Banging Budget Jeeps
Stumbling on a V-8 powered CJ-8 with a T-18 and Dana 300 is awesome. Even better is finding out there isn't much, if any, rust, and that the owner is only asking $700 for it -- show up with $500 cash and take it home.The only thing that tops that is a pristine CJ-2A that belonged to the little old lady's husband who passed away a few years ago and she just wants it gone. Asking price: $200.
While these aren't junky Jeeps, they sure could be. In reality, this almost never happens. When you get right down to it, a Jeep is only worth what you've paid for it, and often not even then. Looking back, the Jeeps we've had the most fun with are the ones that we spent the least amount of money for, regardless of what kind of shape the things were in when we got 'em. With that in mind, unlike the above examples, we've cobbled together this list of Jeeps you could probably find for $500-$2,000. Each one has huge potential for good wheeling times.
10. Any CJ-3B or other Jeep where the owner doesn't know what they have.
Expect to pay $1,200
Thanks to the Internet, flatfenders and military Jeeps everywhere are bringing in way more money than they should. There are too many old, rusted-out basket cases that should be $500, not $4,000 just because it's a flatfender. So if you manage to find someone who is ignorant of the Internet or a Jeep's inflated worth, snag it.
Be very careful any time you find a flatfender that isn't a CJ-3B with a low price. These things are so popular that almost everyone and their Aunt Beatrice thinks they are worth a gold mine. Except for the ber-ugly 3B.
If you are planning on going and running all of the hardest trails in Moab, then you've got a lot of swapping ahead of you. However, if you want a small Jeep and are happy with no creature comforts, these things are a blast to wheel. For your $1,200, take that rusty heap off the little old lady's hands, put in the minimum to drive it, and wheel the thing. Upgrade later.
The 3B ended up with the pick of the flatfender drivetrain parts, but its ugly mug helps keep the price down. Even if a person knows it's a flatfender and knows that others are going for stupid amounts of money, these will still be cheap. If you can endure the ridicule of your friends, snag it.
All the flatties are fun to wheel, and if you can snag any of them in assembled, somewhat running condition for cheap, then jump on it.
9. Early CJ-5
Expect to pay $700-$900
There are enough people who don't want a cheap pre-'72 CJ-5 (unless you are shopping on the Internet). Either they want something newer or if they are looking at an old Jeep, they want a flatfender, not a CJ-5.
These CJs don't have the best of drivetrains. With a higher curb weight than a 3B but the same engine and drivetrain, they are dogs. So you end up adding more power to keep up with the Joneses. Then axles start popping and the vicious upgrade cycle starts.
There is a ton of fun to be had in one of these even with a stock or previous-owner-cobbled-together driveline. You'll hate any road trip anywhere, and they are horrible in mud, but backwoods trails with tight, twisty sections are lots of fun. So either pick it up for dirt cheap and be happy going slow or pick it up knowing you are going to add stuff to it, thus, negating the junky Jeep idea and ignoring all our good advice.
8. Any V-8 powered CJ
Expect to pay $1,800
Any V-8 powered CJ is a blast to drive. Regear it, cut it till you can clear the tires you want, and go romping. A CJ-5 can be scary with V-8 power and a CJ-7 that falls into a junky Jeep category will literally be junk when you find them. That said, if it's got a V-8, it's in a CJ, and the thing starts well enough for you to move and drive (even if its not well), buy it.
You'll have to decide what's cheap enough for you. The pictured CJ-7 had a $1,000 price tag on it. For that price, there were tons of issues: rusted-out floors, needed a massive tune up, no decent body mounts, and so on. But it started and steered. That was good enough.
If we aren't being clear enough, the only way to reliably snag a V-8 CJ is if it's got tons of other issues, such as the body rusting off the frame, the frame cracked in half, or a huge rat's nest where the back seat used to be. We aren't talking about a daily driver here, we are helping you to find the next Jeep you will hate to get rid of and miss once you do.