Classic Commando: 1969 Jeepster Commando

One of the things we love most about off-road events is that we get the chance to see lots of different vehicles. And by that we mean lots of different Jeeps. For instance, so far this year we’ve encountered everything from ’40s flatties to 2020 Gladiators when out and about on the trails. We like them all, even YJs. However, we have to admit, we have always been especially fond of the Jeepster Commando. Kaiser started production of the Jeepster Commando (C-101) in 1966 as a nod to the original Jeepster produced by Willys-Overland. It was thankfully continued when AMC took over in 1970. The word Jeepster was dropped for the ’72 model year, and it was known simply as the Commando (C-104). Although it was given 3 more inches (104) of wheelbase and a choice of an I-6 or V-8 option, enthusiasm for the redesigned body waned, and after the ’73 model year it was a goner.

Much of the original badging remained on the ’69 Jeepster Commando when Todd bought it in stock form. He has retained every piece of factory trim possible to preserve its classic mystique while beefing up its mechanicals to bolster off-road performance and capabilities.

This example of the Jeepster Commando is a ’69, and its owner Todd Dunn says, “The easiest part of the build was buying the Jeep stock. It was a clean slate.” Todd had a lot of work to do, and he didn’t want to be dealing with anybody’s messed up mods. The chassis was the first hill to climb. With help from Lance at Rice’s Performance in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, the factory suspension was exchanged for a Dave’s Customs Unlimited Jeep CJ Full-Width Axle Kit, combined with Rubicon Express 1 1/2-inch spring-over-axle leaf springs front and rear, Rancho shocks, and custom spring mounts to give the rig room for full movement of 40-inch tires and 17×8-inch Dodge Ram 2500 steel wheels with no rubbing anywhere. The chassis gained a couple inches of wheelbase during the swap, moving the rear axle back to the center of the wheelwell. Full belly skidplating from R&S Fabrication in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, runs all the back, including the fuel tank, to help keep vital organs safe from damage.

We really liked the trio of easy-to-see Auto Meter gauges clustered in the center of the cross-dash bar of the custom rollcage designed by R&S Fabrication. Parked right next to them was an easy-to-reach Cobra 19 Ultra III CB radio.

Inside and outside, the body received generous attention, but nothing that detracts from the overall original look of the Jeepster Commando. Passengers are cradled in Corbeau front buckets and a rear bench, redone in black fabric by Todd, and surrounded by an R&S Fabrication 1 3/4-inch DOM rollcage tied in at six locations. A cluster of Auto Meter 2 5/8-inch Pro gauges highlights the dash, an old-school Grant wheel steers the Commando, ammo cans are used for extra storage, and the Pioneer sound system beats through wakeboard tower speakers.

Keeping the stock grille maintained a classic look, even though the fenders are full customs from R&S Fabrication. A Dave’s Customs Unlimited CJ front bumper offers a sturdy perch for the Superwinch Tiger Shark 9500.

The Jeepster Commando’s engine hood was vented with a nearly full-length aluminum louvered panel. The front and rear tube flares, and the quarter-panel armor tied into the sliders and front fenders, are all R&S Fabrication custom work. Todd told us, “Rattle-can black was good enough; it will just need paint again soon.”

Underneath that body growls a 350ci V-8 lifted from a 1987 Chevy Blazer. The 350 and all its accessories were completely rebuilt with the help of Chris at R&S Fabrication. A mild build included ported heads, Hedman 1 1/2-inch short-tube truck headers, a GM Performance intake manifold, TBI fuel injection, and HEI ignition. The TH400 was worked up a bit with a reverse manual valvebody, TransGo 400-PRO shift kit, and B&M Racing T-handle Unimatic shifter.

Pulled from an ’87 Chevy Blazer, the 350ci V-8 was pulled apart and massaged with ported heads, Hedman short-tube truck headers, a custom exhaust, a GM Performance intake manifold, TBI, and HEI ignition.

From there the TH400 pushes power to a 203/300 combo created with an Advance Adapter Doubler kit. Custom driveshafts from R&S Fabrication feed a 1980 GMC CUCV Dana 60 front axle and a 1980 Corporate 14-bolt rear axle. The front pumpkin is filled with a 4.56 Aussie Locker and the rear holds a 4.56 Powertrax Lock-Right. A RuffStuff Specialties disc brake conversion tips the end of the rear axle and stock 1-ton GMC disc brakes take care of the front.

The front 1980 GMC CUCV Dana 60 axle was rebuilt, stuffed with a 4.56 Aussie Locker, tipped with Superwinch manual locking hubs, and then slung under the Jeepster frame using a Dave’s Customs Unlimited Jeep CJ Full-Width Axle Kit, Rubicon Express 1.5-inch SOA leaf springs, and Rancho shocks.

Underneath its tail we found a 1980 Corporate 14-bolt rear axle that had received the same resurrection and suspension process as the front axle, ending up with a 4.56 Powertrax Lock-Right. It also got a RuffStuff Specialties rear disc brake conversion.

The turquoise paint is a little weathered, but it remains brilliant and has that genuine, classic appeal. It fit in perfectly with the red rock scenery around Moab, Utah, where we met Todd and his 1969 Jeepster Commando. Outwardly appearing to be a resto upon first glance, the SC-101 revealed its muscular build once we began to dig deep. Best of all, it wheeled like a champ and maintained its classic appeal.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 1969 Jeepster Commando
Engine: 350ci V-8 from ’87 Chevy Blazer
Transmission: TH400
Transfer Case: 203/300 Advance Adapter Doubler
Suspension: Dave’s Customs Unlimited full-width CJ suspension conversion kit, Rubicon Express 1.5-inch SOA leaf springs, and Rancho shocks front and rear
Axles: 1980 GMC CUCV Dana 60, 4.56 Powertrax Lock-Right (front); 1980 Corporate 14-bolt, 4.56 Aussie Locker (rear)
Wheels: 17×8 Ram 2500 steel
Tires: 40×13.5R17 Toyo Open Country M/T

Why This Jeep?
If you haven’t noticed, we really like classics. I don’t think we’re any different than other groups of automotive enthusiasts—we get a huge kick out of the new, more powerful, and more capable models of Jeep vehicles, but way down deep in our hearts there is a special place for the unique, the rare, and the unusual. The ’66 to ’71 Jeepster Commandos are all that and more, and this ’69 owned by Todd Dunn is a classic crowd-pleaser.

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