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1979 Widetrack Jeep Cherokee - $3K Thrill Rides

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CC Rogers | Writer
Posted March 1, 2011

What A Little Under $3,000 Got Me

Our editor-in-chief gave a command: Three of us needed to go find cheap trucks or 4x4s and build them for $3,000. But there was a catch. Each vehicle had to be something that would not only be fun in the dirt, but also be able to hold its own on today's busy freeways.

This means building something that is comfortable enough to drive to work, and able to keep up with other off-road toys in the dirt.

He didn't care how we did it, as long as we kept our activities legal (there goes my free truck idea), and kept the vehicles emissions-compliant (or emission exempt if it was a pre-'76 vehicle). Insurance and registration costs didn't have to be included in the $3,000 build cap, but oil changes, bolts, windshield wipers, etc., all had to be included in the cost. Bartering was fair game, but it needed to be documented. Also, it was legal to sell unused parts off the vehicle, and subtract that amount from the total price tag.

Was there a winner? Well, it depends who you're asking. We didn't really start it as a competition, and all three builds ended up differently-but with one theme in common: multi-purpose use for less than $3,000.

In the next couple months, we're going to try to find a day when we can all go out and have a $3K Thrillride adventure day. If you want to join us in Gorman, California, at the Hungary OHV area, email and send us pics of your low-cost thrillride!


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What A Little Under $3,000 Got Me

If you ask me, I think I made the best score. I got a real classic that I'll probably end up holding onto-and for less money than my diesel truck registration costs. If I'm correct in my assumptions, I scored a rare first-year package Golden Eagle fullsize Cherokee. I'm not positive that my find is a real Golden Eagle package, as the hood's eagle sticker is no longer there and a few other decals like the "Golden Eagle" lettering on the gold sticker striping have been removed, as well. It could be that one of the past owners made a replica Golden Eagle Cherokee out of a Widetrack Cherokee Chief. But I don't think so. I've checked original Jeep photos, and mine does in fact have the denim rear bench seat that was signature to the Golden Eagle models.

If it sounds like I'm geeking out a bit on my new score, it's because I am. I haven't been able to stop researching how to make the cool fullsize Jeep platform even better.

It all started when I got a call one day about a '79 fullsize Cherokee-one that my friend had owned and sold. It turned out that the then-owner didn't want it anymore. It wouldn't pass smog and he didn't have a place to keep it. Believe it or not, I got this one for $200. Yeah, that seems crazy-low for a running vehicle, but I've personally bought two other fullsize Cherokees-one for $300 and one for $600-that needed only a few things to be running vehicles. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending if you're buying or selling), fullsize Cherokees and Wagoneers can be picked up for a song. Many of them have emissions issues, and I've seen many sold off in desperation on for well under $1,000. "Need the space-going to be towed-must go-any reasonable offer taken," are what the postings usually say. If they're running, registered, and pass smog, the price goes up quite a bit. But it seems like these precious Jeeps are only sold if they don't run, don't pass smog, or aren't registered.

My new buy wasn't passing smog when I got it, but it did have a lot of great parts on it that I would have paid $200 for without the vehicle being included! This was definitely my best score on a used vehicle yet, and I can't wait to finish it with a sort of resto-mod.


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