Famous Jeeps: The 1963 Jeep Gladiator J20 from Tremors

Updated on Jun 11, 2024

When roaming a fictionalized version of the American SouthWest, in which giant man-eating monsters slither just below the surface, you’ll need to pilot a reliable, capable, and downright radical rig. At least, such was the case for Valentine “Val” McKee and Earl Bassett in 1990’s B-horror film—Tremors

The two handymen find themselves amid a supernatural attack when residents of the small, isolated town of Perfection, Nevada, appear murdered or dismembered. Fortunately, the partners’ 1963 Jeep Gladiator J20 packs the post-apocalyptic style and capabilities to traverse the fictional town’s treacherous, monster-infested landscape. 

In this installment of Famous Jeeps, we’re covering Val and Earl’s Jeep J-series from the original Tremors. Stay tuned for an overview of the film, the Jeep, and a comprehensive guide to building your own Tremors-inspired tribute truck.

The Film: Tremors

1990’s Tremors emerged at the tail-end of the golden era of horror films, following the bloody, gory, monster and alien-fueled eighties. The film—birthed from the minds of Ron Underwood, Brent Maddock, and S. S. Wilson—follows two unlikely protagonists whose heroism stems from utter fear and instinctual survival. 

In the small, desolate town of Perfection, Nevada, two handymen—Val Mckee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward)—opt to uproot their lives and move 30 miles to neighboring Bixby. However, their plans are cut short when town members meet gruesome and suspicious demises. As the two scour the area for answers in their Jeep J-series, they happen upon massive, worm-like monsters burrowing just below the surface. 

With a taste for human flesh, these beasts begin stalking the townsfolk. The unlikely heroes, alongside seismologist Rhonda (Finn Carter) and survivalists Burt and Heather Gummer (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire), are up to save the town.

The Jeep: 1963 Jeep Gladiator J20 Thriftside

As aforementioned, Val and Earl navigate Nevada’s unruly terrain in a 1963 Jeep Gladiator J20, sporting the rare thriftside short bed (offered from 1962–1968 only). 

The well-loved and worn-in blue Jeep appears in several sequences, including the introduction as Val shakes Earl awake from his nap in the truck bed, during the two men’s moving sequence, and nearly every instance with the worm-like creatures, known colloquially as “Graboids.”  

While appearing relatively stock, aside from a small lift kit and knobby mud-terrain tires, the J20 has an undeniable presence. Its patina paint, makeshift tailgate, and emergency equipment haphazardly strapped to the bed give it a mad-max-esque appearance, albeit less post-apocalyptic.

Build Your Own Tremors-Inspired Jeep J20

If Val and Earl’s Jeep stuck out to you as it did to us, you’ve likely scoured Craigslist in search of an affordable J-series. While not many examples are left, an original short bed thriftside practically begs for a Tremors overhaul. 

Stay tuned for our comprehensive build guide if you’ve ever considered building a tribute to Val and Earl’s truck.


First, we’ll need to find a platform. The truck from the original Tremors is a surprisingly rare package, being a Gladiator J20 with the rare, short thriftside bed. This bed was only offered from 1962–1968, though the screen-used truck's model year range drops significantly when considering its small rear window, offered only in 1962–1963. 

For maximum accuracy, you’ll need to locate a 1962–1963 model—however, any 1962–1968 thriftside will do, or any J-series if you’re up to a cab and front clip swap.


The body of the Tremors Jeep Gladiator is relatively stock, sporting the factory body panels and bumpers up front. Out back, a seemingly hand-made raw steel tailgate and aftermarket rear bumper provide a more utilitarian appearance. 

Though the exact color is unknown, the screen-used Jeep appears to sport its original Kaiser/Willys Sierra Blue paint, though well-weathered and patinated. On each door, the Jeep features rudimentary black decals reading “V+E ODD JOBS.”

Wheels and Tires

Val and Earl’s Jeep sports factory steel wheels wrapped in vintage Mickey Thompson Baja Belted tires. The old-school, bias-ply tires may look killer, though they lack several of the modern features and benefits of radials—they’ve also been discontinued for nearly two decades. 

For a modern spin on the classic setup, consider a set of Black Rhino Matte Black Solid Wheels, which sport modern cast aluminum construction while closely resembling vintage steelies. As a tribute to the original Jeep’s long-discontinued tires, consider wrapping these wheels in a modern Mickey Thompson radial, like the Baja MTZ P3.


A moderate lift appears present underneath Val and Earl’s Jeep J20, giving the truck an additional 3–4 inches of ride height. Consider a standard suspension lift for a similar aesthetic, like the Rough Country 3" Standard Lift Kit.  

Sporting premium components and a straightforward installation, Rough Country lift kits are a solid option for vintage platforms without much support from other manufacturers.

Added Details

If you’re looking to go the extra mile, consider replicating the screen-used truck’s patina. Random primer spots litter the body, perfectly complementing the rusty tailgate. On the interior, fuzzy green dice drape over the rearview mirror, and jerry cans and a fire extinguisher remain roped to the bed. 

With these final details handled, you’ll have one of the most screen-accurate tributes to the Tremors Jeep Gladiator.

As always, we offer all the parts and know-how to piece together this build and countless others at RealTruck. For additional information, check out the rest of our articles on RealSource, and don’t hesitate to contact the experts.

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