Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines He’s David Tracy Buying A 1987 Jeepster That Never Existed

Bishop Dt Top

[Editor’s Note: I’m genuinely excited to be writing this note, because it’s an attempt to describe one of the weirdest things we’ve done here, and that itself thrills me. So, you all know The Bishop, the imaginative loon who went to auto design school many decades ago but moved to a different career, and is currently undertaking a fruitful automotive design career that only exists within his imagination and the pixel-populated pages of The Autopian. Today, The Bishop wants to take his mental voyages a level deeper: a voyage into an alternate automotive universe, as usual, but this time filtered through the rusty mind of an alternate-universe version of our very own David Tracy. 

That’s right. We’re running a story about an imaginary car in an imaginary world where that imaginary car had been neglected to such a degree that our imaginary world David Tracy would be interested enough to imaginary buy it. Of course, it’s an imaginary Jeep, with imaginary rust. Got all that? Too bad. Here it comes anyway. – JT]

[Editor’s note: How my auto journalism career got this strange is beyond me. I might need to retire. I’m also not sure I should even approve this article; it’s just far too bizarre. And meta. And I don’t really even know what Meta means. I’ll flip a coin, here; heads and this article is going to the trash, and this “Bishop” man, whom I respect for his incredible imagination, will just have to try something else. Tails, and I guess I’ll run it. [flips coin]. SUNOVA! -DT]. 

Rednsudivider

Watch Me Drive 800 Miles In A Rare 1987 Jeepster That Hasn’t Run In Six Years

By (Imaginary) David Tracy

Would an art collector miss the chance to purchase some Andy Warhol print of a car crash or consumer product just because he had no wall space? No. He would not. In the same spirit, if the Holy Grail of AMC Jeepsters- a five speed first year 1987 model with the Trailrunner package- presented itself on Ebay at two in the morning from the backwoods of Mississippi would you refuse it JUST because the city told you that you had too many cars?  Oh, and you have an automotive website to run? I would hope not. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities must be acted upon, not ignored.  Even if this example was described as “clutch going, runs a bit ruf.”

Act on this opportunity I did, finding myself many, many miles away from home with the intent of driving a sight unseen vehicle back to Michigan.  Did I mention that said vehicle had not run since Obama was president?

Jeepster Brochure

Above is the 1987 brochure image of the EXACT car on offer, roof panels off and gleaming in the sun. While I can assume that most individuals that read this ill-conceived website know what a Jeepster actually is, you could be forgiven for drawing a blank.

 The Jeepster is sort of an AMC and sort of a Jeep, and the idea had its roots in concepts like the Kaiser-Jeep Bolide XJ-002 concept from 1969 and also the 1970 Jeep XJ-001 concept.

Jeepconcepts

The 1987-1991 Jeepster was the production version of this idea of putting a more car-like body and interior onto a Jeep- by this time the YJ Wrangler.  It seemed like a great idea to make an off-road sports coupe to draw in those that did not want something as hard-core as the original Jeep. 

The overall idea had actually worked in production for the original Brooks Stevens-designed 1948-50 Jeepster, even if that idea was less of a sporting proposition than the XJ-001.

Prod Jeepster

However, the concept that debuted in 1987 ultimately found few takers, and it is likely for the same reasons that the original Jeepster went away (as did the oddly named revival: the Commando of 1966-73, shown above). Jeep people actually want the tough-looking stripped down body, and those who want a more car-like vehicle want…well…a more car-like ride. Oh, and the strange ad campaign with psychedelic dancers and T-Rex’s ‘Jeepster’ playing did it no favors. Chrysler executives supposedly claimed that if the merger with AMC had happened a year earlier, they never would have let the Jeepster see the light of day, and Iacocca was pretty pleased when “when that stupid thing” didn’t sell. What a jerk.

I was still convinced that this modern-body concept seemed like a great idea, and wanted to experience it for myself.

The trip did not start out well. As soon as the Uber pulled up in the seller’s dirt driveway, I could see that the 100 pounds of tools I had checked on the flight from Romulus to Memphis International were incomplete, because I would need a chainsaw and trimmer to even get to the Jeepster. Leaving a car for six years in a backyard in Cockrum, Mississippi means that it will most certainly return to nature, and nature in the Deep South has some mad skills. The possibility of having to interface with injury-causing wildlife that didn’t want to get evicted was also now quite likely. Getting the Jeepster running enough for it to make the trip back to Troy, Michigan was, at the moment, the least of my concerns.

Jeepster Trees

Was I questioning my choice, as well as my sanity, to find an example of a Jeep that inexplicably failed miserably in the marketplace? Of course not. That wedge shape looked still looked fresh despite the broken pop-up light winking at me and the derelict state of the Sebring Red finish. I especially like the “louver” detail that runs below the windshield and side windows and then wraps over the roof. It has a functional purpose as well: at the front it hide strange, high-mounted driving lights.

Felling shrubs and pushing it out into the open, it became evident that this example was in perfect condition for me, meaning that it was what any sane person would deem to be a total piece of shit and run away from as fast as their legs could take them. The body had the expected corrosion, but the frame appeared to be all there.

Jeepster Full

With all the brush it was hard to see at first, but the big plastic rear taillight and heckflosse could be revived with some polish. The best feature has to be those brake/tail/backup lights…notice how their shape is an abstraction of the Jeep Box Taillight that our own Jason holds in such high esteem.  The trunk (instead of a hatch/cargo area) was a sticking point with Jeep traditionalists, but it is pretty sizable. All of the aforementioned tools that I had brought along (and oil needed to prevent the badly leaking main seal from killing the motor) easily fit in this space, and I could confidently leave this precious cargo in the Jeepster unattended, something I would NEVER EVER do on fabric-roofed CJs.

 Of course, the trunk lid also featured a great ledge for a bungee cord to hold up the rusted-off exhaust on this one.

Jeepster Rear

Another Jeep fan complaint was the standard space saver donut spare under the rear…a full size swing away tire holder was a popular option, but the fact that it wasn’t standard also pushed the Jeepster’s reputation as being not a “real” Jeep…despite that fact that this was aimed at people that valued convenience over having to pivot away a giant wheel every time they wanted to get in the trunk.

By far the most interesting feature of the trunk that this particular example still had was the Jeepseet option. If you flip the floor of the trunk upside down, there is padding for you to sit there; if you lock the trunk lid in the fully open position, it acts as a sunshade. You might think this would create a great place to sit and fish or watch a game, and you would not be alone in your thinking. The American Motors designers put little tubes in the floor to allow you to place a fishing rod there or put in an optional snack table.

(Jason is requiring me to point out that the entirety of the taillights being mounted to the trunk lid required Jeep to put the little windows on the inside bottom of the trailing edge of the lid so you can see the lights if you drive the Jeepster with the trunk open. There. I said it.)

Jeepseet

The inside smelled only slightly like opening a locker in September where a sweat-soaked uniform had been left at end of school year. The removable roof panels had convinced at least some rain not to enter the cabin, and with a jump from the seller all of the power windows went down, including the retracting backlight, but that only managed to go down about halfway before hitting a hornet’s nest, squirrel carcass, or other such desirable item.

But that dashboard!  How many cars can you think of that emulate the look of the front of their vehicle in the instrument panel?  The seven slots echo the Jeep traditional air intake, expect here they blow out cold air, or would blow cold air if the A/C compressor hadn’t died back when the Spin Doctors had a career. And the round shapes flanking the ‘grille’ like headlights on a Wrangler? One has the glove box latch, and the other ‘headlight’ features a cool fluorescent compass. How can you not want this car RIGHT NOW?!?

Interior1

(Once again, Jason is forcing my hand here to let you know that the other reason for this dashboard design is that it can be easily converted to right hand drive models; the glove box and steering column switch sides, as does the gauge pod.)

The futuristic giant windshield was always a sore point with Jeep fans…complaints (rather unfounded) about weight, cracking (which rarely ever happened) and distorted view in the corners. The huge glass also makes access to the back plugs on the straight six humorous if you didn’t own the car…which I now do, and needed to tackle with all of the universal joint socket extensions in my box. The condition of the rear plugs indicated that previous mechanics had given up and were likely the cause of the ‘ruf-running.  There are times when design wins over engineering, and this is a prime example…what a pain!

EnginebayGauge

 

 Still, the ‘six eventually fired up, and most readers know that I have the ability to Jedi-force communicate with four liter Jeep engines, and this one was giving me all the signs that it was, in fact, a good one.  The tires held air and the battery allowed me to get to the nearest AutoZone for the cheapest replacements they had.  I did, of course, get this:

 

 

Perfect!  Another overheating Jeep! But blasting heat and mouse droppings out of the seven slot dashboard ‘grille’ did nothing. Opening the hood, the normal expansion tank level told the tale of a bad sending unit as the likely reason for the reading. I hoped.

Thankfully the owner still had the Jeepster compass keyfob/multitool (knife and screwdrivers!) to allow me to find due north (since the fluorescent compass was not functioning); I removed the roof panels (the ridged fiberglass pieces are split in two for easy handling) and we were off.

Jeepsterfob

Even with the roof panels removed , the 1987 Jeepster offered a pleasant highway experience quite alien to CJ owners..it’s amazing what a real windshield and body will do. Also, I found a new benefit of those louvers-  what looks like totally blocked rear quarters are actually louver-covered rear side windows…from the driver’s seat you can see out of them and the blind spots are much less than you might think. The “seven slot” headrests on the 2+2 back seats also help. If pressed, I would say that the YJ chassis ride and handling did seem a bit at odds with the ultra-modern exterior, but if you’ve driven a broke-ass postal Jeep across country this was like running a Lexus.

Interior

As the evening started to set in, even the one closed headlight dutifully popped up to illuminate the last few hours of the journey. After reinstalling the roof panels and rolling up the windows, I easily pegged the 85MPH speedometer and kept up with traffic at near-silence-for-a-Jeep road noise levels.

The main seal only needed about a quart with each fill up, the expansion tank coolant stayed level, and the little egg-shaped Jeep made the trip surprisingly uneventful. However, the clutch was truly in its death throes.  It BARELY engaged when leaving a Taco Bell off I-75 by the Jeepster’s birthplace in Toledo.

“WOW, what the Hell IS this car?” chirped the drive thru attendant, thinking it came from Mars and unaware that it had rolled out of the Stickney Avenue factory about three miles away from us, well before he was born.  His eyes looked like wide as saucers as he handed me the box of Crunchy Supremes…“It IS a real car…when I saw it on the camera here I thought I was still high…this is fucking awesome, man!!” After much revving and cursing the clutch hooked up. I slip shifted it up to highway speed and tried not to touch the left pedal again for the remaining drive. Getting off of the Fisher at Big Beaver for last few miles of the run home, I was running lights redder than the Jeepster’s paint finish instead of having to risk stopping at 3 in the morning.

Map1

Still, pulling into the driveway after nearly 800 miles, the lack of market success of the Jeepster stung even more. I love this thing for all of the reasons that it didn’t sell…the comfortable, refined cabin made the journey far, far better than it would have been in even a new Jeep, and if non-Jeep people found the incredibly off-road capable YJ mechanicals too crude for the looks then…well, I hate to invoke the hackneyed Jeep-Thing-You-Can’t-Understand line, but it makes perfect sense here.  As does the Jeepster itself. At least to me.

 What a shame few others saw that.

[Editor’s note: What just happened? -DT] 

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91 Responses

  1. This can’t have been written by DT… there’s no mention of this rustbucket jeep being the one and only Holy Grail!

    Snark aside, I love how this site makes no sense… and makes all the sense.

    1. Mike- I did mention the Holy Grail at the beginning. I mean, it has the Trailrunner Package which includes:

      -Those wheels and tires
      -A 2 inch lift
      -The inclinometer
      -Special leather/cloth upholstery
      -Those step tubes on the sides

      If you do a Marti report you’ll see that there were only 521 made with this package and the 5 speed…far less in Sebring Red with the Jeepseet option….and God knows how many are left.

  2. “Still, the ‘six eventually fired up, and most readers know that I have the ability to Jedi-force communicate with four liter Jeep engines, and this one was giving me all the signs that it was, in fact, a good one.”

    DT with Jedi powers?! There should be a Youtube channel with DT “The Jeep Whisperer”.

    1. There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call “The Twilight Zone”.

  3. The 1985 Nissan Pulsar NX as envisioned by Jeep.

    For a David story, there is not enough mayhem. 48 hours of wrenching without sleep, trench foot, a Racoon lunging from the trunk, etc. Real David would have attached a gas can to a wooden post hanging off the back and used a coat hanger to adjust the throttle while testing the off road prowess in rural Mississippi before heading home, I think.

    Either way, I dig this.

  4. As they say “the truth is stranger than fiction.” That’s why all of us come here to read this fun stuff.

    If we really wanted “truth” then we have to follow FOX News or CNN (tongue firmly in cheek) and our lives would be MUCH worse off.

        1. My ’67 CJ5 has a 90 mph speedometer. The 4 cylinder would never go that fast but my mighty Dauntless V6 might do 90 with an overdrive. Of course, I value my life too much to try to get a CJ to 90 mph.

  5. I’m assuming that black plastic ribbing on the beltline is inspired by the Fuego. If so, that’s so stupid I like it.

    David, if you get this back in running order, I’ll go find a running (or make running) Suzuki X-90 and come race you.*

    *Idle threat.

    1. andytheindividual- I was thinking this looked more Fiero than Fuego, but it does seem like that detail on the Renault…but I tried to use it to some functional purpose as well (hiding those ridiculous driving lights and louvers on the quarter windows).

      I do think that the failure of the X-90 is why I surmised that this would also not succeed…but who knows? At least it has back seat which the Suzuki did not have. I do think that the YJ mechanicals would kick those Geo Tracker underpinning’s ass, no problem.

  6. This is great fun, but in a REAL David adventure he’d come away with tetanus, heat exhaustion and a copperhead bite, and the thing would only run for 8 minutes before the frame buckled from rust, splitting the fuel line. And he would be undaunted.

  7. There’s been a distinct lack of David Tracy on this site lately, so Jason has obviously opened a portal to the multiverse to find a willing variant to contribute to the madness.

        1. I’m taking a little break, because things are about to get really, really weird in about a month. I’m flying to a continent I’ve never been to; I gotta figure out how to get to the middle of nowhere from Sydney, then I have to somehow mash two completely decrepit machines into something that will pass Australia’s absurd inspection. Then I have to drive the thing to a giant ute show that, per my research, is basically a drunken party filled with some of the rowdiest folks, possibly on earth. Then I have to road-trip the thing, and attempt not to be killed by any of a number of insects/animals.

          It’s the quiet before the storm, is I guess my point.

            1. At least for South Australia it’s mostly making sure the car isn’t a rusty, janky deathtrap. I found a downloadable PDF about “defected vehicles” that explained what they wanted.

              The kickers could be finding original emissions equipment and original induction equipment. Never mind that an EFI conversion, O2 sensors and a cat somewhere close to the engine would have pretty much any emissions carb engine running cleaner than stock.

          1. If you are not, in fact, presently ded, you shall be relatively soon. Both the flora and fauna in Oz is designed to kill, not just maim. Why do you suppose there are so relatively few Aussies in such a large land mass? Because they either drink themselves to a fatal stupor, they are poisoned by an animal or plant, or some combination thereof. Factoring in your usual careless wrench-rending mania, and you ain’t got a prayer.

              1. You’ll be fine. You aren’t even going to the middle of nowhere in the first instance. For starters, you can fly to Dubbo from Sydney…if you want to be cheaper then catch the train instead.

                I’d be more concerned that you don’t have enough parts cars to hand!

    1. I opined that DT was ded, and was mildly smacked down by the retort that the man was enjoying some off time fahrting around on the Autobahn.

      This led me off of the scent for a couple of days. But now I am fully onboard the ‘DT is ded’ train

  8. “I could see that the 100 pounds of tools I had checked on the flight from Romulus to Memphis International were incomplete, because I would need a chainsaw and trimmer to even get to the Jeepster.”

    Should I be concerned that the part of this article requiring the most suspension of disbelief is that David’s checked baggage actually arrived with him? Because the rest of it was remarkably plausible.

    Bishop, you have been on fire and this is absolutely the type of completely unhinged weirdness that I adore about the new site. I truly appreciated the loving care you put into the Jeepster design (the dash work in particular is an absolute gem) and would be delighted to see that sort of thing in a real Jeep rather than just some deranged imagination.

    1. With that said, one thing to ding you on – “The tires held air and the battery allowed me to get to the nearest AutoZone for the cheapest replacements they had.”

      Sir, you simply must put in a plug for our kind and generous site sponsor, Optima Batteries! Note: I am not an Optima employee or fanboy, just appreciating the good work they do in bringing us this website without loads of annoying crap like at the old German company site.

    1. Me too.

      Interestingly, it’s not that far removed from the actual dash of the cool-before-it’s-time Toyota FJ Cruiser, if you popped for the uplevel package that got you the auxiliary gauge package.

  9. That headlight isn’t the left one winking…it’s the right one, raising an eyebrow at you Rock-style, asking if you really want to do David Tracy fan-fic.

    And may I say, thank the Jeep gods it isn’t erotic fan-fic.

  10. I think this could be the start of a great new series, marrying alternate-universe Autopians with the alternate universe cars that The Bishop illustrates. I, for one, would love to read about Earth-52’s Jason Torchinsky jonesing over some extremely bizarre Volkswagen variant that this Earth never got. Or Alt-Mercedes’ offroad adventures with the SMART ForThree competitor to the Morgan Three-Wheeler that we never saw in this reality. (Also, I want to see what the ForThree would look like.)

  11. Does anything else think that the Bishop is actually Jason Torchinsky in disguise? Maybe this is an elaborate scam to squeeze out a second paycheck all the while living out deeper nerdier tail-light adjacent cosplay?

    There are some similarities in the artistic style

    IDK, but I really hope so

  12. Genuine question, when was the Obama admin in this universe or did the mirror universe differ only in the Jeepster and possibly facial hair? What of the Terran Empire?

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  14. “Felling shrubs and pushing it out into the open, it became evident that this example was in perfect condition for me, meaning that it was what any sane person would deem to be a total piece of shit and run away from as fast as their legs could take them.”

    This is incredibly accurate. Well at least with some (most) of his projects. Really glad I finally had a chance to sit down and read the whole thing. The Autopian was already my favorite automotive site and with shenanigans like this I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Torch Unleashed® is really bringing it.

  15. It just occurred to me that the article directly below this one in this alternate universe was probably Torch opining that the 1994 Studebaker Champion stole its CHMSL-integrated-into-the-heckblende rear end styling from the fifth generation ’86-92 NSU Prinz.

  16. My god, this site would be a can’t-miss daily read even if I felt about cars the same way I feel about hair scrunchies, sourdough, and the L.A. Chargers. Everyone here take a deep breath and look around. We are privileged to be present for the opening months of The Autopian, ultimately destined to be the 21st century’s automotive cultural icon eclipsing Car Talk, Road & Track, Top Gear, and Mad Max.

    1. OMG, now I want Car Talk with Torch and David. You will only be allowed on-air if you’re calling about a problem with a rusty Jeep, and while David diagnoses the problem Torch will wax poetic about some aspect of the tail light design from that specific year. There will be a lot of snorting laughter, of course. 😀

  17. Don’t care for the 80’s concept, The 1998 Jeepster concept was much better looking although still left something to be desired. Future Jeepster concepts always interested me as my first drivable vehicle was a 68 Jeepster Commando Convertible, much like the red & white one, but the stripped down version with no extra trim and only the manual roof. It was alot of fun when your 18 years old, just flip the two levers at the windshield and you’d have the top down in seconds. There were a number of downfalls such as the lack of any rustproofing, the 10″ drum brakes all the way around (major brake fade on hot day running larger wheels & tires), the manual steering, underwhelming heater and the drafty window seals.

  18. Flights of (awesome) fancy aside, how has real-life Jeep never done a totally cool keyfob like that for real?

    Would seem to fit the Jeep mojo so well, and at this point, they’re large enough to incorporate some small tools.

  19. The Eagle SX/4 only lasted 3 years, it is so surprising they went ahead with the Jeepster.
    It was such a commercial failure, however most of the magazines gave it positive reviews yet again.
    I guess it just goes to show something about enthusiast automobile publications.

      1. “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep” is the title of the Philip K. Dick novel that was made into the movie “Bladerunner”. Bishop is the name of a rather unpleasant android in the movie “Alien”, the first of the series. Dick’s writing is kind of a mindfuck and he may actually have been mentally unwell while creating it so I can’t recommend it to everyone. If weird fiction is your thing you may want to give it a try.

        I would strongly suggest that you watch “Alien” when you get a chance. It’s pretty much the archetype of sci-fi horror. Not to mention that the cast all does a fantastic job, the setting is more lived-in and realistic feeling than some clean and antiseptic Star Trek world and the Xenomorph is one of the most terrifying things ever imagined. H.R. Giger, the artist who designed the creature (he did some work on Lynch’s “Dune” as well) must have had some twisted genius because that monster is the physical embodiment of the concept of rape. If we have souls the souls of rapists look like that awful thing.

      2. I’ve seen things you readers wouldn’t believe. Rusty Jeeps on fire off the shoulder of the road. I watched motor oil glitter in the dark near the backyard gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like coolant in rain.

  20. Would an alternate universe David Tracy look different? Would his hair be longer? Would he have gotten Lasik? Would some genes have been transcribed differently and he’d be a natural blonde?

    The world will never know

      1. I do think that alternate-David articles (if they become a thing) should have edited versions of you in the lead-off picture. New David for every article!

        Maybe at the end of a year we can do a shitbox showdown from across the multiverse of epic proportions.

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