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Commando Ambush

Front Left View
Yvonne Liu | Writer
Posted April 1, 2000
Photographers: Ken Brubaker

A Jeepster You Can Count on in the Line of Fire

Step By Step

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  • Steve Johnston's '69 Jeepster.

  • Both the front Model 27 and rear Model 30 axles are stock and equipped with 3.73 gears, and the rear springs are stock and equipped with 4-inch blocks. The driveshafts, which are connected to a Model 20 transfer case, were extended 27/8 inches. Steve also rebuilt the entire brake system, which consists of 10-inch drum brakes.

  • The super-sano interior sports the same Porsche Red as the exterior and remains almost spartan with bucket seats and gleaming controls. The floorboards were sprayed with Scorpion Lining to prevent corrosion and abrasions.

  • Much of the engine and its components remained stock. Steve kept the original 225ci Dauntless motor intact, including the Rochester carburetor topped by the stock oil-bath air cleaner. A 1 7/8-inch custom dual exhaust was also added to the rear.

  • An 8-inch spring-over suspension lift was performed to outfit the Commando with 36-inch Buckshot radials on 15-inch aluminum Optima wheels. Rancho RS 5000 shocks control the front and rear axles. The front springs had to be custom-made and arched 4 inches. A Saginaw steering box controls the Commando’s every turn, making sure this soldier goes where it’s told.

Although Jeep’s military history dates way back to World War II, the Jeepster Commando wasn’t introduced until 1966 as the first small, four-wheel-drive vehicle with automatic transmission. And though Greencastle, Indiana, isn’t exactly known for its jungles and wild brush, Steve Johnston’s ’69 Jeepster Commando is a fully loaded, all-American trooper ready to roll at a moment’s notice.

Steve, a lineman at Indianapolis Power and Light, knew a good thing when he saw it. What appealed to him was the rarity of the Commando, and, frankly, the rebuilding process was every bit as fun as driving around in the finished product. The 10-week project covered virtually every facet of the vehicle. Steve and his buddy Johnny Cash of J.C. Paint and Body put in four to six hours nightly on the paint job and bodywork, and the transmission buildup caused even Steve’s 9-year-old daughter, Shelby, to roll up her sleeves and pitch in.

Little was done to the engine, which remains the stock Dauntless V-6. Behind the motor lies a T-14A three-speed manual transmission that feeds power to a Model 20 transfer case. Where the bulk of the work was concentrated, however, was on the exterior and chassis. To have it stand apart from the pack, Steve painted the Jeepster a bright Porsche Red. All exterior pieces were custom-made, including the front fenders, which were made from a ’53-’69 short CJ fender that was cut in half and welded to the bottom half of the Jeepster’s original fender.

Because new parts aren’t an option for the Commando, all necessary components were reproduced. A result of the lack of parts available in the aftermarket is that Steve himself is manufacturing stock replacement rocker panels—though he won’t be quitting his day job any time soon. He can be contacted via e-mail at if you’re planning to build up a similar Jeep and would like to compare notes.

Steve tells us the unique features of his Jeep are its flawless paint job and the 16,757 actual miles it has accumulated. The white top it sports also distinguishes his rig from the rest of its class. What he learned most from this whole experience was patience, which he summed up as “Working alongside my buddy Johnny, doing paint and bodywork without killing him.”

At ease, soldier.