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Electric - 1970 Jeep Jeepster Commando

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 1, 2010
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Is it a CJ on a Jeepster body and frame? A Jeepster swapped to a CJ frame? We just weren't sure, and had to get a closer look to figure it out. Little things like the stock Jeepster frame and cool overflow bottle had us looking for more. Some kind of V-8 bolted to an SM420 and front and rear four-link suspension had us contacting the owner. A Jeepster is still a decent buy, and if you are going to build a Jeep up like this, then it makes a good platform. This one is completely home-built, and some well-selected components make it very capable, too.

The stock Jeepster frame, long-known to be weak and prone to cracking with hard off-road use, has been plated and has a couple of custom crossmembers welded in for strength. The cage ties back into the frame with bolt-through plates that allow easy body swapping when this body gets trashed.

Although a Jeepster rides nice in stock form, the factory leaf springs would never get Mike as far down the trail as his custom front and rear four-link setup. Mike used the same parts front and rear with 3/8-inch-wall lower control arms and 1/4-inch-wall uppers sporting 7/8 by 3/4-inch rod ends everywhere. Elevation comes from a 16-inch Sway-A-Way RaceRunner remote-reservoir coilover shocks. The custom suspension pushes the wheelbase out 14-inches past stock for a 115-inch total. Up front 4-inch Fox air bumps keep the tires out of the hood while out back the tires stop their upward movement only when they hit the sliders at full-flex.

A high-nickel GM V-8 block was bored 0.060-over and given a 3.750-inch crank to make 388ci before getting located in the frame with custom Mike-built mounts. The heart of this Jeep beats a little stronger thanks to an MSD distributor, coil, and 6A control box. An additional alternator provides the juice for the on-board welder and a Griffin aluminum radiator pairs with a Black Magic II fan to keep the engine cool. An SM420 hands power off to an Atlas II transfer case and the clutch action comes from a swapped-in hydraulic linkage.

Downstream, the rear GM 14-bolt was stuffed with 5.38 gears and a Detroit Locker. Unlike many 14-bolt swaps, Mike didn't shave his and can still run a stock-shaped cover. Braking comes from some swapped-in disc brakes. Up front the Dana 60 was stuffed with matching 5.38 gears and a Detroit Locker, but was upgraded with 35-spline chromoly shafts, Dedenbear inner and outer C's, and a Blue Torch Fab truss.

With so much flex on hand, Mike decided it would be easier to do away with the tie rod and drag link in favor of a full-hydraulic steering setup. A double-ended Howe ram was mounted high up on the axle and is fed by a Howe steering pump and reservoir. The steering pushes the big Super Swamper Iroks mounted on home-modified steel beadlock wheels with only 21/2 inches of backspacing.

Body and Interior
This is not the first body this Jeepster has had on its frame, and it won't be the last. Mike wheels with reckless abandon and often ends up places only buggies should be, which takes a toll on this full-bodied rig. Up front a Warn PowerPlant is hiding behind the license plate and in front of the modified Jeepster grille. The grille is topped with a regular CJ hood that bolts directly in place of the stock unit. The hood is protected by some simple and stout tube fenders. A battery cut-off switch is mounted in the passenger side and allows easy access in case of emergencies.

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Mike chopped the rock-magnet rockers off and replaced them with a simple but strong tube-and-plate combo that looks good and handles a hit. The rear inner wheelwells were back-halved to provide clearance for the stretched wheelbase and monster tires. In the custom-modified dash resides a bunch of Auto Meter gauges and Carlington switches. Mike got rid of the stock Jeepster speaker hole, radio mount, gauge cluster, and switches in favor of a more Spartan flat panel. A capacitor with voltage readout sits on the passenger side kick panel and the CB hides behind the dash. Two Corbeau suspension seats provide a comfortable cockpit and the stock steel hardtop was chopped off right behind the seats.

In the cargo area, a 19-gallon RCI fuel cell sits behind the front seats along with a couple of ammo cases to keep tools dry. Another tool bag holds things that can get wet and the welding cables, 4-inch recovery strap, and Hi-Lift jack are always on hand if things go bad. Infinity boat speakers hang from an owner-built cage made from 13/4-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tube. The entire body is sprayed in electric lime green on the outside.

Good, Bad, and What It's For
Using a Jeepster to start with gets a useful length wheelbase and decent cargo space without breaking the bank, and the four-link front and rear makes for a great performing package on- and off-road. While we understand the full-hydro steering solution, we wouldn't drive it on the street, and while he does have a tie-down on his tools, we'd want a better one, as we doubt that the one in use would hold all those tools in the event of a rollover.

Why I Wrote This Feature
It's a Jeepster that is very capable and built for not too much coin. Mike built it at home spending money as needed and saving money wherever possible and has wheeled it for 15 years. He wheels it hard, and when the body gets too trashed, he's got a stack of bodies in the backyard and he just swaps a new one onto the frame. That's our idea of a rebuild, and this well-built Jeep is something we could attain ourselves without the help of a shop.
-Pete Trasborg

Hard Facts

  • Vehicle: '70 Jeepster Commando
  • Engine: '74 Chevy V-8
  • Transmission: '49 SM420
  • Transfer Case: 5:1 Atlas II
  • Suspension: Four-link (front and rear)
  • Axles: Chevy Dana 60 (front), GM 14-bolt (rear)
  • Wheels: 15x10 steel with Ruffstuff beadlocks
  • Tires: 14/42-15LT Super Swamper Iroks
  • Built For: Wheeling just about anywhere

PhotosView Slideshow

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