Our 1960 Willys Jeep Forward Control FC170. Meet Forward Frank.
April 8, 2014
On July 9th 2012, Kristian posted a photo on our Upper Peninsula Overland Facebook Page… and I think he was stirring my ‘project pot’ – just a little. In fact, I’m sure of it. It had been a few years since I’d owned anything other than my 2003 Toyota Tundra. I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in this… thing.. ?
At that time, however, DJ had no interest in selling the beast – so there it sat, and that was that. Oddly, over a year later, sitting at my desk in our apartment in Manhattan I *may* have been browsing up.craigslist.org… and I *may* have been searching for “Jeep”……
And I’ll be damned if that ‘thing’ wasn’t for sale!!
An immediate phone call to DJ and a deal was struck, and TJ, John, truck and trailer were knocking out an impromptu “from New York with Love” road trip to Marquette. By that afternoon, TJ was texting me the standard ‘in front of the sign’ photo. ..and I recall thinking, “Wait, I’m still in New York….”
That thought faded away to the reality that our 6th annual Upper Peninsula Overland trip was in the works for the last weekend in July. Hey, I thought naively… we have a camper! I celebrated too soon, as we quickly found that this ‘thing’ needed a few things:
1. The most important thing the thing needed, was a name. World, meet “Forward Frank.” Don’t worry, Ana said; it’ll stick. How forward of her.
2. The other most important thing the damn thing needed was pretty much every damn thing.
The camper leaked. I think the smell was similar to my recollection of the men’s locker room that one season my skinny-ass tried to play football. We promptly gutted the camper, realized the sheet-metal was beyond repair and proceeded to dig a hole. If ya know what I mean.
30 minutes after finding TJ’s endless supply of sawzall blades, the haircut was complete. In true Roam style, we had to put a sticker on it, regardless of having a real plan or not.
You see that look on Ollie’s face? He was thinking what I was thinking….
Now, keep in mind by nature I’m a perpetual optimist. Shit was looking up, and we had it all figured out. So much optimism was present, in fact, that we looked lightly at the engine issues (just a little ‘running hot’ thing, no biggie!) and spent a few hours making sure we had 2 roof top tents (because having one tent wasn’t going to work, right?) and an awning installed. We were ready!
Just the thought of parking Forward Frank on a secluded beach somewhere and folding out all of them there apparatuses was dreamy. The trip couldn’t be upon us soon enough!!
You may by now know that Roam, Inc. and our collection of companies was founded by veterans. We have a certain resolve to see things through. It seemed as the challenges continued to mount that we would not waiver in our war of attrition on Forward Frank’s demons. As it turns out, Forward Frank was the South Going Zax, and Team Roam Auto may as well have been heading North.
The end-result of a solid week worth of work culminated in an all-nighter, chasing over-heating issues that we simply ran out of time to cure. The Ford 289 was known to run hot, but damn it – not hot enough to boil eggs. We tried a handful of ‘fix-it’ moves, like adding additional coolant capacity (think ‘gallons’), adding 3 electric fans, cleaning the radiator out (we later found, during the full dissection of Frank’s innards that the radiator was the likely culprit), and on, and on. The towel, we conceded, needed to be throwneth inneth. (mumbles cuss words not fit for type)…
You remember that “6th Annual kind of a big deal to us trip” we had to go on? Yeah, that was the all-nighter part. So we rallied the last of our energy and transferred tents, gear and wishful thinking over to TJ’s dad’s Toyota Tundra. Hell… what a nice truck- it made for a great trip, and we were off to Manhattan early sunday after the trip….
As summer faded to fall, falling leaves settled for their first dusting of snow, and we all went about our work-lives – not much was discussed of F. Frank and his wily willys ways. We took that unspoken break that stems from trying too hard to make the impossible possible. And F.Frank, well, he experienced another winter of stationary wanderlust. A “damn yard-ornament”, I may have muttered. “won’t be running hot parked in that snowbank, will ya!?!”….
…………… not quite, The End.
Because this.thing.had.to.run. No sooner did our happy-asses hit Upper Peninsula soil as ‘return residents’ in December of 2013- and we were trying to figure out what to do next. Naturally, we settled on just tearing the entire truck apart… what better way to start? (I refer you to my ‘hole-digging’ comment earlier in the post)
As luck would have it, TJ ended up working a deal on a Jeep Grand Cherokee – just as we were vacillating on myriad options for a power-train.. ‘Do we rip the engine and trans out of that GMC out front with 58,000 miles?’ … ‘do we just get a bigger radiator for the 289’….
Well, we chose to rebuild the Jeep 4.0 fuel injected 6 cylinder – because… “Jeep” throughout seemed the best and coolest option for F.Frank. Oh, and you see that purdy JBA header? Yeah, that thing created 4+ hours of work for Troy (more on Troy later) having to build a custom motor mount.
The list of things that went into this engine is lengthy. I’ll save you the boring details – for now. That damned hole got about 3 and a half feet deeper. Let’s leave it at that, eh.
Now may be a good time to explain what the overall goal of the ‘finished product known as Forward Frank’ had come to be for Team Roam. And besides, if you’re still here reading, it occurs that you may actually give a shit about what we did with F.Frank. ( virtual high-five, yo ).
1. This FC170 had to be a daily-driver. Easy to drive, great road manners, peppy, quick to stop and easy-on-the-eyes.
2. The ladies had to have an easy time driving it. Automatic trans, 4 wheel disc brakes and some basic amenities fit the build.
3. Easy to maintain. A must, as we are strongly eyeing a U.S. road trip that will last up to 30 days or more to some remote locations. In some of the off-the-path places, being able to easily and quickly repair a problem is a must.
^ you like that, don’t you? Ladies, easy, truck, adventure, beer…. a scientific build approach!!
Naturally, when the body is off the frame, the drive train is removed and one gets a down-and-dirty view of F.Frank’s genetics it became apparent that we had dug a hole. A quick call to Jeff Greene at Rough Country Suspension Systems and we had worked through a laundry list of necessities that would serve as a stepping-stone to climb out of that hole. (not really, you know that hole is a money hole, right?)
We went with a 6.5″ lift completely custom-fitted to the Grand Cherokee axles, and the stock FC170 frame. The custom fabrication that went into this project was mind-bending for me; apparently “business as usual” for TJ.
….things TJ said that gave me pause
– ‘I’m just going to cut the frame tonight so that the four-liter fits stock. Don’t forget to pick up some beer.”
– ‘I don’t think that’s how I want it, I’m going cut here and here and straighten it out. Can you grab me another Pick Axe Blonde?”
– ‘We need new wheels and tires, we should get a full-size spare, too….’
– ‘I could use these shock towers, but honestly, I’d rather just fab up something kick ass. I need a beer.”
– ‘Can you grab the plasma cutter and make me some brackets?’ – (uh, grab the what and do what?, yes, I’m on it, here’s your beer..)
– ‘Yeah, I stayed until 5am getting the crossmember support fabbed up..’
^ stuff like that… the determination and work ethic; that’s the only damn reason this truck got built. But more on that later.
I experienced rampant confusion when it came time to fulfill my duties of watching TJ work with metal (and hold his beer). Angles, industrial strength magnets, and lava (ok, not quite, but close) splashing about sent me into a tail-spin of loss as to what-the-hell-can-I-do-to-help diatribes. There were close to 6,200 “if only’s” grumbled, comments relating to the amount of work and lack of time and extra help.
…TJ’s just gonna build these right quick
Since the goal here isn’t to build out a post loaded with photos (you’ll get enough, so deal with it), you can check out some of the progress on TJ’s Instagram feed, or on our Roam Automotive Facebook Page. There are other forum and album links at the end of this post, too.
Since our internal goal was to have Forward Frank debut at the 2014 Outdoor Recreation show in Marquette, we had to put in some work – quick. We had some skilled help (more on that, later) and made a lot of things happen in short order.
Suspension and drivetrain mocked up and ready to start fitting things:
Oh, stop. Yes we figured the bed out already…. and as it turns out, that solution was found on, wait for it – Craigslist. We snagged a M105A2 military trailer, and figured it’d work ‘easily enough’.
That’s how this:
Led to this:
^ ‘that’ is a narrowed (11″) and ‘wheel-well-relocated’ 16″ rearward M105A2. …and this is how it fits –
’round-a-bout the time we pushed F.Frank forward for this photo, I think we all laughed a little and said something like “that sum-bitch looks funny on them tires”… but I was quickly reminded by my rubberized check-book that we had some Mickey Thompson wheels and Duratracs sitting in the other room.
From here, the goal of rolling this truck to the Dome Show had become a little more fluid. We knew (errrr, had to accept) that a fully running Frank wasn’t achievable. Candidly, we always knew that wasn’t going to happen, but if you’re gonna set goals…….
So we cleaned him up, dialed in a few “details” (like metal-art welded to the bed) and, yes, more stickers!
After a whirlwind week of finalizing our Baja Rack order (we’re an authorized dealer and installation facility), some LED Lighting, Bumpers, Winch and more from Rough Country Suspension Systems, and a few more t’s crossed and i’s dotted – we set him on the trailer:
And since 33×12.50 Duratracs can’t get you everywhere you need to go during an Upper Peninsula winter, we added an American Track Truck touch, one of our Mombasa Roof Top Tents, and took a moment to appreciate what we had done in under 3 weeks.
That whole “we” part… that’s the last thing I need to tell you about. (because if you’re still reading… ah, well, yeah…)
You can imagine the toll it can take when ‘the guys stay at the shop all night’ working on a truck… for weeks. And you can imagine the ‘WTFisms” that can stem from a shop mechanic being asked (we didn’t really have to twist Troy’s arm, he threw down hundreds on top of hundreds of hours on this build ) to work late and that “we’ll take care of you”… would need to be enough motivation.
Well, we couldn’t have built Frank without the support of Ana and Amy, and without the help from Troy and Trevor.
…. and TJ.. well, you have no idea.
If we ever have to write a letter of recommendation for Troy, it’ll go something like “if you don’t hire him, you’re an idiot“… But that won’t happen, because we’ll make sure we keep him around. And yes, I just quoted you ‘Devil Wears Prada’.. and no, I don’t give a shit.
……and let’s not forget Trevor. He pretty much worked on anything he could, or whatever TJ mandated beyond. It doesn’t get much better than that, either.
Of course we had some good friends weave in and out, helping us along the way. Brad Hill, Dan Nedeau, Tim Flynn, and a few beer-drinking others…. a warm reminder of why we love owning a business in this town.
……and now that we’re at the end, you can read through the chronology of the build on the Upper Peninsula Overland Forum, and you can browse the #ForwardFrank collection of photos from us and others on Instagram. – or even read about Frank on the TV6 website (claim to fame right there… )
We also found time to make a promo-video halfway through the build – which makes the whole Roam Media thing even more fun 😉
Ok, FFS, The Real End. For now…. because we’ll be camping soon. … and when we have free-time we make videos that showcase why we love the U.P.
So I’ll just leave you with a video of Grand Island. Because, Roam.
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