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Remembering the Comanche Eliminator

The Jeep Comanche was unique with a unibody pickup based on the downsized Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer XJ platform. Comanche Eliminator represented a high point in American performance trucks, and today is one of the more coveted vintage Jeep vehicles.

For the 1986 model year, Jeep introduced a new truck called Comanche as its entry into the compact pickup market. Due to serious concerns about gasoline availability and pricing, small trucks at the time represented a fairy large segment of the truck market and competition was intense. Jeep’s prior compact truck effort, the 1981-1985 Scrambler pickup, hadn’t done well partly because it was too small for many hauling jobs and mainly because Jeep hadn’t done a very effective job marketing it. They wouldn’t make the same mistake with the new truck.
Comanche was unique with a unibody pickup based on the downsized Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer XJ platform. Although previous efforts to market a small Jeep pickup had been mostly disappointing, company execs felt that with the new truck they had an entry that could compete with the volume-selling Chevy S-10, Ford Ranger and Toyota compact pickups.
In its first year on the market, Comanche was offered in only a single long-wheelbase model available in base and up level trim variations. The standard engine was a 117-hp Jeep four-cylinder, with a 115-hp GM-built 2.8-liter V-6 optional. An 82-hp diesel four was also available.
Comanche sales were pretty good that first year and even better the next year when a range of short-wheelbase “SportTruck” models were added. With base prices as low as $6,495, Comanche offered tremendous value for the dollar and also was one of the best-looking small pickups available. Its performance however, was only fair. Even with the optional GM V-6 and a five-speed stick, Comanche needed about 15 seconds to go 0-60 mph, and a quarter mile run took 20.1 seconds. Naturally, when equipped with the optional automatic transmission, the little truck was even slower. However, in that fuel-challenged decade, horsepower had been largely overshadowed by gas mileage concerns. Although Comanche was a tad under-whelming when it came to performance, it was certainly no worse than any others in the compact truck segment. Gas mileage was viewed as far more important than acceleration.
But Jeep parent American Motors had an ace up its sleeve. For 1987, it introduced a new high-performance 4.0-liter Power-Tech Six. Based on Jeep’s prosaic cast-iron 4.2-liter in-line six, the new 4.0-liter featured sequential multi-point electronic fuel injection, automatic altitude compensation and fast-burn technology. The difference in power output between Jeep’s new in-line six and the old one was substantial, and compared to the GM-sourced V-6, it was simply amazing. The 4.0-liter cranked out a lot more horses — 173 hp versus the V-6’s 110-hp, and 220 lbs-ft of torque versus the GM engine’s puny 145 lbs-ft. There no longer was a contest; with its new 4.0-liter engine Comanche offered the most power in its class, period. Needless to say, performance was outstanding.
The Jeep 4.0-liter engine might be considered the first true high-performance six offered in the truck market. Take a look at the competition back then: the 1987 Chevy S-10’s optional 2.8 liter V-6 was rated at only 125 hp, while the 1987 Ford Ranger offered a 140-hp 2.9 liter six. Obviously, neither could offer performance that was anywhere near Comanche’s.
One indication of the 4.0’s performance potential came in late 1986, when a specially prepared 1987 Comanche powered by a modified version of the 4.0 liter set nine U.S. and four international records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The highlight was Comanche’s record average speed of 141.381 miles per hour in a two-way run over the measured mile. The top speed registered during the runs was 144.028 mph. Quarter-mile runs were clocked at 16.9 seconds, which was pretty impressive for a six-cylinder pickup back then. Whereas in previous years road testers usually referred to Comanche’s power as “adequate,” once the 4.0 liter debuted, they began to include actual acceleration runs in their tests, often noting 0-60 times well under 10 seconds — the best in its class.
All of which led to the introduction of a special performance model. For 1988, Jeep decided to showcase its newfound performance in a sporty pickup model with a fitting name — Comanche Eliminator. Jeep engineers created a super-sporty truck by combining Comanche’s light two-wheel drive short-wheelbase chassis with the awesome Power Tech six, along with a bunch of special trim and appearance items. Comanche Eliminator was built for enthusiasts searching for a sporty-looking truck that was actually capable of outstanding performance.
The Eliminator package, a bit pricey with its suggested retail price of $2,929, included the 4.0-liter inline six, rated that year at 177 hp and 224 lbs.-ft of torque along with a sturdy and smooth five-speed manual gearbox with floor shift. Four P215/65R15 OWL “Eagle GT” radial tires mounted on gorgeous (and exclusive) 15x7 10-hole aluminum wheels with bright hub centers were standard. Tachometer, gauge group, fog lamps and power steering were standard equipment. A four-speed automatic transmission with console shift was optional. Nothing in its class could touch it. Eliminator was offered strictly as a two-wheel-drive model. Buyers looking for a four-wheel drive-sport truck could order a Comanche Chief, but in that model, the 4.0 engine was optional and the 10-hole alloy wheels weren’t available.
Although the emphasis was on performance, some luxury touches were incorporated. Eliminator models included custom-trim door panels with stowage bins and “hockey stick” armrests, floor carpeting, fabric headliner and sun visors, Wing-back bucket seats, three-spoke steering wheel, and a carpeted trim panel on the back of the cab. Highlighting the exterior were a color-keyed grille, body-color fender flares and front air dam, side decals and silver painted bumpers front and rear. Three exterior colors were offered: Classic Black, Colorado Red and Dover Gray Metallic. Only one interior trim was offered for 1988, a handsome charcoal fabric.
Comanche was also the best in its class as a tow vehicle. The 4.0 liter, six-cylinder, manual stick drivetrain combo was rated for trailers up to 2,000 lbs. (Class I), while the 4.0 with automatic could be optioned up to a Class III (5,000 lbs.) rating.
Comanche Eliminator was offered for five model years. Both the 1989 and 1990 model offered only modest appearance changes from the original. But in 1990, the company added a four-wheel drive Eliminator to the Jeep line-up, a welcome addition since the Comanche Chief had been dropped after only one year on the market. Then in 1991, Jeep boosted the 4.0’s power to 190-hp, declaring that “Absolute power erupts absolutely.”
The last year for the Jeep Eliminator was 1992. In its final year, color choices were opened up to include Midnight Blue, Hunter Green, Dark Cardovan (a deep maroon), Gray Mist, along with Black, Colorado Red and Bright White.
Comanche Eliminator represents a high point in American performance trucks, and one of the more coveted vintage Jeep vehicles. It’s a great-looking truck that offers comfort, ease of service, and more power than other compact trucks of the same vintage. Fuel economy is pretty decent — it’s a six, remember — and, of course, it can handle modern highway speeds without breaking a sweat. What more could you ask for?

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