In 1967 Kaiser-Jeep had a wild idea that made its way onto the dealership lots across America. The family roadster had crept back into the Jeep brand as the Jeepster Commando C101. Kaiser-Jeep designers paid tribute to their Willys-Overland predecessor’s first rendition. The original Willys two-wheel-drive, Jeep-gone-roadster was produced from 1948-1950 and was dubbed the Jeepster. The Kaiser version was coined the Jeepster Commando, and was a new take on a unique body style. The clash of the classic rugged Jeep with a comfortable cruising sedan was making heads turn.
The unmistakable seven-slot Jeep CJ grille was modified to fit the Jeepster hood line that extended along the outer fender line instead of tapering in toward the grille like a typical CJ hood does. The C101 sported a 101-inch wheelbase, identical to its CJ-6 cousin that was also being produced at the time. A longer wheelbase provided a more stable ride and left room for longer leaf springs to help add comfort to road travel. In rugged Jeep fashion, they were all equipped with four-wheel drive this time around with plenty of room for the entire family and their gear for an adventure.
In 1972/1973 new corporate owner AMC tried to appease the masses by producing the Commando C104 that had a longer hood to accommodate the new 258 I-6 and 304ci V-8 motor. The front grille of the Commando was a taste of the box front ends of the era, designed to compete in the market with the Ford Bronco and International Scout. The “Bullnoses,” as they are known, had a 104-inch wheelbase, and were the convertible sports cars of their day.
Fast-forward 50 years, and a frenzy of Jeepers all across the country are still going crazy for the Jeepster. The Jeepster Commando Club of America is a friendly group of Jeepster owners and enthusiasts dedicated to the unique Jeepster lifestyle. Don Fletcher, owner and operator of partsdude4x4.net, and his wife Diane, took it upon themselves to organize the monumental 50th anniversary event. There was no better location for the celebration than Moab, Utah, and the date was set for the week following the 2017 Easter Jeep Safari. With brilliant landscapes in every direction and an abundance of trails to suit everyone’s rig and level of driving ability, it was a no-brainer. Two years of planning and organizing sponsors for the event, along with a lot of help from Russell Witkop, owner and operator of jeepsterguru.com, meant the event went off without a hitch.
By the end of the week, the hundreds of Jeepster fans in attendance were all practically family. If you missed out on the 50th anniversary event, we’ve got the highlights here for you. Keep a close ear to the ground and an eye in Jp for information on the next milestone Jeepster anniversary event.
Jessica Bibler is new to the off-road world. One look at a Jeepster and she knew she had to own one. This clean 1967 Jeepster Commando C101 was found in Lehi, Utah, and after a few months of TLC, “Beverly” was back on the road and turning heads around Ogden, Utah. This classic wasn’t afraid to get dirty, as Jessica plunged her Jeepster into one of the water crossings on her first day driving off-road.
Don and Russell set a goal of 100 Jeepsters to be in attendance at the 50th Jeepster Anniversary. Tuesday morning was the official picture day during the weeklong event, and 85 was the official number for the event in this picture. There were some stragglers that showed up later in the week.
Every evening during the week involved some kind of activity. One of the really fun nights was the show that took place in the Old Spanish Trail Arena, home base for the week. Jeepsters filled the arena and the parking lot, and it was a great time to clean off the dirt and get more acquainted with the other Jeepster fans and their rigs. There were all kinds of cool things to check out at the vendor booths and swap meet as well. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
There were some guys that really busted tail getting work done on their Jeepsters to make it to the 50th Anniversary, and there was a lot of fresh paint to be proud of in the field of cool rigs at the show. The ’72/’73 “Bullnose” Commandos hung out together in the corner, and these were some fine examples to prove that square snouts can turn heads too. Coupled with AMC 304 V-8s from the factory, these Jeeps sure could move.
We were pleased to see this rare Hurst Jeepster in Moab for the festivities. Hurst Performance Products teamed up with Jeep and created an estimated 250-300 Hurst-edition Jeepster Commandos in 1971. While that number is widely disputed, there is no arguing over its rarity and pure style. To date the Hurst Jeepster followers have positively identified 103 Hurst VIN numbers. Unfortunately, some of those VINs have met the melting pot. Some unique features to the Hurst editions included the hood scoop, hood-mounted tachometer, rally stripes, hood badges, and of course, the signature Hurst shifter.
During the car show there were several presentations going on around the facility. Tread Lightly! was there to talk about our impact on the land and what wheelers can do to help keep our trails clean, respected, and open. We learned all about the Hurst Jeepsters and what sets them apart from the rest of the herd. Russ Witkop gave a hands-on tech talk about reupholstering factory seats. As it turns out, hog rings aren’t that tricky. There was no time to be bored with all that was happening throughout the event.
Thursday evening after the trails were over, the entire crew piled back into the arena for the big banquet bash. There was some fantastic BBQ to consume, cake to devour, handshakes, and some trail stories to swap. Nothing brings people together like Jeeps and food. Unless of course there is a raffle involved, then you’ve really got everyone’s attention! The pile of prizes from all of the event sponsors made it feel like Christmas morning. Just about everybody walked away with something that night.
Long morning shadows are what drivers meetings are made of. Each morning of the weeklong event drivers gathered in the stock, modified, or hardcore groups to head out to the assigned trails for the day.
Most of the time, we were too distracted by the cool Jeeps only a few feet away to catch all of the details of the morning drivers meeting. Follow the guy in front of you; keep an eye on the guy behind…“Oh look, squirrel!” The Moab sunrise glistens off the cliffs and brightens up some Jeepster sheetmetal.
The Mette brothers piloted their awesome Jeepster up Baby Lions Back during the stock run up Sand Flats Road and around the mountain loop. This obstacle was an adventurous option that most of the stock group decided to tackle while on the scenic tour day.
This entire line of Jeepsters made their way along Sand Flats Road. Moab is more than just slick rock trails, bouncing off boulders, and climbing up ledges. This crew of Jeepsters still experienced the camaraderie of trail fixes, and swapping build ideas while enjoying a killer view in every direction.
Diane Fletcher was our trail guide for Hurrah Pass, and drove her amazing Jeepster convertible complete with the factory electric-powered soft top—restored by her husband Don Fletcher. Notice the roll up rear window specific to the convertible models. The Fletchers are the masterminds behind the 50th Jeepster Anniversary event.
This group caught some dirt on Hurrah Pass. The tall, red cliffs towering over a crew of 25 Jeepsters was quite a magnificent sight. The winding switchbacks made you keep your eyes on the trail, but it was hard not to look at the mesmerizing view.
Participants of the event received an awesome custom-embroidered 50th Jeepster Anniversary Trasharoo for the back of their Jeeps. Sporting the event logo, and made from quality materials, the bags helped put Tread Lightly! principles to use.
Enough parking lots and chrome, let’s talk about what else the Jeepster guys were up to. The modified crew was rocking out on a section of Fins & Things midweek. While they made a cool show piece and town cruiser, the Jeepsters are also an excellent pick for off-road. The long 101- and 104-inch wheelbases are a great factory stance to build a trail-worthy Jeep out of, leaving enough room for whatever powertrain you could want. This trail-ready Jeepster is supported by a spring-over suspension to make room for the big set of rubber. A beefy set of rock sliders are ready for any abuse they may see.
Stuffing isn’t just for Thanksgiving anymore. Richard McInroy made easy work of this descent in his very sharp Jeepster that really caught the sun well, no matter what angle you were looking from. While we pride ourselves in loving 50-year-old patina, we still haven’t lost that little kid attraction to shiny things. The pocket flares keep the Mickey Thompsons covered and legal around town, while the custom rollcage and spare tire mount keep the passengers safe and prepared on the trail.
This is what happens when you cross a Jeepster with a tech guru: a V-8–powered Jeepster with a roof rack, Warn 8274, plenty of lighting, and a diamond plate. The real wow factor though is in the cockpit that features navigation, GPS, HAM radio, CB radio, engine programmer, dash cam, AutoMeter gauges, and more switches then we could count.
Sometimes you take a bad bounce. This driver was happy to put his winch to work after getting a little sideways on one of the climbs. Recovery is one of the main food groups in off-roading. A well-balanced off-road trip always involves some winch time. It’s more important to keep the situation safe and to continue down the trail without incident than proving to your buddies you can drive out of it. Don’t worry, those are not knots in his winch line, simply former battle scars on the protective sliding sheath intended to protect the winch rope from contact with ledges.
Participants came from far and wide. This Bullnose was driven nearly 2,200 miles from New York City to Moab, Utah. It was pushed hard and put away wet for an entire week; then there was the highway ride home back to the Big Apple. No matter how insane the trip is it’s never complete without a little trail carnage. Luckily the trail leader for the day had a mobile welder to fix a broken transmission shifter linkage that had crippled this rig on 7 Mile Rim trail.
This budget-built Jeespter buggy made from junkyard parts led the moderate group-run to 7 Mile Rim. We love ugly, innovative, and functional. Who needs a custom bikini top when you can slice and dice a factory Jeepster hardtop and weld it to the top of your rollcage. Upgraded axles, welded diffs, and full hydro steering are only a few of the modifications. The coolest thing about this rig was that it utilized a homemade dual transmission setup for additional gear reduction.
Jeepsters, slick rock, and the snow-capped La Sal Mountains: What could be better in life? No Moab trip is complete without a quick jaunt around Fins & Things. It’s an excellent trail for anyone on the first trip to Moab.
The hardcore Jeepsters were taking no prisoners—jumping in feet first and hitting Rusty Nail on the first trail day of the week. Our trail guides did an excellent job of spotting the group through all of the obstacles. This tight spot is called “No Left Turn.” Drivers need to hug the wall on the passenger side to make it through.
Trail dogs, tow straps, and squishy tires aren’t always enough to make it up some of the serious ledges on Rusty Nail. A little tug is all you need sometimes to overcome the situation. Recovery is all part of the game of wheeling.
Why go four-wheeling when you can go three-wheeling? Some folks just dare to be different. Those square headlights scream YJ, but the rest of the rig is clearly a well-built Jeepster recognizable by the door opening and bodylines. It’s sitting on 1/2-ton Dana axles, a spring-over suspension, and 37-inch tires. The fold-down windshield is a custom addition as well.
Steve Orel had his killer 1973 Commando at the 50th Anniversary. The ’73 Bullnose front grille, fenders, and hood had been ditched a few years back, and earlier ’67-‘71 Jeepster hoods were welded together to complete the nose job and match the later-model hood length. With Chevy LS power under the hood and a fresh set of 1-ton axles, a custom link suspension, wheelbase stretch, and coilovers made this rig a rock warrior. All of the new mods worked flawlessly, which is kind of impressive when Rusty Nail is your shakedown run after all of that work. Did we mention the factory Butterscotch Gold paint color that Steve sprayed in his driveway? This Jeepster is just plain cool!