(first posted 12/3/2016) Jeep had the 4×4 utility vehicle market all to itself, until 1961, when the International Scout 800 arrived. It’s an endlessly-debated point, but one could arguably call the Scout the first SUV, as it was the first to break away from the WW2 military format of the original Jeep CJ, with its full-width body and contemporary design. And Ford soon followed that approach, with even greater refinement with its 1966 Bronco. Jeep needed to respond, as it the idea of Ford, with its huge dealer network, getting into the 4×4 market was seen as a very serious threat.
The 1966 Jeepster Commando, styled by Kaiser-Jeep’s Jim Anger, was the response. Technically, it was hardly groundbreaking, as it was really just a new wider body sitting on the 101″ wb CJ-6 frame, suspension and axles. But an optional ex-Buick V6, was one critical new ingredient. Without it, the Commando would undoubtedly have been stuck in the mud.
Base power was the 75 (gross) hp F-head Hurricane 134 cubic inch four, whose roots were in the early 1930s. This gnarly little four might have been adequate in a low-geared CJ-3B or CJ-5, but the whole point of this new generation of 4x4s was that they were more civilized and suitable for the daily drive to the office as well as weekend off-roading adventures. The four was more like a tepid breeze (or fart) than anything resembling a Hurricane, but then the Scout’s half-a-V8 wasn’t much better either.
Which explains why this little V6 badge graced a goodly majority of these Jeepster Commandos. Kaiser-Jeep had started buying the compact little 90 degree 225 inch V6 from Buick in 1965, to use in the CJ-5 as well as the upcoming Jeepster line. In 1967 Buick sold K-J the whole V6 tooling/transfer line, preferring to just use the Chevy six in their B-O-P mid-size cars. Given the trend at the time towards ever more V8s even in ever-larger compacts, it seemed to make sense at the time. Until the energy crisis hit, anyway.
The V6 was dubbed Dauntless, and sported a 160 (gross) hp rating, or more than twice that of the Hurricane. It utterly transformed the little CJ-5, making it rather terrifyingly fast, given its intrinsic instability due to its very short 80″ wheelbase, narrow track, and high center of gravity. The “Flying Jeep Universal”; a rather unfortunate choice of words given its proclivities to not keeping its four wheels on the ground.
I knew a guy in Iowa City in around 1972 who had one of these V6 CJ-5s, and it was scary to ride in it, given how he drove it and it being winter and all. Sure enough, he rolled it on a country road not much later and was killed.
This one is even sporting a console and an automatic. This is a real indication of where the 4×4 utility market was going, or trying to go. The console shifter controls no less than a GM THM-400, the finest and newest automatic in the land at the time. You certainly couldn’t get a Buick Skylark V6 with a THM-400. Or even a V8 version, until about 1969 or so, and then it was the THM-350. But here it is, a Caddy-grade 400 teamed up with the little Buick V6. And undoubtedly the only time it ever was.
There’s something timelessly appealing about the Commando’s angular lines and utilitarian details.
The Jeepster Commando sold rather modestly, some 8-10k per year. But it was enough for AMC to to keepit alive after it bought Jeep, and redesign the Commando with a new longer nose to fit the AMC inline sixes under it, as well as their V8s. It sure didn’t do much for its proportions, to put it mildly, but it kept it alive for a few more years.
Despite its crude underpinnings, or because of them, I’m very drawn to this Jeepster. It’s my favorite of these early SUVs, and an even-fire 231/3.8 V6 under the hood would make this a very compelling car. Just the thing for those really distant wilderness trailheads.
Nifty, but I’m drawn to the ’85 Toyota behind it. Go figure.
Good article on a neat Jeep. I wonder how many times the transmission has been rebuilt or replaced and what sort of fluid it takes?
Just Dexron, like any GM trans of the era.
I will note that late 70s Jeeps with Quadra-Trac full time 4WD also used the TH400, even behind a 100hp six in a 3200lb CJ7.
We had a ’74 CJ-7 in Hawaii, with the 727 Torqueflite, not TH400, behind the AMC 304 V-8. It was also Quadra-Trac, which I thought was a Chrysler-built transfer case.
No, you did not: the first CJ7 was 1976.
The Quadra-Trac was built by Borg Warner, and used 1976-79 in CJs (1973-79 in big Jeeps), exclusively with the TH400. Later (1980-86) CJ7s used a Dana 300 transfer case and a Chrysler Torqueflite.
I imagine that the V-6 put out an underwhelming amount of torque compared to the big block V-8s that the 400 was designed for, if the owner kept up on fluid maintenance, that could still be an unmolested original tranny.
OMC used the Kaiser 225 V6 for several years as a marine engine, known simply as the 155HP. It was always funny working on them, a Buick V6 with NO GM part numbers on any casting to be found. A Kaiser/Buick V6, bolted to a Turbo 400 with a transfer case hanging off it, is certainly a site you don’t see every day. I have always considered AMC/Jeep the last of what is known as “assembled” vehicles; meaning they bought more components from other automakers than they made themselves, not to mention from outside sources such as Prestolite and Motorola…
Kaiser/Willys was little different but AMC as always jokingly referred as All Makes Combined. Actually, not a terrible thing when you consider parts availability.
So true. And now every manufacturer outsources. No more ore in one end and a car out the other.
I think Saturn was the last all ” in house ” builder of cars with the S Series.
Every car manufacturer has outsourced parts from day one. Off the top of my head, the Model T used Holley carburetors, Fel-Pro gaskets, and Bendix brakes.
Not on the scale they do today. Companies owned their own electrical, glass and supply companies. They’ve divested those divisions into independent entities.
Random small parts provided for a Model T by an outside vendor is not the same thing as an “assembled” product using continental engines, an independent transmission supplier such as Borg-Warner and bodies built by an outside source.
By no means. Offhand, I have wrenched on cars from the 60s…brakes, steering parts, glass, even transmissions were all frequently bought, not built. (Off the top of my head, glass was usually PPG.)
I’ll bet today Ford only makes engines, drivetrains and sheetmetal stampings in house anymore, everything else is outsourced.
The thing about that V6 that gets me is how much better an engine for the Pacer it would’ve been than that long, looooong inline-six shoehorned under a hood meant for a compact Wankel and extending far enough back to eat up a significant chunk of the front cabin space that was to have been the car’s USP.
I agree, the V6 would have been perfect for the Pacer. But given AMC’s fiances, selling it back to GM was probably the corporate equivalent to hawking your mothers gold necklace at the local pawn shop for some quick cash.
I agree. AMC made an error selling the V6 tooling and rights back to GM, in the 70’s. The only equivalent error was GM selling it all to Jeep in the first place.
GM asked AMC if they would be willing to re-start the V-6 production line and sell the engines to GM, but AMC declined.
I recall reading an interview with an AMC exec who said that the company did not have the resources to tame the V6 engine, which was a pretty rough runner being essentially a 90 degree V8 with two cylinders missing. After buying it back, GM ultimately designed a split-journal crank to even out the firing impulses.
Right. And the earlier versions of the V6 were not terribly reliable. They ate up timing chains. They were not very good engines compared to AMC’s venerable 199/232/258 sixes.
Agreed. The V6 did well enough in the Jeeps but the I-6 is much better suited to them. Gobs of off idle twist for pulling stumps and motoring up steep grades is what you want there. The Dauntless would have been a godsend to the Gremlin and Hornet.
Actually, the Hornet and Gremlin did quite well with AMC’s 232, and 258 sixes. They were bullet-proof, unlike the V6, which shed timing gears regularly; they had plenty of torque; and they were still running long after the car body had rusted away. That basic straight six architecture was built until 2006 by Jeep/Chrysler, making for a pretty good run.
Yes, the 232, 258 were excellent engines. I like them better than the Dodge Slant Six.. Have a 258 in the Gremlin and in the Concord. Good power, decent MPG, and freeking run forever. The only thing I was not crazy about were those rocker arm pivots.
The Pacer engine didn’t take cabin space.
I can’t imagine it did much for weight distribution though.
Maybe not the engine, but the transmission hump is humongous.
I’m all for driving around in funky old cars and trucks. Except you will do your self a huge favor by fixing the front seat. I swear it makes the drive a lot nicer.
Agreed, a recover and respringing costs much less than you’d imagine.
or at least a towel…
A friend did mine; all he wanted was a pack of welding rods.
“The V6 was dubbed Dauntless, and sported a 160 (gross) hp rating, or more than twice that of the Hurricane. It utterly transformed the little CJ-5, making it rather terrifyingly fast, given its intrinsic instability due to its very short 80″ wheelbase, narrow track, and high center of gravity. ”
And then there was the version AMC sold of the CJ-5 with the 304 V8! A cousin had one of those. Scary. Fun, but scary.
I too have a thing for the Jeepsters. Both generations, actually. The interiors on these really are not bad. We tend to forget how much bare metal was still inside of cars back then. Even Chrysler’s B bodies had metal upper door panels. This was not too far removed from some of the more basic cars of the day.
My first CJ-7 had a swapped in 360….I swear, the grim reaper was riding shotgun just WAITING for me to eff up.
I test drove several 304 powered CJ5s and theyre definitely scary. Never bought one because in every case, the previous owner figured they paid for a ton of hp and torque and they were gonna get their moneys worth. Every. Last. Cent.
Dauntless, Hurricane: Was someone thinking of single-engined piston warplanes?
I think everyone had a buddy that had a V8 Jeep. I had a high school classmate who had a CJ-5 Renegade with V8 given to him for his 16th birthday. Short of the late 60’s-early 70’s muscle cars that had survived into the late 70’s, that was one of the fastest and hairiest rides I’d ever been in.
And yes, as a bunch of 16 year olds, we went out and rolled the thing. However, it was a low speed roll, while we were attempting to climb out of a culvert; we couldn’t have been going more than 10 MPH. The soft, mushy ground cushioned our roll and none of us got hurt.
Probably what was the worst part of the whole experience was the four of us having to roll the Jeep back on it’s wheels while standing in about six inches of cold, melted snow and water. We got it back up, but we were all pretty soaked and freezing.
We had a neighbor when I was a kid who had one of those Jeepsters, it was his go-to-work car at the steel mill and took it deer hunting up in the Alleghenies. I mostly remember that it had that odd-fire Buick V6, and when combined with the crappy exhaust system the car had, it sounded like someone was shooting buckshot into a bucket of bolts. As I get older, the appeal of those cars has gone up dramatically.
I’ve been hoping with the recent Jeep renaissance that something like this would appear again, I guess maybe the Patriot/Compass are the closest. Currently, the Renegade doesn’t do much for me, the Cherokee is great, but freaking pricey. I’m curious to see the new Compass, maybe that will be the Goldilocks of the Jeeps and be “just right”.
In some account, I forget which, a G.I. recalled seeing a Flathead-powered Willys MB tearing around somewhere in the ETO.
AMC = after market car
Very rare critters here Jeep barely had a toehold on the 4WD market once Landrover got underway but a local garage owner where I grew up was Jeep mad he had a beautifully restored 42 Ford Jeep and later a CJ I think 6 the first thing to go was whatever the power plant was and he installed a 250 Falcon motor as this was to be his competition car the 42 having been retired, Nobody else obstacle rallied a Jeep as many of the things they have to climb over require good hillside ability, never a Jeep strong point, Ive only seen one of this style featured and it was in a museum though it looked fully operational except for the missing engine.
I love these Commandos…and this is a prime example of why I love the west: Even in TN where roadsalt use is light, this would have been decimated by the tinworm decades ago. Even when I was looking for my first Jeep in the late 80s/early 90s when I came across one of these it was too far gone.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them though…that front grille/hood is absolutely HORRIBLE looking…like a CJ that became morbidly obese. But what Ive seen done is a CJ front clip swapped on. I fact, there were at least 2 or 3 that I saw done that way when Id visit my ex g/f in Roseburg. That cleans up the ‘fathead’ look considerably. I know this was done to set it apart, but sometimes its better to leave well enough alone.
Reminds me of plowing snow with my grandfathers ’67 or ’68 Jeepster Commando back in the late 70’s.
The V6 ran smooth, and plowing was a breeze.
I always had a fascination with these as a kid; even built a model of one…but in my part of the country they all rusted into brown spots on the ground within a year or two,
There was something peculiar about the Jeep-to-TH400 marriage…
The Dauntless had what’s commonly known as a BOP bolt pattern at its transmission bolt-up.
Therefore, there were off-the-shelf GM TH400 cases that would bolt directly to the dauntless V-6.
However, Jeep did not utilize a direct-bolt-up TH400 case, but instead, utilized a special adapter/spacer which adapted the back of the dauntless V-6 to mate with the “old” Nailhead pattern TH400 case.
Also, via the adapter, the transmission had a slight “roll” from the pan being horizontal side-to-side.
Pops bought my Stepmother one of these in ?1969? and eventually drove it to California .
The V6 was always very smooth .
Three speed manual tranny .
AMC = another manufacturers castoffs. But I still am a fan.
I remember Danny Thomas [ “Make Room For Daddy ” ] used to be the spokesman for these. “Holy Toledo. What A Car”. was the tagline.
The Jeepster had the first power top in a Jeep in 1967. Was a short lived option. Surprised Jeep never tried it again. The 1972-73, was just called a “Commando” with the flat face. Seems the 1969 K5 Blazer look was a fast moving influence.
When I was a kid in the mid 80’s, I was given a box of large metal trucks and construction machines that had belonged to older cousins. Among them were two Jeepster Commando convertibles, one in blue and one in brown with big wheels. They were favorites of mine, even if the brown one was starting to get a bit rusty where a bent fender had lost its paint. (Imagine that today? Metal toys? Rust? Danger! Call CPS!) They were still living in a box in my parents’ attic until around 2000 when they finally got given away.
Later on in the early 90’s, the director of the Boy Scout summer camp I attended had an old Commando, one of the “flat face” models that had lost the “Jeepster” portion of its name. Orange with a white hard top, and really in great shape despite being 20+ years old already (I wonder if it still exists?). I had never seen one of the restyled versions before, and thought it was a completely unfamiliar model. My subconscious at the time didn’t make the connection with those metal toys–different nose styling, convertible versus wagon, and different model names (nowhere on the toys did they say Commando, just Jeepster). The identical styling of the rear fenders and tailgate got missed, and it wasn’t until I read this article all these years later that I made the connection.
The utility and scale is reminiscent of the original extended wheelbase 2004½ Wrangler Unlimited (LJ). Make the B and C pillars vertical, and there’s also a strong resemblance, to the first Wrangler Unlimited.
It that the original rear bumper?
I enjoyed owning and daily driving a ’67 Jeepster Commando from about 1979 to 1981. Mine was the Dauntless 225 with a manual 3 speed. Mine was in quite nice condition, but the floor had been replaced with diamond plate. I never knew that Kaiser had offered an automatic trans on this model, let alone the TH400. I knew that the latter AMC model (’72-’73?) Commando had an auto available. Torque-flite? The V6 and 3:73 standard differential ratios provided a compromise between better gravel roads and open road driving. It was not at all a pleasant vehicle to run at a steady 70 mph. I took it on the honeymoon of my first marriage in 1980, down the Skyline drive and Blueridge parkway, then the Outer Banks.
I did quickly learned that it wasn’t so difficult to lift the outside wheels off the road with a bit too much speed on off ramps. Other than a jumped timing chain one time, the only much-repeated problem was the cable actuated clutch. The cable had a weak cast iron adjustment knob on the end of it which broke several times. That was several 100 mile round trips to a former Kaiser Jeep dealer that had a large cache of parts. A local mechanic rigged up something else once and that held until it did not. I often wished I had an automatic trans solely for that reason. Another type of fix may have been possible, especially today.
I think that the model designation was a C-101, unless that was strictly for the CJ-6.
Back in the 80s, I knew somebody that bought one of these. Restored it, and with his father’s help, installed an aftermarket turbocharger kit to its nailhead V6. It wasn’t a hot-rod, but in normal traffic speed when wanting to pass, the auto trans kickdown put it into the sweet spot and the boost came up and that thing surged forward smartly, accompanied by nice turbocharger whine.
Cool novelty at that time as I remembered. A true one of a kind SUV before “SUV” was a “thing”.
The “nailhead” and the V-6 have nothing in common except the Buick parentage.
The “Nailhead” was a first-generation OHV V8; the V-6 was a cut-rate “budget” development of Buick’s “second-generation” “Aluminum V8”, which itself was developed into an iron V8, the Buick “Small-Block” of 300, 340, and finally 350 cid. Because the V6 was based on a V8 design and had to be compatible with existing tooling, GM–who actually knew better, having built 60-degree V6 engines for GMC–kept the 90-degree cylinder bank angle instead of doing it right.
The later “Buick Big Block” of ’67 in 400, 430, and eventually 455 varieties has much in common design-wise with the Buick Small Block; even if not so many parts interchange.
It could have been worse. Buick was initially planning to do a slant-four like the Pontiac Tempest engine, which would likely have been completely miserable — probably worse than the Tempest, which used the torque tube and flexible driveshaft to limit some of the shaking.
These things always looked like some cheap child’s toy stamped out in Japan and sold at K-Mart.