(first posted 12/12/2014) Winter’s chill came early in central Indiana this year, with morning temperatures in the teens by mid November. My stupid Ford Focus cares not about the weather: its unreliability continues unabated, spring, summer, fall, or even early winter. This time it was a hole in an exhaust component, and as my independent mechanic hates doing exhausts I thought I’d try the Ford dealer around the corner from work. While I waited, as the sun rose, the service writer pulled up in this Jeepster Commando.
I’m calling it a 1966, the first year these were made. The lack of side reflectors say it’s from no later than 1967. And check it out: it’s the convertible! Most of the Commandos I’ve encountered, even back in the 70s when these were a not-too-uncommon sight, were the wagon models with the removable hard roof. You could also get these in roofless roadster and stubby-roof pickup guises, but only the convertible had rear passenger windows integrated into the body.
Here’s a wagon I photographed at an auction a couple years ago; read about it here. It was billed as a ’69 but the lack of side reflectors cast serious doubt on that. And that’s not an original hard top. And that bright yellow paint fairly screams “Repaint!!” But whatever: point is, notice the lack of rear passenger window behind the driver’s door.
While Kaiser marketed the wagon, truck, and roadster as a workhorse, they wanted you to think of the convertible as a funmobile — something you’d drive along the beach, babes in tow. And why not? It was certainly capable of conquering whatever beach terrain you might find. And notice the two trim levels here – for a little more scratch, you could get two-toning and a little extra chrome, and I imagine additional interior amenities.
This is the base model, and there’s little in the way of amenities here. Hard, painted metal abounds. At least there’s a radio; AM only, natch. And dig those crazy straight-outta-the-70s seat covers. Badges on the body next to the doors say that this base Commando at least got the 160-hp Dauntless V6 rather than the gutless 70-hp Hurricane four, which will make this Commando a lot more fun.
And dig that rust. We surely love our survivors here at Curbside Classic, and this Jeepster shows clear signs: faded paint, windows that don’t quite roll up all the way, and the rumpled soft top. It also shows signs of decent care: all four hubcaps are present and, as it pulled up, it sounded like it was running smoothly.
The service writer drove it so deftly that I figure it must be his. What a cold morning for it! There’s no way this was a fun drive – outside air obviously pours into the cabin, and on this improbably cold morning there was no way the heater could keep up. I imagine he was giving it one last spin before putting it away for the winter.
Related reading: Commandos from 1967 and 1972, another ’67, and a ’71 Cohort sighting.
The body filler falling out of it screams repainted dunga the green paint showing thru on the tailgate tells it is nowhere near original, but its still going though for how long before the body falls apart is anyones guess
+1 have an accident in this and you’ll get asbestosis from all that filler
I don’t think asbestosis would be your biggest problem if you got into an accident with a Jeepster Commando. Or mesothelioma.
whole rocker panel…
Back in 1968 a rich friend bought a new Jeepster just like the picture. He quickly discovered a serious flaw in the design when he tried off-roading. He got stuck in a creek and couldn’t shift gears. I pulled him out with my ’59 Chevy Biscayne, then ducked under the Jeepster to see what was wrong.
The engine had rocked sideways too far under the strain of hard pulling, and one end of a shaft in the clutch linkage had popped loose.
This may be my favorite Jeep of all time, maybe tied with the trucks of the same vintage. It would probably be easy to pop a Buick 300 or 350 in its place if you wanted, but the V6 is probably good enough. Keep it clean and it’ll never fall apart underneath you.
In the Midwest, you expect that everything that old has at least some filler in it.
Since 1995 I automatically think “Keyser Söze” when I read the name of the former owner of the Jeep brand.
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he doesn’t exist.”
A little over a year ago, I passed a storage facility that had 2 of these sitting out front for sale, one red/white and one yellow/white.
I always thought these were only convertibles with optional hardtops, I had no idea other body styles were available.
I briefly owned a 1968 Commando. Mine didn’t have side markers, either. It also had the V6 stick. Rust was a problem.
That was a cool ride, but I never should never have sold my 1972 Nova for it. 7 months after buying it and fixing it, I ordered my 1976 C-20 pickup!
FWIW, the 1970 Duster in the background was the car I bought after coming home from the service – my parents drove it.
Is this on 106th street off US 421 (Michigan Road) in Indianapolis? The “$32.95 oil change any make any model” in that pink color looks really familiar to me, I go to the Autozone there all the time for filters and whatnot
Yeah, the QuickLane at Pearson Ford at 106th & Michigan.
Miracle of miracles – JG found a car on his side of town! 🙂
It’s more fun poaching the ones on your side of town!
Really cool find. I have a question though, what this sold under the Kaiser brand (as the title suggests) or as a Jeep?
Oh, almost certainly just as a Jeep. But it was made by the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, and I like the tie to Kaiser, so I went ahead and added Kaiser in the title of the post.
I believe the first model year for the Commando was 1967.
Great find, especially seeing it under power. Running smoothly you say? I always thought that was impossible with the Dauntless V6. 🙂
I like these a lot. Never noticed the quarter window thing.
Smooth is relative, of course!
These have always intrigued me in a weird sort of way.
To me they are a Jeep, but they are not.
Strange looking ,but neat looking at the same time.
I would never own one, but if I found one for the right price I would have to have it…
As far as the featured Jeep being a cold ride?
If it has a heater anything like my long departed CJ-7 had , I don’t think a soft or hard top really makes much difference.
I’ve always liked these since discovering them in the early 90’s. The guy in charge of the Boy Scout camp my troop attended in the summer had an orange one, and it fascinated me because I’d never heard of a “Jeepster Commando” before. His was one of the removeable hardtop versions rather than a convertible, and it had the later nose treatment that made it look less like a Jeep and (IMO) more like a Bronco. V8 badging also. It was in nice shape then, wonder if that one still exists?
I do like these earlier versions better with the CJ-like nose styling. And is the font on that “4 Wheel Drive” badge not absolutely fantastic?
My Stepmother had a ’47 Jeepster new so in 1969 My Father bought her one of these in Alaska yellow , it came with the hard top and was never once removed .
It had the Buick V6 , plenty of power , fairly thirsty beast .
At the time we were living in Rochester New York so we drove it many times in snow storms all day long to vist folks in Maine , Mass. , new Hampshire etc. ~ the heater was great , toasty warm inside , no drafts / rattles ever .
After he moved to Cali he dumped it on me when he discovered that lack of any title (damn you New York State) made it difficult to transfer here , I drove it awhile but the slow as molasses steering and poor fuel economy made me hate it prettydamnquick not to mention the rust that had been poorly covered up by Uncle Earl Schieb when he had it re sprayed .
Around ’94 I briefly owned a spruce green ’72 AMC Commando with the ice cube tray grille and Nash I-6. My brother had it first but bought it used, and somehow it got into my hands. What a cool rattletrap it was. Didn’t fit me though, as I like to stay on the road. It resulted in back spasms now and then anyway, as the suspension was, to be polite, archaic. On potholed sections of NY 9W, running along the West shore of the Hudson above a Stony Point, the shocks coming through those thin seat bottoms were like experiencing a frat hazing, and resulted in gritting and lifting in Pavlovian preparation for the worst bumps that repeated trips had burned into memory. I once checked the tires to make sure they were actually pneumatic. It was one of those vehicles with undetermined mileage, so it might be unfair to judge showroom shiny babies on its character, but what a gawdawful experience to drive on anything but a table. And, talk about drafty.
If you’re thinking, “What did you expect when you bought a Jeep.”, it’s one of those deals where I didn’t so much buy it as acquire it through channels that built themselves along “life’s harlequin journey”. In any case, my association ended abruptly in Montvale, NJ, one day on the way to a girlfriend’s house. A sudden explosive fuselade under the cowl, followed by a coast into a side street and shut down. The engine wanted to start, but the cacophony that was produced was worse than any over-enthusiastic sound effects man would have produced behind a film of a rickety flivver.
I went under, and somehow got a view beyond the cover on the bell housing to find the flywheel now consisted of a separate hub and rim: it had ripped itself apart across the spokes formed between its lightening holes. Makes you wonder if that was a misapplication of a car component in an SUV.
The Jeep got trailered back to My parents’ in PA where the platter was replaced, but it had worn out its welcome. Dad was 70 by then, and even less enthusiastic about an ass whacking than I, so the Commando was sold to a retired cop who was last seen grumbling over a dirty carb in the driveway.
As things happen, I do have some fond memories attached to the Commando, though. One was of pulling into a narrow turnout on the Storm King Highway high above the Hudson River with a lady friend to watch a roiling black thunderstorm engulf the Bear Mountain Bridge below. Of course, that was followed by another less picturesque recollection of a harrowing trip home when the storm caught us and tossed the Jeep around the bumpy road like a U-boat under a depth charge attack.
The other memorable moment was, while sitting at a light on Main St, in Nyack, my best pal spied me from the bar at the Hudson House restaurant, and ran out to tell me he had just gotten engaged. His daughter is now deciding where she will go to college next year.
I love these, my Tonka Stump Jumper was one of my favorite toys growing up.
That looks like quite an impressive bondo crack in the left rear quarter though.
I loved these as a kid, from a not – so – great experience. In the summer of ’70, I was 7 and the family went on vacation to Assateague Island in Maryland, in our 67 Saab 95 2 stroke wagon, with my little sister and my best friend. (Dad was good at packing!) While we were there Mom had a medical emergency, so Dad quickly arranged for us to stay with the family in the next campsite, who we had befriended. (I can’t imagine that ocurring today!) They had one of these and I thought it was so cool. I kept in touch for a few years and remember sending them a drawing of thr Jeepster I did… Lots of straight lines for a not-artistic budding engineer.
The story continues though: Mom ended up in the hospital for a week, and on Dad’s way back to the campsite to get us, a drunk in a land yacht rear-ended the Saab when he fell asleep at the wheel and accelerated to 70 or so when Dad was doing 45. The Saab was still driveable, though I imagine packing through the front doors must have been fun. I have a vivid memory of being so glad to be home as we drove up our street – the first (and maybe only) time. Of course it still wasn’t over: Dad’s back was never the same, it took literally months to get new hatch sheet metal from Sweden, and Dad actually had to drive back to Maryland some months later to testify which really pissed him off.
I love these rigs. The fact that it exists at all in the rust belt is nothing short of amazing. Back when I was in highschool and college in the late 80s/early 90s these were pretty much nonexistent in TN. It isn’t Jeep country to begin with, but any roadsalt at all is the kiss of death for any Jeep made up thru AMCs reign.
These are neat in a kitchy kind of way…nothing like the straightforward no nonsense CJs, and that’s what makes them a bit different. But the one thing that really bugs me about these is the front clip. The semi-widefender face with a narrow CJ grill embedded in it reminds me of Cuato from Total Recall. Ive seen many of these with a CJ front clip swapped on and it looks MUCH better, if less distinguished. Id like to have one done like that, with a 304 swapped in and a soft top pickup bodystyle.
A former boss had one of these about 20 years ago. It was in nice shape and he took good care of it. I was always a fan of the CJ-5 and CJ-7. I thought the Wrangler was an abomination when it came out. Way too wide and square looking, and when you put big off road tires on them they stuck way out past the fenders.
I almost got one of these. A tenant left one in the garage at a house my dad owned. The tenant moved out and my father sent him a notice that he would put a mechanics lean on it if he didn’t move it in 30 days. Unfortunately, he got it at 29 days.
I would not mind having one of the original late 40’s Jeepsters….Those were available with the 4 cylinder or the optional 6 cylinder….Overdrive was available with them as well….Jeeps were notorious for rust…I have seen older CJ’s with the floors all rotted away.
The Dauntless was the poppa of the GM 3.8. GM bought it back in the 70s. The Dauntless had a heavy flywheel to smooth it out. The 3.8 was internally balanced.
Not being familiar with these I went to check out some of the brochures. Did anyone expect a power operated top option in 1966? That’s wild. They must have made like 50 that way because it was gone from the list the next year.
I thought these came out in 1967?