The 1.0 Willys, 2.0 Kaiser, And 3.0 AMC
True, we make a lot of fun of the Compass for being a Jeep car. But, technically, it was the Jeepster that first nabbed the honor (yet somehow it's easier to respect in the morning). Jeep referred to the Jeepster as one of its "two-car cars," meaning you could wheel it, then "polish 'er up...and-pow!-it's a different car" when it hit the pavement. At one point, Jeepster advertising proclaimed, "People may think it's a jazzy sports car!" Gee, could that be because they marketed the heck out of the convertible Jeepster as "sports car pizzazz"? And that was a 4x4. Identity crisis much?
The two-by Jeepster launched in 1948 as a Willys-Overland product-and as you have learned, the push was more about sports car than military heritage. The Jeepster lasted until 1951 (although those were carryover '50 models), then was reborn as a '67 Jeepster Commando (available in late 1966 as the C-101), a Kaiser product, and a direct competitor to the International Scout and Ford Bronco. In 1970, AMC bought Kaiser Jeep, which created Jeep Corporation for civilian Jeeps and AM General Corporation for the military (and postal) Jeeps. With the new ownership came another new name; in 1972, the "new" Commando (C-104) lost the Jeepster part and gained a non-Jeep, Scout-like grille. The vehicle died for the final time in 1973-until it was revived again in concept form in 1998.
The Model/The Body
The Jeepster VJ-2 started life as a one-model/one-engine offering and was built on a Willys chassis. It was actually pricey at the time (compared to its competitors) and there were few produced, so it kinda bombed. Probably didn't help that it was deemed a sports car in name (and price) but lacked anything that could actually define it as such in the performance department. The following year came the VJ-3 and a castration in terms of standard equipment. There were also two engines offered, changing the Jeepster's designations to VJ-3 4-63 for the four-cylinder and VJ-3 6-63 for the Lightning-equipped six-cylinder. Come 1950, there was a redesigned front end and new engines and designations dependent on what part of the year it was. Early-'50 four-cylinder Jeepsters were VJ-3 463, and the six-cylinders were VJ-3 663. The later-year Jeepsters were VJ-473 and VJ-673, respectively. The hood and grille also put the V in VJ in 1950, when the design took on that shape.
The redesigned (and renamed) '67 Jeepster Commando was available as a pickup, station wagon, convertible, and roadster, but one thing stayed the same: it was a two-door. In 1971, a limited-edition Hurst/Jeepster Special hit the scene and featured rally stripes, a Hurst Dual Gate shifter, and a scoop-mounted tach, plus, just three models existed: the roadster, pickup, and station wagon. By 1972, one could sense the end was near (as if the rally stripes weren't any indication) when the Kaiser-signature grille was dropped, making it no longer look like a Jeep. Also, the bodies were referred to simply as open, half, and full. With the '72 redo, the Commando's wheelbase changed to 104 inches, its overall length stretching to 174.5 inches.
Here's a '67 Jeepster Commando station wagon (top) and a '68 snap-on convertible-top version (bottom), apparently shot in Pleasantville. The trim list for a convertible could include chrome bumpers and full wheel covers.
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The first Jeepster had a 2.2L 134.2ci four-cylinder Willys Go-Devil L-head engine. It made just 63 hp-not exactly sporty-and 106 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. In 1949 came an optional six-cylinder 2.4L Lightning, but that was replaced in 1950 by the L-head 2.6L 148ci Lightning, another six-cylinder that was worth 75 hp at 4,000 rpm and 118 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm and had bigger displacement (161 ci) and bore-and-stroke (3.13x3.50) over the former. That same year, the four-cylinder switched to an F-head 2.2L.
The '67 had as its standard engine the Hurricane F-4 four-cylinder found in the CJ lineup. Its displacement was 134.2 ci, and it made 75 hp, had aluminum-alloy pistons, cast-in-head intake manifold, and F-head design. The option was a 225ci Dauntless Buick V-6, also a CJ borrow. The mill made 160 hp at 4,200 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque at 2,400 rpm. It had 9.0:1 compression, V-shaped construction, a 3.4-inch piston stroke, and wedge-shaped combustion chambers. The Hurricane had a large-diameter single-barrel and manual-choke carb, while the Dauntless had a dual-barrel with auto choke. Both used oil bath air cleaners. By 1970, the bigger engine was the standard engine on all four models-a 232ci OHV inline-six engine that made 100 hp at 3,600 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm, with 8.0:1 compression. The option was a 258ci OHV inline-six that made 110 hp at 3,500 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, with a 3.75x3.90 bore-and-stroke. Yet 1972 brought the biggest news of all, an optional 304ci V-8. Specs included a 90-degree OHV platform, 8.4:1 compression ratio, 3.75x3.44 bore-and-stroke, 150 hp at 4,200 rpm, and 245 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. A heavy-duty cooling system was available with the Dauntless, and an auxiliary fuel tank was also an option on the Jeep.