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1971 Jeep Jeepster Commando - The Ultimate

Posted in Features on May 1, 2005 Comment (0)
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1971 Jeep Jeepster Commando - The Ultimate
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This Jeepster came to life through Tom and Kathryn White's enjoyment of exploration. Tom and Kathryn liked taking drives in the country in their BMW, but a few years ago, while exploring a dirt road near Grass Valley, California, they ended up covering the BMW in mud and plugging up the radiator. At that point, they realized that there were limits to where they could go exploring. One of the next trips with the BMW had this adventurous couple following a map that showed the road to Loon Lake, which looped around to Wentworth Springs Road. When they were unable to find the connecting road, they asked a ranger if the road still went through. The ranger smiled and told them it did, but not for a BMW. This was the beginning of the Rubicon Trail that shows on the map as Rubicon Mckenny Road.

Around this time, Tom learned of a '71 Jeepster that a coworker was selling. Tom went and checked it out. With a little work, it started. So, he bought it, loaded it on a trailer, and towed the Jeepster to its new home. The body was in good shape, which was a good thing because about the only parts he kept were the body, hard top, frame, and rollcage.

The first step in the building process was a spring-over lift, using '87 stock Wrangler rear springs with Rancho add-a-leaves up front. In the rear, Tom used Alcan custom-made springs, with 1-inch antiwrap perches and 2-inch shackles. For the shocks, he went with the Rancho 9000s all around. Tom then mounted 35x12.5-inch Dick Cepeks on black-steel wheels. The drivetrain came next, with an NP435 (from a '72 Ford truck) and a Dana 300 (complements of a '81 Jeep CJ). It was then time to install better axles. For this, Tom went with a set of Dana 44s front and rear, with a LockRite in the front and MileMarker hubs. The rear has a Detroit Locker, 4.56 gears, and disc brakes. For the rear disc brakes, Tom used '83 Cadillac Seville calipers and '90 GMC rotors. The buildup continued as Tom added a larger, custom 34-gallon gas tank, as well as new gauges, bumpers, fender flares, a Warn M8274 winch, power steering, seats, and springs.

There aren't too many aftermarket suppliers for Jeepsters, so many parts had to be custom-made. Tom plated the frame and made shock hoops for the frontend. He also moved the rear shocks inside the frame to allow more drop. The back seat was removed, and a lockable trunk area was added in its place. The interior is covered in Line-X, including the dash pad, speaker box, and trunk.

Tom knew the 225 Buick V-6 was very tired and in need of a rebuild or replacement. The cost of a V-6 rebuild and the cost of installing a 350 V-8 was about the same. For double the torque (485 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm) and horsepower (350 hp at 5,500 rpm), Tom went with the V-8. He also threw in a few extras by installing Edelbrock heads, a cam, lifters, and an intake manifold.

Tom chose to take a week off from work for what was planned to be a simple engine swap, but fitting in the extra two cylinders proved to be a real challenge. He had to use the early-model short water pump and early-Ram's horn-cast-iron exhaust manifold in a single 3-inch MagnaFlow muffler and tail pipe. This almost allowed him to fit a four-row radiator. To make it actually fit, he moved the headlights out flush with the grille and trimmed the backs off the headlight buckets.

During the last six years, Tom has also added dual Optima batteries, dual alternators, an A/C compressor with sealed bumpers for the air tanks, and air fittings and power outlets for jumper cables. Other additions include mounts for a HAM radio, a CB radio, winch controls, a GPS, and a laptop. Additional body modifications include TJ-hood hold-downs, YJ mirrors, YJ fenders, and a TJ-like gas filler.

As far as exploration is concerned, Tom and Kathryn still enjoy searching out new places. Their favorite areas to explore are Utah, California, and the Nevada high desert. Keep your eyes open on the trail and you may just run across this one-of-a-kind Jeepster.

Specifications
Year/make/model: '71 Jeepster
Owners: Tom and Kathryn White
Engine: 350 V-8
Transmission: NP435
Transfer case: Dana 300
Frontend: Dana 44 with a LockRite
Rearend: Dana 44 with a Detroit Locker
Ring-and-pinion: 4.56
Suspension: Custom spring-over
Tires/wheels: 35x12.5-inch Dick Cepek Kevlars/15-inch steel wheels

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