Whether you've just started off-roading or you're looking for your next project Jeep, there's a lot of really good stuff available for under $4,000. You can get a good running and driving Jeep for less than the down payment of a new pickup with manual windows and a rubber carpet and still have enough money left to fill the tank a couple of times.
Here are some ideas we came up with for Jeeps that will get you out on the trail without breaking the bank. Some offer more reliability, others offer more cargo room, and a few offer the sense of adventure that can only come with the marriage of significant off-road capability coupled with mechanical uncertainty. So whether you want to take the wife and kids camping, hit the trails of Moab, or just plain wander into the great unknown and break down, there's a Jeep out there with your name on it.
'74-'79 J-truck/Wagoneer - Rednecks Come-a-Courtin'Let's face it. If you're looking for an affordable fullsize Jeep, your selection is severely limited. While J-trucks and Wagoneers were made throughout the '60s, the '74-'79 models had better drivetrain parts and a few more creature comforts. They're easier to modify with aftermarket parts, they're easier to find replacement parts for at the local auto store, and they command a slightly lower price than the earlier stuff.
Look For: Both the AMC 360 and 401 V-8s were optional from '74-'78. All front axles were open-knuckle Dana 44s, but disc brakes were optional on the '74-'76 pickups, so look for that. The T-18 tranny was available with or without a granny low. Power steering is a plus, as is the Model 20 T-case.
Avoid: We'd rather not have the TH400 with the Quadra-Trac full-time T-case and offset rear axle. While the inline-six may be adequate, why bother when V-8s are plentiful?
Ideal Candidate: We'd nab a pre-smog (in California at least) '74 or '75 model with a 401 four-barrel, a T-18 tranny, disc brakes, and air conditioning. We'd also like the bed full of gold bars and a supermodel who would chauffeur it for us.
Expect to Pay: Anywhere from $1,700 to $3,999 for a solid runner in reliable condition.
'41-'53 Flatfender - Wheel a LegendFlatties are still the king of cool in the dirt. With a nimble 80-inch wheelbase, they offer great maneuverability, although they do have very limited cargo capacity. A stock flattie will go places you'd never dream possible, and a built one will astound you. Unless you're extremely patient, plan on eventually ditching the stock 60hp flathead four-banger.
Look For: The '49-'53 CJ-3A and '50-'52 M-38 have a Dana 44 rear that's easy to upgrade, unlike earlier models' Spicer 25 or Spicer 41. Early 225 Buick V-6 conversions were popular, as were Chevy and Ford V-8 conversions. Swapped-in granny trannies like the SM420 are abundant.
Avoid: Stock drivetrain parts are marginal for all but the original L-head four-cylinder, which there aren't many of still around. Just avoid hacked, poorly executed engine, transmission, steering, and suspension work.
Ideal Candidate: A largely unmolested CJ-3A or M-38 with the original drivetrain in running condition is ideal. Minor mods like swapped seats, rollbars, or even a suspension lift are good. A vehicle like this would be a killer weekend fun rig and the beginning of a great, serious trail buildup.
Expect to Pay: Anywhere from $1,500 to $3,999 for a running, driving example.