This four-wheelin’ 1971 Jeepster Hurst Commando has been in my family since new
When I was 16, my parents decided they wanted to participate in off-road driving in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert. We said goodbye to our 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza and began the search for a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
This was 1971, and choices in the off-road category were limited. We looked at Scouts, Jeeps, and Toyotas. Since the car was to be my mother’s daily driver, she had to be comfortable in it. Despite a test drive that terrified my father—the salesman drove us up a steep grassy hill—the Jeep won simply because my mother could see over the steering wheel. I kid you not. We were out the door for $5000, which was a lot of money back then.
So there we were with a striking new Jeep in Champagne white with red and blue rally stripes, sporting a tachometer on the hood, a luggage rack, a Hurst dual-gate shifter, and a “Dauntless” 225—the 160-hp Buick Fireball engine manufactured by Kaiser. It also featured automatic front hubs—no getting out to lock them. My father studied the owner’s manual, which was only a quarter-inch thick.
My parents kept to established dirt roads, but so began the “four-wheelin’” adventures—Mom, Dad, me, and the dog all in the Jeep. And we were always prepared for the emergency that never happened: 20 gallons of water, 5 gallons of gas, and a snakebite kit.
Eventually, the adventures came to an end. I went to college, married, and moved to the East Coast. Time passed, the Jeep sat unused in the garage, and Alzheimer’s took over my parents. After their affairs were in order, I had the Jeep shipped back east on a flatbed truck.
With the Jeep in my possession, I became curious about its story and started going to cruise nights. Many people I met had only heard of the Hurst Commando or had only seen pictures, but I started to realize I had something special. Through research, I learned that Kaiser had made a deal with George Hurst to equip the Jeepster Commando with a Hurst dual-gate shifter and other special touches. Around 500 were planned for production, but once American Motors bought the Jeep line from Kaiser, it produced around 100 before changing the style of the Commando in 1972.
This past year, with the Commando in need of a major checkup, I found Rick at Horsepower Farm in Epsom, New Hampshire. What a great guy, and after he worked on the Jeepster, it was purring like a kitten.
The Jeep has brought me fully into the classic automotive world. Truth be told, I have had this passion since childhood, though I’m not sure where it came from. But I will continue to enjoy the Jeep as long as I can. I meet new people all the time, and when I’m behind the wheel, good memories ride with me.