Forward Control 4x4s

The world has moved on from the forward-control (FC) 4×4, largely because this sort of set-up turns the driver into a makeshift airbag/crumple zone for the rear-mounted engine. But, while they were around, they sure were cool. Here are five awesome FC 4x4s.

Speed kills… especially when you’re sitting 15cm from the windscreen and are protected by nothing more than a thin piece of metal caressing your knees. A few decades ago, back when people generally had a more laissez-faire approach to safety and seatbelts were seen as superfluous; forward control (FC) vehicles had a strong following. These days, though, they are practically extinct. Regulations have made passenger/leisure vehicles with this sort of set-up just about impossible to create. In fact, the only area where these vehicles survived until fairly recently was in commercial applications where high speed was unlikely, if not impossible. Yet, there is something very cool about an old-school FC 4×4. Sure, they weren’t the safest vehicles around, but they suggested a no-frills-no-fuss approach to vehicle design that was admirable. You often wondered if a designer was involved at all. Here are five FC 4×4s that prove words like ‘functional’ and ‘fuss-free’ don’t automatically mean ‘uncool’.

5. Volkswagen T3 Syncro

You probably wouldn’t automatically think of the Volkswagen T3 Syncro as a forward-control 4×4, but that is technically what it was. First built in 1979, the T3 was the last of the rear-mounted VW minibuses. Global production on the T3 had basically ceased by 1990, but it was so popular in South Africa that production continued locally until 2002. For those interested in overlanding, it was an excellent choice of vehicle, specifically when fitted with the Westfalia camper specification and Syncro 4WD. These vehicles are still popular today, with thousands still running around all over the world. You can find some interesting kitted-out versions online, like the one featured here. With chunky tyres, a suspension lift and a roof-top tent, it’s perfect for bundu travel.

4. Mercedes-Benz Unimog U20

The smallest of the Unimog models, the U20 looked quite different  from more traditional Unimogs. As its design suggests, it was  a forward-control model, and it was used largely in construction and governmental applications. The Swiss used 15 of these vehicles, for instance, as firefighting vehicles. The U20 made its debut at the 2006 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hanover, and entered production in 2007. It was discontinued in 2013. The vehicle was quite a bit smaller than your average ‘Mog, with a height of 2.7m and a width of 2.2m. Like other Unimogs, though, it had a 4WD system, diff locks and portal axles. The four-cylinder in-line engine of the Unimog U20 generated 130kW, and the transmission had eight forward gears and six reverse gears. Its maximum speed was 90km/h.

3. Jeep FC-150 Heritage Concept

Perhaps the most famous FC 4×4 of all time is the Jeep Forward Control, which was produced by Willys in the 1950s and ’60s. Production continued when Willys and Kaiser Motors merged to create Kaiser Jeep. This particular vehicle was unveiled by Jeep in 2016 and is a stock 1960 FC-150 body, but with 2005 Wrangler TJ frame underneath. Power is provided by a 4.0-litre AMC engine. Jeep also added a Dana 44 axle in the front, and Dana 60 axle in the rear. The FC-150 rides on 33-inch BFG mud-terrain tyres, and was given a Rubicon 4:1 transfer case.

2. Land Rover 101 Forward Control

Like Jeep, Land Rover once built a forward-control vehicle, called the 101 FC. Unlike Jeep’s FC-150, though, it was never made available to the public. Instead, it was a vehicle created expressly for the British Army. The military apparently needed what it called a ‘gun tractor’; a vehicle that could tow a L118 field gun and carry 100kgs of ammunition. Development started in 1967, and production took place between 1972 and 1978. But, while production was relatively brief, the 101s that were built continued to do duty for a very long time. The remaining Land Rover FC vehicles were finally decommissioned in the late-1990s. The 101 FC was powered by a 3.5-litre Rover V8.

1. Jeep Mighty FC Concept

Yep, it’s another Jeep concept. This is the Mighty FC Concept, which Jeep unveiled at its annual Moab Easter Safari in 2012. The reception that the Mighty FC received was unexpected. “As soon as we unveiled it in Moab, everyone recognised it, which amazed us. We thought it would have a fan base of about five people,” said Mark Allen, Jeep’s head of design at the time. The cabin was created by chopping up an SWB Wrangler, while the roof was nicked from a Mopar JK-8 bakkie. Providing power was a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6. However, lest you think this FC Jeep was created purely as some sort of static concept vehicle, it also received portal axles, 39.5-inch Krawler tyres and 17-inch Hutchinson bead-lock wheels. The Mighty FC might not have been a production vehicle, but it was a proper 4×4. You can find plenty of videos showcasing the vehicle on YouTube.

Text: GG van Rooyen