The Jeepster was a beautiful failure for Willys in the late 1940s, though it has since become a sought-after collector’s item. The Jeepster’s reboot in the late 60s had a good run, only to be derailed by a hasty redesign. Now, 74 years since it first hit the road, this classic car is once again part of the Jeep portfolio. Here, we present the history of the Jeepster and show you how it fits into the future.
Classic Jeep Jeepster
In the late 1940s, after Jeep helped the Allies win WWII, Jeep’s original manufacture, Willys-Overland, had the market cornered for post-war utility vehicles with the popular CJ. What they didn’t have was a car that fit into the fashionable passenger automobile market. Enter the Classic Jeep Jeepster. First produced in 1948, the Jeep Jeepster was the last phaeton-style open-bodied vehicle produced by a U.S. automaker. Marketed as a sports car suitable for suburban drivers, the sleek and charming Jeepster had all the trimmings: whitewall tires, hubcaps with bright trim rings, chrome bumpers with front bumper guards, an attractive T-shaped grille, plastic side curtains, and (cherry on top) a continental spare tire with a fabric cover. Under the hood was the WWII-battle tested four-cylinder “Go-Devil” engine, though subsequent models upgraded to Willys’ six-cylinder “Hurricane” engine. What they never offered, however, was four-wheel drive.
The Classic Jeep Jeepster’s actual price was $1,900, which seems cheap now but was costlier than its more powerful competitors, like the Ford V-8 Super Deluxe and the Chevrolet Fleetmaster. Despite rave reviews, price drops, and body/engine upgrades, the Jeep Jeepster was discontinued in 1951, producing only 20,000 units.
Classic Jeepster Commando
The Jeepster design was too darn charming to keep locked away, so in 1967, Jeep’s next manufacturer, Kaiser Motors, gave it another run. Designed to appeal to the growing interest in fun off-roading 4x4s, the Jeepster Commando (C-101) combined the names of the classic Jeep Jeepster and the Willys Commando Fire Truck. Built on a CJ-6 chassis, with a L-head four-cylinder engine, the Jeepster finally got its four-wheel drive and featured automatic transmission, a first for a compact 4WD vehicle. For base-level Jeepsters, there were also four body styles: roadster, pickup, station wagon, and power-top convertible (the last of which included the coveted Revival Jeepster model). The interior was designed for fun in the sun, with a 101-inch wheelbase and low-back bucket seats that sported horizontally pleated vinyl upholstery. This bestseller sold about 60,000 vehicles overall, and for good reason: Check out this beautiful 1967 Jeepster Deluxe Convertible.
In 1972, after AMC bought Kaiser Jeep, they relaunched the concept as the Commando (C-104), dropping Jeepster from its name. To help accommodate the more powerful AMC engines, the Commando was redesigned with a honeycomb front grille, which looked suspiciously like a Bronco. Many feel this redesign doomed the model. Only about 20,000 Commando models were produced.
The Jeepster concept was dusted off once more in 2020 for this special edition of the Jeep Renegade: the Renegade Jeepster. We’re not quite sure why it earns the Jeepster name. It’s not markedly different than the base-level Renegade, which J.D. Power rates as #8 in Small SUVs. It isn’t quite trail-ready, with its 6.7-inch ground clearance and front-wheel drive (though you can get it in 4WD). But this trim does have stylish upgrades, including larger 19-inch alloy wheels with Granite gray finish, a grille with gloss black accents, tinted glass, and Jeepster decals. Maybe it earns the Jeepster name because it’s another small SUV with style. But true Jeepster fans will have to look to the concept vehicles of the future for the Jeepster’s proper tribute (see below).
Pick Your Favorite Jeep Concept Vehicle of the Future
1998 Jeep Jeepster Concept
Jeep resurrected the Jeepster in 1998 with this sports car/off-roader crossover concept at the North American International Auto Show. This Jeepster could cruise the streets or crawl the rocks with a mere flip of the switch: it featured an adjustable suspension that electronically raised or lowered the vehicle four inches (from 5.75-inches to 9.75 inches of ground clearance).
One of the first vehicles equipped with the Quadra-Trac II system, this Jeepster was powered by a 4.7-liter “Powertech” V-8 with a dual exhaust system and had 19-inch 5-spoke aluminum wheels. The exterior featured projector headlamps and a sharp “Intense Red” paint job with fender flares. Unfortunately, this Jeepster concept was never actually manufactured. Check out this article from Mopar Insiders for complete details.
Jeep Jeepster Beach Concept
This most recent restomod version of the Jeepster Concept was unveiled at the 2021 Easter Jeep Safari. Jeep modified a 1968 C-101 Kaiser Jeepster Commando roadster and put it on top of a modern Wrangler Rubicon chassis. Unlike the original Jeepster, this baby has horsepower to spare (340 hp) with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It has no trouble on the trail with its two-inch lift and 35-inch tires. The stylish exterior has a two-tone paint scheme of Hazy IPA and Zinc Oxide. The interior comes with oh-so-fine red leather seats and modern dash and controls. Whether Jeep will manufacture this latest Jeepster concept is still uncertain but—oh man—we hope so.
Jeep Magneto Concept
While not a Jeepster, this X-Men inspired Jeep concept Wrangler is still awesome. Based on the 2020 Wrangler Rubicon, it features an all-electric motor with 272 lb-ft of torque and 285 horsepower as well as a six-speed manual transmission. Powered by four lithium-ion battery packs, the electric motor goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. But its real benefit is crawling while in low gear, foreshadowing the coming evolution in EV off-roaders. The interior is impressive too: Royal blue leather seats with support for Apple CarPlay. You could say that it’s magnetic.
Jeep Orange Peelz Wrangler Concept
The Jeep Orange Peelz two-door Wrangler is a rock crawler’s dream. Its orange color gives it a vintage look, and combined with its black accents, makes it look like the most imposing bumble bee on the trail. It comes with a two-inch lift and Fox racing shocks, room enough for 37-inch mud tires and steel “high top” fender flares. The Mopar steel half doors and removed rear window allow for a sweet breeze through the cabin, which is outfitted in an attractive orange plaid. “Orange” you glad Jeep came up with this special-edition Wrangler?
Jeep Red Bare Gladiator Concept
The Red Bare Gladiator concept is a tribute to diesel-lovers everywhere. This red (very red) four-door pickup is powered by a three-liter turbodiesel V-6, good for 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. What’s special is its 4.88 axle ratios, for a 91:1 crawl ratio. With its two-inch lift, 17-inch matte black wheels, and 37-inch mud tires, this Gladiator will crawl over any terrain. Its factory steel half-doors and soft top allow for open-air cruising. The interior is also fun: Katzkin Black leather seats with a lumberjack flannel theme that’s carried over onto the dash. It will be sure to crawl over any fallen tree blocking its path. Timber!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is A Jeepster A Jeep?
Yes. Willys-Overland first produced the Jeepster in 1948 to appeal to the passenger vehicle market. Though it didn’t have the famous off-roading ability that the Jeep brand would become known for, it did feature Jeep’s iconic seven-slot grille.
What year did Jeep make the Jeepster?
Willys-Overland Motors produced the classic Jeep Jeepster from 1948 to 1951. Jeep revived the Jeepster as the Jeepster Commando in 1968, which sold until 1973.
What did JEEP stand for?
Although there is some debate as to where the Jeep name came from, the most probable theory is that Jeep is the phonetic combination of G and P, the government’s term for General Purpose vehicle, which reflects Jeep’s WWII-origin story.
What is a 1952 Willys Jeep worth?
According to classics.com, 1952 Willys M38 is worth an average of $27,487, with sales in the last five years of $10,250 on the low end and $67,200 on the high end.
What is a 1972 Jeep Commando worth?
According to classics.com, a 1972 Jeep Commando is worth an average of $21,153, with sales in the last five years of $7,750 on the low end and $56,500 on the high end.