By on November 18, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride comes from a time when Jeep still offered a two-door pickup to the American small truck consumer.

Super clean, pretty retro, and with great tape stripes, it’s the Jeep Comanche Pioneer. A fitting example of the first-ever Jeep featured in this series!

Jeep introduced the massively successful XJ Cherokee as a new compact SUV in 1984. That was right around the time all the Detroit manufacturers were debuting their new small truck-based utility vehicles, like the Bronco II and the Blazer/Jimmy. But while other manufacturers used a truck and turned it into an SUV, Jeep went the opposite route: The Cherokee was available a full two years before the debut of its Comanche truck sibling.

Now you Cherokee fans will be preparing to explain in the comments how the XJ was in fact a unibody vehicle and was not body-on-frame like the truck-based SUVs mentioned above. There, I saved you the trouble. The Comanche was both unibody and body-on-frame. The passenger portion at the front retained the Cherokee’s construction, but the bed behind was body-on-frame. Using the more traditional chassis at the rear meant the Comanche was easily adapted to two bed lengths. The long-bed (7′) model was available at the Comanche’s launch, and a six-foot short bed arrived in 1987.

In addition to bed length selection, Comanche was configurable in either rear- or four-wheel drive. There were also four different engines available. The smallest was a Renault turbodiesel inline-four, of just 2.1 liters in displacement. Next up was a 2.5-liter inline-four from AMC, which was used in the AMC Eagle and (later) the Eagle Premier. AMC also borrowed an engine from GM (1986 only), the 2.8-liter V6 straight from the Blazer. Finally, there was the 4.0 inline-six of outstanding repute, contributed by AMC. Transmissions were four- or five-speeds if manual and sourced from Aisin, or three-, four-, or five-speeds in automatic guise, and provided by Chrysler, Aisin, or Peugeot.

AMC (and then Chrysler) made small changes to the Comanche over its life, mostly fiddling with trim offerings. Custom, X, and XLS gave way to SporTruck, Chief, Laredo, Eliminator, and today’s Pioneer. Pioneer was considered a step up from the basic SporTruck from 1987 onward and lived underneath the sports-oriented Eliminator, and high luxury Laredo. Pioneer also contributed to a single-year special, the Olympic Edition.

Alas, the Comanche was a slow seller. Sales peaked in 1988 at just 43,718 units and fell off rapidly after. By 1990 Comanche didn’t make it to 10,000 sales, and in 1991 only 5,188 found homes. After less than 1,000 were made in 1992, the model was dropped. Chrysler wasn’t too upset about the Comanche’s death; there was a strict hierarchy to be enforced, and within it, Jeep made only SUVs, while Dodge took care of the trucks.

Today’s Comanche Pioneer is part of the few examples made toward the end of the model’s run. With mixed manual and power equipment, it has functioning AC, an automatic transmission, and the 4.0-liter. With 151,000 miles, it asks $9,900.

[Images: seller]

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28 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1990 Jeep Comanche Pioneer, the Best Jeep Truck Ever...”

  • avatar

    I would argue the best jeep pickup ever was in fact a dodge. It was my understanding that the dodge dakota convertible I had and foolishly sold was built on the comanche bones after Chrysler bought Jeep.

    • 0 avatar

      Nope. Dakota was introduced the same year as the Comanche, and was full BOF.

    • 0 avatar

      Nope. Dakota and Comanche are as different platforms and did not share development. Dakota convertible is a bold product for it’s time. I have not seen one in years.
      Comanche is one of many examples of what can be accomplished by determined engineers and managers when their resolve exceeds their budget. The genius of AMC.

    • 0 avatar

      The best Jeep pickup was the Gladiator, built in the 1960s off a SJ Wagoneer chassis. AMC started making the 2 door Cherokee on the same chassis, and the Gladiator disappeared.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Jeep produced the Commando to compete with the Ford Bronco and International Scout in the early 70s. I really liked mine. Used it for snowplowing and as a runabout.

  • avatar

    Yes the bed does bolt onto the truck but it is still a unibody, it may look like frame rails back there but they are just built up sheet metal spot welded to the cab.

  • avatar

    Own an ’87 Comanche Chief with bucket seats. Beautiful truck. Can’t kill the 4.0 but have gone through 2 manual 5 speed Peugeot transmissions.

  • avatar

    Was the 2.5 an AMC design, or was that (or did it beget) the Iron Duke?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I do6n’t think I would pay the price their asking but at 5k to 6k I would definitely be interested especially with the 4.0. It is in really good shape.

  • avatar

    My wife had an XJ Cherokee (not Comanche) – it was the right size and the right weight [add ~3 inches to the second row next time]. Easiest vehicle to park I have ever driven, due to tight turning radius (because offroad) and visibility (because rectangles).

    4.0 straight 6. Was the engine refined? No. Was it durable? Yes. Did the suspension float and bounce for many many feet after crossing the un-level railroad level crossing near my home? Yes. Did this matter? Not much.

    Based on what I now know, this Comanche appeals to me (long bed, please). I am intrigued by the frame-to-cab connection.

    This vehicle could have used some Honda-style discipline with regard to engine and trim availability.

    And finally, I live within walking distance of one section of the Trail of Tears. Apologies to the world for having once owned such an offensively-named vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      You have to wonder about folks who purchased the Studebaker Scotsman in the late 50’s. It was the base model below the Champion. It had ply board door cards with no armrests. Gray unplated hub caps and bumpers. Rubber matting and a sun visor, just for the driver. Did they really think that they were getting tartan plaid upholstery?

      • 0 avatar

        And that was only their second-worst name. There was also a Studebaker Dictator. In the 1930s.

      • 0 avatar

        The term “Scotsman” was associated with being thrifty, which is why it was the cheap model. I’ve seen pictures of them. Below bare bones. And yeah, the “Dictator” name wasn’t their smartest marketing move.

        • 0 avatar

          When Studebaker sold the Dictator, it was a business term associated with secretaries “taking dictation”. Adolf and Benito put the kibosh on that term, even though they had formal government titles (Chancellor and Prime Minister, respectively).

  • avatar

    I’ve owned an ’89 Eliminator for 16 years. It has never missed a beat, requires minimal upkeep and still makes me smile. Great vehicles that are finally going up in price. Used to be able to find these for $1500 all day. This one I probably wouldn’t pay more than 6K for, but I hope the owner gets what he asks.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Years ago, whilst out dirt biking, I saw one of these in our campsite that had been ‘monster-trucked’. I don’t know what was under the hood but I had to climb a front tire to get in the thing. It had four-wheel steering and enough power to turn all four 5′ tires with alacrity. Their other vehicle was a Suzuki Samurai that had paddle tires and a welded differential in a truck frame about nine feet behind the rear of said Suzuki. A radiator was where the wee engine used to be – and an LS1 was behind the front seats. I assume the Comanche had something outrageous under its hood, too, as they both went like stabbed rats.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    The AMC 2.5 and 4.0 were not bad motors. They are related and both very durable, but the 4.0 can hustle along nicely for its time. My 2.5 has survived almost 25 years in my care with just oil, coolant, and 1 water pump. They come off the factory floor making disconcerting rattling noises but rarely die.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @MRF 95 T-Bird–My father bought a used white 2 door 58 Studebaker Scotsman and the only thing Scot about it was its cheapness. Even in Houston the painted hubcaps and grill were rusting, the steering wheel broke, a driver’s visor only, no interior light, no glove box, no spare tire, no heater, and it had fixed rear windows with 3 on the tree. Scotsman, at $1,776 was the cheapest full-size American car on the market in 1957 (30 mpg). My father sold it and ordered a new 1962 Chevy II in Sept 1961. The Chevy II was a luxury car compared to the Scotsman. Eleanor Roosevelt even bought a new Scotsman because of the price (apparently Eleanor was thrifty). Studebaker sold a lot of Scotsmans including a base pickup truck version which was the same as the 1949 Studebaker pickup which came with one wiper blade, one visor, no spare tire, no glove box, and no radio for $1,595, making it one of the lowest-priced pickups available at the time.

  • avatar

    I had a 1987 Comanche with the 4.0L. I got it for $1500 with a very checkered past and it took a decent amount of time to sort out the various vehicle systems to get it road-ready. Turn signal switch had internally semi-failed causing all sorts of turn signal irregularities once the vehicle had been running for a bit, and true-to-form the variable brake proportioning valve had failed and a previous owner bypassed it incorrectly so the truck only had front brakes.

    I’d love to own another one of these, but it would have to be one of the very hard to find 91’s or 92’s. I believe 1991 was when Jeep dumped the old Renix 4.0L for the 4.0 “H.O.” version and that made a world of difference to reliability. The Renix engine (Renault/Bendix) that was used from ’87-’90(?) was structurally robust, but the fuel injection and vacuum systems required constant attention. All the electrical connectors were filled with a dielectric grease that eventually turned into a disgusting, tar-like material and had to be cleaned out, and the PCV system cycled loads of oil through the intake making a mess out of all the vacuum hoses. They’d rot, fall off their vacuum T’s, and cause other headaches. They always ran, but they never ran properly. The following 4.0L H.O. was more powerful and way better sorted.

  • avatar

    “Transmissions were four- or five-speeds if manual and sourced from Aisin, or three-, four-, or five-speeds in automatic guise, and provided by Chrysler, Aisin, or Peugeot.”

    A 5-speed auto in a pickup in the early ’90s? AFAIK even the 7-series didn’t get a 5AT until the V8 in 1991!

  • avatar

    You can build your own Neo-Commanche:

  • avatar

    Alright, now make one out of the Renegade.

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