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Custom 1967 Jeepster Commando - Drug Running Commando -

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 23, 2007
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We were looking for some friends in a campsite one night in Moab, and they weren't there. But in driving around the camp, we found this yellow Jeepster that was most definitely trail-rated.

One thing led to another, and pretty soon we were out on Pritchett Canyon shooting a feature of James Ray Kelley's '67 Jeepster Commando.

With a name like James Ray Kelley, you might think of famous assassins who always seem to have two first names in front of their last name, but rest assured, Kelley is one of the nicest guys you'd care to sit around the fire and trade stories with.

We aren't sure if it is the way he built his Jeep or his driving skill, but all we had to do was ask if he'd drive up something for a picture, and he'd look up and say: "No problem." Every time he'd go up with no problem, just as advertised-thus earning the title "Point and Shoot" because he just made it look easy.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: '67 Jeepster Commando Axles:'80 Chevy Dana 60 (front); '73 Chevy 14-bolt (rear)
Engine: '94 Chevy 4.3L Vortec Wheels:15x10 Chrome Modular
Transmission: '00 Chevy 4L60E four-speed auto Tires:38x12.50-15LT Super Swamper TSL/SX
Transfer Case: Atlas II, 4.3:1 Built For: Built out of boredom and to see if it could be done
Suspension: 6-inch lift, front spring-over axle, rear custom four-link/coil Estimated Cost to Build: $9,000

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Chassis and Driveline
The frame is still Jeepster, but it's from a '73 Jeepster. Right up to the front of the rear wheelwell, that is. From there back, tube was grafted on to make it easier to set up the rear triangulated four-link. The front springs are Rubicon Express 1433s working with a quartet of Doetsch Tech shocks, while the rear springs came from Currie and were intended for a late-model Jeep added to a pair of Rancho RS 9000 shocks. Front and rear, Kelley built custom shock hoops to get as much travel as possible out of the space he had.

There are about 6 inches of suspension lift, coupled with 3/4 inch of body lift that was brought about by an owner-fabricated body lift using Daystar polyurethane bushings. A Saginaw steering box rides along up front to help turn the 38x12.50-15 Super Swamper TSL/SX tires on 15x10 chrome steel rims. With only a little bit of body trimming, the tires clear the body and the suspension with no rubbing.

Motivation comes from a '94 Chevy 4.3L V-6 that was shoved in the engine bay using some custom motor mounts, radiator, air intake, and Sanderson headers. An Accel distributor handles spark, and a custom 2 1/2-inch exhaust gets rid of the spent fumes. Thanks to Chevy's aversion to changing things, the SM420 out of a '63 Chevy was an easy bolt-on to the engine.

Power goes from there through a Dana 300 with a 4:1 low range and twin stick shifters to a front Dana 60 with 4.56 gears and Detroit Locker. The rear axle is a Corporate 14-bolt with matching 4.56 gears and Detroit Locker. It also has a 3/4-ton Chevy rotor and 1/2-ton caliper that is pushed by a '77 Jeep Cherokee master cylinder.

For underbody protection, the tube bender came out and a tubular transfer case/transmission skidplate was bent up. Since the Jeepster body is a bit longer than normal Jeeps, Kelley wanted more clearance under the doors and cut approximately 5 inches of rocker panel off. He then added stout DOM tube nerf bars protecting the cut-down rockers. The rear of the Jeep got the same treatment for protection of the quarter panels, and the nerfs were integrated into the rear tube bumper/tire carrier. Up front, the bumper is a part of the frame and doesn't extend past the framerails, for the best approach possible. The fuel tank is a custom Kelley-built unit for the maximum in clearance and beatability.

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Body and Interior
The first thing we noticed was the cutouts in the hood. They aren't functional because they don't vent any air, but Kelley was messing around and decided the cutouts in the dash needed to match something, so he sunk some tubes into the hood and welded it up. From there, he went on to build front tube fenders that would work with the Jeepster grille. There is also a set of half-doors, made out of stock Jeepster doors, that provide better visibility and airflow through the cab.

The Jeepster lost its tailgate and top, but then got a tire carrier that bolted to the rollcage. Due to the acute angle of the back of the Jeepster body, the cage was flanged and sleeved to preserve easy removal. Behind the rear seat and under the spare is the location of the air tank, tool chest, and some spare parts. Meanwhile, behind the front Honda Prelude seats with Wet Okole covers are spare front and rear driveshafts.

Up front, the stock radio and ashtray locations were covered with an aluminum plate and filled with four Autometer Sport Comp 251/48-inch gauges. The stock speedometer is where you'd expect it, but the somewhat odd heater control/headlight dimmer switch was killed because it was in the way of the cage. On the passenger side, the glovebox was similarly vetoed, and an aluminum plate was mounted in its place adjacent to the 3-inch diameter cutout for the cage (done to maximize legroom). A Grant GT steering wheel tops off the Jeepster column, and a Rock knob sits atop the SM420 stick.

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Good, Bad, & What's it For
Kelley has been wheeling this Jeepster for years now in its current form. Since he didn't have a final goal in mind, aside from wheeling with his friends, there wasn't a fixed build style to stick to; the engine is just about the only thing he is looking to change. With a V-6 and 38s, it just doesn't have the power to tear it up in the dunes, mud, or just general driving. And, while he would like more power, it works so well for him in the rocks now, he just isn't sure it's worth all the work and money to put the V-8 in.

Why I Featured ItI've got a thing for Jeepsters-VJ, C-101, C-104, it doesn't matter. So when I laid eyes on Kelley's '67, I just had to get a closer look.

The custom cutouts on the hood, the one-off half-doors with rock rash, and I was intrigued. It had the right stance, the way the dash was cleanly cut around the rollcage was cool, and once I looked under the rear and saw the suspension setup, I knew I had to talk to this guy.

Talking to him only sealed the deal. He wheels it anywhere he wants, has a tally off the top of his head how many times its been on its side or top, and it's underpowered for such a big Jeepster (but he doesn't let that phase him).

Also, Kelley is full of anecdotes and stories about his Jeepster, such as his quick purchase story: "I originally found the Jeep behind a buddy's shop and purchased it from the current owner. The Jeep had the wrong VIN tag, so I did some research to find the owner before the guy I got it from. I came to find out a different guy bought it from a dentist in Providence, Utah, back in 1982 to take into Mexico and use as a drug-running vehicle, so the VIN didn't matter."-Pete Trasborg

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