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1968 Jeepster Commando - Going Commando

Posted in Features on November 11, 2013
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We understand what it is like to have a project that drags on for years (ever heard of Jp’s “Juggy” or “Murderous Overkill”?). Reno, Nevada, resident Mike Haworth was in the same predicament with his flatfender pickup project. Realizing that he was not going to be on the trail any time soon, and losing motivation faster than “American Idol” is losing viewers, Mike shifted his attention to a new Jeep project. But he didn’t bring home a Jeep with endless aftermarket support like a Wrangler or Cherokee. Instead, Mike purchased a classic Jeep with unique styling: a ’68 Jeepster Commando.

1968 Jeepster Commando Chassis

The C-101 Jeepster started out as a one-owner creampuff that lived its whole life in the arid desert of northern Nevada. As a result, it was surprisingly rust free. “I had a ’67 Jeepster, but the body was totally shot,” Mike explains. “So I decided to use the frame and build a flatfender pickup. But I realized I wasn’t going to have windshield wipers, a top that wouldn’t leak, and so on. It was just too many compromises.” Jeepsters have extremely strong frames, but they don’t have any aftermarket support, nor do they share rear suspension components with more common Jeep models.

To keep from heading down the same path he had just travelled, Mike cut all of the stock suspension brackets off the frame and fabricated his own to mount Rubicon Express YJ springs with reverse eyes for a spring-over application. Mike felt the Jeepster was still too tall, so he had the springs de-arched by John’s Spring Service in Reno and an extra leaf added to the rear pack to fight axle wrap. It wasn’t enough, as he still had wrap bad enough to break a rear driveline, so he ended up making a custom traction bar from 1.75-inch DOM tubing and a QA1 rod end at the frame end.

The front springs are damped by 11-inch-travel Rancho 5000 shocks mounted on Ford shock towers, while the rear Rancho 5000 shocks are bolted to a custom tubular crossmember on the frame end. More crossmember modifications were necessary up front to accommodate the Saginaw power steering. The front crossmember was modified to allow the Flaming River steering shaft to pass through it, connecting the CJ-5 column to the Saginaw box. Custom Hose and Fitting in Reno made all of the power steering hoses to connect the box to an AGR steering pump.

1968 Jeepster Commando Drivetrain

Instead of using a high-dollar GM Gen III engine or custom aftermarket axles, Mike kept the drivetrain reasonably priced and well suited for the Jeepster. A torquey even-fire 231 from a late ’70s Buick was a direct replacement for the stock Buick 225 V-6. It benefits from Affordable Fuel Injection fuel delivery, Edelbrock intake manifold, an HEI distributor, Sanderson headers, and custom exhaust from Trent Fabrication. A water pump from a Grand National routes coolant through a Griffin aluminum radiator fitted with an electric fan from a Ford Taurus to keep the engine cool. Behind the V-6, the factory T-14 three-speed transmission was replaced with an SM420 four-speed manual with a 7.05 First gear. Mike used the stock Jeepster bellhousing (with the factory cast-iron T-14 adapter removed) and hydraulic clutch components from Novak to mate the transmission to the engine, while an adapter from Advance Adapter sits between the tranny and Dana 20. The T-case has been upgraded with an Advance Adapters 32-spline output shaft, 3.15:1 TeraLow gears, and custom twin-stick shifters to create the poor-man’s Atlas.

Instead of upgrading the differentials, brakes, and shafts on the factory axles, Mike decided that his money was better spent starting with stronger components. The front Dana 44 is out of an ’81 Dodge W150 pickup and was narrowed 4 inches before Dr. Smash in Carson City set up the 4.56 gears and Eaton Truetrac. Steering arms sourced through Poly Performance are mounted on top of the knuckles above the leaf springs. The arms are connected to a tie rod and drag link constructed from 1.75-inch, 0.250-wall DOM and 7⁄8-inch QA1 rod ends. A ’67 Ford pickup donated the semi-float Dana 60 rear axle, which benefits from a Detroit Locker, 4.56 gears, Moser axleshafts, and Cadillac disc brakes on TSM brackets. The four-wheel discs work in conjunction with a power brake system from Don Fletcher, president of the Jeepster Commando Club of America, and a Wilwood proportioning valve. The stock fuel tank was replaced with a 23-gallon unit from Aero Tanks and is protected by a custom skidplate fabricated by Trent Fabrication.

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1968 Jeepster Commando Body and Interior

Starting with a clean tub made Mike’s job easy on the Jeepster build. The stock seats were retained and a Tuffy Security center console was added between them for lockable storage. An EZ Wiring 21-circuit harness was used to wire the interior and Auto Meter gauges. Mike made a custom dash panel to fit the gauges, which monitor speed, rpm, oil pressure, water temperature, fuel level, and voltage. Meanwhile, a Premier Power Welder hides in the glovebox behind the Herculined dash and is wired to two Optima batteries (a Red Top and Yellow Top) on the other side of the firewall.

With no off-the-shelf options, Mike made a simple front bumper out of 2x3 rectangular box tubing and mounted a classic Warn 8274 on top of it, the perfect match for the distinctive Jeepster grille. The rocker panels on Jeepsters are notorious for robbing ground clearance, at least until they typically rust away. Mike trimmed the rockers and replaced them with 1.5x3 rectangular box tubing. Out back, he made another bumper from 2x4 box tubing and topped it with a spare tire carrier that matches the Jeepster’s signature sloped tailgate. A set of TJ fender flares helps provide clearance for the 35-inch BF Goodrich KM2s and keeps mud off the vintage sheetmetal.

Good, Bad, and What It’s For
For a reasonable amount of money and time, Mike has a Jeep that is comfortable on the highway, capable on the trails, and has enough storage space to fit all of his hunting gear. It doesn’t quite have enough tire or gearing to really thrive in the rocks, but Mike has had Jeeps in the past built for that and was looking for something more well-rounded. He does plan to replace the “dump truck transmission” with a fully synchronized NV4500 in the future to make the Jeepster even more streetable. And what about that flatfender pickup? Mike intends to turn it into a rat rod a la Jp’s “Sloppy Seconds” project.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1968 Jeepster Commando
Engine: 231ci Buick V-6
Transmission: SM420
Transfer Case: Dana 20
Suspension: Spring-over, front and rear
Axles: Dana 44 (front), Dana 60 (rear)
Wheels: 15x8 black steel
Tires: 35x12.50R15 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM2
Built For: Wheeling right now

Why I Wrote This Feature
While Scrambler values have reached the ridiculous territory previously reserved for early Broncos (where even a clapped out shell commands top dollar), Jeepsters have been virtually ignored. I applaud Mike for recognizing that he was getting burned out on his other project and switching gears to build this clean Jeepster instead of deserting wheeling altogether in favor of golf or model trains. I just hope that Jeepster prices don’t go through the roof when more people start building them.
Harry Wagner

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