It’s a question that’s as old as the Jeep itself – do you prefer a classic or contemporary model? It may not seem like a big deal, but it could be a really loaded question. Preferences are strong and loyalties run deep.
With 70+ years of history, there are a lot of models and styles to choose from and many ways to determine what a “classic” actually is. Square versus round headlights? Longer or shorter wheelbase? Rounded or hard square edges?
But is it limited to the age of the vehicle, the features and the model? Or is it truly a matter of beauty being in the eye of the beholder?
For the sake of this article, let’s look at the Wrangler, including the Willys and the CJ (Civilian Jeep).
History in brief
Strictly speaking, the Wrangler was first created in 1986, in line with the Willys and the CJ design, function, and style. However, debate lingers about whether or not the Wrangler is related to its predecessors. Neither AMC nor Chrysler claim the Wrangler is directly descended from the Willys or the CJ. But at a glance, it’s hard to deny that it was, at minimum, strongly influenced by them. But that’s another topic for another day.
Since the inception of the Wrangler there have been, generally speaking, four models, each with its own distinctive qualities and features:
- YJ (1986-1995)
- TJ (1996-2006)
- JK (2006-2018)
- JL (2018-present)
Below are some of the most sought-after, yet available models that appeal to the Jeep purist:
This fun and reliable version is still readily available along with replacement parts and upgrades. Typically, even the 1960s or ’70s models can be purchased for under $7,000 making them highly appealing for rehab.
In essence, it’s a CJ5, but with noticeable improvements, such as better handling and stability, while also upgrading the interior to be more comfortable, bordering on luxurious. The handling changes make it desirable with mudders and crawlers alike. But it will cost you – roughly $10,000, but still considered well worth the investment.
This model ushered in the Wrangler and retired the CJ. While not initially welcomed, the YJ has managed to survive the backlash and became the first “classic” Wrangler. In the beginning, it was criticized for its square headlights and long, rectangular windshield, while others didn’t like the incredibly long hood. However, there were several changes that buyers appreciated, including a wider track, less ground clearance, and a more spacious and comfortable interior. Anti-lock brakes and automatic transmission were added, which became great selling points as well. With the number of YJs in circulation, this model is affordable at roughly $1,500-8,000.
If you’re into a more contemporary model, here are the ones sought after by those who appreciate the modern era versions:
The TJ got an updated look in 1997 that included a more rounded appearance, round headlights, and coil springs for better suspension. It also included a 19-gallon gas tank and four-speed transmission with overdrive. These models can be purchased as everyday commuter vehicles or as fantastic fixer-uppers at roughly $5,000.
This lesser-known model was the predecessor to the Rubicon and offered many of the features Rubi owners like, but at a better price point. It features a longer wheelbase (an extra 10-inches), a Dana 44 rear axle, and the Command-Trac 231 transfer case. These are available with a serious search for roughly $3,500.
Aside from buying a Wrangler off the lot in 2018, this is as contemporary as it gets for the progressive Jeep owner. In 2007 it was released with substantial upgrades such as a four-door model, heavy-duty axles, extra-low gearing, thanks to a Rock-Trac transfer case, and front and rear electronic locking differentials. The Rubicon also boasts an electronic sway bar disconnect system when driving in 4LO mode and is powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, generating 285 horsepower and 260 lb.- ft. of torque.
Seeing the overall history of the Jeep Wrangler, it’s clear what appeals to the classic lover versus the progressive lover.
Classic models offer the enduring simplicity of design and function that transcends time, while the newer models give the present generation the advantages of technology and development from the rich history of an iconic vehicle.
Sometimes it’s as basic as aesthetic preferences. Some folks just like round headlights, others square headlights.
Some owners prefer the openness of the interior without all the bells and whistles that come with the newer models.
Others like technology that allows them to navigate easily in the wilderness without the need for maps and compasses.
Whatever the reasons, the fact is this there’s a Jeep for anyone. Where will you find yours?