Chevy M1008 Pickup ('84-'86)
The GM Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicles (CUCVs) were produced for the Military from '84 to '86 and were powered by the 6.2L Detroit Diesel V8. These trucks came in three basic body styles: a pickup, a utility and an ambulance body. These rigs are sought after by 4x4 enthusiasts because of their massive full-floating 1-ton axles, a TH400 automatic transmission, and a NP208 transfer case. Even with steady demand, these vehicles can be purchased through the Government Liquidators website (www.govliquidation.com) for as little as $400, depending on condition and options.
Chevy Blazer M1009 ('83-'87)
The GM-built military M1009 Blazer was used as a troop support vehicle in the early '80s and is still in limited use today. They feature Corporate 10-bolt axles front and rear with 3.08:1 gearing. The rear axles are typically equipped with an Eaton Locker (a.k.a., "Gov-Lock"). While not nearly as rugged as their sibling pickup trucks, these military-spec SUVs are awesome trail machines. A non-turbocharged 6.2L Detroit Diesel sends power to a TH400 automatic and a NP208 transfer case. We like the fact that these Blazers have heavy-duty tow points front and rear.
Jeep Cherokee ('84-'01)
When the unibody Jeep Cherokee hit pavement in the spring of '84, the SUV segment was forever changed. This vehicle laid the foundation for the entire SUV segment we know today. Before it, no SUV manufactured was without a traditional frame. The idea was radical for the time period, and the benefits caught on immediately. By eliminating the frame, the Cherokee was built light, far lighter than the other SUVs of the time. This translated into better power and fuel efficiency from any of the six engine options. Initially, the 2.4L I-4 was carbureted, though by '86 the engine was updated with fuel injection, netting a 12hp increase in power over the previous year. Then in '87 came the 4.0L I-6, sporting 173 horsepower thanks to a Renix fuel injection system. By '91, Chrysler had perfected their multi-point fuel injection system and a higher output 4.0L mill was born. This second version of the 4.0L was an impressive performer at the time, and thanks to the vehicles family-friendly layout, a massive shift began to take place. More and more people upgraded from conventional station wagons to the Cherokee XJ. Today, the Cherokee's boxy exterior design remains one of the practical SUV platforms available. They offer excellent passenger visibility and are virtual billy goats on the trail. All Cherokees have a 102-inch wheelbase, and all share the same solid axle, coil/link front suspension arrangement. The rear axle remained leaf-sprung throughout the vehicle's production cycle.
Suzuki Samurai ('86 1/2-'94)
When it comes to capability per dollar spent, nothing comes close to the Suzuki Samurai. Rarely priced over $700 for high-mileage beaters, the micro-sized SUV simply fills the gap where other used 4x4s break the bank. Powered by a 1.3L I-4, the lightweight SUV offers drivers an economical solution to the heavier alternatives in the same vehicle segment. At just over 60 inches wide, the Samurai has been criticized for instability during abrupt cornering or panic maneuvers. However, this did not stop the 4x4 community from adopting the micro-machine for extensive up-fitting. Today, the aftermarket has a solution to every Samurai-related problem sorted out. From gearing to suspension, axles to interior, the Samurai owner has options to spare. We've see built Samurais in every region of the globe; the Samurai bested Jeep's 2007 highest-altitude claim in April of 2007, with a record-crushing altitude of 21,942 in Chile, South America. The ideal Samurai to start with depends on how far you plan to go with a buildup. For example: If 33-inch tires were your goal, then the factory-supplied 1.3L fuel-injected engine would suffice. However, if a point-and-shoot rock crawler build is the plan, consider a V-6 engine swap and bigger axles. Either way, a Samurai returns ample fun in a petite and affordable package.