'55-'86 CJ-5 or CJ-7 - Glutton For PunishmentSure, we're covering a wide array of CJs here and there were lots of changes over this 31-year span, but for the most part, the early ('55-'71), intermediate ('72-'75), and later ('76-'86) CJs can offer something for everyone. For changes, '72 was the first year of the long-nose CJs to accommodate AMC's 4.2L six-cylinder or 304 V-8. Earlier '55-'71 Jeeps came with a 72hp F-head four-cylinder, with '66-'71 models available with a 225 Buick V-6. The first year of the CJ-7 was '76 and the last year of the CJ-5 was '81. In '73 the Dana 30 front replaced the Dana 27, disc brakes became standard in '77, and the axle width was increased in '82.
Look For: With CJ-5s and '7s it's not so much what to look for as what to look out for. Watch out for cracked frames around the front and rear framehorns, steering-box mounts, and suspension mounts. Also, watch out for cracked or missing body mounts, worn steering and clutch components, and spun rear axleshafts in '55-'69 Dana 44 and '76-'86 Model 20 rears. Look for a '70-'71 V-6 model with one-piece Dana 44 rear shafts or a late '86 CJ-7 with a T-18 tranny, a Dana 300 T-case, and a Dana 44 rear.
Avoid: If you have smog laws in your state, avoid the late '70s and early '80s models with their miles of vacuum lines and emission trinkets.
Ideal Candidate: You can find CJs of all years that have had clean power-steering conversions, bolt-on-suspension lifts, and upgraded rear axleshafts. We'd look for a '70-'71 V-6 model or a modified '86 with a swapped-in V-8.
Expect to Pay: Upward of $3,999 for a reliable runner. Four-cylinder models will be slightly less.
'91-'99 Cherokee XJ - Mr. VersatileWhen Jeep came out with the XJ Cherokee in '84, it broke a lot of molds. Without going too deeply into Jeep history, the "little" Cherokee has served duty ranging from daily driver to insane rockcrawler to competitive prerunner to a number of things in between. With a wheelbase of 101.4 inches, a great power-to-weight ratio (for the H.O. 4.0L models), and durable drivetrain components, the XJ offers something for just about everyone.
Look For: In '91 Jeep introduced the upgraded High Output 4.0L that upped power to 190 hp and 225 lb-ft and began introducing the stronger Chrysler 8.25 axle in place of the weaker Dana 35. The '91-'96 models are the older body style introduced in '84, while the '97-'99 models have a more rounded shape and updated interior. Later Dana 30 front axles are high pinion, with some '99s either high or low pinion. Look for larger Spicer 297/760 U-joints in the front axle (the smaller 260X joints are easily converted with new shafts) and the NV231 T-case, although the NV242 Selec-Trac is good too.
Avoid: Four-cylinder models are largely dogs. The Dana 35 axle is weak and will need to be swapped out unless you plan on nothing but street driving. Even then we'd be careful.
Ideal Candidate: While the '97-and-up models are nicer, the $3,999 versions will have insanely high miles or lots of problems. For the money, we'd look for a '91-'93 version (it has an easily modified OBD-I emissions system) with the 4.0L, Chrysler 8.25 axle, and NP231 T-case.
Expect to Pay: Anywhere from $1,900 to $3,999 for a nice driver.
'93-'98 Grand Cherokee ZJ - Civil LibertiesThe Grand Cherokee ZJ was the family truckster/soccer-mom-mobile back in the day. However, now that those vehicles are looking a little long in the tooth, the prices have dropped dramatically. When you consider what you'd pay for a V-8-powered Jeep with front and rear coil suspension and room for five, if you had to have someone build it for you, the Grand Cherokee ZJ begins to look criminally inexpensive.
Look For: The '93-'98 models were available with an optional 220hp/245-lb-ft Magnum 318 engine, with '98s offering the 300hp/335-lb-ft Magnum 360 in the Limited models. Look for the full-time NV249 T-case behind the V-8s, with '96-and-up versions offering a center diff lock in the T-case.