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Jeep’s last load-lugger: 1986 Comanche brochure

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Brochure images are from the collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor.

Jeep aficionados are salivating at the prospect of the upcoming Wrangler-based Scrambler pickup truck, rumored to be debuting at the Los Angeles Auto Show at the end of this month. The retro-nameplate Scrambler would be the first Jeep with a factory-installed pickup bed in decades, and one whose ancestors include the Brooks Stevens-penned FCs of the late 1950s, the 1960s-’80s J-series, the 1981-’85 CJ-8 Scrambler, and this, the XJ-series Cherokee-based Comanche.

That new 1984 Cherokee compact SUV had proved a smash hit for Jeep, being a category innovator with its unit-body “UniFrame” construction and option of two or four doors. It was adapted to pickup duty with an 18.2-inch wheelbase stretch, and the addition of a rear subframe to support the generous 7.5-foot bed. The resulting compact/midsize (194-inch-long) pickup would feature a single cab with a bench or bucket seats, and two- or four-wheel drive, and would take home Four Wheeler magazine’s “Four Wheeler of the Year” trophy for its debut year.

This MJ-series Comanche was sold from 1985 (as a 1986 model) through 1992, and the generously sized, 24-page brochure highlighted here offered prospective buyers a fine overview of what Jeep executives hoped would be a runaway best-seller. This new model–which went up against Ford’s Ranger and Chevrolet’s S-10–could be ordered as a luxurious XLS, sporty X, or basic Custom, each coming in two- or four-wheel-drive forms (part-time, off-road “Command-Trac” or full-time, all-surface “Selec-Trac”).

For 1986, the standard powertrain was the AMC 2.5-liter, fuel-injected 117-hp four-cylinder mated to a four-speed manual transmission. Optional setups included that engine with a three-speed automatic, a Renault-designed 85-hp, 2.1-liter turbo-diesel with a five-speed manual or three-speed auto, and a GM-sourced, 2-bbl-carbureted, 115-hp, 2.8-liter V-6 with the latter two gearbox choices.

Jeep ensured the Comanche lived up to its tough 4 x 4 heritage by fitting solid axle front and rear suspensions behind 15 x 6-inch steel (optional 15 x 7-inch steel or aluminum) wheels: the “Quadralink” front used coil springs, four locating arms, an anti-roll bar, steering damper, and dual-action tube shocks, while the Hotchkiss-style rear featured leaf springs and dual-action tube shocks.

Regardless of the mechanical package or trim level, these trucks were highly customizable, with numerous option packages adding upscale equipment inside and out. Whether you wanted your Comanche sporty or cosseting, it could oblige. It was even available with a Fuel Saver Package, which paired the 2.5-liter gas engine with a four-speed manual, 3.31:1 final drive ratio, and an upshift light–so equipped, the 2WD was rated at 24 city/27 highway mpg, the 4WD coming in 23 city/26 highway. Of course, the turbo-diesel four did even better, claiming 28/31 for 2WD and 28/29 for 4WD. These figures were altered after the recent fuel economy rating changes, but the 2WD diesel achieves a still-impressive 24/29 mpg.

When the Comanche returned for its sophmore year, a good deal had changed. A short-bed (112.9-inch wheelbase, 6.0-foot bed) version became available in certain trim levels, and the milquetoast carb’d GM V-6 was replaced by a fuel-injected “Power-Tech” 4.0-liter straight-six, which brought another 62 hp to the party. That 4.0–which would power Jeep products well into the 21st century–was at the heart of the coveted Comanche Eliminator sport truck, which debuted for 1988.

This model would remain in Jeep’s lineup through 1992, with somewhere just under 165,000 having been built. After that point, the Chrysler-owned firm would focus on SUVs, leaving the pickup truck market to Dodge’s Dakota and Ram. That is, until now…

Were you a fan of the crisp-looking Comanche?

Click on the brochure images below to enlarge.