Jeepster Commando – The Originator of Today’s 4×4 SUVs
The Jeepster Commando stands as an influential forerunner to modern SUVs by blending rugged off-road competence with comfortable cruising practicality. Introduced by Kaiser Jeep in 1966, the compact Commando pioneered the “fun-size” 4×4 SUV concept 25 years before it exploded in popularity. With two doors, removable roof panels, a rugged powertrain, and four-wheel-drive capability, the plucky Jeepster presaged the favorite SUV formulas of later decades. Its go-anywhere attitude and versatility helped pave the way for an entire segment.
Jeepster Commando Innovative Packaging in a Compact SUV
The Jeepster Commando’s dimensions were surprisingly close to the contemporary Jeep Wrangler, spanning just 13 feet long and under 6 feet wide. This tidy package allowed impressive maneuverability off-road along with easy parking. The clever design enabled adult seating for four plus storage behind the fold-down rear seat. The convertible removable roof brought open-air enjoyment. For an era of vast land yachts, the Jeepster’s efficient use of space broke new ground demonstrating the appeal of a right-sized 4×4.
Rugged Dual-Purpose Powertrain
Motivating the Jeepster was Kaiser Jeep’s ‘Tornado’ OHC 230 cubic inch inline-6. Making 100 horsepower, it provided peppy acceleration given the Jeepster’s modest weight. Low-end torque allowed dependable slow-speed rock crawling. A 3-speed manual with floor shifter came standard for wheeling control. Optional automatic and power steering added civility for suburban trips. This flexible powertrain enabled the Jeepster to perform both on-road and off without compromise – a rare dual talent then.
Equipped for Serious Off-Roading
While compact, the Jeepster Commando came ready for the trail courtesy of four-wheel-drive, sturdy Dana axles, skid plates, 8 inches of ground clearance, and approach angles over 40 degrees. The optional “Trail Kit” package brought more serious off-road tires and upgraded driveline components. Knobby tires, tow hooks, and a manually locking transfer case prepared it for remote terrain alongside vintage Jeeps. The Jeepster delivered go-anywhere spirit in a tidy package just as SUVs caught on with recreational drivers.
Jeepster Commando Comfort Upgrades for Road Use
For daily driving needs, the Jeepster’s interior focused more on comfort versus Spartan contemporaries. Adjustable bucket seats and amended ergonomics benefitted road trips. Optional air conditioning took the edge off desert driving. The soft top felt downright luxurious compared to most utilitarian 4x4s of the era. On pavement or the highway, the Jeepster provided a surprisingly pleasant driving experience given its rugged capabilities. This balanced personality presaged the modern SUV.
Ahead of its Time Yet Short-Lived
Despite clever innovation, sales never met expectations, and the Jeepster Commando was retired after just six model years. A one-year run in 1972 after AMC bought Jeep made a little additional impact. But the Jeepster pioneered the small SUV formula over two decades before it became a sales phenomenon. It’s can-do versatility and friendly size were the perfect recipe when SUV popularity finally swelled. The flop turned visionary, as most successful later SUVs adopted the Jeepster’s template.