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Cool Jeepster Buildups

1949 Jeepster
Jim Allen | Writer
Posted November 1, 1998

Fact, Figures and Two Fine Rides

In the past few years the '67-'73 Jeepster Commandos have become popular. They are stylish and have proven to be a good Jeep platform for mods, from near-stock to full-gonzo.

The earliest Jeepsters were built between 1948 and 1950, and were two-wheel-drive rigs. The concept was good, but they didn't sell well. In 1967 Kaiser Jeep resurrected the Jeepster, but added four-wheel-drive, a powerful V-6 engine, and a host of other goodies. This proved to be a more successful formula, and the Jeepster Commando sold reasonably well, with a little more than 57,000 units going out between 1967 and 1971, and a little more than 20,000 units sold between 1972 and 1973.

The Jeepsters came in two basic models: the '67-'71 models that were marketed during the Kaiser Jeep era, and the '72-'73 AMC-era Commandos. The redesigned '72-'73 rigs were less Jeep-like, but they had a few options that weren't offered before-namely the 232- and 258ci six, or the 304 V-8. With clearly Jeep-like design cues, however, the '67-'71 models are more popular today.

From 1967 to 1971, the top-of-the-line Jeep was the Jeepster model. It came in two-tone paint, had an optional power-operated convertible top, a continental spare tire kit, and a lot of extras. Roadster models had a snap-on soft top. A full-length hardtop came on the station-wagon models, and a half-cab pickup was available in hardtop or soft top. The '72-'73 AMC-inspired models had the same basic lineup, except for the upscale Jeepster convertible.

The Good, Bad, & Ugly
The most popular engine choice for the '67-'71 Jeepsters was the V-6 that Jeep purchased from Buick in 1966. This 225ci unit shares a bellhousing pattern with the later 231 Buick V-6 and the 300-, 240-, and 350ci Buick V-8s. The 231 and the '70s-era Buick 350s are popular swaps in this genre.

Buick bought back the 225 from AMC and developed it into some of the light V-6s GM offers today. All of the Buick V-6s come in two types: odd-fire and even-fire, but only the 225 odd-fire was used by Jeep. The odd-fire engines were developed from V-8s, so their firing order is, well, odd. While the odd-fire engines run a bit rougher than the even-fire, the odd-fire engines are considered to have a much stronger lower end, due to the crankshaft design.

V-8s are a bit of a tough fit in the early Jeepsters, because they have a short nose, and some fabrication skill is required to slip them in. Keeping the OE V-6 is a good option, because it offers adequate power, and hop-up parts are available. Another possible option would be the 4.3L Vortec engines. The F-head four is pretty anemic and not very common. With the weak drivetrain that originally accompanied it, you'd be starting from scratch with one of these.

In 1972 the 232 inline six became the standard powerplant, with the 258ci and 304 V-8 optional. All of these engines are durable and powerful, so it's purely a matter of taste. As with the '70s-era CJ, the AMC sixes and V-8s interchange with having to replace just a few bolt-in pieces, and the longer nose of these later rigs allows more flexibility in engine choices. That means that AMC V-8s in 290, 304, 343, 360, 390, and 401 ci become potential bolt-in swaps. A good number of soup-up parts are available, but not like the availability of more common engines.

If you like automatics, the Jeepsters came with a great one: the legendary GM Turbo 400. The bellhousing was made to the Buick pattern. When the AMC engine debuted in the Jeep lineup for 1972, an adapter plate was used to mate it to the Buick pattern bellhousing. Chevy pattern TH-400s are a direct swap if you want to drop in a Chevy. If you lust after an AMC 6 or V-8 for a V-6-powered Jeepster, the AMC engine adapter pieces were also seen on Wagoneers in late 1971 and 1972, before the pattern was altered, and are generally cheap at the wrecking yards.

The three-speed manuals are ho-hum from a trail-performance standpoint, but the T14 (V-6 engine only) was the best of the '67-'71 bunch, and the nearly bulletproof T15 was tops in the '72-'73 rigs. The close-ratio T18 four-speed (4.02 First gear) was optional in '72-'73 six-cylinder Commandos. With a few minor mods, the wide-ratio T18 (6.32 First gear) can be installed in these rigs.

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