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Jeepster Commando review

By Matt Raudonikis | Photos: Alastair Ritchie, 17 Feb 2018 Custom 4x4s

custom Jeepster Commando

Synergy Manufacturing’s Jeepster Commando stole the spotlight at SEMA Show 2017 with its retro looks and practical engineering.

WALK the halls of the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas each year for the past decade and you’ll be left in no doubt of the popularity of Jeep’s JK Wrangler.

It is certainly the most customised 4x4 on the planet and, even among all the hot rods, street machines and customs of SEMA, it could well be the highest represented vehicle at the show. This is why it continues to win the most popular 4x4 at SEMA each year and why we’re expecting this year’s new JL Wrangler to be huge.

A consequence of the JK’s massive popularity is that to stand out among the throngs your Jeep must be something special. So many SEMA builds are just rigs with catalogues thrown at them, using every bolt-on piece of bling possible with no account for functionality or good taste. The show floors are full of cars like this, and their show lives are short-lived.

So how do you make your Jeep stand out? We reckon Synergy Manufacturing’s Dave Schlossberg got it right with his JKC that debuted at SEMA 2017.

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The C stands for Commando, as Dave re-bodied a JK Rubicon with a supercool Jeepster Commando body. But there was a lot more to this build than a simple body swap.

“I’ve always been a fan of the 1966 to 1971 Jeepster Commandos, but wasn’t a fan of the old technology,” Dave told us. “We swapped in a brand-new Jeep JKU frame under the Commando body and shortened up the wheelbase to 101 inches to match the factory (Commando) wheelbase.”

Thankfully for Dave the task was made a bit easier with the help of his business, Synergy Manufacturing.

Synergy is a Jeep specialist company and manufactures suspension systems, components and accessories for many Jeep models and sells them around the world. Synergy products are available in Australia through local stores such as Double Black Off Road and SBR Off Road.

The wheelbase of a stock JK Unlimited is 116 inches, so that chassis had to be shortened 15 inches to match the Commando body.

After the chop, the Rubicon-spec Dana 44 axles were refitted on a Synergy Stage 3 suspension kit, using 50mm raised front and 25mm raised rear coils and Fox Racing 2.5-inch DSC shocks. The stock Rubicon e-lockers and 4.1:1 gears were retained as they were more than deemed up to the job, while custom 1350 driveshafts were used front and rear.

The chosen powertrain owes more to General Motors than any Pentastar brand, and it starts with a 6.0-litre LQ4 small-block that has been tweaked with aftermarket cylinder heads and a cam to produce around 400hp.

The V8 is backed by a GM 4L80 transmission beefed up by GearStar Performance, while an Atlas transfer case fitted with a 4.3:1 low range controls the all-wheel activation with deep crawling ratios.

Dave admitted that adapting the 1971 Jeepster body to the modern chassis was one of the more testing aspects of the build. “Getting the body to fit right on the JK chassis and the extensive amount of bodywork required was a challenge,” he recalled. “We did a ton of body work to the floor pan, rear bed area, rocker guards and firewall to get it all to look and fit well, and still be functional.”

Again, having your own manufacturing business helped here. “Special thanks to Kevin Burk and Dustin Boyack in our engineering/fabrication departments at Synergy Manufacturing. These guys were the blood, sweat and tears behind the build and it could not have been done without their hard work and top level skill sets,” Dave added.

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The team nailed the look, and the bright red paint applied by San Luis Autobody in Synergy’s home town of San Luis Obispo, California, sets the retro body alive. The original Jeepster badges and stripes, as well as the old-school rollbar, complete the retro look.

We weren’t the only ones taken by the Commando at SEMA, where it picked up a swag of accolades. The Transamerican Auto Parts (TAP) “Life is Better Off-Road” award is contested between only the best off-road vehicles at SEMA, and the Commando scored first place. It also ranked Top 40 in the Battle of the Builders competition, including Top 10 in the Off Road Class.

In awarding the Synergy Commando at SEMA, TAP President and CEO Greg Adler mimicked our thoughts on the vehicle when he said: “There was clearly a lot of thought, effort and skill put into this build, and with so many over-the-top trucks and Jeeps on display at the show, this simple, clean and well-executed project represents exactly what this award is all about.”

It seems the simple things in life are so often the best, and what could be better than tearing up the Californian dunes in this retro Jeep?

A Closer Look

1 - If the sound of the V8 doesn’t float your boat, there’s an Alpine sound system.

2 - Wood-rim wheel and timber cargo deck add to the old-school style of the JKC.

3 - Classic-look gauges from AutoMeter maintain the retro theme of the Jeepster.

4 - Twin sticks control the Atlas transfer case to 4x4, 4x2 and low range activation.

Under the Bonnet

1 - An aluminium radiator keeps the engine cool when powering through the dunes.

2 - The 6.0L LQ4 breathes in through a pod air filter and out via Hooker Headers and a dual 2.25-inch exhaust.

3 - PSC remote steering pump reservoir helps keep the big Jeep aiming true.

4 - Finned rocker covers look better than the factory LS coil packs. 

Gear Made Right

THE suspension used on the JK Commando is indicative of the quality components made by Synergy Manufacturing.

The Stage 3 kit is a bolt-in system and includes front and rear track bar relocation brackets; flipped drag link (also available for right-hand drive); progressive-wound coil springs; heavy-duty fixed lower control arms and adjustable upper control arms; front and rear bump stop extensions; front and rear sway bar links; and front and rear extended stainless steel braided brake lines.

The lower control arms manufactured from high-quality crush-resistant 1¾-inch x 0.188-inch wall tubing for durability and feature Synergy’s dual durometer bushings with Teflon bearing surfaces for a maintenance-free design.

Most of the Synergy Manufacturing products are made in the USA and are available for RHD Jeeps. Check them out at www.synergymfg.com