Long before the days of social media and the illicit birth of situation comedies, Kaiser Jeep saw the potential in an abandoned automotive platform, the Jeepster, and took the vital steps to revive it. While the original Willys-Overland Jeepster had found less-than-splendid acceptance in the late 1940’s, much of its failures could be lent to the fact that it was, in all essence, a car. A two-wheel drive touring phaeton, or convertible, with little or no ties to an actual Jeep, bar its slotted grille and flattish fenders. While the initial Jeepsters were certainly a spectacle of class and charisma, they lacked the crass and crudeness of its elder Jeep namesake.
Kaiser however sought to change all of that, by offering a new Jeepster; one with the spirit of a true Jeep firmly intact. A four-wheel drive runabout that expands on the universal Jeeps utility by delivering off-road capability, street worthy styling and a variety of body configurations to please the masses. From a two-door convertible, to a compact pickup and then a station wagon- the Jeepster was rebirthed for the ’67 model year with a whole new look and an attitude its very own. And they called it, the Jeepster Commando.
Built on the CJ6 chassis, the new Jeepster Commando’s 101-inch wheelbase was a whole 20-inches longer that the standard CJ5. Providing ample interior room for the wagon models or increased capacity for cargo when dressed as a truck. Standard engine power was provided by the tried-and-true 134 ci F-head engine creating 75-hp while an optional upgrade of a Dauntless V6 engine treated the Jeepster to a substantial increase of brawn, more than doubling the base engines power and torque. It was a new time for the Jeepster nameplate, indeed.
The Jeepster Commando remained in production until 1972, when it gained another three inches of wheelbase and officially dropped the Jeepster prefix from its name. It was now known only as the Jeep Commando- a name it would maintain until its demise in 1973. With the Vietnam War in its waning years, how was AMC/Jeep ever to know that the name chosen for its symbolism of strength and bravery would soon become the slang moniker for the act of forsaking proper under-attire. The odds are about as good as getting oneself surrounded by a rafter of gobblers with a professional photographer close by; unlikely, but yet, more than plausible.
In 1971, when sales of the Jeepster began to decline, AMC did the only thing they knew to do. Try to make the Jeepster Commando into a special muscle car offshoot of an off-road legend. By handing over design liberties of the Commando to the hot-rodding radicals at Hurst Performance in Westminster Township, PA, the Jeepster emerged with what is, still today, arguably the most collectable Jeep package ever offered- the 1971 Hurst Jeepster.
With an exterior finished in Champagne White and accented by racy red and blue cowl stripes, the Hurst edition packed little actual punch. Since the special package added nothing in the way of performace upgrades, outside of wider Goodyear polyglass tires, the Hurst Jeepster made it’s mark with more visual flairs. Glitzy chrome bumpers, a fully-functional roof rack and exterior badging on par with any boulevard brawler all made lasting impressions on potential buyers. While many others were entanced by the speed shop goodies that, by all appearances, were built for speed. Automatic transmissions were shifted by means of a macho Dual-Gate shifter, while Hurst drivers peered over a giant scoop and a hood-mounted tachometer reminiscent of the Pontiac GTOs of the day. Hurst Commando owners must have felt a genuine sense that they owned the road.
I think it’s fair to deem the 67-73 Jeepster Commando as an indirect hit in terms of overall automotive substance. Did it change the face of automotive styling or design in it’s day? I would have to say NO. However, it did serve as somewhat of a foray to the new Cherokee SJ platform that followed closely in 1974; a landmark of monumental proportions in terms of the evolution of the SUV in America. For that reason alone, I can’t imagine what could be cooler than wheeling the asphalt or ravaging the trails in a fully restored Commando? If you are able to find one, buy it. If you have opportunity to ride in one, take that opportunity and enjoy what it truly means to Go Commando. Of course, unless you’re wearing swimsuits, proper undergarments are strongly encouraged. OlllllllO