By the mid-1960s, the International Scout and Ford Bronco were poaching in Jeep territory. Clever use of the parts bins gave the Toledo firm a way to fight back: the 1967-1973 Jeepster Commando was launched.
In 1966, Jeep was a company on the verge of change. Its full name then was Kaiser-Jeep Corporation, and it was the sole U.S. remnant of both the old Willys-Overland and Kaiser-Frazer automobile companies.
A merger of those two automakers, in April 1953, had failed to stem losses from car production, so even before the 1950s ended, the Jeep line of vehicles was the only one still being produced by the company in America. The Kaiser automobile went on to survive in Argentina for a bit longer, while the Aero-Willys automobile was produced in Brazil from 1960-1972.
The Jeep product line was going through changes. It began with the small Jeep Universal, a.k.a. CJ. The venerable Jeep Station Wagon, first introduced in 1946, had remained in the lineup through 1965 despite being overshadowed when it was joined, in 1963, by the all-new Wagoneer. The rest of the line consisted of trucks.
The basic Jeep pickup, first introduced as a 1947 model, shared its chassis and front-end styling with the hoary old wagon, and when they were dropped at the end of the 1965 model year, both the wagon and pick-up seemed ancient.
A more modem line of trucks, the FC (Forward Control) series, had arrived in 1957, but offbeat styling and nontraditional cab-over engineering made them slow selling oddballs in the marketplace. They were still in the line, but 1966 would be their last season on the market. The workhorse and show horse of the Jeep truck line was the Gladiator pick-up, based on the modern Wagoneer chassis and likewise introduced as a 1963 model.
In addition, the market was changing. Jeep was then, as now, synonymous with four-wheel-drive vehicles, but the four-wheel-drive market was in its infancy and could barely support the few small makers that competed in it.
During the first years after World War II, Jeep had the market pretty much to itself, with the only competition coming from a handful of aftermarket four-wheel-drive conversions of regular pick-ups, a few imports, the Dodge Power Wagon, and International Harvester pick-ups.
But in 1960 International Harvester introduced a new product, the Scout, to do battle with Jeep. Its modem slab-sided body made the Jeep wagon appear even more dated than it already was, and its range of body styles covered the market. A basic roadster was available in two- or four-wheel drive, as was a pick-up version, while a station wagon model won the hearts of many a sportsman by providing a hunting-fishing vehicle that could also haul the family around in style.
The new Scout quickly established itself and sold in decent volume. True, it wasn't a "real" Jeep, but then again Jeep wasn't quite the magical name it is today.
The Jeep Wagoneer was larger and competed in a more upmarket slot when it arrived in 1963, and for a while it seemed that the two makers could eventually learn to split what business there was available, coexisting as competitors in a slowly expanding market.
But Ford put an end to that hope in 1966 with the introduction of the Bronco. This was a new market segment for Ford, yet in its first year it produced more than 23,000 units, good volume indeed. Ford stated that the Bronco was "a stablemate of Mustang," and one couldn't help but notice that the four-wheel-drive wagons were becoming ever sportier and less utilitarian.
Against this handsome new Ford and the solid, sturdy Scout, Jeep had only the tiny Jeep Universal and the much larger and costlier Wagoneer with which to compete.
A new mid-size product was needed to do battle in the market, that was obvious, because if Jeep lost the mid-size 4WD wagon market, it might soon lose the rest of the business, plain and simple.
The Jeepster Commando was introduced in January 1967 to compete with the Bronco and Scout. Continue on to the next page to learn more about this exciting new vehicle.
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The Development of the 1967 Jeepster Commando
Jeep could read the handwriting on the wall as well as anyone else, but was in a bind for product funds for the development of the 1967 Jeepster Commando.
The cost of developing an all-new model was just too high to risk in the tiny market that then existed, and Jeep could quickly go broke trying to match tooling dollars with a giant like Ford.
But Jeep always had a talent for wringing new models out of old tooling, and it proved up to the task of bringing out a competitor for the Bronco and Scout. This new Jeep, christened the Jeepster Commando, was introduced in January 1967.
In choosing that name, Jeep was harkening back to a vehicle from its recent past. From 1948 to 1951, Jeep, then called Willys-Overland, had built the famed Jeepster, one of the last true roadsters made in this country. That Jeepster Sports Phaeton, as it was called, was a fairly expensive niche vehicle, and though admired by many, it was purchased by relatively few.
The new Jeepster was meant to be a volume product, so it came in a full range of body styles. The lineup included a Jeepster Commando Roadster, Commando Pick-Up, and Commando Station Wagon.
All Commandos shared the same handsome sheetmetal, with the model differences being noted chiefly by the roof. The Pick-Up featured a metal cab top over the front seat, while the Station Wagon had a full top. The tops were bolt-on affairs, so they were removable (although not easily). The Roadster could be ordered with no top at all, a full soft top, or a "cab top" that made it a convertible pick-up.
A separate model in the series, not sharing the Commando nameplate, was the confusingly titled Jeepster Convertible. This Jeepster was supposed to be the spiritual replacement for the old Willys Jeepster -- but with bodywork shared with the Commando, except for some trim differences, few customers caught the connection.
To save development costs, the new Jeeps used the 101-inch wheelbase chassis from the CJ-6, a long-wheelbase version of the CJ-5. Although the CJ-6 was available in the U.S., it was more popular in overseas markets.
Use of this long-wheelbase chassis gave the new Jeepster much more interior room than a CJ-5 and a better ride as well. Front fenders were standard Jeep items, but the hood was much wider, overlapping the fenders. This made the Jeepster appear wider than it actually was.
The traditionally styled Jeep grille had seven slots, with the top edge extended to match the shape of the wider hood. The body itself was a slab-sided steel affair. Jeep stylists did a neat job of giving the Jeep a pleasing, purposeful look that retained the classic styling trademarks so important to its image. Roll-up windows, door locks, and vent wings gave it the necessary civilian touches most families required.
Front bucket seats, which were standard equipment, sported horizontally pleated vinyl upholstery. A rear seat was optional for the Roadster and Station Wagon, as was common for sport/utility vehicles at the time.
The non-Commando Jeepster Convertible came with jazzier trim. A key styling element (and the easiest way to spot one), was its two-tone paint scheme, consisting of a narrow band of white paint, framed by chrome moldings, that ran along the top edges of the rear fenders and doors and wrapped around under the windshield and onto the rear deck.
The decklid was also white and trimmed with chrome strips. Standard on this Jeepster was a folding top with glass rear window, color coordinated front and rear floor mats, "Continental" spare tire with cover, and hubcaps.
Unlike the "classic" Jeepster, these new Jeeps all came with standard four-wheel drive. This reflected family tastes, and recognized that the sport/utility market pretty much demanded four-wheel drive.
Engine choices were limited. Standard was the "Hurricane," Jeep's dated four-cylinder F-Head engine, which was running out of wind by 1967 and put out just 75 horsepower from 134 cubic inches. This engine came with a three-speed manual gearbox only, since it was really too underpowered to chum an automatic.
But power lovers could -- and usually did -- order the optional "Dauntless V-6," a 225-cubic inch, cast iron, overhead-valve unit built on tooling Buick had used for several years before selling the line to Jeep. The V-6's robust 155-160 horsepower was more than ample for the Jeepster, and could be had with either the standard three-speed or an optional three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic built by GM.
Although the Jeepster Commando had a lot to offer, the interior decor was not particularly attractive -- it was, actually, quite spartan. Read on to learn more about the Jeepster Commando's interior features.
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The Interior of the 1967 Jeepster Commando
As was customary for the time, the interior of the 1967 Jeepster Commando was rather spartan.
Dashboard aficionados could get bored staring at the Jeepster's dash, since it was mostly painted metal. A rectangle directly in front of the driver housed the speedometer, odometer, and turn signal indicators, while a smaller rectangle to the left held four rocker switches for lights, wipers, washers, and heater fan.
In addition there were two dial switches nearby for defrost and heater temperature. The center of the dash held the optional radio, if so ordered, while the area in front of the passenger was painted metal, broken only by the glovebox door and a cigarette lighter.
Still, the Jeepster was in line with the times. As Alex Markovich noted in a Popular Mechanics article at the time: "Generally, the Jeepster is finished neatly and tastefully, though not lavishly. Areas of the doors and side panels that lack upholstery are finished in crackle paint that resembles leather. All body panels fit perfectly."
The doors and side panels were upholstered, again not lavishly, but handsomely for the times and type of vehicle.
Jeep pulled out all stops to launch the new series. To simplify the rest of the lineup, the old CJ-3B and DJ-3A models were dropped.
Lavish full-color catalogs were printed, and the auto press was supplied with test cars.
This was still, after all, a Jeep, so a certain amount of four-wheeling expertise was expected by the testers. They were not disappointed. "Off-road traction: in every respect, excellent," said V. Lee Oertle, reporting for Motor Trend.
Ginny Ade, writing in Wheels Afield, said that "The traction was really something! As the ads say, 'You have to drive it to believe it!"'
Veteran auto writer Jim Dunne said that "I'm still amazed at how easy it is to get through snow drifts, banks, and mounds. I went out of my way to think up tough tests, but nowhere did the Jeepster have any difficulty in keeping going...."
Comfort and convenience rated highly with testers, too. Dunne noted that "front seat room, with bucket seats, is comfortable and headroom is excellent."
Car Life's Dave Epperson wrote that "... rough pavement ride, a shattering experience in many off-road cars, was highly acceptable."
Motor Trend went a bit further, saying that "Passenger comfort is way above average for a vehicle of this type."
Pricing was reasonable, with the basic Roadster listing at $2,466, the Pick-Up at $2,548, the Station Wagon at $2,749.
The Jeepster Sport Convertible was at the top end, at $3,186, although it, like the rest of the line, generally went for quite a bit more when the optional items were tacked on. The series was called C-101.
The 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971 model years did not introduced many changes to the Jeepster Commando, but a change in ownership did happen.
Continue on to the next page to learn more about Kaiser-Jeep Corporation's new owner.
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Features of the 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971 Commandos
There were only a few changes to the style features of the 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971 Commandos.
The Convertible received a revised rear body to allow a hinged tail-gate for easy access to the storage area as well as a revised top. Prices went up: stripped Roadster, $2,730; Pick-Up, $2,817; Station Wagon, $3,005; Convertible, $3,442.
New competition entered the sales arena in 1969 with the appearance of the Chevy Blazer. Some industry analysts were noting that the trend in four-wheel drivers was toward what they termed "larger, softer units" -- meaning more the size of the big Blazer than the smaller Jeepster.
There were scant changes to the Jeepster line for 1969, the addition of side marker lights being the most obvious. A detrimmed Convertible was added to the Commando series to allow for a lower price, which now started at $3,005, making it cheaper than the $3,113 Station Wagon.
Perhaps the biggest development for Jeep was being decided in private conversations that would not come to fruition until 1970, when a few other changes were planned as well. Also shown that year was a new prototype off-road two-seater, dubbed the Jeep XJ001, to gauge public reaction to the idea of a sportier Jeep.
The 1969 talks led to the February 1970 purchase of Kaiser-Jeep Corporation by American Motors Corporation for roughly $70 million. AMC's Chairman, Roy D. Chapin, Jr., was convinced that the four-wheel-drive market was about to start a meteoric climb, and he wanted to be there to cash in on it.
A few years earlier, Chapin had headed AMC's overseas sales and production and had found Kaiser-Jeep to be a solid and worthwhile partner in several joint production efforts, and there the seeds of Jeep's and AMC's futures were planted. AMC renamed its new division Jeep Corporation. But it would be two years before the new owner could make any substantial changes to the Jeep product line. And anyway, the 1970 line of Jeeps was already in the showrooms.
As in 1969, the 1970 line consisted of the Roadster, Pick-Up, Station Wagon, and the detrimmed Convertible. All were Commandos. Jeep was advertising its entire line under the theme "The Two-Car Cars," a reference to their usefulness as both fun cars and work vehicles. There were few changes, save for the addition of power steering as an option for V-6 models.
For 1971, Jeep introduced two specially trimmed Jeepster Commando Station Wagons. The SC-1, with a standard V-6 engine, roof rack, radio, sporty wheel covers, finished in Butterscotch gold paint with a black sport stripe, was a handsome sporty wagon that had looks and power and showed yet again the changing trend toward sportier sport/utilities. This glamour job wasn't a convertible, as might be expected, but instead a high-trim family wagon.
The sporty trend was further evidenced with the second specialty Commando, the Hurst Jeepster. This wagon was supposed to be a performance model, but was hampered by the lack of an engine larger than the V-6. However, it did sport red-and-blue rally racing stripes over its Champagne White paint, plastic hood scoop with a built-in 8,000-rpm tachometer, roof rack, special 15-inch steering wheel, and G70-15 wide-tread Polyglas tires.
Interiors could be done up in charcoal, blue, or buckskin. The package, which carried Hurst/Jeepster emblems on the hood and tailgate, was quite attractive, but failed to sell in significant numbers.
A joint effort of Jeep and Hurst Performance Products, 500 units were planned. According to one source 300 were equipped with Turbo-Hydramatic and a Hurst Dual-Gate shifter, while 200 got the standard three-speed manual with Hurst T-handle shifters. According to another source, however, less than 100 were actually produced. In any case, the balance of the 1971 line was carried over with few changes.
AMC put together a team of product planners to work on enhancing the Jeep product line. James W. Alexander, a long-time AMC employee who had formerly run an interior design studio, was one of those planners.
Recalls Jim: "It became apparent that a larger vehicle was going to be needed to compete with the Blazer. We began to work on that, and to give the existing product a few more years of sales, we went ahead with a front-end redesign for the 1972 model year. The designer, as I recall, was an ex-Kaiser designer who came with the buy-out of Kaiser-Jeep, a fellow by the name of Jim Anger."
Major changes were in store for the 1972 and 1973 Jeep Commandos after AMC took over. Continue on to the next page to learn about the changes that AMC made to compete with other four-wheel-drive vehicles.
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The 1972 and 1973 Jeep Commandos
The arrival of the 1972 and 1973 Jeep Commandos bought many changes to the company, including major restyling via the new owner. Continue reading to learn more about the changes that occurred in 1972 and 1973.
The 1972 Commandos were substantially revised. For one thing, it was decided to use AMC engines in all Jeep products. But to make the 232-cubic inch, 100-horse straight six fit into the Commando's engine bay required an increase in wheel-base, to 104 inches.
Concurrently, Jim Anger's restyled front end was introduced, and although it didn't have the classic slotted Jeep grille and separate front fenders, it was a clever facelift that gave the Commando a new lease on life. Featured was a longer, bluffer snout housing a full-width eggcrate grille that incorporated the headlights. The overall look was more formal, more family oriented, less hair shirt and jungle-buster. Like it or not (and some didn't), this was where the market was headed, and Anger's facelift was right for the times.
AMC engineers tore into the veteran chassis, enhancing it with bigger brakes, a stronger front axle, and sturdier front suspension. Two new optional engines were the 258-cubic inch, 110-horsepower six, like the 232 a cast-iron, seven-main-bearing workhorse, and, for the first time in a Commando, a V-8 option: AMC's 304-cubic inch, 150-horsepower job (all 1972-1973 horsepower ratings were net, not gross).
The lineup was simplified, with offerings limited to Pick-Up, Roadster, and Station Wagon. The "Jeepster" name was dropped as the vehicles were called simply "Jeep Commando." The series was now the C-104 in reference to its longer wheelbase. After three years of sinking sales, output of the restyled Commandos increased 35 percent, aided by a swelling four-wheel-drive market.
There were few changes for 1973. Axle joints were strengthened and tires were upgraded, but the market had moved in the direction of the larger Blazer-type vehicles, so it was time for Jeep to prepare a new product.
The Blazer dominated the sport/utility market, making it obvious that Americans wanted larger-size four-wheelers. Thus, after 77,573 had been produced -- an average of just 11,000 per year -- the 1973 Commando came to the end of the line. It would soon be replaced by the new Cherokee, a two-door version of the larger Wagoneer that was, as Jeep ads exclaimed, "A Jeep and a Half!"
Product Planner Jim Alexander adds a postscript: "The CJ-7 Jeep that came out in 1976 really replaced the Commando. It had a longer wheelbase than the CJ-5 [94 inches], could be had with automatic transmission and fiberglass hardtop, yet was still a capable off-roader. We went for the volume market with Cherokee, but still could offer the CJ-7 for the traditionalists."