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Antiques Off-Road Vehicles

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 1, 2010
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Photographers: The Four Wheeler Archives

Generally speaking, four-wheel drives don't appreciate much in value over time. We like to buy them cheap, build them cheaper, beat the stuffing out of them on the trail or at the worksite, then sell them off quickly or part them out to our friends, and buy another cheapie to start working on again.

But as with any other type of vehicle, there are some specimens out there which, with the proper feeding and care, will increase in value-sometimes greatly-with the passage of time. Most 4x4s of this type haven't been made in many years, and the reason for their increasing popularity may spring from their relative scarcity, their heritage, or simply because they look really cool.

As a rule, the same collectors' rules for cars apply to trucks as well. A vehicle that saw a limited production run, or for a specific use, will often be more valuable than a mass-production model. An unmodified antique in brand-new condition is generally more valuable than one that's been chopped-but not always; different collectors have different priorities. If it has any racing lineage in its background-a Stroppe-built Bronco from the '70s, for instance-its value will escalate appreciably. If somebody famous ever owned it, that should also up the price tag. (Unless the famous person drove a white Bronco in a police chase.) And if Steve McQueen ever drove it in a movie, you can quit your job now and spend your retirement counting the millions you'll make at the auction house.

To keep things simple, we'll limit our survey to vehicles that were manufactured for sale in the U.S., and for civilian use only, so if you're looking for info on Unimogs, Jimnys or right-hand drive stuff, you're out of luck. We're also limiting our survey to vehicles manufactured since World War II, so how much that 1919 Stanley Steamer in your grandpa's garage is worth, hey, that's your job. We're also ruling out one-offs or 4x4 conversions, so Napco Chevys aren't included here, and if you're looking for one of those legendary '88 Africars, check your local lumberyard. The idea here is to cover those vehicles that the average enthusiast might have a halfway decent chance of finding by perusing his local classifieds or scrounging the neighborhood junkyard.

For the sake of clarification, "current value" here assumes a bone-stock, base-model specimen with all intact bodywork that's free of rust and mechanically sound, and "auction value" is the estimated maximum bid for either a low-mileage original or a ground-up resto, both in like-new condition.

To arrive at our estimated "current" values, we relied on several sources to establish our baselines: Average prices for comparable vehicles sold within a 30-day period at eBay Motors; a one-month sampling of Craigslist classified ads in six major metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, Detroit); and suggested resale values supplied by the National Automotive Dealers Association (NADA). For "auction" values, we examined the online databases at Barrett -Jackson, Russo and Steele, and RM Auctions from 2000 to the present day (and yes, they actually sell Jeeps and pickup trucks, too). Obviously, prices may vary widely, depending on the availability of, and demand for, vehicles in the region where you live, so think of this survey as a rough guesstimate. Either way, read on to see if you've got any buried treasure stashed away in your garage.

1969-72 Chevrolet Blazer
MSRP (1967): $2,852
Current value (est.): $8,000
Auction value: $15,000
Essentially a short-wheelbase (104-inch) version of the '67-'72 K10 pickup, the Blazer was GM's first 1/2-ton SUV. Though the Blazer could be ordered from the factory with your choice of three different engines and three transmissions, the 350 V-8/SM 465 package, with its 6.55:1 granny First and Dana 20 transfer case, are highly sought after by parts swappers. (Auto-transmission-equipped models came with the also-quite-stout NP205 and 3.73:1 axle gears.) Axles were six-lug versions of the Dana 44 front and semi-floating Corporate 12-bolt rear throughout its production run. While the '69 Blazer is the rarest of the breed (fewer than 5,000 were built), the most desirable models are likely the '71-'72 versions, which came with standard front disc brakes, a rear posi limited-slip option (for a whopping $65), and the popular "egg crate" grille design; in addition, the '72 engines were reengineered to run on unleaded fuel. If your Blazer still has a functioning factory soft top, it'll definitely add value, as aftermarket replacement tops are nearly impossible to find. (Fiberglass hard tops were a factory option.) Unlike some other classic 4x4s, rodding and modifying one won't necessarily hurt its peak value. Built-to-the-hilt models have fetched in excess at $20,000 at auction.

1949-65 Willys Wagon
MSRP (1949): $1,895
Current value: $5,500
Auction value: $20,000
These things are just flat-out cool. Designed by Brooks Stevens (the mastermind behind the original two-wheel-drive Willys Jeepster) and first offered for sale in 1946 as a two-wheel drive only, this was the first all-steel station wagon ever produced (less costly to produce than a wood-paneled wagon), and arguably the forefather of modern-day SUVs. For the bulk of its production run, it shared most of its components with the CJ-3 series: T-90A transmission (slightly re-geared), Spicer 18 'case, Dana 25 and 44-2 axles and 5.38:1 ring and pinions. The base engine was the 134ci "Go Devil" Four, though the F-head "Hurricane" became available in 1950, and the 6-226 "Hurricane" could be had in 1954. Willys debuted the trademark "Sedan Delivery" (solid side panels, dual rear doors) body style in 1953, and two-tone paint became an option the following year. From 1958 to 1964, Willys offered an upscaled "Maverick" package (in honor of the TV show, which WIllys sponsored) to 4x2 models, which featured your choice of engine, two-tone paint, vinyl upholstery and a one-piece windshield. Six-cylinder Mavericks are extremely rare; only some 1,500 were ever sold. One-piece windshields eventually became standard in 1959, and grille designs changed several times throughout the 1950s. The debut of the Wagoneer in 1963 spelled the end for the wagon two years later, but over 300,000 of them were built during their run. Jeep collectors tend to be purists when compared to collectors of other 4x4 models, so a low-mileage original or a full restoration will likely bring the highest return on investment.

1966-77 Ford Bronco
MSRP (1966): $2,199
Current value (est.): Up to $14,000
Auction value: $35,000+
The vehicle that invented the term "Sports Utility" (it was one of three body styles, the others being an open-top roadster and a hardtop wagon), the CJ-fighter Bronco was a genuinely bold move, with its own unique chassis and revolutionary (for its time) coil-spring/radius-arm suspension design. Models in the '71-and-later range are prized for their stoutness, as they could be had with the 302 V-8 (which debuted in 1969), 9-inch rearend and Dana 44 front, which replaced the previous Dana 30; '73-and-later models could be ordered with the Trac-Lok rear limited-slip. Despite its now-iconic status, it was not a runaway success in its day, with only 230,000 units sold during its 12-year production run. Arguably the most collectible early Bronco is the '71-to-'75 Stroppe-kitted "Baja" edition, which came with Gates Commando tires, C4 trans, dual-shock suspension, Saginaw power steering, and distinctive red-white-and-blue paint scheme. They cost nearly twice as much as plain-Jane production models, though, and fewer than 700 were ever sold. The Bronco Roadster, which only saw production for two years, was also a rare bird, with only 5,000 units sold. As with the Blazer, modding one won't necessarily hurt, and might even improve, its peak value. A modified '66 fetched a record $49,500 auction price in Palm Beach a few years ago.

1960-84 Toyota FJ-40 Land Cruiser
MSRP (1960): $2,165
Current value: Up to $15,000
Auction value: $30,000+
Where to begin? One of the world's most legendary 4x4s has always been beloved by wheelers, and if you've looked for one recently in your local classifieds, you know that bargains on good running specimens can be extremely hard to find. The FJ was originally sold in three different wheelbase sizes, with soft or hard tops, with the short-wheelbase FJ-40 being the most popular. Most enthusiasts lean towards '75-and-later Cruisers, which came with the more powerful 4.2L 2F six-cylinder engine-which replaced the previous-generation 3.9L Six-as well as the H42 four-speed manual transmission. Also among later models, those signature rear swing-out "barn doors" debuted in 1975, front disc brakes were added in 1976, and power steering was available in 1979. Wheelers have long valued these rigs for their relative amenity to engine swaps-with Buick and Chevy V-6s and small-block V-8s the most common-as the Toyota drivetrain and axles generally hold up well to the extra power without need for many modifications. Two rare variants, the FJ-45 pickup (1963-67) and FJ-45V four-door wagon (1960-67) are quite scarce and valued by collectors, though any 40-series model in good-running, rust-free condition will fetch far more than it did when it rolled off the assembly line. Extensively modified FJ-40s have fetched in excess of $50,000 at auction.

1967-73 Jeepster C-101 Commando
MSRP (1967): $2,466
Current value: $6,000
Auction value: $15,000
A limited production run and all-around cool retro design aesthetic based off the '48-50 Jeepster VJ both contribute to the Commando's popularity with collectors. Only 57,000 were ever built, and it was intially offered in convertible, wagon, roadster and pickup styles. (Convertibles were discontinued after '71, and examples still sporting their factory soft tops are getting harder to find.) Dana 44 rear axles, Dana 20 transfer cases, and 4.27:1 axle gears were standard in all Commandos, though different axle ratios ranging from 3.73:1 to 5:38:1 were available in various models, and '72-and-later versions were prized for the Dana 30 frontend, which replaced the less stout 27-A; a 304 V-8 option was also available for those model years as well. A variety of manual Warner T-series manual transmissions were used over the years, though the TH400 automatic-available as an option on the six-cylinder and V-8 models-are more highly sought after. A limited edition of 500 "Hurst Special" Commandos were offered in '71; these sported unique trim and graphics packages, and are quite rare now. As with most antiques, provenance can count for a lot of dough-a Commando belonging to country star Alan Jackson sold for $88,000 at auction two years ago. And if you score an original Willys Jeepster, its current and auction values will likely be three to four times the value of the Commando's, even though it's only a two-wheel drive.

1945-49 Willys CJ-2A
MSRP (1945): $1,090
Current value (est): $9,000
Auction value: Up to $35,000
On July 17, 1945, the first production vehicle that started the four-wheeling craze rolled off the assembly line in Toledo. The direct descendant of the Rig That Won the War, Willys-Overland's first civilian Jeep sported a number of differences over its military MB predecessor, including a seven-slot grille (the military's had nine) and a shorter overall length due to its relocated spare tire. The rest of the parts list read like a dream list of old-school cast-iron goodness: 134ci "Go Devil" Four and six-volt electrics, Warner T90-A trans, Spicer 18 transfer case, front and rear power take-offs, and 5.38:1 gears residing in the Dana 25 front and 41-2 rear axles, though some very early '46s can be found with the rare full-floating Model 23-2 instead. The 2A had one of the shortest production runs of the CJ Series-some 210,000 units were produced in all-and they're most prized by collectors either bone-stock or in full resto trim, with their original vehicle and engine serial numbers intact and clearly legible. As a rule, older is better for resale value with these rigs, and the appeal goes up if your Jeep came complete with a battery of factory-option agricultural equipment (plow, harrow, cultivator, et al) or outfitted for firefighting or police duty, as some rare specimens were. And if you should happen to stumble across an example of the ultra-rare '44-'45 CJ-2, a second-generation prototype built by Willys for testing and informally known as the "Agrijeep," count your blessings as well as your millions; only 45 were ever built, and only nine are known to have survived to this day.

1946-56 Dodge Power Wagon
MSRP (1946): $1,627
Current value: $8,000
Auction value: Up to $20,000
The descendant of the legendary WC-series 3/4-ton Army troop carrier, the civilian B-series Power Wagon is the godfather of 4x4 pickup trucks. By all accounts, they were grossly underpowered, rode like hell, were slow as molasses on the highway (those stock 5.83:1 gears will do that), and their proud owners wouldn't have them any other way. The original first-gen Power Wagon changed very little over its production run, with the 94hp 230ci L-head six-cylinder, New Process 88845 non-synchromesh four-speed, NP200 transfer case, and Dodge 95/8-inch axles standard on nearly all models; a power-take-off option and Braden 7,500-pound winch (with 250 feet of cable) were available throughout the run; the 230 engine received compression bumps (and horsepower increases) in 1953 and again in 1955, and '55-and-later versions got the more refined NP420 four-speed with Third- and Four-gear synchros. The truck was offered in both pickup and chassis/cab configurations, though an 8-foot longbed option was offered after 1953. Several third-party suppliers such as Monroe Automotive and Crosley offered a number of add-on parts (such as farm implements for them) and/or body-style conversions for firefighting duty; intact models are quite rare). Dodge expanded the Power Wagon line to include light-duty models (the WM-100) for 1957, and the truck was built, with a number of mechanical and styling upgrades through 1968. But these O.G. first-gen trucks, of which only 46,000 were built, are easily the ones most sought after by aficionados.

1958-74 Land Rover Series II/III
MSRP (1958): $2,700 (est.)
Current value (est): Up to $15,000
Auction value: $25,000+
Homely? You bet. Crude and unsophisticated? No doubt. But who among us hasn't lusted after one of these aluminum-bodied rigs at least once in our lives for bragging rights alone? Offered in both 88- and 109-inch wheelbases, the second- and third-generation Rovers epitomize off-road coolness. The '61-and-later diesel-powered Series IIA versions are quite rare, as only some 2,800 were ever sold in North America; '67-and-later models came with a 2.7L Straight-Six sourced from the FC trucks, and the '72-and-later Series III sported relocated headlights (outward, from the grille to the fenders), but otherwise, these vehicles' basic designs and underpinnings remained remarkably unchanged throughout their production cycle: 2.3L petrol engine, 4-speed manual trans, solid Salisbury axles packed with 4.7:1 gears, and the optional iconic "blade bonnet" (hood-mounted spare tire carrier). Originally intended for use on the farm, old Landys were purpose-built vehicles with limited audience appeal; they were also considerably more expensive to buy (and maintain) than comparable Jeeps or Toyotas of the same vintage, and only some 20,000 units were sold in the U.S. before Federal safety and emissions regs eventually forced Land Rover out of the U.S. market in 1974. Aftermarket support for these rigs is minimal, and NOS replacement parts are increasingly difficult to find, so if you've got an intact running specimen of one, treat it like the off-road royalty it is. A concourse-ready model can fetch a fair farthing at auction.

1994-97 Land Rover Defender 90
MSRP (1994): $27,900
Current value: $25,000+
Auction value: Up to $35,000
Before there was the Wrangler Rubicon and the Hummer H3, there was the D90-a purpose-built, out-of-the-box full-time factory fourwheeling machine sporting a 3.32:1 low-range gear, locking center diff (that could be engaged in 4-Hi), wrap-around bullbar, coil/link suspension, and 31x10.50 BFG Mud-Terrains all standard. And if you were one of the 6,529 lucky duckies (give or take) who ponied up close to $30 grand for one of these during its all-too-brief production run, only to be told you could've bought two Jeep TJs for the same amount of money, you just may be having the last laugh. While they don't break the bank at Monte Carlo in auction terms, these 15-year-old rigs have lost virtually none of their value to depreciation over the years. Not bad for a vehicle that was expensive for its day (a base 4x4 Suburban cost six grand less), was plagued in its lifetime with fit and finish problems, and sported OE soft tops that leaked and optional fiberglass hard tops that were prone to cracking. Desirable versions include the '95-and-later versions that came with an optional metal hardtop and full interior rollcage. We've heard rumblings that Land Rover might re-introduce the Defender to the US one day, but given the relative scarcity of these first-gen specimens, we have little doubt the value of these rigs will go nowhere but up in the years to come, even if Rover should bring an updated version back to our shores.

1959-64 Willys DJ-3A "Surrey/Gala"
MSRP (1959): $1,700 (est.)
Current value: $17,000
Auction value: More than you'd imagine
Yes, it's a Postal. And it's pink. With stripes. And fringe on top. And most awesomely of all, it's not even a four-wheel drive. But other than that, it's basically indistinguishable from a CJ-3A minus the transfer case and front drive assembly: 134ci L-head Four, T90-A three-speed, and Dana 44 rearend with 4.56:1 gears. Originally inspired by the Ghia-built Fiat Jolly microcar (irony of ironies, 60 years later), the Surrey was used primarily as a rental ride at hotels and resorts in Hawaii and the southeastern U.S. Only 1,089 Surrey models were ever built for domestic sale (a right-hand-drive Gala model was sold overseas), so if you ever find this proverbial pony in the barn, you can laugh all the way to the bank; it's probably worth ten times its original purchase price if it's in fair condition, and a low-mileage example owned by the late comedian Red Skelton sold for $77,000 at a recent auction.

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