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.
Expect to pay $800-$1,100
Any J-truck is three tons of fun just waiting for you to discover it. With all kinds of V-8 options and drivetrains to support them, if you hanker for a big Jeep, look right here.When searching for your new jewel, look for things like "body needs work" or "transmission seized." These things are big and ugly all while burning way too much gas for people to put more money into fixing them. Again, like the V-8 CJ, if you can get it started and it doesn't smoke, the drivetrain will work itself out.
Finding them with a rear Dana 60 and front Dana 44 isn't unheard of. Just go looking for the trucks with 8-lug rims and buy from there. The biggest downside to these is that the beds will almost always be rusted, dented in the worst ways, or just plain gone. Again, we aren't buying daily drivers here, just Jeeps that are plain fun to drive. Although they sure do make commuting more adventurous.
6. Willys Wagon
Expect to pay $500-$800
We aren't too sure why these things are consistently turning up for dirt cheap. They've got timeless styling, can haul the whole family, and if you are fearless with a metal saw, can fit 36-inch tires front and rear without a lift.
Sure, there are little things like usually having all the glass broken out, being full of bullet holes, or just having no floor left, but these are minor inconveniences. Not to mention finding them with a drivetrain is rare, unless it's in the back seat, but that doesn't keep us from liking them.
Don't bother looking for the wagon with the original drivetrain. That's no fun at all. Find one with a swapped-in Chevy V-8 and drivetrain or something similar and go from there. This isn't going to be a comfortable ride unless you pour tons of money into it. They ride a lot like an MB, but with the bonus of a tin roof. For under $1,000, fix it until it runs, bolt in however many seats you want, cut away, and then go wheeling.
Oh, if you are going to clear 36s with a Sawzall, tell your friends who are riding in the back to bring goggles because they will get very dirty.
5. '67-'72 Jeepster Commando
Expect to pay $1,000
Regardless of whether you choose the early or later Jeepster from this era, you still get a ton of goodies.
With the earlier ones (C-101) made from '67-'71, you can get the optionalV-6, T-18, and D-20 transfer case. Also included is a nice 101-inch wheelbase that makes these rigs very stable. If you don't like the weird grille, swap in one from a CJ. Even the axles aren't all bad with stock power. Granted, there are drums front and rear, but swap in a later set of brakes and power booster and it'll be good.
The later Jeepsters (C-104) have some better drivetrain components in the form of an available V-8, Turbo 400 trans, and Dana 20 T-case. The axles will survive if you don't put on huge tires. They did get the Scoutish grille, which you will either love or hate and a 104-inch wheelbase that the early ones didn't have for a whole extra 3 inches of wall-climbing ability.
Overall, whether you go for a C-101 or C-104, try to find one that the owner just no longer wants, while looking out for closed-knuckle and four-cylinder models. Just like all older Jeeps, they've got some rust problems, so inspect the body to be sure its somewhat safe before you buy it.
4. '87-'92 4.0L Comanche
Expect to pay $1,200
Ignore the '86 model year entirely because the engine choices were horrible and they are really hard to convert to something worthwhile. From '87-'90 you can find deals on them due to the "unreliable" Renix fuel injection. While it is true that the Renix engines don't put out the power of the later H.O. engines, they aren't unreliable. However, they are saddled with the Peugot transmission. Fortunately, it's a simple swap to an AX-15 from a later MJ or XJ.
There are a few wiring quirks in the earlier MJs that make for some weird behaviors, but once you find them it's a solid Jeep and a blast to have. All the MJs share drivetrains with their XJ counterparts, so modifications and fixes for one will work for the other. The later H.O. Comanches are a lot of fun too, and you'll find more aftermarket engine hop ups.
Often, you can find them not running well, which is going to come down to either a vacuum leak or sensor issue. If the truck runs at all and doesn't smoke or knock, grab it -- it's a steal. Don't settle for broken mechanical things even when it's under $1,000.
3. '87-'95 2.5L YJ Wrangler
Expect to pay $1,800
There just isn't a better deal in open-top Jeeps. All day long, these can be found with something exploded or not working properly and selling just because the owner doesn't want to fix it. The other popular one is the higher-mileage Jeep that has just stayed around too long, and to justify the new vehicle, the Jeep has to go. Grab the Jeep, visit a junkyard for the part that's gone bad (if necessary), and run it.
Don't buy it if it's missing parts. If the engine has been removed, for example, there is likely a ton of wiring missing, which is hard to come by on the cheap. If the trans and transfer case were removed, it's not worth it, unless you've taken one apart in the last week and can identify all the small parts. Don't buy someone's project. Buy their runner that broke down.
While it's true that the '91 and newer multi-port injected four-cylinders are more peppy, they are all slow on the highway and there is no way around that. Once you add bigger tires, they will get mileage just as bad as a six-cylinder Jeep, but with less power. However, for a low buy-in cost, these things can't be beat.
2. '87-'94 4.0L XJ Cherokee
Expect to pay $800-$2,000
Much like its MJ cousin, the XJ in its 4.0L form is a blast to have around, and they are getting old enough that no one wants one for a daily driver or grocery getter except for mechanically inclined Jeepers.
Snag one with the AW-4 automatic transmission or the AX-15 manual and have fun. If you can't find them, run the Peugeot trans until it explodes and then swap it.
You'll find that all of the XJs at the lower end of the price range are higher-mileage rigs. That means that the engine oil pan seal, valve cover seal, and rear main will need to be changed. But again, if it starts and shifts, there is nothing insurmountable to really worry about. The 4.0L engine and the AW-4 automatic transmission go forever with proper care.
Inspect the doors and suspension points for being solid without any cracks or evidence of repair. If it passes that test, grab it and get into a JeepSpeed race just as soon as you can.
1. Any FSJ Wagoneer or Cherokee
Expect to pay $500-$1,000
Produced from '62-'91, there are just too many variations in them to mention here. Find one with a bigger engine that starts, stops, and steers and go from there.
As far as interchangeability, look for something with disc brakes and open knuckles on the front axle. These are usually limited to AMC and later-era FSJs but are often found swapped into earlier ones too. The AMC V-8 was the engine of choice for almost 20 years and can be found in most of them.
A lot of Wagoneers also had the TF727 automatic transmission and Quadra-Trac transfer case. If maintained properly, this case is good and can offer reliable performance. If it doesn't already have it, put an add-on low range on.
Being leaf sprung, lifts are cheap and easy. And if you are really cheap, spring the $15 for a pack of new saw blades and cut away for tire clearance.
The biggest problem with the smog-era ones is getting them to pass. There are so many vacuum pumps and evaporative-recirculation kebobs that it truly dizzies the mind. So buy a later one that won't pass (if your state has smog laws) for $250, fix it, and still be on the road for well under $1,000.