or yellow interior and a red grille. The all-important towing hook was included, but was changed to the plastic type.

The later versions had cast wheel hubs and were sold in window boxes. A treat here was the art on the reverse of the window boxes. It portrayed an apparently South or Central American jungle scene, with the Jeep rolling past a burro or donkey and a sombrero-clad rider, his hand raised in greeting. All of this was depicted under an orange sky, with sunbeams slanting onto the shadowy jungle greenery. This model survived in the Corgi range until 1972.

Values for the No. 470 are similar to those of its earlier incarnation as the No. 409, with good to excellent plus packaging examples in the $45 to $100 range, and minty models going for $120 to $130.

Corgi Conveyor on FC 150 Jeep: Nineteen sixty-five was definitely the year of the FC-150 for Corgi, as yet another variation of the trusty Jeep entered the range at this time. Issued as No. 64, this was the Working Conveyor on Forward Control Jeep FC-150. For this model, Corgi pushed the play value through the roof. It had a complete conveyor belt system attached to a frame, which was in turn mounted to the vehicle’s bed. The conveyor had separate front and rear booms which could be independently raised into different positions via hydrosleeves.

The bottom end of the boom system featured a loading ramp that acted as a feeder for the conveyor belt. The underside of the ramp had a hazard stripes label affixed which was visible when the ramp was folded forward.

You could operate the rubber conveyor belts by turning a crank on the right side of the booms. The crank attached to the bottom roller of the upper boom, and on the left side of the booms the end of it terminated in a gear system which cleverly also gave drive power to the lower conveyor belt. Corgi mounted this gear system in a clear plastic housing so that you could see how the mechanics worked as you turned the crank (Corgi also mounted this conveyor system on a specialised trailer to be towed by its Ford 5000 Super Major Tractor. This pair was introduced in 1966 as GS47, with a characteristically artwork-adorned inner display plinth.)

As if all of this wasn’t enough, this feature-rich model also came with a packet of plastic sacks and a worker figure to load them onto the conveyor. The icing on the cake was the charming box art on the inner display plinth depicting a British farm cottage in a sunny setting. This FC-150 was made with a red body and yellow-orange grille and conveyor booms. Auction result values for good, excellent and minty examples of this detailed model have been roughly $100 to $130, $130 to $200 and $200 to $260, respectively.

Heaps of Jeeps!: In terms of sales of the original FC Jeeps, the FC-150 is another case where the Corgi models outperformed the real vehicle by a huge margin: the combined quantity of units sold of the 409, GS14, 478, 470 and 64 from 1959 to 1972 was well over two million. The Corgi’s large production number has assured that good to mint examples of the models remain accessible to interested collectors. Surely FC-150 miniatures should hold wide appeal for enthusiasts of vintage 4x4s!

Other vintage FC-150 Models: Those interested in the Corgi FC-150 Jeeps might be curious about some other vintage models of these vehicles from around the world. American maker Comet (aka Authenticast) produced some diecast versions of the FC as promotional giveaways for Jeep dealerships. With diecast aluminium bodies and steel axles, there were the basic pickup, and a stake truck with removable stakes.

These models came in various colours such as red, blue, metallic green and also in US Mail livery. The cab ‘windows’ were simply part of the diecast whole, and painted silver, with the headlamps also detailed in silver. The model had black rubber wheels, and the stake truck variation was a six-wheeler. Some of the US Mail versions were fitted with a snowplough blade. The Comet FCs are reported to have been in 1:25 scale, but some smaller scale examples reportedly exist.

Mahindra, the maker of real Jeeps in India, had promotional FCs in diecast form in a dropside truck format. In colours including yellow, and blue, this model had jewelled front lighting and a spare wheel stowed flat under the left side of the bed. The lettering in the grille read ‘Mahindra’ instead of ‘JEEP’. Nicely done overall, a main flaw in these models is that the window insert is sometimes short and can leave a gap along the top.

It’s back to basics with American maker Tootsietoy’s pocket-sized diecast FC-150. A simple model of the pickup without interior or window inserts, colours included lavender, red, and blue. You might have also found this FC-150 on a blister card in a set towing a trailer loaded with a Formula One racer or a speedboat.

Eko of Spain produced the FC-150 pickup in orange, yellow, blue, green and other colours, to 1:87 scale. This model had windows, silver detailing to the front lighting and wheel hubs, and a spare wheel fitted to the right side of the bed. Some examples have painted taillights. Occasionally you’ll find one with a rectangular or an arched tilt on the back.

Anguplas, also of Spain, likewise manufactured plastic 1:87 scale FC-150s. In some ways looking a bit cruder than the Eko models, these miniatures are known to exist in blue, yellow, green, and red. On some samples the grille has been painted a different colour than the body, such as red or silver. With silver detailing to the front lights and bumper, these models had white wheel hubs, and included the side-mounted spare wheel.

For vinyl or rubber FC Jeep models, you can look to Tomte Laerdal of Norway, Auburn Rubber of the US, and Norddeutsche Plastik of West Germany. Both NP and Tomte offered the Jeeps as wreckers, the Tomte version having a seated worker figure moulded into the bed, while Auburn produced the FC in the basic pickup format. Of the Auburn models, if you search diligently you might find a scarce one in hard plastic.

Eric Bryan is a regular contributor to Antiques to Vintage magazine.