Jeep pickups are a common sight these days as a result of the popularity of the new JT Gladiator. Prior to that model’s release in 2020, American Expedition Vehicles offered AEV Brute pickups built from modified Wranglers; before that, there was the 1986-92 Jeep Comanche based on the XJ Cherokee. But the history of Jeep pickup trucks — and the Gladiator name — goes back even further. In 1963, Jeep introduced the first Gladiator, also known as the J-Series (which includes sub-models like the Jeep J2000 and Jeep J20). Production of this Wagoneer-based truck would continue for more than 25 years, serving as a testament to consumers’ desire for a vehicle blending the off-road prowess of a Jeep with the versatility of a pickup.
Photos by John Schwartze
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Issue 7 of our sister publication Carnivore magazine.
The Roamr “Tomahawk” Jeep J20 Build
Roamr is a partnership between overland vehicle enthusiasts Troy Tertany, Tony Durbano, and Jason Miller. The trio has always been fond of J-Series trucks, so when they found a 1974 Jeep J20 for sale, they immediately decided to restore it. “It was rough,” Troy said. “The truck was running, but just barely, and there was a lot of body cancer.”
Above: Troy sent us this photo of the J-20 shortly after it was purchased. It took the Roamr team roughly a year to restore and modify it into its current form.
The cab, bed, and engine were removed, and all the rust was carefully excised. Then, Castle Fabrication shortened both ends of the frame to reduce its length by a total of 13.5 inches — this would improve the approach and departure angles on trails, and also make it more maneuverable around town.
“We decided early on that this build needed 40-inch tires, should be able to go just about anywhere, and should be prepared for several-day excursions,” Troy said. This meant the J20 would need substantial modifications to the suspension and body. The factory sheetmetal panels were cut to make room for modified Metalcloak fenders; Rugged Ridge bumpers and rocker panel guards were also installed. Castle Fabrication crafted a custom suspension setup based on a Metalcloak 6-inch long-arm kit. This provided enough clearance to install 17-inch B.A.D. beadlock wheels and 40-inch Nitto tires.
Above: In case one of the 40-inch Nitto Trail Grappler tires goes flat, a full-size spare is mounted on the Wilco tailgate for quick access.
The shortened bed received a host of new overland-oriented upgrades, including a Leitner Designs rack and storage pods, Decked drawer system, and a Wilco tailgate with spare tire. A Rhino-Rack on the cab serves as a mounting point for eight KC Hilites LED lights; a Sunseeker awning was also attached to provide shade at campsites.
Above: A Rhino-Rack on the roof provides storage space for additional gear, as well as a mounting point for eight KC Hilites LED lights.
Up front, Roamr installed JW Speaker projector headlights, a black Rhino grill, and a Warn winch. The unique hood ornament is a physical representation of the truck’s “Tomahawk” name; a second ax embedded in the tailgate serves as a handle. To complete the exterior, Miller Collision sprayed a coat of glossy Nardo Grey paint onto the body, and OC Rhino coated the bumpers, fenders, rack, and other accents in durable Rhino liner.
Above: One side of the bed rack carries a large Leitner Designs storage pod, a Rotopax gas can, and a Rhino-Rack Sunseeker awning; the other side holds a small storage pod and a Maxtrax recovery device.
Engine, Transmission, and Axles
Above: Although Troy says he loves the classic 401ci V-8, he has also considered swapping it out for a turbodiesel motor. The additional torque would be helpful in spinning the big 40-inch tires.
The Jeep J20’s original 401ci V-8 still resides under the hood of this Jeep, fully rebuilt and upgraded with Holley fuel injection. It sends power through a TH400 automatic transmission, BorgWarner QuadraTrac transfer case, and Tom Wood driveshafts to the Dana 44 front axle and Dana 60 rear axle. Both axles have been upgraded with Warn hubs, Yukon gears and lockers, and BJ’s Offroad disc brakes.
Above: The J-20’s interior has been modernized with a Dakota Digital gauge cluster, upgraded sound system, and electronic controls for the Holley EFI system, lights, and accessories.
Inside the cab, the original power seats and door panels were reupholstered in diamond-stitched leather from Relicate. New black carpet, a plaid headliner, and a leather-wrapped dash were also installed. To bring this ’70s Jeep J20 into the 21st century, the Roamr crew added a Dakota Digital gauge cluster, Bluetooth head unit, JL Audio speakers, Holley touchscreen fuel injection controller, and Switch Pros switch panel for the exterior lights and Viair air compressors.
Roaming the Roads and Trails
Although Troy says this frame-off Jeep J20 build was a huge challenge, he’s extremely proud of how it turned out. “This beast drives straight and smooth with one finger on the wheel at highway speeds,” he explained before adding, “But it’s frankly dangerous on the freeway because so many passersby veer toward it as they stare.” Although it’s driven on the road occasionally, it’s clearly made for the trail. “We have had it out to Moab twice — that’s its natural habitat.”
Above, Below: The tomahawk theme for this build is represented by its custom hood ornament as well as the grab handle embedded in the tailgate.
1974 Jeep J20 Build Specifications
Rebuilt AMC 401ci V-8 with Holley Sniper fuel injection, Be Cool radiator and fans
TH400 3-speed automatic
4WD with BorgWarner QuadraTrac 1339 transfer case and part-time 2WD conversion kit, Tom Wood driveshafts
BJ’s Offroad disc brake conversion
Axles and Steering
Dana 44 front with truss and chromoly shafts, stock Dana 60 full-float rear, Reid knuckles, Artec steering, PSC hydraulic assist, Yukon gears and lockers, Warn hubs
Custom setup by Castle Fabrication based on a heavily modified Metalcloak LJ 6-inch long arm kit, coil spring conversion, Metalcloak 6Pak shocks, Teraflex SpeedBump bump stops
Wheels and Tires
17×9 B.A.D. beadlock wheels, 40×13.5R17 Nitto Trail Grappler tires
Rhino grille; heavily modified Metalcloak fenders; Rugged Ridge bumpers, mirrors, and sidesteps; Wilco tire carrier tailgate; Leitner Designs Active Cargo System bed rack; Decked bed storage; Rhino-Rack over-cab rack and awning; bodywork and Nardo Grey paint by Miller Collision
Above: The Decked storage system offers a flat cargo surface and two slide-out, lockable drawers for tools and recovery equipment.
Lighting & Electrical
Genesis Offroad dual battery kit with Odyssey batteries, JW Speaker headlights, KC Hilites light bar, Warn winch with Factor 55 FlatLink, Viair dual air compressors, Power Tank air tank
Original power seats and door cards reupholstered with Relicate leather, Dakota Digital gauge cluster, full dash restoration, plaid headliner, JL Audio speakers, Switch Pros switches
Troy Tertany & Jason Miller