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Hendrick Dynamic’s Jeep Wrangler Commando

Posted in Features on July 13, 2015 Comment (0)
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There are few vehicles as iconic as the original military flatfender. Despite not having an active U.S. military Jeep for over 20 years, the brand’s 1941 military heritage is still something that influences the current platforms today. With the phasing out of older military vehicles, a new opportunity was presented for Jeep to get back to the battlefield with American troops behind the wheel. We mention American specifically because Jeep has actually supplied military-spec Jeeps for the international market for some time.

Getting the U.S. military to welcome Jeep back into its lineup is no easy task. The requirements needed are far beyond strenuous and require tremendous time and testing to meet the strict guidelines. While Jeep (technically FCA) has been busy working on the next-generation Wrangler, Hendrick Dynamics was willing to take on the task of putting a Jeep platform back into active duty. The company’s vision became a reality with the Commando ULCV (Ultra Light Combat Vehicle) line.

Under the hood of the military Commando, you’ll find a 197hp and 339–lb-ft 2.8L turbodiesel engine. This globally supported engine can be fueled with JP-8 and all global diesel fuels, which allows adherence to the Army’s single fuel regulation. While we long for a diesel under the hood of a U.S. model, the civilian versions of the Commando will be offered with the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 for now.

The idea behind the Commando was to create a tactically prepared COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) vehicle that would be safe and effective in the theater of war. Taking advantage of the mass-produced Wrangler Unlimited platform and its enormous aftermarket support also allowed Hendrick Dynamics to check off two important government requirements: low cost and increased safety. While there’s no shortage of aftermarket components that can increase the Wrangler’s off-road fortitude, some of the Wrangler’s factory-equipped safety features are what let it stand out in a field of other candidates. No, we’re not talking about air bags, as they were removed. It’s the Jeep’s electronic stability control system that makes the big difference here. With the Army reporting that rollovers are one of the most common vehicle accidents resulting in fatalities, it was an easy decision to keep the Wrangler’s ECS system intact. You may think the electronic nannies would be a hindrance, but the reality is the stability control helps increase the soldier’s confidence in the vehicle and situational awareness.

As you move toward the back of the military Commando, there is significant metal reinforcement. To be able to carry up to 3,300 pounds of payload, the cargo tray in the bed was tied directly to the JK’s frame. This setup is specific to this version of the Commando, as other versions of it are produced as well. The core of the pickup truck conversion is comprised of a JK-8 kit, which can be purchased through your local Jeep dealership.

Hendrick Dynamics has proven out its concept with a bevy of working units that have seen action overseas. We’re told the results from the field have been overwhelmingly positive. Even during development testing, the operators chose the performance and agility benefits of the Wrangler consistently over the other vehicles it was being tested against. It didn’t hurt that most of the platforms were Rubicon models, so selectable lockers, a disconnecting front anti-sway bar, and a 4:1 transfer case gave the modified JKs a head start in the dirt.

While seat covers and few other nice trinkets make up the interior of the civilian Commando, the military version is all business. Gone is the carpet, air bags, and most of the original interior trim. In its place are custom suspension seats with four-point safety harness, a heavy-duty rollcage, integrated switch panel, and custom center console.

Since the Commando is based off of the readily available Wrangler Unlimited platform, Hendrick and DSI (Dealer Services International) partnered up to bring the Commando to the civilian market. The result was the DSI Commando concept vehicle, which is essentially a more refined version of the military Commando that you can purchase directly from your local Jeep dealership. This is far beyond a sticker package and is actually one of the most extensive off-road–oriented setups we’ve seen. And yes, it still comes with a warranty.

We were anxious to find out more about the civilian and military versions of the Commando, so we visited the Hendrick Dynamics R&D facility and proving grounds in Charlotte, North Carolina, to get a closer look. After spending time behind the wheel and under the hood of both, we were definitely impressed and surprised to see the similarities between the two Commando rigs. Sure, the civilian version doesn’t have the same certified helicopter transport rating, but the same Dana 44 Rubicon axles are shared between the two. As of writing, the future military-spec Commando was deemed classified, but all signs point to the DSI Commando being a go.

Quick Specs
Vehicle: 2015 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Commando
Engine: 3.6L Pentastar V-6
Transmission: W5A580
Transfer Case: NVG 241OR
Suspension: 3.5 Rubicon Express
Axles: Dana 44 (f/r)
Wheels: 17-in Pro Comp Alloy
Tires: 315/70R17 Pro Comp Xtreme M/T2

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Commercial Commando
Pricing for the DSI Commando is still yet to be determined, but it’s safe to assume you can add a good chunk of change on top of the suggested retail price of an Unlimited Rubicon. We imagine that more base models could be opted with this package. Although, the Rubicon would likely be the best and most off-road oriented for those looking to get into a Commando. Jeep’s had military-themed vehicles in the past, but none of them have ever been as well outfitted with aftermarket components as the Commando. We’ve just touched on the major accessories that the DSI Wrangler will have. As of now, an all-black option is offered in addition to the military Commando-specific tan you see here. It’s also worth noting that the DSI Commando concept vehicle shown here will be auctioned off at Barrett-Jackson with all of the proceeds being donated to the Patriot Foundation. This foundation is an all-volunteer non-profit that has provided over three million dollars in college scholarships to children of solders killed, wounded, or injured in battle. To learn more about the Patriot Foundation, visit patriotfoundation.com.

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Both Commandos we saw were based on the Unlimited Rubicon JK platform. While 3.73 differential gearing and selectable Tru-Lok differentials remain the same between the two, the military Commando was outfitted with larger front brakes and performance brake pads at all four corners. The electronic-disconnect anti-sway bar was also removed on the military version for weight savings and simplicity. Both models use the stock steering linkage, but civilian version gets a Rubicon Express adjustable front track bar.

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The military version uses stock JK drivelines, while the civilian Commando gets an upgraded 1310 double-cardan front driveshaft to help with increased driveline angles due to the added lift. A Rubicon Express engine oil pan skidplate is also part of the DSI JK. Another bonus for the civilian model is a complete set of heavy-duty upper and lower control arms, which come with adjustable uppers in the front and four fully adjustable rear arms to fine-tune geometry and axle placement.

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The military front bumper is all about function. The removable winch cradle adds versatility to the platform, as you might not know which end you’ll need to be pulled from on the battlefield. The Smittybilt Gen II front bumper on the DSI model is more traditional in its styling but is plenty functional. It’s fit with a 10,000-pound Smittybilt winch, and those black panels are actually ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene elements designed to protect the bumpers finish and structure. The panels are easily removable, so you can swap them out when they become damaged or worn from use.

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The rear of both rigs are significantly different. Additional fuel, water, and supply capacity was necessary for the military. The civilian model received a Gen II Smittybilt tire carrier bumper combo. The single-action lever makes the bumper easy to use, and it has numerous accessory mounts.

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To support the tremendous payload, custom coil springs and military-spec shocks were incorporated out back. The civilian version gets a track bar relocation bracket and 3 1/2-inch Rubicon Express coils and shocks. Both Jeeps retain the stock semi-float Rubicon-specific Dana 44 rear axle.
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Special Thanks To:
Dealer Services International, 844/458-7825, commandojeep.com
Hendrick Dynamics, 704/453-2170, commandousa.com

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