First Drive: Jeep Mighty FC Concept
Too Cool For Production
The Jeep Mighty FC Concept is one of the coolest trucks we've seen. It features portal axles, air lockers, coil-overs, and a totally custom forward control-style cab in addition to an awesome set of BFG Krawler tires. We recently drove the FC on an off-road loop at Chrysler's proving grounds outside Chelsea, Michigan. It drives even better than it looks.
In the 1950s and '60s, Jeep built Forward Control trucks that gave the utility of a long-bed pickup truck without sacrificing maneuverability. Drawing on that idea, Mopar Underground created a modern interpretation of the FC to show off the newly available Mopar portal axles. Unfortunately, the portal axles are overshadowed by the unique cab.
If you can look past the cab, the eight-lug portal axles ($12,500 front, $11,000 rear) are awesome. Portal axles feature a traditional ring and pinion and solid axle tubes that attach to gear-reduction units in the hubs, allowing for huge ground clearance and even lower gearing at the wheel. With the ring and pinion and portal gearing combined, the final drive ratio is 6.15:1. The Mighty FC rolls on 39x13.50-inch BFGoodrich Krawler T/A tires that wrap around 17x9.0 Hutchinson DOT-approved double beadlock rims. Stopping such big rubber in low range can be a challenge, so Mopar installed eight brake calipers - two on each wheel. These axles also happened to be fitted with ARB air lockers, ensuring there are few obstacles the Mighty FC cannot surmount.
It takes a few minutes to become familiar with the FC once you're behind the wheel. There's nothing in front of you at all -- the instrument panel had to be pushed 68 mm closer to the windshield to make the proportions right without a firewall. A six-footer will have his knees almost pressed against the truck's nose and the axle is directly under his seat. The engine sits in a doghouse between the front seats and intrudes slightly into the cargo bed. There's deep, booming resonance from the custom cold-air intake and exhaust that makes the otherwise stock Pentastar V-6 sounds more imposing than it does in a Wrangler.
Turning left can be a challenge: The steering box is from a right-hand-drive Wrangler, and there's a complicated linkage to get the input from the wheel to the steering knuckles now that the axle is located behind the steering wheel. Turning right is a perfectly normal affair, so it's not surprising that most of the turns we needed to make during our off-road drive were lefts. Perhaps with a little more time to tune the system, left turns will be as normal as rights.
The Mighty FC made short work of the planned off-road course through which we also ran the J-12 concept. There was a rock garden adjacent to the trails, and we convinced the FC's chaperone to let us give it a try. Typically, we prefer our rock crawlers to be low-slung. The Mighty FC stands about 8 feet tall before you put a tire on top of a rock. It's actually possible to do half of your own spotting in the FC because you can see exactly where the driver-side front tire is going by simply looking down. When climbing obstacles, all you can see is the sky. It's awesome.
We were pleasantly surprised by the soft ride that the King coil-overs and aired-down tires gave the FC. If the gearing weren't optimized for off-roading, it would be possible to comfortably drive the FC on the freeway for a while. The low gearing gives the FC a theoretical top speed of somewhere around 50 mph . If you're considering a set of these Mopar portal axles, you should run the appropriate calculations to ensure you have enough top speed if you plan to drive your rig to the trails.
How long does it take to create a truck as cool as the Mighty FC? Try eight weeks of fabrication and two weeks in the paint shop. You might have noticed we didn't list any time to fine-tune the package. Mark Allen, head of Jeep design, told us, "The Mighty FC concept was road tested at Chrysler's Tech Center test track to make sure all major systems worked safely. At that point, the vehicle was then tested on some of the most hardcore trails in Moab, Utah, during the Annual Easter Jeep Safari." Allen promises the Mighty FC will be getting the required finishing touches as soon as possible. Despite an occasional hiccup with the 80-inch-longer-than-stock transmission and transfer case shifter cables and the left-turn issue, the FC doesn't seem to need much tinkering. We hope, whatever the changes are, they'll be substantial enough to require a second drive.
Will you be able to buy something like the FC one day? Don't hold your breath. There are some pesky regulations, like crash testing, that pretty much make it impossible to sell a modern Forward Control Jeep. It's tough to build crumple zones when the only thing between your legs and the car ahead of you is a piece of sheet metal. There's no denying the FC is awesome to look at and there's even a bit of utility to be found in the cargo box. It just isn't possible to retain the design of this concept for a production passenger truck.