Built for the Trades: 1981 Jeep J20

I recently watched the classic 90s film Twister, wherein Helen Hunt’s awesome Jeep J20 gets sucked into a tornado and then dropped into the pavement below. It always struck me as a shameful waste of a classic Jeep pickup, but admitedlly, they did make an awful lot of them – so maybe if someone saves this utility-bodied 1981 example seen here on eBay amid stockpiles of military vehicles, we’ll absolve the producers from their stunt-driven sins. 

If you’re working in the trades and using a truck with this body attached in place of a bed, I’ll bet there’s a 90% chance it’s a Ford product. We don’t normally see vintage workhorses like a Jeep J20 fashioned into a plumber’s or linework’s truck, especially one with a manual transmission! This Jeep is listed for $3,975 as a “no start” vehicle that looks practically rust-free in the photos. The seller will consider offers, and notes that the truck comes with a new transfer case and working A/C.

The seller doesn’t say whether this Jeep is part of a surplus sell-off by a branch of the military, but the odds are good given the surroundings and the clean condition inside the cabin. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good for a truck that clearly saw regular use. Mileage is pegged at 97,582 and the long-throw manual transmission is an unusual sight in a vehicle that saw commercial duty. The seat fabric is a bit dirty but untorn; hard to tell, but the dash pad doesn’t look to have too many cracks.

This is really a nice combination, the larger 5.9L AMC 360 V8 paired with a manual transmission. I believe this qualifies as a “late” J20, which may mean the standard output was just under 200 b.h.p. and upwards of 295 lb-ft of torque. It’s a shame this Jeep won’t fire as that healthy horsepower rating would be tempting to tap into when racing off to the jobsite. Still, the good news is parts availability is extensive and it likely won’t take much troubleshooting to determine what’s holding this J20 back.


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  1. Alex

    Man that be an amazing truck but I’m not doing welding if I was this would be the truck I would take. And looks like an great work truck they are so hard to find these days.

  2. Drake

    The grill costs almost as much as the truck. Muscle grills are in demand.

  3. grant

    If it won’t start, the AC isn’t going to work. Just saying.

  4. Mark S.

    The place where I work had a J20 pickup we used to plow snow. That 360 w/ the stick worked really well. The downside – it got abysmal gas mileage. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay to feed that beast.

  5. chad

    plow, 390 can tow, a place 4 tools.
    Get it runnin! (might sell 4 four times that)

  6. Pa Tina

    My first welding job was building those bodies. 1973, getting paid $4/hr on piece-work. Had to build five bodies a day to earn the full rate. Two guys per team and the old guys would kill you if you slowed them down or didn’t get one started for the next days count. A real motivator to go to college.

  7. Todd Zuercher

    I have no idea how the truck ended in Philadelphia, but based on the bumper sticker on the rear of the driver’s side toolbox, this truck was a utility/maintenance truck at my alma mater – the University of Arizona, in Tucson, AZ. The faded ‘A’ on the left is our logo and the area code in southern AZ changed from 602 to 520 when I was attending there (87-92). I probably saw the truck there but I don’t remember it.

  8. wuzjeepnowsaab

    Nice truck. The T18 isn’t really a 4 speed…it’s a 3 speed with 1st gear really a super low granny gear. But lock the wheels and put it in that granny gear and it will climb a wall. Never liked utility bed conversions but this one isn’t terrible…for 2K it’s a good buy with the caveat that at 100000 miles you’ll likely need to get inside the engine

  9. XMA0891

    A great and rare find! Nice write up! Hope someone saves her. I’ve only ever seen one of these with this configuration in real life.

  10. Dan in Texas

    Pretty cool that it won’t start, but they can assure you the ac works.

  11. Keith

    This begs for a fuel injected or diesel transplant.

  12. Beatnik Bedouin

    Oh, to only have space in the garage…

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