And The Winners Are...
Normally when I put together one of these staff-compilation stories I do so with the iron fist of an evil dictator. I enforc my will upon the contributions of Cappa and Trasborg, tossing their opinions to the wayside when they don't jive with mine and substituting my own reality when applicable. But for this story I took a decidedly more democratic slant, allowing each staffer his say. In the end, the top ten winners were the Jeeps that garnered the most votes staff-wide-not just in Hazel's little world where the sky is green, the stars are marshmallow, and it rains Dr. Pepper every Saturday afternoon. And remember, we're judging them in stock, as-delivered trim, so don't tell us about how your favorite model is better than what we picked if you only swap in a this or modify a that. So here they are in no particular order-your 10 best Jeeps of all time.
'72-'75 CJ-5 and CJ-6
It's the last of the real Jeeps that didn't come polluted with an automatic transmission option and miles of needless smog equipment. Some staffers don't really like the CJ-5 body lines, but these years have other good qualities. With a wheelbase stretched to 84- or 104-inches (CJ-5 or CJ-6) to accommodate the longer AMC six-cylinder, all CJ models came with the 232 as the base engine. Optional upgrades were the torquey 258 inline six or a 150hp 304 V-8. Durable T-14A or T-15 three-speed or T-18 four-speed manual truck transmissions and Dana 20 T-cases were better fare than previous years. All of them had admirable open-knuckle Dana 30 (front) and flanged (and centered) Dana 44 (rear) axles. Add to the mix larger 11-inch drum brakes with a power brake option, a much-improved steering system, and stronger frames and they're a natural for this list.
'74-'79 J10 Shortbed
They got heavy-duty fullsize truck drivetrain stuffed between the framerails of a midsized truck. They came with a 360 or way-bad 401 V-8, a T-18 or TH400 transmission, and Dana 44 axles (front and rear) from the factory. This is the kind of stuff people spend a lot of time and money swapping into other vehicles. They also have easily-modified suspension that works pretty good on- and off-road. Make it a short bed model and you'll be able to haul all your camping and recovery gear while still being able to turn and maneuver through some fairly tight and twisty trails.
By this point, Jeep had its CJ model all figured out. The run of AMC car-based Model 20 rear ends had dried up, so a 30-spline Dana 44 with an optional Trac-Lok diff brings up the rear of the swan song CJ-7. Sure, the V-8 option of earlier CJs was gone, but the 258 inline six was durable and somewhat-reliable. Add a wide-track, open knuckle Dana 30 front with disc brakes for some more mechanical niceties and the option of a hard top and A/C and you've got a very nice mix of vintage Jeep looks, old-world performance, and modern-age comfort and convenience.
'06-'10 SRT8 WK
Come on, the 420hp 6.1L Hemi V-8 makes it the most powerful Jeep ever produced. It cranks quarter mile times in the low 13s, burns a faster 0-60 than a $100,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo, romps and stops 0-100-0 in the low 19-second range, and is a skid pad (cornering) equivalent of the $130,000 Porsche 911 Turbo. And you get all this for less than $50,000. We can't afford one, but if we could, this is the 5,000-pound SUV we would smoke most sports cars with while hauling three other people and some beach toys. It's also a good way to land in jail or dead at the bottom of a cliff-but what a trip it'll be getting there.
Chrysler originally planned on killing off the XJ for the '02 model year, but then pushed the plunger a year earlier than what dealerships were telling us. The impromptu lethal injection sent a ton of people scrambling to buy the last-ever XJ. Drivability, off-roadability, power, room, comfort, capability, you name it, the XJ has it. All the bugs were worked out of an already-reliable platform, with coil-on-plug ignition, a durable drivetrain backing the 4.0L, and very good Chrysler 8.25 rear and Dana 30 front axles. Sure, the factory ran out of the high-pinion XJ axles mid-way through '01 and started using low-pinion TJ axles to fill the build orders, but in stock trim, it's hard to beat one of these little off-road sport machines.