Auto&Moto

20 Awesome Old-School 4x4s for Kicking Your Off-Road Game Up a Notch

1992–2006 AM General Hummer H1

The original Hummer was completely impractical on the street. Ridiculously wide and painfully slow, it handled about as well as a medium-duty dump truck. But for off-road excursions, the H1 had the hardware to perform. AM General engineered it for the military, so the Hummer’s drivetrain and four-wheel independent suspension provided an incredible 16 inches of ground clearance. And unlike other production four-wheel-drive vehicles, the Hummer could raise or lower air pressure in the tires right from the cab, which allowed this massive four-ton monster to float across deep sand and snow.

Hummer

1992–2006 AM General Hummer H1

Military versions all used an underpowered 6.2-liter V-8, as did early civilian H1s. In 1996, H1s received stronger engines-either a 5.7-liter V-8, a normally aspirated 6.5-liter diesel, or a 6.5-liter turbo-diesel with 195 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque.

Hummer

1992–2006 AM General Hummer H1

The H1 was available as a four-door convertible, hardtop wagon, cool Slantback wagon or a very rare pickup called the Recruit. But the best models were the 2006 Alphas. These used the much more potent 6.6-liter Duramax diesel with 520 lb-ft of torque backed by a five-speed Allison automatic transmission. This was basically the same powertrain you’d find in a heavy-duty pickup truck. AM General gave the Alpha larger brakes, a larger fuel tank for increased range, and outfitted the interior with much better materials. The downside of the Alpha was that it cost around $150,0000.

Hummer

1992–2006 AM General Hummer H1

The Hummer H1 was one of the few vehicles here that can be astonishingly capable off-road just as the factory built it. And yet aftermarket retailers like Hummer Parts Club offer a wide range of racks, guards and gear to make them even more useful. Civilian Hummer H1s were rare and expensive vehicles when new. In the last few years of the vehicle’s life, they sold for exotic-car money. And this, along with the H1’s wild personality has made them collectible. The Alphas are of course the most desirable and valuable. But it’s hard to find any civilian models under $50,000.

Hummer

1969–1991 Chevrolet Blazer

The original Chevy Blazer looks so chiseled and brawny that it seems completely natural parked next to a 1960s muscle car. But unlike the original Blazer’s contemporary arch-rival, the Ford Bronco, the Chevy is based on a full-size pickup truck. Those dimensions were big back in the early 1960s, but today the early Blazers almost feel mid-size. The trucky roots means there are no weak spots in the drivetrain. The best ones use a big 350 cubic-inch V-8 bolted to either a three-speed automatic or a four-speed manual with an incredibly low 6.55:1 first gear. And many use the nearly bulletproof cast-iron NP 205-a 4WD transfer case so strong it was used in crew-cab one-ton pickups with big-block V-8s until the 1990s.

Chevrolet

1969–1991 Chevrolet Blazer

First-generation Blazers had fully removable fiberglass roofs, making them fun recreational vehicles in warm climates. And because they were basically short pickups, there’s room to pack lots of gear for an extended getaway.

Chevrolet

1969–1991 Chevrolet Blazer

In 1973, GM moved the Blazer to the new square-body design-a look it kept for another 18 years. The wheelbase grew slightly, and engineers carved out a roomier, more modern interior, but the trucks still used a full convertible roof until it was shortened to cover just the rear passengers and the cargo hold in 1976. One of our favorite models is the exceedingly rare 1976–1977 Chalet model. It’s a factory camper that slept up to four in pure 1970s style. Through the second- generation’s lifespan GM shoved everything under the hood from an inline-six to an optional 400-cubic-inch V-8, even a 6.2-liter diesel V-8-an engine used in M1009 military Blazers.

Chevrolet

1969–1991 Chevrolet Blazer

In the late 1980s, Blazers evolved with modern technology like fuel injection, shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive and four-speed-overdrive automatics. Blazers have always been popular for outdoor recreation, and since they share platforms with GM’s full-size (and, later, mid-size) pickups, there’s practically an endless supply of parts and knowledge to restore or build one up. Experts say its best to avoid the clunky, full-time 4WD system, optional from 1973 to 1980. Part-time conversion kits are available, but swapping the transfer case is the strongest, smartest option. Prices range widely, but early first-generation trucks command a premium. Prices are also creeping up for later Blazers. Low-mileage examples of the last ones from 1989–1991 are coveted by Blazer fans. GM Truck Center restores Chevy and GMC trucks of this era, including Blazers.

Chevrolet

1973–1991 Chevrolet Suburban

The Suburban is the granddaddy of all SUVs-and the longest continuously running nameplate in the U.S. The first Suburbans (dating from 1936) were workhorses, but the square-body trucks from the 1970s through the early 1990s established the Suburban as a mainstream family vehicle. (These were the first Suburbans to gain four real doors.) Hunt down a Suburban with a bench seat in all three rows and you could carry nine people. These square Suburbans were sold in large numbers over their 19-year production run; most of them have a strong and reliable 350-cubic inch V-8 under the hood. Four-wheel-drive was a popular option and many early trucks used a three-speed automatic backed by a stout NP 205 transfer case. It’s a drivetrain that could put up with plenty of abuse. But like its platform-mate the Blazer, there were plenty of Suburbans that came with the relatively unloved full-time 4WD system.

Chevrolet

1973–1991 Chevrolet Suburban

Strongest of the breed are the three-quarter-ton 20-series trucks (later known as 2500 series), using beefier transmissions, axles and a stiffer suspension to handle heavy trailers. Two-wheel-drive Suburbans were sold in large numbers for their towing capability. The venerable big-block 454-cubic-inch engine was only available in 2500-series Suburbans with rear-wheel-drive; these beasts could tow 10,000 pounds. Suburbans gained refinement in the late 1980s with the addition of four-speed overdrive automatics and electronic fuel injection arriving in 1987 and ABS landing on 1988 trucks.

Chevrolet

1973–1991 Chevrolet Suburban

Owning a vintage Suburban brings so much versatility, it’s surprising that these trucks aren’t more valuable. The earlier ones look particularly cool today with their dog-dish hubcaps and optional woodgrain side paneling. But most Suburbans (of every year) were used like beasts of burden, and few survive in nice condition. Later ones from the 1980s are more plentiful and retain most of the old-school style of the early ones. And every Suburban benefits from sharing a platform with the C/K pickups and the Blazer because parts are everywhere. Hagerty says a mid-1970s Suburban K20 has an average value of just under $10,000, with fully restored models bringing just under $30,000. The average value for a late 1980s Suburban 2500 with 4WD is $8300, with top trucks bringing just over $20,000.

Chevrolet

1963–1991 Jeep Wagoneer

Legendary industrial designer Brooks Stevens penned the Jeep Wagoneer in the early 1960s; it became so popular that the truck remained in production virtually unchanged for nearly 30 years. It wasn’t the first SUV, but the Wagoneer was more carlike, comfortable and plush than the competition. Most Wagoneers have four doors, although some two-door and even two-door panel models were built in the early years. During 1965–1969, the rare Super Wagoneer was the most luxurious vehicle Jeep produced. Passengers were treated to a leather interior, eight-track stereo, and a powerful 327-cubic-inch V-8 paired to a console-shifted automatic.

Jeep

1963–1991 Jeep Wagoneer

The Wagoneer’s chassis used traditional live axles and leaf springs, but it sat lower than any other 4WD vehicle and rode more smoothly, too. Jeep even developed a short-lived (and very rare) independent front suspension (combined with 4WD) as an option decades ahead of anyone else. Early trucks had an overhead cam inline six-cylinder, but V-8s were most popular. Since the Jeep brand was owned by a variety of automakers (Willys/Kaiser, then AMC, then Chrysler), it got V-8s from Buick, AMC and Chrysler. In 1974, Jeep introduced its smart Quadra-Trac all-wheel-drive system that allowed the driver to avoid shifting in and out of 4WD when driving on varied surfaces. Wagoneer’s popularity peaked in 1978 when it sold for around $20,000-Cadillac money back then.

Jeep

1963–1991 Jeep Wagoneer

In the 1980s, the Wagoneer became even more luxurious with woodgrain-everywhere. In terms of prestige, these Grand Wagoneers were rivaled only by the Range Rover Classic of the time.

Jeep

1963–1991 Jeep Wagoneer

Older Wagoneers have become hard to find, probably because so many saw hard use as family haulers or by four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. Since they were in production so long, though, the supply of replacement and aftermarket upgrade parts runs deep. One draw of the original Wagoneer was its low-slung chassis, but serious off-road adventurers created a market for suspension lifts to allow the fitment of bigger tires.

Jeep

1963–1991 Jeep Wagoneer

Hagerty says the average value for an ’80s Wagoneer ranges from $11,700 to $13,500. But as is the case with most of these SUVs, the price really climbs for trucks in excellent condition. Wagoneer restoration has been popular for more than two decades. And Wagonmaster was restoring them before anyone really cared. Current listings run $50,000 and up . . . new Cadillac money, again.

Jeep

1966–1977 Early Ford Bronco

By the mid-1960s, four-wheeling was a serious hobby and the Ford Bronco was designed for it. It was youthful and fun-just like the Mustang. And, like Ford’s pony car, it was available with V-8 power, a rarity among small 4x4s. But the Bronco’s real advance was in its front suspension. Ford’s coil-sprung, solid-axle design was smooth-riding and more sophisticated than the competition. The refined and roomy cabin was more modern, too. Broncos were available as roadsters, half-cab pickups, and a wagon with a removable hardtop.

Ford

1966–1977 Early Ford Bronco

And it just got better. In 1971, the mighty Dana 44 front axle became standard, paired with a Ford 9-inch rear axle. That same year, Ford introduced the coolest horse of them all-the Baja Bronco. Drawing inspiration from Bill Stroppe’s racing success campaigning these trucks in the Baja 500 and 1000, these trucks had fender flares to fit larger tires on slot mag wheels, dual shocks at each corner, a roll bar and quicker-ratio steering. The Baja models were also then the only way to get an automatic transmission and power steering, options that would come to all Broncos in 1973. The Baja inspired many enthusiasts to “cut and flare” their own Broncos in the 1970s and 1980s to fit larger tires. Today, those that appreciate the original fender design hunt for “uncut” Broncos.

Ford

1966–1977 Early Ford Bronco

Broncos are generally easy to build for recreational four-wheeling adventure, thanks to legions of fans and some loyal aftermarket shops, like Tom’s Bronco Parts specializing in the 1966–1977 version of the breed. Broncos, like all vehicles with removable roofs, were subject to rust. So beware of suspiciously cheap open top trucks-the doors and roof might have been too rusty to save.

Ford

1966–1977 Early Ford Bronco

The early Ford Bronco has seen a big spike in prices over the past few years. Broncos have become so popular that turnkey, fully restored trucks are available. And like the Toyota FJ40, perhaps the most obsessively restored and modified early Broncos come from Icon. These Icon BR machines can drain more than $200,000 from your bank account. But the performance is breathtaking thanks to a modern V-8, five-speed manual transmission and sophisticated chassis upgrades.

Ford

1999–2005 Ford Excursion

The Ford Excursion was controversial at the time of its launch. More than one group bashed the big guy for both its poor fuel economy and massive size. Time magazine even listed it as one of the worst vehicles of all time. That wasn’t entirely correct. The Excursion excelled at a few very specific missions: It had a high payload rating and could carry up to eight people in comfort over terrain that would hobble lesser rigs. Based on the bones of Ford’s Super Duty pickup, the Excursion could tow up to 11,000 pounds. Without folding down any of its seats, the workhorse could swallow 48 cubic feet of cargo. Unlike GM’s Suburban of the time, the Excursion used a durable solid-axle leaf-sprung suspension on four-wheel-drive models. That means it can be easily modified to increase suspension travel, fit larger tires, and perform well on any trail it will fit on.

Getty Images

1999–2005 Ford Excursion

The Excursion could be had with one of four powertrains. The two gasoline engines-a 255-hp 5.4-liter V-8 and 310-hp 6.8-liter V-10-both return fairly poor fuel economy and don’t really move the Excursion with enough zest. The most capable and reliable engine is the 7.3-liter Power Stroke turbo-diesel offered from 1999–2003 that packed 500 lb-ft of torque (or 525 lb-ft in 2001 and later models) way down at 1600 rpm. The last two years of the Excursion production replaced it with a more powerful 325-hp 6.0-liter diesel.

Randy Lorentzen – Car and Driver

1999–2005 Ford Excursion

Scan the classifieds and its easy to find clean 7.3-liter 4WD Excursions selling for between $15,000 and $20,000 depending on mileage and condition. Those are high prices for an SUV that’s more than a decade old. But with modern SUVs becoming smaller and more carlike, Excursions have the potential to increase in value.

Getty Images – Getty Images

1999–2005 Ford Excursion

The Excursion’s pickup truck roots means that off-road parts and upgrades for the Super Duty will also work here. It’s not hard to find suspension systems to fit larger tires and boost ground clearance. Since the F-Series Super Duty has been America’s bestselling heavy-duty truck for decades, when stuff breaks, parts are easily found. There are quite a few tuners that make hot-rodded packages for 7.3-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8s. Gale Banks Engineering offers a Power Pack kit that will boost horsepower by a whopping 120 and torque by 256 lb-ft. So equipped, these nearly 8000-pound trucks are surprisingly quick.

Ford

1971–1980 International Scout II

When a manufacturer of heavy equipment and agricultural tractors decides to build a recreational four-wheel-drive vehicle, no one expects a featherweight. International’s Scout II was a heavy truck. At around 3500 pounds, it weighed more than either the Toyota FJ40 or the Jeep CJ-7 it competed against. The Scout II rode on a wheelbase 6.5 inches longer than the CJ and 10 inches longer than the FJs. The full-metal hardtop Scout was the best for packing away a weekend’s worth of stuff. But an even longer Scout was available called the Traveller, with a whopping 18-inch wheelbase stretch.

International

1971–1980 International Scout II

The Scout II could be optioned with one of two big V-8s, in 304- and 345-cubic-inch displacements. International even offered a Nissan-sourced diesel engine beginning in 1976. That Nissan diesel (even in turbocharged form) was sluggish, but delivered an impressive 30 mpg on the highway. The 1974 and later models were strongest and drove best, thanks to the standard Dana 44 front and rear axles and power disc brakes.

International

1971–1980 International Scout II

There were plenty of interesting special-edition Scouts, but the coolest has to be the Soft Safari (SSII) from 1977-1979. It had a full convertible top, an integrated roll bar and larger tires on white spoke wheels. The metal doors were replaced with partial openings made of fiberglass-so you could hop in and out of an SSII just as you could an open-top Jeep CJ.

International

1971–1980 International Scout II

Owning one of these hardy machines gains you entrance into a tight group of helpful enthusiasts. Super Scout Specialists is a great resource for parts and information. International made tractors, 18-wheelers and full-size pickup trucks, so the Scout II was a small vehicle for this company. And some of the heavy-duty parts from its larger trucks work on the Scout. For example, the 392-cubic-inch V-8 from a pickup or Travelall SUV can be installed in a Scout.

International

1971–1980 International Scout II

The International Scout II, like Toyota’s FJ and the early Ford Bronco, is grabbing the attention of collectors. Hagerty recently valued an average Scout II at around $14,000 and says top condition models go for over $20,000. The most collectible Scout is the SSII. Hagerty says an average SSII with the 345-cid V-8 is worth $17,300 and pristine models top $30,000.

International

1984–2001 Jeep Cherokee XJ

The Cherokee XJ was the first all-new Jeep SUV in decades when it appeared in the early ’80s. It had lightweight construction and a powerful inline six-cylinder engine, and it was the first Jeep to abandon body-on-frame construction for a unibody. Because it was a Jeep, engineers retained a solid-axle suspension with a new coil-spring four-link design up front and traditional leaf springs in the rear. This, combined with Jeep’s solid four-wheel drive systems, gave the Cherokee better performance off-road than any of its rivals.

Jeep

1984–2001 Jeep Cherokee XJ

So good was this XJ’s basic design that Jeep kept it in production for 18 years. Early versions used a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with just over 100 horsepower or a lame-duck 2.8-liter V-6 from GM that provided a minimal improvement in horsepower and torque. Beginning in 1987, Cherokees were available with two four-wheel drive systems; a part-time Command-Trac NP231 transfer case, and the NP242 system that had an all-wheel-drive function. Both had a more generous low-range ratio than earlier models. That same year, the mighty 4.0-liter straight-six arrived and continued through the end of the Cherokee’s life. This legendary powerplant was shared with the Wrangler and produced 190 hp starting in 1992.

Jeep

1984–2001 Jeep Cherokee XJ

XJs are wonderful to drive in absolutely stock condition, ideal for exploring mild trails and handling twisty back-road pavement suprisingly well. For decades, Jeep enthusiasts have been modifying them to perform better on trails. Parts to get that job done are available from a vast number of Jeep specialists like Rubicon Express.

Jeep

1984–2001 Jeep Cherokee XJ

Jeep made more than 2.8 million Cherokee XJs, so these great-driving little vehicles aren’t hard to find. There are plenty with fewer than 100,000 miles that sell for less than $10,000. The best ones are the last ones (1997–2001) with the 4.0-liter engine and more-refined interior. The final year Cherokee Classic models were treated like collectibles by some Jeep enthusiasts, so low mileage examples are likely to be pricey.

Jeep

1976–1986 Jeep CJ-7

Jeep was feeling the heat from its rivals to offer a longer version of the classic Jeep CJ. So, in the late 1970s, engineers stretched the CJ’s wheelbase by 10 inches to create the CJ-7. The CJ-7’s longer, slightly wider chassis was now fully boxed; these improvements made it much more stable and better handling on the road and trail. Jeep fans could now, finally, load a CJ with both people and gear for a backcountry adventure.

Jeep

1976–1986 Jeep CJ-7

The CJ-7 debuted with Jeep’s then-new four-wheel drive system, called Quadra-Trac, and could be optioned with a 304-cid V-8 and a heavy-duty GM-built TH-400 automatic. The most desirable combination of early CJ-7 parts was the V-8 model backed by the heavy-duty T-18 four-speed manual. The CJ-7 was available as a softtop or with a fiberglass hardtop with metal doors-a first for the CJ. This combination provided a much quieter and more refined Jeep experience.

Jeep

1976–1986 Jeep CJ-7

In 1982 the CJ-7 used a wider track for increased stability and finally offered a five-speed overdrive manual transmission as well as a new standard 105-hp four-cylinder engine. The V-8 was long gone at that point and most Jeeps left the factory with the largest engine-a 4.2-liter inline six with just 115 horsepower. None of these powertrain combinations made for a particularly quick machine.

Jeep

1976–1986 Jeep CJ-7

The CJ-7 benefits from a wildly rabid fanbase of Jeep loyalists. And virtually any custom touch one could imagine exists for the CJ-7, from full engine and drivetrain swaps to completely new bodies made from aluminum or fiberglass. And parts houses like Omix-ADA sell just about everything you’d need to rebuild a CJ-7. Despite the legendary Jeep name and the enthusiasm for building these vehicles for trail use, CJ-7 values aren’t nearly as strong as those for Toyota FJs or early Ford Broncos. One of the rarest and most interesting CJ-7s, the V-8–powered Golden Eagle, has an average value of just over $8000 according to Hagerty. And the best “Concours” condition Eagle would bring just over $20,000. For the vast majority of CJ-7 fans, that’s very good news.

Jeep

1993–1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The original Jeep Grand Cherokee, similar to the first Ford Explorer that it trailed to market in the early 1990s, is a seminal vehicle. It is one of the SUVs that kick-started mainstream buyer interest SUVs (the GC still is on sale today, in much more modern form), moving the vehicle format beyond the proclivities of off-roaders and rural customers and into suburbia with (for the time) improved refinement and smooth, car-like style.

Jeep

1993–1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee

At first, the Grand Cherokee only came with Jeep’s venerable 4.0-liter inline-six engine; later, a 5.2-liter V-8 joined the lineup, as well as a special high-output 5.9-liter V-8. The SUV rode on solid front and rear axles, and while two-wheel drive was standard, four-wheel-drive was available.

Jeep

1993–1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep positioned the Grand Cherokee from the outset as a luxury SUV, much like its Grand Wagoneer, only smaller and more modern. Pictured here is a range-topping Limited model from 1993, which included body-color bumper and door cladding, mesh-style wheels, and a leather-lined interior.

Jeep

1993–1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The best part about these early Jeep Grand Cherokees is that they’re relatively easy to find and usually quite cheap. Late first-generation Grand Cherokee 5.9 models-those with the high-output, 245-hp V-8 option-that were sold between 1997 and 1998 are among the priciest and rarest on the used market. As with most Jeeps, there is significant aftermarket support for modifying these 4x4s, which beneath their suburban veneer were appropriately capable off-road even from the factory.

Jeep

1993–1997 Land Rover Defender 90/110

The luxurious Range Rover (the big one) had been sold in the U.S. for six years before the company decided Americans should have a taste of a classic Land Rover, the Defender. They were rare and desirable back then, and still are. Land Rover only brought 500 over in 1993, every one painted white and priced at just under $40,000(!). Land Rover’s 180-hp 3.9-liter V-8 was paired to a five-speed manual. That’s not a lot of power to push around a nearly 5000-pound truck, so they weren’t quick, but they were incredibly capable on the trail and looked badass. These rugged Defenders rode on a 110-inch wheelbase (hence the name) and could seat nine passengers, so they were wonderful machines to take on a long-distance adventure in the dirt.

Land Rover

1993–1997 Land Rover Defender 90/110

The stubbier Defender 90 was imported from 1994 to 1997 in far greater numbers. Early trucks were available only with a five-speed manual and had a softtop or a removable fiberglass hardtop. Later models gained an automatic transmission option and a full-metal hardtop similar to that on the Defender 110. Defender 90s sat tall and came from the factory with nearly 32-inch diameter all-terrain tires, so they were equipped to conquer rough off-road trails. The Defender felt old school when it launched here with an interior that looked like it belonged in the 1970s. And fuel economy was poor-15 mpg on the highway. So carrying a canister of extra fuel on a long trip to a remote location was a smart move.

Land Rover

1993–1997 Land Rover Defender 90/110

A Defender 110 became a collectible the instant it was sold. Today, lower-mileage examples sell for more than $100,000. A few more than 4600 Defender 90s came to the U.S., so they’re easier to find and don’t cost as much. One of the most rare and valuable is the $40,000 final edition D90 from 1997. Like the 110, though, the D90 has really appreciated in value. North American-spec D90s with low miles sell for well above their original sticker prices. As one expert says, if you find a Defender 90 for less than $30,000-jump on it. East Coast Rover specializes in complete restorations and build-ups.

David Dewhurst – Car and Driver

1993–1997 Land Rover Defender 90/110

Although the Defender left the U.S. market in the 1990s, it was produced relatively unchanged until just recently. So, Defenders are well supported by a global network of parts warehouses. Rovers North carries a full line of replacement and upgrade parts for Defenders-including a complete chassis.

Land Rover

1994–2004 Land Rover Discovery

The Land Rover Discovery debuted alongside the Defender 90 as the second and third Land Rover models to hit the U.S. shores in the 1990s. Meant to be a more-affordable luxury SUV to compete with vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the first Discovery used Land Rover’s aluminum 3.9-liter V-8 backed by either a five-speed manual (rare) or a four-speed automatic. Discoverys sent stateside were plush vehicles; most had leather interiors, power seats and climate control. Discos were all five-passenger vehicles unless there was a “7” designation in the trim level, denoting two additional folding seats in the cargo hold. An optional fold-down step on the rear bumper helped those way-back passengers crawl into their seats via the trunk. Like all Rovers of the time, the Disco used strong solid axles suspended by long-travel coil springs. This suspension worked incredibly well off-road, clawing up trails that would challenge a Jeep Wrangler.

Aaron Kiley – Car and Driver

1994–2004 Land Rover Discovery

Later Series II models (1999–2004) gained a more buttoned-down suspension for improved handling. In 2003 they received a larger 4.6-liter V-8 previously used in the Range Rover. Traction control and hill-descent control furthered the Disco’s off-road prowess.

Aaron Kiley – Car and Driver

1994–2004 Land Rover Discovery

Vintage Land Rovers have a reputation for poor quality and reliability. Part of the blame comes from the trouble-prone Series II Discovery models with finicky suspensions and engines. As such, the cleanest Series II HSE models in excellent condition will rarely top $15,000. Experts prefer the earlier Series I Discos for their superior reliability and simplicity, but they’re becoming hard to find. The most interesting early model is the limited-edition XD dipped in (AA) yellow paint, equipped with off-road racks and fitted special seat covers to protect the interior from a muddy adventure.

Discos have yet to be discovered (pun intended) by mainstream collectors. But there’s a good deal of enthusiast support globally for these vehicles. Range Rovers, Defenders and Discoverys all share many drivetrain components. So its possible to build a Disco outfitted with a full complement of off-road gear. Rovers North is one of the leading firms in the U.S. to provide these parts.

Aaron Kiley – Car and Driver

1970–1995 Range Rover

Land Rover has a history of producing heavy-duty four-wheel-drive vehicles dating back to 1948. But the Range Rover that debuted in 1970 was the company’s most luxurious, and soon became the 4WD vehicle owned and enjoyed by the British upper class.

Land Rover

1970–1995 Range Rover

It took 17 years for the vehicle to make its way to the U.S. And when it did, the Range Rover redefined what a luxury 4×4 should be. These incredible machines blended off-road capability with exclusivity like nothing else. They cost $30,000 when new-more than double the price tag of a contemporary full-size Chevy Blazer. The Range Rover’s long-travel, solid axle, coil-spring suspension delivered eight inches of wheel travel up front and nearly a foot of wheel travel in the rear. That allowed Rovers to walk up and over uneven terrain better than anything in the late 1980s.

Land Rover

1970–1995 Range Rover

The handsome bodywork was made from aluminum, but these were still heavy rigs, and the Rover’s aluminum 150-hp 3.5-liter V-8 didn’t do enough to propel them.

Land Rover

1970–1995 Range Rover

In 1989, the engine was enlarged to 3.9 liters and gained almost 30 horsepower. The Range Rover was available in many special editions throughout its nine-year run, but the 1991 Hunter edition was one of the best; it actually had less equipment and was geared for buyers who really wanted to go off-road. Those Hunters have proven to be some of the most reliable of the entire run. In 1993, the company offered traction control, an optional air suspension and a model with an eight-inch-longer wheelbase. The long wheelbase delivered almost 40 inches of rear-seat legroom and used an enlarged version of the V-8 (4.2-liters) with 200 hp.

Land Rover

1970–1995 Range Rover

As wonderfully capable as classic Range Rovers are on the trail, they have a reputation for poor reliability. That has kept their values relatively low-for now. It’s smartest to buy one that doesn’t need a lot of work. Although later models are the most coveted by some because of their larger engines and more luxurious interiors, the air suspension system is prone to failure, so owners tend to switch to steel coil springs-sometimes with a mild two-inch lift to clear larger tires. And Rovers North is a good place to source parts.

Range Rover values are creeping up slowly. It was possible just a few years ago to find excellent ones for less than $15,000. Today, some sellers ask $30,000 for restored, final-year LWB Rovers. These classics have seen a big bump in price recently in England. So prices could continue to rise here as well.

Land Rover

1979–2016 Mercedes-Benz G-class

The Mercedes G-class, otherwise known as the G-wagen was first developed for military use back in 1979 and it has stayed surprisingly true to its roots. Mercedes-Benz’s original design was only replaced in 2019 with an all-new model; for every pre-2019 model, under the slab-sided skin there’s a full-frame chassis with rugged solid axles suspended by coil springs-just like a Jeep Wrangler. The early ones are really the coolest with their tartan plaid seats, clattery diesels and roll-up windows; too bad they were never officially imported to the U.S. Today, you can import one yourself or find one someone already brought over.

Mercedes-Benz

1979–2016 Mercedes-Benz G-class

The upright seating provides a good view over that flat hood. Developed by what is now Magna Steyr, these were virtually hand-built at the plant in Graz, Austria. Their vast off-road prowess stems from a four-wheel-drive system that offers a locking differential in each axle. There isn’t much that can stop a G-wagen with the right tires. Mercedes says even the newest models can ascend or descend slopes of 45 degrees. The G became more luxurious with age and has made staggering gains in performance. A 230 GE model from the early 1980s produced just 123 horsepower from its four-cylinder engine. The ridiculous AMG G65 offered near the end of the first generation decades later belted out 621 hp from its twin-turbo V-12.

Mercedes-Benz

1979–2016 Mercedes-Benz G-class

The G-wagen wasn’t officially offered in the U.S. by Mercedes-Benz until 2002. But beginning in 1997, Europa International brought them in as grey-market vehicles. That company has an inventory of recently imported older G-wagens. The G500s that Mercedes-Benz sold here in the early 2000s still aren’t cheap. They trade hands for about $30,000 depending on mileage, and could be fun to ruggedize for off-road adventures.

Mercedes-Benz

1979–2016 Mercedes-Benz G-class

Upgraded off-road parts are available from a handful of sites like Four by Four Club. Just add a suspension lift, winch bumper and a snorkel to help an everyday G-wagen shed its Beverly Hills image.

Mercedes-Benz

1987–1995 Nissan Pathfinder

One look at today’s soft-core Nissan Pathfinder crossover and it’s almost impossible to see the lineage that dates back to the rugged original. The Pathfinder jumped into the crowded small SUV pool halfway through the 1986 model year and was instantly embraced by four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. That’s because Nissan engineered the Pathfinder to fit large 31×10.50-R-15 tires under its blistered fenders. So equipped, the Nissan could tackle trails better than most of its competition.

Nissan

1987–1995 Nissan Pathfinder

Under the hood was a choice of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 145-hp 3.0-liter V-6-a detuned version of the engine found in the 300ZX. The Pathfinder’’s chassis was based on Nissan’s “Hardbody” pickup truck. But for the Pathfinder, Nissan chose to abandon the rear leaf springs in favor of a supple and modern coil-sprung suspension. Up until that point, it was mostly luxury SUVs that used coil springs. And that choice put the Pathfinder well ahead of its rivals in terms of ride and handling, on- and off-road.

Nissan

1987–1995 Nissan Pathfinder

The two-door model used a fixed steel roof, and designers gave it a cool triangular side window glass treatment. As a practical hauler, the Pathfinder could swallow a four foot-by-eight foot sheet of plywood. The insulated steel roof helped make this Nissan quieter and more refined than the Toyota 4Runner. In 1990, the V-6 got stronger (153 horsepower) and Nissan added a four-door version that cleverly hid the passenger door handles and used the same chassis. It proved so popular that Nissan dropped the two-door in 1991. The Pathfinder became more luxurious with age, adding a fancy LE grade and a new interior in 1994, just one year before it was replaced.

Nissan

1987–1995 Nissan Pathfinder

The two-door Pathfinder was the most stylish, however. So the one to find would be the last one (1990) with the most horsepower. But the trouble with Pathfinders is simply finding them in any condition. Nissan sold nearly 80,000 of them in just the first two years. So it’s odd that so few remain. This generation Pathfinder seems to have been used particularly hard. The good news is that they have remained cheap ($2000-$8000 depending on miles) and have proven to be hearty rigs. So these could be an excellent and trustworthy used 4WD vehicle for those on a limited budget. Aftermarket 4×4 parts for the Pathfinder and its pickup truck brethren (produced until 1998) can be found through Calmini, which offers suspension upgrades as well as drivetrain parts to make the original Pathfinder even more capable off-road.

John Preito – Getty Images

1986–1995 Suzuki Samurai

One trouble with owning a vintage 4×4 is finding space to store it. But stashing a Samurai is easy, because these lovable little machines rode on an 80-inch wheelbase and were more than two feet shorter than today’s Honda Fit.

Suzuki

1986–1995 Suzuki Samurai

At just over one ton at the curb, the Samurai was also the lightest body-on-frame four-wheel-drive vehicle with solid axles and leaf springs. Good thing Samurais were light, because with just 66 hp (and that only on fuel-injected examples from 1991 and later), acceleration was lethargic. At least that thrifty four-cylinder returned 25 mpg on the highway.

Suzuki

1986–1995 Suzuki Samurai

Simplicity was a cornerstone of life with a Samurai. There were manual controls for everything-steering, transmission, hubs, windows and locks. That’s good, because there’s less stuff to break. Many Samurais didn’t have air conditioning, which forced you to lower that convertible top and enjoy the great outdoors. For longer road trips, the models with full-metal hardtop and hard doors were the most comfortable. The Samurai shone when the roads turned to dirt. And on a fairly rigorous off-road route, Samurais were extremely capable and reliable backcountry partners.

Denver Post – Getty Images

1986–1995 Suzuki Samurai

For many years, Samurais were among the cheapest to buy and cheapest to build up as project vehicles; it’s not hard to find Samurais with extensive modifications. Because 4WD enthusiasts have embraced these vehicles, there’s a deep catalog of hard-core parts ranging from suspension lifts to extra-low ratio gearsets in the transfer case and even engine swaps. There are quite a few companies that specialize in the Samurai and Low Range Offroad is one that offers a good selection of parts. The Samurai was still sold overseas long after it left our shores, so hard-to-find replacement parts can be tracked down. Samurais certainly aren’t as cheap as they once were, but well-built examples in good condition can still be found selling for less than $10,000.

Suzuki

1984–1989 Toyota 4Runner

Toyota’s legendary FJ40 Land Cruiser left our shores in 1983. To help fill the void with a sportier, more modern two-door SUV, Toyota introduced the 4Runner. Like many SUVs of the day, this one was based on the humble and durable mechanicals of a pickup truck. The 4Runner was very much a short-wheelbase Toyota pickup with a removable fiberglass cap bolted onto the back. Inside, there was a rear seat, carpeting and a roll bar to help protect occupants. Functional, but not exactly luxurious.

Toyota

1984–1989 Toyota 4Runner

Under the hood was Toyota’s ridiculously reliable 22R four-cylinder engine, which gained fuel injection in 1985. The beauty of the 1984-1985 4Runners is the solid-axle, leaf-sprung suspension. Its simplicity and ruggedness made it easy to modify for exceptional four-wheeling performance. In 1986 Toyota introduced an independent front suspension, which helped the 4Runner drive like a modern SUV. For two years Toyota offered a turbocharged engine option. And it even had a digital dash, just like a Corvette. The best 4Runner for street driving and casual off-road adventure was the 1988–1989 model with the optional 150 hp 3.0-liter V-6. This engine boosted horsepower by 34 and torque by 40 lb-ft over the standard four-cylinder. The 4Runner has been in production for a remarkable 32 years over six generations. But it was this first one that gave off-road enthusiasts a tough, affordable SUV for adventure.

Toyota

1984–1989 Toyota 4Runner

Those who were kids in the 1980s remember these trucks on the street and in the movie Back to the Future. This means Toyota pickups of this generation are becoming desirable. The 4Runner packed the same style in a package that allowed you to bring friends along in comfort. NADA Guides says that even the best 4Runner of this vintage shouldn’t exceed $20,000. But most are priced far lower and have significant mileage (150,000-200,000) on the odometer. Since the engines and drivetrains are so durable, even high-mileage 4Runners are worth looking at. The large following among 4WD enthusiasts fuels a tremendous aftermarket for parts and upgrades that can transform these trucks into virtually unbreakable extreme 4X4s. All-Pro Off-Road is a great resource for those who want to build a 4Runner into a Wrangler-eating off-road machine.

Toyota

1960–1983 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40

The Land Cruiser FJ40 started out as Toyota’s answer to the Willys MB-in essence, it was Japan’s Jeep. Toyota really overbuilt the machine with heavy-duty parts; FJs weighed as much as quarter-ton more than a comparable Jeep CJ. Much of that beefiness resided in a stout drivetrain. Every FJ40 used a torque-rich inline-six and solid axles with leaf springs. A more powerful 4.2-liter 2F engine replaced the original 3.9-liter in 1975. Parts to repair this later engine are easier to find. However with only 135 horsepower, FJ40s still weren’t quick. The late 1970s and early 1980s FJs are most desirable since they have four-speed manuals, disc brakes up front, and optional power steering and air conditioning. The FJ’s vintage off-road vibe is unmistakably cool-even when left in completely stock form. Pull the top off, fold down the windshield and the FJ40 is a blast to drive.

Toyota

1960–1983 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40

Among off-road warriors, the FJ40 has been popular since the 1970s, so there are many proven parts ready for an owner to upgrade and personalize an FJ. Chevy V-8 swaps are very common. Aftermarket company Advanced Adaptors offers a kit to do just that, and the FJ40’s drivetrain is so strong that it can live behind the muscle of that V-8.

Toyota

1960–1983 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40

Land Cruisers aren’t the bargains they once were. At the top of the pyramid for restored/built-up FJ40s is Icon, which offers essentially small batch, meticulously-rebuilt FJs that have been upgraded from stock to have V-8 engines, smooth-riding coil-spring suspensions and modern interior amenities. Ditto the FJ Company, one of whose products we tested (at about $200,000!) recently and loved. These drive as well as a modern 4WD vehicle and are priced deep into the six-figure range.

Toyota

1960–1983 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40

Frenzied auction bidding has resulted in sales ranging from $40,000–$60,000, really pulling up the price of every FJ40. The classic car experts at Hagerty Insurance list the value of “Good” ones at around $33,000. Even those in “Fair” condition are bringing close to $13,000.

Toyota

1981–1989 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60/62

The Toyota FJ60 and later 62 models helped the Land Cruiser transition to the more luxurious nameplate it became in the 1990s. These four-door wagons rode on a 107.5-inch wheelbase and could handle 98 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seat folded. So they had the roominess to attract an adventurous family. But under that metal, the FJ60 was still a tough beast deserving of the Land Cruiser name, with a solid axle leaf-sprung suspension at each end. Power came from a modest but incredibly reliable 135-hp 4.2-liter inline-six paired to a four-speed manual. And the 60 was the last Land Cruiser offered with a manual transmission in the U.S.

Toyota

1981–1989 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60/62

The later square-headlight FJ62 (1988–1990) was more luxurious without losing the utilitarian vibe. A new fuel-injected 4.0-liter six channeled 155 horsepower solely to a four-speed automatic. The 62 offered conveniences like power windows, door locks-and even a power radio antenna. Both of these dependable FJ models are great choices for enthusiasts who want to spend more time driving than fixing their vehicles.

Toyota

1981–1989 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60/62

The FJ60/62 models were sold globally, so there are wild powertrain combinations we never saw stateside, including a direct-injected turbo-diesel. Some owners swap an H55 five-speed manual with overdrive from overseas models right into their North American trucks. Specter Off-Road has been supplying parts and advice for FJ owners since 1983. They offer plenty of restoration and upgrade parts to make these trucks excellent off-roaders.

Toyota

1981–1989 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60/62

Values for the FJ60 and 62 haven’t hit the peak prices seen for the classic FJ40. That’s good for those of us who want to use, rather than collect, the machines. Hagerty says the average value of an FJ60 is around $13,000 with the best ones closing in on $25,000. Not cheap, but the reliability makes these a great deal. Solid as they are in stock form, FJ60s and 62s are transformed into real off-road beasts when TLC (the folks behind Icon) install modern GM V-8s with more than 400 horsepower. The company sound-deadens the entire vehicle, swaps in stronger drivetrain parts and can source unique Land Cruiser parts from around the world. These builds can run deep into the six-figure range.

Toyota

1986–1991 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro

The Syncro version of VW’s Vanagon is perhaps the world’s most capable factory off-road van. The Vanagon’s rear-engine configuration meant VW couldn’t just grab any off-the-shelf 4WD hardware and slap it in. So, it developed a system with help from Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch that includes a viscous coupler to distribute torque, a “granny” low gear baked into the five-speed manual, and even an optional locking rear differential. These vans can tackle surprisingly difficult terrain, thanks to an increased ride height and ground clearance. Syncros are rare; only 5000 or so were imported to the U.S. over five years and that complicated 4WD system meant they weren’t cheap when new. In its final year, a Vanagon Syncro passenger van carried a base price just under $18,000. These vans made do with a mere 95 horsepower from their 2.1-liter water–cooled flat-four engines. And the capable Syncro drivetrain wasn’t just restricted to passenger vans: The Syncro Westfalia camper model opens up a whole new world for off-pavement exploring, thanks to their stoves, refrigerator units, and pop-up roof tents for sleeping.

Aaron Kiley – Car and Driver

1986–1991 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro

Syncros have a loyal following among overland adventurers, and there’s a huge support network globally. Technical information exists online to help identify and fix just about anything that could go wrong. Outside the U.S., Syncros were available with quite a few interesting specialty options, such as a locking front differential and larger brakes. There was even a crew-cab pickup truck variant. Many of these rare parts can be transplanted onto North American vans. Even in well-used condition, these vans can be expensive. Syncro passenger van models in good condition can be found for $10,000-15,000. But stepping up to a Westfalia camper more than doubles the price depending on condition.

Aaron Kiley – Car and Driver

1986–1991 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro

Experts have identified the weak links on these vans and developed wide-ranging solutions to improve them in every way. Power-hungry Vanagon fans can spend more than $10,000 to swap in any number of Subaru engines, ranging from a normally aspirated 2.5-liter all the way up to a 3.3-liter flat-six. But that’s just an engine swap. Specialty shop Go Westy offers upgrades so thorough, the price tags can push north of $70,000. But when they’re done, these campers are suitable for global off-road expeditions.

Aaron Kiley – Car and Driver




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