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1973 Jeep Commando: Perfect Trail

Aug 28, 2023Aug 28, 2023

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Like most of my Jeep purchases, this one sprouted from that cursed entity known as Craigslist. I had been searching for a long-wheelbase CJ-6, '67-'71 Jeepster, or even a CJ-8 to build into a family wheeler. Then this stupid ad crossed my path for a non-running '73 Commando with a clear title located in Boulevard, California. The seller basically just wanted it off his property, and for $350, I couldn't argue the asking price. Now there's no secret about my disdain for '72-'73 bullnose Commandos. I think they're one of the ugliest affronts to early Jeepdom ever to roll off a Toledo assembly line. But it was a cheap Jeep and a very cheap pre-smog Jeep title. I figured at the very least I could use the frame and title to build up a family wheeler, sell the wheels, axles, steering, and other odds and ends to more than recoup my investment, and send the rest of the hideous Commando to the scrapper where it belonged.

This wasn't my first rodeo in buying an old, non-running Jeep so I mounted my Warn 6,000-pound portable winch to my trailer, grabbed my Hi-Lift Jack, one of my 10-pound Power Tanks, some assorted tools, straps, pulleys, and anything else I figured I might need to get it up onto the trailer. I met the dude out on his property just before Christmas. It was super cold and the wind was biting into my skin at a constant 30 mph. With my mind already made up as to the fate of my latest purchase, it was with little interest I listened to the ramblings of the seller. "Yeah, the engine probably needs a rebuild … transmission doesn't work … interior taken out and lost …" He went on like that as I busied myself in hooking up the winch and trying unsuccessfully to air up the museum-quality BFG A/T tires that leaked air out the dry-rotted sidewalls at a rate equal or greater than that of the air going in. Eventually I gave up with the Power Tank and just let the Warn muscle the semi-rolling Jeep up onto my trailer deck so that I could get back inside my warm tow rig and get down the road.

"I have no love [for] these Commandos. I just plain don't like 'em and I feel they offer very few, if any, redeeming qualities." —Christian Hazel

Ever since my sketchy experience in purchasing my '48 CJ-2A, aka The Bindle Bucket, I've made it a habit of getting in and out of any Jeep buying transaction as quickly as possible. This time was no exception, so it wasn't until I was safely down the road that I pulled over to inspect my new acquisition. Underhood resided the factory AMC 304 V-8 complete with two-barrel carb, stock air cleaner, and a radiator the seller told me needed replacing. The TH400 was there, but so greasy-looking I couldn't tell anything from the outside other than the fact that the Dana 20 T-case was there as well. Somebody had begun the process of yanking the tranny for rebuild because the driveshafts, shifter linkage, and tranny crossmember were all either disconnected and hanging off the chassis or inside the tub. The suspension was lifted via some incredibly thick, gnarly-looking, add-a-leaf springs inserted into the factory packs. The Jeep had apparently been driven a distance after the front shackles had inverted, so the front main leafs were bent. There was factory power steering attached to the front Dana 30 and the rear centered and flanged-shafted Dana 44 sported 3.73 gears to match the front.

Once I had it home and started thinking things over, I came to the conclusion that I should build this Jeep for wheeling rather than part it out. I finally realized my true problem in building vintage Jeeps. I care about 'em, admire them, and even love 'em a little. The last thing I ever want to do is completely destroy a cool CJ-6, flattie, or other desirable Jeep on the trail. But I have no love of these Commandos. I just plain don't like 'em and I feel they offer very few, if any, redeeming qualities. So, to me it's the perfect trail-thrash build candidate. I'll have no qualms about cutting up the body, smashing the grille on rocks, rolling it on its lid, and even setting it on fire when I'm all through with it. Follow along with this build series from the archives and see how I got it ready for competition in the 2011 Sh!%box Derby. Then you can follow along as to see how I turned this little rot box into a gaga, gonzo wheeling machine. And then destroy it.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Jp magazine and has been lightly edited.

Dirt Every Day hosts Fred Williams and Dave Chappelle have raced everywhere. They've done long desert races, off-road treks in old trucks, and old-fashioned mud races with Jeeps. Check out this compilation of their best races, then sign up for a free trial to MotorTrend+ and start watching every episode of Dirt Every Day! Video created by Little Dot Studios.