Somewhere between Willys-Overland and the now popular Jeep brand from Chrysler came a number of players in the off-road market. One of these was the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, an off-shoot of the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation founded in 1945. Though long-gone, Kaiser Jeep produced one of the great vintage off-road vehicles called the Jeepster Commando, which just happens to be the focus of this week’s Vintage Monday.
Having been renamed Kaiser Motors Corporation in 1952, the Kaiser-Frazer partnership ended up purchasing the declining Willys-Overland company in 1953 for just over $63,000. This acquisition by Kaiser prompted another name change, this time to the Kaiser-Willys Corporation and led to the discontinuation of Kaiser’s passenger cars in 1955. By 1956 the Kaiser-Willys Corporation was completely focused on utility vehicles and eventually became Kaiser Jeep in 1963. Three years later, the company introduced the Jeepster Commando, a throw-back to the Jeepster Sports Phaeton namesake that Willys-Overland used for one of its vehicles between 1948 and 1951.
Initially introduced in 1966 (as a 1967 model), the Kaiser Jeep Jeepster Commando was designed to compete with the Toyota Land Cruiser, Ford Bronco and the International Scout. For the Jeepster, four configurations were available, including a station wagon, pickup, convertible and a topless roadster.
Although part of the Commando lineup, the convertible model didn’t use the Commando name (referred to as the Jeepster Convertible), however, and was marketed as the “top-of-the-line” model with extra interior flare and either a manual or electric retractable convertible top.
Though most of the other Jeepster models didn’t receive anything substantial as far as the interior went, deluxe station wagons were fitted with full interior trim and special sliding rear windows. This sub-model was also available with a two-tone exterior.
Produced under the C101 acronym, which alluded to the vehicle’s CJ6 101-inch wheel base, the Jeepster Commando was equipped with a 134ci F134 Hurricane straight-four engine in standard form, which was directly related to the old “Go Devil” engines. With just 75hp and 114 p0und-feet of torque, this engine wasn’t the most powerful in the off-road market but would certainly get the job done.
An optional 160hp 225ci Dauntless V6 engine was also offered for the Jeepster Commando, giving performance enthusiasts over double the power with a healthy 235 pound-feet of torque. Both engines were available with either a three-speed manual transmission(with 3.73 rearend gears) or a three-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission (with 3.31 rearend gears).
No matter how they were equipped, all Jeepster Commandos had four-wheel-drive capabilities.
In 1970, the Jeep brand was purchased by American Motors Corporation (AMC), but production of the Jeepster Commando continued (and actually thrived) through 1971. By 1972, the Jeepster name was removed from the Commando model, which was now referred to as the Jeep Commando. This revised model was produced under the C104 acronym after the vehicle’s wheelbase was lengthened to 104 inches.
Now available (starting in 1971) with one of two inline-six engines or a potent V8, the revised Jeep Commando offered drivers anywhere from 100hp to 210hp. Unfortunately, due to governmental regulations, the 304ci V8’s horsepower was considerably cut in 1972 down to just 150hp.
By 1973, the once popular model had seen a substantial decrease in sales and was cut from the production lineup for the 1974 model year, replaced with the full-size Jeep Cherokee.
In 1971, Hurst Performance stuck their hand out to the utility vehicle market by creating the Hurst Jeepster Special, a modified Jeepster Commando station wagon. Standard equipment for this custom model included a sport steering wheel, wider steel wheels wrapped in Goodyear G70x15 tires, an 8,000 RPM hood-mounted tachometer, and a Hurst shifter, which was either a Hurst T-handle for manual Jeepsters or a Hurst Dual Gate shifter for automatic equipped vehicles.
No matter what type of transmission Hurst Jeepsters were equipped with, they came with the 225ci Dauntless V6 engine, available on regular models.
Setting the Hurst model apart even from afar was its unique patriotic paint scheme, which consisted of a Champagne White base color over-layed with red and blue striping on the hood, front fenders and rear end. Hurst Jeepsters were also equipped with roof racks, hood scoops and special Hurst/Jeep badges.
Only about 100 of the Hurst Jeepsters are believed to have been produced, although about 500 were projected to be produced by Hurst at one point, with plenty less surviving today.
The 1971 model year also brought about the SC-1 package, which equipped Commandos with a Gold exterior paint scheme, black rally stripe, SC-1 branding, roof rack and top-of-the-line interior trim.