ONLY days after the crew at the www.jeepgladiatorforum.com leaked information that Jeepís new Wrangler-based pick-up would be called Gladiator, official images details on the truck, which will be designated JT, surfaced.
The images distinctly show the longwheelbase, full-size bed, four-door truck, which falls into the mid-size category alongside one-tonne utes such as Ranger and Colorado. What those popular utes donít have, though, is the Jeepís peerless off-road ability afforded by live axles front and rear with locking differentials, available on the Rubicon models. Add in the host of other off-road tricks that are available on the Wrangler and the JT should be the best ute in its class when you get off the pavement. Water fording depth is quoted as 760mm.
The documents also claim Ďclassleadingí payload and towing capacities which, at 725.7kg and 3469kg respectively, are down on payload, but up there with the popular one-tonne 4x4 offerings here in Australia.
You canít help but compare the styling of the JT Gladiator to that of the AEV Brute which was built on the JK Wrangler platform for more than a decade by American Expedition Vehicles, and those close to the project have said that it is almost the same in dimension to the millimetre. The now discontinued US$100,000 Brute was a touch less than 5.5 metres in length riding on a 3530mm wheelbase. Also of note is that the JT still has the removable roof panels of the JL, which are just one of the multiple soft- and hard-top options available on the Wrangler. No other ute offers this open-air motoring, which would be great when off-road.
The leaked document reveals that the JT will launch in the US later in 2019 with the 3.6-litre petrol V6 engine and eight-speed auto, as found under the bonnet of the JL Wrangler; while the 3.0-litre EcoDiesel borrowed from the Grand Cherokee and RAM 1500 will not be available until the 2020 model year.
Jeep Australia has been awfully quiet as to whether the pick-up will come to Australia, so it still remains in doubt. Earlier on we had assurances it would be made in right-hand drive for Australia, but it has been radio silence ever since. Likewise on the 3.0 V6 EcoDiesel for the JL Wrangler, and it is now expected that if our Wranglers get a diesel engine option at all, it will be the new 2.2- litre four-cylinder engine as has been launched in Europe. Latest word on Australiaís launch for JL is March or April; although, it seems to be getting later all the time.
THE GLADIATOR moniker isnít merely about conjuring up machismo imagery, rather it harkens back to one of Jeepís seminal, but often-overlooked nameplates. The name first appeared on Jeepís full-sized pick-up truck, which was introduced in 1962, and it wasnít your average pick-up truck fare. Developed concurrently with WillysOverland Motorsí iconic 1962 Jeep SJ Wagoneer, not only was the Gladiator based on the same body-on-frame design, it also gained some of the wagonís luxury options such as an automatic transmission, power-assisted brakes and power steering.
Under its hood, the Gladiator also adopted its wagon relationís thenpioneering 104kW 3.8-litre inline-six OHC Tornado engine, which was one of the first overhead-cam engines offered by an American manufacturer. However, while it charted a first for Jeep, the Tornado later gained an infamous reputation for oil leaks and was replaced three years later by an AMC-derived 3.8-litre inline-six, which would continue in Jeepís service, albeit in different forms, for the next four decades. A larger 186kW 5.4-litre AMC Vigilante V8 would follow soon after to address criticisms of the Gladiatorís lack of pulling power.
As for drivetrain options, the Gladiator was offered with either a 2WD or 4WD setup and paired with a standard three-speed manual or an optional three-speed automatic. This combination of four-wheel drive with the optional automatic was said to be a first for a pick-up truck in America.
To cater to different needs and demands in the market, the Gladiator was also available in a wide variety of configurations. Initially offered in shortwheelbase J200 and long-wheelbase J300 forms, Jeep eventually expanded the range to include narrow or wide cargo beds, chassis cabs or extended wheelbase versions, and even camper versions throughout its life.
Kaiser-Jeep, the company which emerged from the merger of WillysOverland and Kaiser Motors in 1963, also made military versions of the Gladiator between 1967 and 1969. Known as the M715, the truck was the first US military procurement of off-the-shelf based vehicles as part of its effort to cut down on costs.
Kaiser-Jeep was reported to have made between 30,500 and 33,000 examples in several different configurations and drivetrain fitments, and were used in the Vietnam War where it was found to be underpowered and fragile.
In 1970, AMC acquired Kaiser-Jeep, and while they continued the Wagoneer nameplate, the Gladiator name was discontinued, however, the model range was not. Instead, the pick-up truck models were simply known as the J-Series from 1971 onwards.
Even though the name was no more, the J-Series pick-up truck soldiered on for another 17 years until 1988 until AMC was eventually acquired by Chrysler. In those years, the J-Series only received minor mechanical updates, and its production even overlapped its successor, the 1986 Comanche, momentarily.
As Jeepís other model ranges such as the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler continue to define the company as a maker of 4x4 wagons, the Gladiator name eventually faded into history and would only make a brief reappearance in 2004 on the first of many Wrangler-based pick-up truck concepts that Jeep would continually tease fans with throughout the years.
Its signature four-headlamp arrangement appearing on the imposing Crew Chief 715 concept at the 2016 Jeep Safari in Moab.
As Jeep seeks to re-enter the burgeoning pick-up truck market, it seems only apt for the company to pick up the name which played a part in establishing the Jeep name in households right across America.