1971 Jeepster Commando

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History

In 1970, when American Motors owned the Jeep brand, Jeepster sales had dropped off. Something was needed to attract the attention of a younger crowd, and so the idea of a special Jeepster model was born. American Motors already had experience working with Hurst Performance Products so Hurst was given the job of coming up with a sporty version of the Jeepster. So, the Hurst edition was born.

Features

  • Dauntless V6 engine
  • ABS plastic vacuum-formed hood scoop
  • 8,000 rpm tachometer in the hood scoop
  • Hurst shifter
  • G70 x 15″ Goodyear Custom Wide Tread Polyglas tires with raised white letters
  • Rooftop luggage rack
  • Red & blue stripes over Champagne White paint
  • Hurst emblems
Manufacturer Kaiser Jeep
Production 77,573 built between 1966-1973
About 100 built (the true production number is unknown)
Engine Options Hurricane engine, 72 hp & 114 ft./lbs. torque
Dauntless V6, 160 hp & 235 ft./lbs. torque
AMC 232 engine, 100 hp & 185 ft./lbs. torque
AMC 258 engine, 115 hp & 210 ft./lbs. torque
AMC 304 enginem 125 hp & 220 ft./lbs. torque
Transmission Options T90, T86, T14A manual, TH400, 3-speed automatic
Transfer Case Spicer 20
Rear Axle Dana 44
Front Axle Dana 27
Wheelbase 101 in.
Length 168.4 in.
Width 65.2 in.
Height 64.2 in.
Curb Weight 2,800 lbs.

Closer Look

By Jim Allen

Since the ‘60s, the name “Hurst” has brought to mind images of speed and sport to the minds of gearheads the world over. By the time the ‘70s were dawning, Hurst Performance Research had established a track record for developing sporty upgrades for production vehicles that added show and/or go, as well as attention-gathering publicity and showroom traffic.

At the end of the ‘60s, the ever-stodgy Kaiser Jeep saw Hurst as a possible step up the ladder to consummate hipness. Anything to boost sales. There was a good ongoing example, the only slightly less stodgy AMC, who was using Hurst in a number of performance car projects.

The known Hurst connections with Jeep started in 1968, when they dolled up a CJ-5 for some promotional projects. That CJ is lost to time, as well as the records that might shed some light on it, but that timeframe was also the likely start of another Jeep project. Kaiser Jeep reached an agreement with Hurst Performance Products to produce a special version of the Jeepster Commando for the 1970 or 1971 model year. Given the SSR & O number (Special Sales Request and Order) used on the Hurst unit, the list of features and options was compiled in 1969 or early 1970.

Why the Jeepster Commando? The details on the decision-making process have not been unearthed but we can connect some dots logically. The Jeepster Commando, which had debuted in 1966 for the 1967 model year, was certainly Jeep’s most street-sporty model. It’s sales numbers, however, were below an ideal level and falling off from a barrage of competition in the growing sport utility market. The Jeepster Commando was the logical choice for a Hurst/Jeep collaboration for both reasons.

As the details were being worked out, something big happened: AMC bought Kaiser Jeep; lock, stock and barrel. That event may have momentarily delayed the Hurst Commando debut but a press event was held in California in June of 1970 to announce the Hurst Jeepster as a ’71 model and dealers got an announcement dated July 10 giving them the ordering details. Four Wheeler did a four page write-up in the July issue and some other press appeared in various magazines around that time.

The original 1970 press information stated a total of 500 Hurst Jeepster Commandos were to be built, 300 automatics and 200 manuals. People sometimes take those plans as gospel on Jeep’s intent. It’s probably more accurate to think of them as “high hopes.” They would sell as many as they could, or a few as people would buy. There was a minimum number of sales needed to recoup costs and above that it was gravy. They had to preplan a little by buying some of the special parts ahead of time for initial production but they minimized costs along the rest of the way by buying only as many as orders dictated. The Hurst Commandos were built in small batches as the orders came in, so the special parts outlay could be managed in small orders. According to the Hurst Commando Registry (http://jeepstercommandoclub.com) and in their extensive VIN records, indications are that the first were built starting in April of 1970 and the VINs are generally seen in batches. Production stopped in the early August timeframe, but the vast majority of the survivors were built in June and July of 1970.

What did you get when you ordered a Hurst Jeepster Commando? To start, the package was only offered on the V6 8705F Station Wagon models in Champagne White and with Trim Package B, which was the highest trim level offered in that model. From there, the Hurst kit included the distinctive ABS hood scoop (non-functional) with an 8,000 rpm tach (functional!), the ever present performance tire of the 1970s, the Goodyear Polyglas G70-15 performance street tires, the Hurst badging and distinctive red and blue cowl, tailgate and hood stripes, a Hurst dual-gate shifter for the TH400 automatic or a Hurst T-handle shifter for the Warner T-14A manual. The original options list included a foam padded “racing” type steering wheel but this did not actually appear on many (possibly on any) Hurst Commandos beyond the ones used in the press launch. Another item listed on the original spec sheet, but not seen, were Hurst emblems for the center of the hubcaps.

Dealer price for the package was $250 for the manual transmission and $275 for the automatic (about $1500 to $1650 in 2017 dollars). Dealer markup was about 15 percent at minimum, so call the two packages $287 to $316 if the dealer popped you for full retail. The Jeepster equipped as required, assuming you didn’t add anything else was $3769 for the manual and $4095 for the automatic ($22,650 and $24,650 in 2017 respectively), so you were out the door in ’71 for a bit under or a bit over four grand assuming you got no other options.

The market’s reaction to the Hurst Jeepster? Lukewarm. It was an expensive package that had some show but not a lot of go. The modest press coverage indicates frustration with that, but it’s likely Jeep broke even on the publicity front. It’s not fair to say the Hurst Commando was a failure but it did have a lot of market obstacles to overcome, the first being low-energy marketing from AMC Jeep. To be fair, the confusion and change of direction that came with the sale to AMC would have left a mark. Then there was even further self-induced market dilution with the Jeepster Commando SC-1 (SC for “Sport Commando”), which also debuted for 1971. It was less flashy than the Hurst, and much less expensive, but it was still had enough unique features (paint and stripes) to have earned a SSR & O number.

The newly formed AMC Jeep was pretty busy at the time of the Hurst’s debut. Job one was to consolidate and homogenize Jeep and AMC as much as possible to reduce costs. Part of that process was to plant the excellent AMC engines into the Jeep line. The Wagoneers and J-Trucks were an easy fit but the CJs and C101 Jeepster commandos were not. Both required a wheelbase stretch and that required some sheet metal changes. That process consumed a lot of energy and effort, not only from engineering but in product planning and marketing.

The registry of Hurst Jeepsters is currently showing 102 survivors, 73 automatics and 29 manuals. Even figuring there are a few more lost in the weeds somewhere, there couldn’t have been many built originally. Hurst Commando production has long been estimated at 100 units based on the recollection of a former Hurst employee back in the ‘80s but it’s now pretty clear that’s woefully incorrect.

So, how can you determine if a Jeepster Commando is a “true” Hurst or not? With an original, unmolested unit, it’s obvious, along with provenance in the form of documents like sales invoices, etc. The first “tell” is the SSO & R tag on the left side of the firewall above the battery. Unfortunately, they were attached only by glue so many are missing. If there, it will have the number “D5043” for a stick shift Hurst and “D5068” for an automatic. The Hurst package was only offered on a Champagne White (paint code 432) 8705F Station Wagon, with Trim Package B (Trim Code 332). The presence of the special hard parts, such as the Hurst shifter, badges, hood scoop and tach are other clues. The paint stripes are the least durable part of the package and since old Jeeps are often repainted, there is no guarantee they are still present or visible. Given time, the Jeepster Commando Club of America’s Hurst Data Base (http://jeepstercommandoclub.com) may be able to determine a solid VIN range to check from. Based on current evidence, a true Hurst will have a build date from April 1 to August 1, 1970, and a VIN sequential in the range from 67879 to 70035. Most remaining Hursts fall in a May 1-August 1 range and the low end of the known VIN range is sequential 68555.

The Hurst Jeepster Commando in the Omix collection was purchased in 2013.

HJ-1- This is one of the styling mockups done prior to production. The exact date of this image is unknown but this rig differs significantly from the production units. One of the more noticeable and ironic differences is the divider in the center of the hood scoop. If you look at just about any original Hurst Commando, you will note the scoop dips the center. Had they used this design, that would not be the case. Note also that the cowl stripe positions are reversed on this test rig. The factory setup has the red stripe leading the blue. It’s reversed on this prototype.  Also, this unit has the G70-15 tire and wheel package from the 1970 Renegade 1. The wheels are of interest here because they were deep-dish Kelsey-Hayes 15x8 wheels, used only for the Renegade I and now extremely hard to find.

HJ-1- This is one of the styling mockups done prior to production. The exact date of this image is unknown but this rig differs significantly from the production units. One of the more noticeable and ironic differences is the divider in the center of the hood scoop. If you look at just about any original Hurst Commando, you will note the scoop dips the center. Had they used this design, that would not be the case. Note also that the cowl stripe positions are reversed on this test rig. The factory setup has the red stripe leading the blue. It’s reversed on this prototype. Also, this unit has the G70-15 tire and wheel package from the 1970 Renegade 1. The wheels are of interest here because they were deep-dish Kelsey-Hayes 15×8 wheels, used only for the Renegade I and now extremely hard to find.

  • Client: 1971 Jeepster Commando
  • Filed under: Classic