The Jeepster Commando was Jeep’s return fire against the deluge of more roomy, comfortable, and sporty SUVs that were emerging in the mid-’60s. The Scout had debuted for 1961 and had rapidly moved upmarket of the venerable CJ. The coming of the Ford Bronco wasn’t a secret and it debuted in 1965 as a ’66 model. What emerged late in 1966 was a new treatment on something old, the Jeepster Commando, Jeep code C-101.
Jeepster was not a new name in the Jeep livery. Looking for something stylish and sporty in a utilitarian lineup, Willys Overland developed the first Jeepster for 1948. Borrowing many Jeep components and styling, but without four-wheel drive, the Jeepster was touted as a “sport car.” The performance of the 60hp Go-Devil four and 148ci six belied the claim of sporty performance, but it was a fun rig. Unfortunately, it was not practical and a bit superfluous. It was the last phaeton built in the USA, phaeton meaning a convertible with no fixed side windows. It ceased production in 1950, but it took into the next year to sell the leftovers that were retitled as ’51s. Not what you would call a hit, though it was memorable in the styling department.
It’s not clear whose idea it was to dust off the old Jeepster blueprints in the early ’60s and build something from them. It certainly wasn’t heavy-lift engineering to stretch out a CJ-type chassis to 101 inches, add a powertrain and suspension from the existing parts book, freshen up the Jeepster lines and turn it into something “new.” And we say that not to denigrate the accomplishment but to compliment it. Maximum results from minimum input is something any business person can appreciate.
Unlike the original Jeepster, the Jeepster Commando as it was called, had more than a fair measure of sportiness, but it was optional. The standard engine was the venerable 134ci four, same as in the CJ. Ho-hum! It was optionally powered by Jeep’s newly acquired 225ci V-6, a purchase from Buick. Rated at 160 gross horsepower and 235 lb-ft, it more than adequately powered both the C-101 and the CJ, in which it had appeared just the year before. Documents also show the 225 was considered as the six-cylinder option for the Jeep Gladiator and Wagoneer lines, which were using AMC inlines as the base engine and very similar Buick 350s as the V-8 option.
The Jeepster Commando line was divided into four models. The first three were given the base model code 8705, but the variations each got a letter as a 5th digit in the VIN. The 8705 roadster was the base model for the line (an “O” was a VIN space filler), the pickup was 8705H, and the station wagon 8705F. All the tops were interchangeable among these three, so today you could find a C101 Jeepster with one VIN code but a different top. The pickup also had a removable bulkhead bolted in behind the front seats.
The convertible was a different animal and had an 8701 model code. It had a full convertible top (power operation optional), two-tone paint and a continental kit. The 8701 was a slow seller and only sold into 1969. It was replaced in production by the less fancy model 8702 convertible, which sold equally poorly but was cheaper to manufacture. The 8701 was the first, and possibly the only, 4x4 production SUV available with a power-operated top. Overall, the station wagon proved to be the most popular model. It was weathertight, quiet, and comfortable—just what people were looking for in an SUV.
When AMC absorbed Jeep in 1970, job one was to integrate AMC engines into the line. That was easy in the big Jeeps. The CJs and C101 required wheelbase extensions to fit AMC’s inline sixes, the ’72-up models stretched to 104 inches and were later designated C-104. The ’72 Commando was the first Jeep to go under the knife in AMC hands for a nose job. The ’72 to ’73 bullnose Commando (the “Jeepster” was dropped) had a more AMC-like front end that is either reviled or revered by Jeep fans. It left the stage after 1973, its place in the lineup taken by the two-door, Wagoneer-based Cherokee.
The Jeepster Commando roadster shown here belongs to the Immers family. Showing a mere 26,000 miles, it’s all original down to the top and paint. Built in November of 1966, it’s the 887th C-101 built and is one of the earliest known, and most original, survivors. About 55,000 C-101s were built from 1976 to 1971, with another 20,000 of the bullnose variety in 1972 through 1973.
Today, the C-101 Jeepster Commandos are a moderately-popular collectable. They have a flair and style few similar era rigs can sport. Some have been modded and their 101-inch wheelbase makes for a decent trail rig. Collectors lust after the 8701 convertibles and the 8705H pickup. Collector prices are as yet moderate, but trending upward.
Vehicle: 1967 Jeepster Commando Roadster
Owner: Anthony and Nancy Immers
Estimated value: $12,000
Engine: 225ci Dauntless V-6
Power (hp): 160 @ 4200
Torque (lb-ft): 235 @ 2400
Bore & stroke (in): 3.75 x 3.40
Comp. ratio: 9.0:1
Transmission: 3-spd, Warner T-86AA
Transfer case: Spicer 20
Front axle: Spicer 27AA
Rear axle: Spicer 30
Axle ratio: 3.73:1
L x W x H (in): 168.4 x 65.2 x 62.4
Wheelbase (in): 101
GVW (lbs): 3550
Curb weight (lbs): 2572
Fuel capacity (gal): 15
Min. grd. clearance (in): 7.5
Approach angle (deg): 46
Departure angle (deg): 23
Ramp breakover (deg): 22