20 Old-School Off-Road Rigs for Backcountry Adventure

-Old-school 4x4s are the perfect machines for exploring the back country. Imagine roaming dirt roads and mountain trails for a year, a month, or even just a week in search of adventure. The escapist fantasy of leaving our workaday lives behind for such long periods may have to surrender to more realistic three-day weekends camping in a remote wilderness corner closer to home, but when the time comes, getting truly out there requires a sturdy rig with low range.--The best off-roaders for the job were built back when capability mattered more than connectivity and proper maintenance was a matter of wrenching more than decoding computer readouts.--Many head off-road in older fout-wheel-drive  pickup trucks because they are tough, stylish, and offer plenty of room for gear. But vintage SUVs were engineered with many of the same components and offer weather-sealed room inside to bring along some friends. The mechanical simplicity of these 4x4s makes for fun driving, on- or off-pavement. And thanks to a thriving aftermarket industry, they can be built into near-heroic off-road machines with off-the-shelf parts.--There’s rich variety available, too. We gathered this list of 20 old-style 4WD vehicles that are tough enough to get dirty and also offer the just-right spike of nostalgia that makes every mundane trip to the corner grocery store fun.--This content is part of Destination Adventure.-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 car-like, 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, 8-track stereo and a powerful 327-cubic-inch V-8 paired to a console-shifted automatic.--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) 4WD independent front suspension as an option decades ahead of anyone else. But these are Jeeps, so these wagons can handle off-road trails, or tow a 5,000-pound trailer on-road. Wagoneers saw a variety of engines over their long run. Early trucks had an overhead cam inline six-cylindert, 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. Wagoneer’s popularity peaked in 1978 when it sold for around $20,000—that was Cadillac money.--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 of the time.--Older Wagoneers have become hard to find, probably because so many saw hard use as family haulers or by 4WD 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.---Hagerty says the average value for a Wagoneer of the 1980s 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. To date, that company has sold more than 1800 restored Grand Wagoneers. Current listings run $57,000 to $62,500…new Cadillac money, again.-By the mid 1960s, four-wheeling was a serious hobby and the Ford Bronco was designed for it. The Bronco was youthful and fun—just like the Mustang. And, like Ford’s pony car, it was available with V8 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. 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. --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.--The early Ford Bronco has seen a big spike in prices over the past few years. Hagerty says a 1970 V8 Bronco in “Good” condition brings close to $20,000. Even trucks in “Fair” condition can run more than $7000.-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 5.0-liter Mustang V8, five-speed manual transmission and sophisticated Art Morrison chassis upgrades.-The original Chevy Blazer looks so chiseled and brawny that  it seems completely natural parked next to a 1960s muscle car. But unlike the Blazer’s arch-rival, the Ford Bronco, the Blazer is based on the chassis of 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 1-ton pickups with big-block V-8s until the 1990s.--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.- -In 1973, GM moved the Blazer to the new square-body design—a look it kept for another 18 years. These trucks are starting to feel vintage and very cool. 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 cid V8 and even a 6.2-liter diesel V8—an engine used in M1009 military Blazers. In the late 1980s, Blazers evolved with modern technology like fuel injection, shift-on-the-fly 4WD and four-speed-overdrive automatics.--Blazers have always been popular for outdoor recreation, and since they share platforms with GM’s full-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. A fully restored 1972 Blazer sold at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction this year for an eye-watering $64,900. Hagerty says one of these models in “Good” condition should bring around $11,000. 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.-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 ride on a 107.5-inch wheelbase and can handle 98 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seat folded. So it has the roominess to attract an adventurous family. But under that metal, the FJ60 was a still a tough beast deserving of the Land Cruiser name with a solid axle leaf-sprung suspension at each end. Power comes from a modest but incredibly reliable 135 hp 4.2-liter inline six paired to a 4-speed manual. And the 60 is the last Land Cruiser offered with a manual transmission in the US. The later square-headlight FJ62 (1988-1990) is more luxurious without losing the utilitarian vibe. A new fuel-injected 4.0-liter six channels 155 hp solely to a 4-speed automatic. The 62 offered conveniences like power windows, door locks—and even a power antenna for the radio. Both of these dependable FJ models are great choices for enthusiasts who want to spend more time driving than fixing their vehicles.--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. And they offer plenty of restoration and upgrade parts to make these trucks excellent off-roaders.--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 62 are transformed into real off-road beasts when TLC (the folks behind Icon) install modern GM V-8s with more than 400 hp. 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.-The luxurious Range Rover had been sold in the US for six years before the company decided Americans should have a taste of a classic Land Rover. 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 5,000-pound truck, so they weren’t quick, but they were incredibly capable on the trail. These rugged Defenders ride on a 110-inch wheelbase (hence the name) and can seat nine passengers, so they would be wonderful machines to take on a long-distance adventure in the dirt.- -The Defender 90 was imported from 1994-1997 in far greater numbers. Early trucks were available only with a five-speed manual and had a soft top 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 sit tall and came from the factory with nearly 32-inch diameter all-terrain tires, so they’re 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 is poor—15 mpg on the highway. So carrying a canister of extra fuel on a long trip to a remote location is a smart move.- -A Defender 110 became a collectible the instant it was sold. Today, lower-mileage examples sell for more than $100,000. A little more than 4,600 Defender 90s came to the U.S., so they’re much 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 over 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.--Although the Defender left the U.S. market in the 1990s, it was produced relatively unchanged until just last year. 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.-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 is 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.--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 is 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.--Those who were kids in the 1980s remember these trucks on the street and in the movie Back to the Future. So Toyota pickups of this generation are becoming desirable. The 4Runner packs the same style in a package that allows 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.-The Mercedes G-class, otherwise known as the G-wagen, is the only vintage vehicle in this slide show still in production today. The boxy SUV, developed for military use back in 1979, has stayed surprisingly true to its roots since. 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..--The upright seating provides a good view over that flat hood. Developed by what is now Magna Steyr and, today, virtually hand-built at the plant in Graz, Austria, this vehicle’s 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. Today’s ridiculous AMG G65 belts out 621 hp from its twin-turbo V-12.--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. 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 the G-wagen shed its Beverly Hills image.-A van is the perfect body style for hauling people and stuff. But when equipped with a serious 4WD system, they can be stellar adventure machines. The Syncro version of VW’s Vanagon is perhaps the world’s most capable off-road box. 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 5,000 or so were imported 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-cylinder engines. So they certainly weren’t speed machines. The capable Syncro drivetrain wasn’t just restricted to passenger vans. The Syncro Westfalia model opens up a whole new world for off-pavement exploring. These are real campers with stoves, refrigerator units and a pop-up roof tent for sleeping. And the Vanagon’s tidy proportions—almost three inches shorter than today’s Audi Q5—make these mini off-road motorhomes as garagable as any mid-size SUV.--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 $10-15,000. But stepping up to a Westfalia camper more than doubles the price depending on condition.- -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 powerplants, 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.-When a manufacturer of heavy equipment and agricultural tractors decides to build a recreational 4WD 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 rides on a wheelbase 6.5 inches longer than that of the CJ and 10 inches longer than the FJs. The full-metal hardtop Scout is 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.--The Scout II could be optioned with one of two big V-8s, in 304- and heartier 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 are strongest and drive best thanks to the standard Dana 44 front and rear axles and power disc brakes. 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.--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-cube V-8 from a pickup or Travelall SUV can be installed in a Scout.--The International Scout II, like Toyota’s FJ and the early Ford Bronco, is grabbing the attention of collectors. Hagerty values 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.-The Land Rover Discovery debuted alongside the Defender as the second and third Land Rover models to hit the US 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 are plush vehicles; most have leather interiors, power seats and climate control. Discos are all five-passenger vehicles unless there’s 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 without the need to fold the middle row. Like all Rovers of the time, the Disco used strong solid axles suspended by long-travel coil springs. This suspension works incredibly well off-road, clawing up trails that would challenge a Jeep Wrangler. The downside is that those soft and flexible springs made them a handful on a twisty mountain road.--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.--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.-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 weigh as much as quarter-ton more than a comparable Jeep CJ. Much of that beefiness resides in a stout drivetrain. Every FJ40 uses 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 FJ40 is great for long trips because it is spacious inside and relatively quiet—because all models used a removable steel hardtop. 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.--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.- -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. These drive as well as a modern 4WD vehicle and are priced deep into the six-figure range.- -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.-The Cherokee XJ was the first all-new Jeep SUV in decades, far sportier and more fun to drive than any Jeep before it. Much of that driving zest came from the combination of its lightweight construction and powerful inline six-cylinder engine. The XJ 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. So good was this basic design that Jeep kept it in production for 18 years. Early XJs 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.--XJs are wonderful to drive in absolutely stock condition. They are ideal for exploring mild trails and handle surprisingly well on a twisty back-road pavement. 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 made more than 2.8 million of these vehicles, 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.-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. But they were all wrong. The Excursion excelled at a few very specific missions. It had a high payload rating and could carry up to 8 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. This is a huge vehicle, so without folding down any of its seats, the workhorse can swallow 48 cubic feet of cargo. Unlike GM’s Suburban of the time, the Excursion uses a durable solid-axle leaf-sprung suspension on 4WD models. That means it can be easily modified to increase suspension travel, fit larger tires and perform well on any 4WD trail it will fit on. 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 V10—sadly, 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 packs 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, but experts warn that this engine is trouble prone.--The Excursion’s early reputation has done nothing to cool prices on these machines today. Those folks that want Excursions really want them. Scan the classifieds and its easy to find a clean 7.3-liter 4WD Excursions selling between $15,000 and $20,000 depending on mileage and condition. Those are high prices for a decade-old SUV. But with modern SUVs becoming smaller and more carlike, Excursions have the potential to increase in value.--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 best selling 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 V8. 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.-The trouble with owning a vintage 4x4 is finding space to store it. But stashing a Samurai is easy, because these lovable little machines ride on an 80-inch wheelbase and are more than two feet shorter than today’s Honda Fit. At just over one ton at the curb, the Samurai is also the lightest body-on-frame 4WD vehicle with solid axles and leaf springs. Good thing Samurais are light, because with just 66 hp (and that only on fuel-injected examples from 1991 and later), acceleration is lethargic. At least that thrifty four-cylinder will return 25 mpg on the highway. Simplicity is a cornerstone of life with a Samurai. There are manual controls for everything—steering, transmission, hubs, windows and locks. That’s good, because there’s less stuff to break. Many Samurais don’t have air conditioning, which forces you to lower that convertible top and enjoy the great outdoors. For longer road trips, the models with full-metal hardtop and hard doors would be the most comfortable. The Samurai shines when the roads turn to dirt. And on a fairly rigorous off-road route, Samurais are extremely capable and reliable backcountry partners.--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 (https://www.lowrangeoffroad.com) 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.-Land Rover has a history of producing heavy-duty 4WD 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. It took 17 years for the Rover to make its way to the US. And when it did, the Range Rover redefined what a luxury 4x4 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 full-size Chevy Blazer. The Range Rover’s long-travel, solid axle, coil-spring suspension delivered 8 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.--The handsome bodywork is made from aluminum, but these are still heavy rigs, and the Rover’s aluminum 150-hp 3.5-liter V-8 didn’t do enough to propel them. So in 1989, the engine was enlarged to 3.9 liters and gained almost 30 hp. The Range Rover was available in many special editions throughout its eight-year run, but the 1991 Hunter edition is one of the best because it actually had less equipment and was geared for buyers who really wanted to go off-road. These 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 8-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.--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. Experts say that unless you are well versed in these machines, 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, early models have fewer problems. On later models, 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 Rover’s 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.-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 and 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 back country adventure. And many four-wheelers prefer the CJ-7’s wheelbase to the shorter CJ-5 for most off-road trails. The CJ-7 debuted with Jeep’s then-new all-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 would be the V-8 model backed by the heavy-duty T-18 four-speed manual. The CJ-7 was available as a soft top or with a fiberglass hardtop with metal doors—a first for the CJ. This combination provided a much quieter and more refined Jeep experience. 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 makes for a particularly quick machine.--The CJ-7 benefits from a wildly rabid fanbase of Jeep loyalists. And virtually any custom touch one could imagine exists for the C-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 V8-powered Golden Eagle, has an average value of just over $8,000 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.-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 4WD enthusiasts. That’s because Nissan engineered the Pathfinder to fit large 31x10.50-R-15 tires under its blistered fenders. So equipped, the Nissan could tackle trails better than most of its competition. 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. The two-door model used a fixed steel roof. And designers used a cool triangular side window glass treatment. As a practical hauler, the Pathfinder could swallow a 4x8 sheet of plywood in its tailgate. And 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.--The two-door Pathfinder is the most stylish. 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. And perhaps that’s a testimony to its durability. 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 vehicles for those on a limited budget. Aftermarket 4x4 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.-The original Hummer is completely impractical on the street. Ridiculously wide and painfully slow, it handles about as well as a medium-duty dump truck. But for off-road excursions, the H1 has the hardware to perform. AM General engineered it for the military, so Hummer’s drivetrain and four-wheel independent suspension provide an incredible 16 inches of ground clearance. And unlike other production 4WD vehicles, the Hummer can raise or lower air pressure in the tires right from the cab, which allows this massive four-ton monster to float across deep sand and snow. Military versions all used an underpowered 6.2-liter V8, as did early civilian H1s. In 1996, H1s received stronger engines—either a 5.7-liter V8, a normally aspirated 6.5-liter diesel, or a 6.5-liter turbo-diesel with 195 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque. 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.--The Hummer H1 is 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.-The Suburban is the granddaddy of all SUVs—and the longest continuously running nameplate in the U.S.. The very first workhorse Suburbans were produced in 1936 and they continue to provide unmatched hauling capability today. The square-body trucks from the 1970s through the early 1990s are the ones that established the Suburban as a mainstream family vehicle. After all, 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 and 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 will 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.--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 tow capability. The venerable big-block 454 was only available in 2500-series Suburbans with rear-wheel-drive; these beasts can 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. Suburban was also the name used on the parallel GMC model (today it’s called the Yukon XL), so don’t forget to include that brand if you’re searching for one; the differences between and Chevy and GMC versions is negligible.--Owning a vintage Suburban brings so much versatility, it’s surprising that these trucks aren’t more valuable. After all, here is a classic truck that can handle people like a minivan, tow like a big pickup and explore the back country with ease. 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. Specialists have developed proven upgrade parts for the pickups and Blazers; It’s possible to build an incredibly capable Suburban. 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 $8,300, with top trucks bringing just over $20,000.-Dodge was late to the SUV party when the Ramcharger, and its cousin, the Plymouth Trail Duster, were introduced in 1974. These full-size trucks were built on a trimmed down Dodge pickup truck chassis. They were direct competitors to the Chevy Blazer, rather than the smaller early Bronco. The Ramcharger used a 106-inch wheelbase (within a half-inch of the Blazer) and had strong solid axles with a simple leaf-sprung suspension at each end. The earliest models were bare-bones machines with full convertible roofs. Even rear seats were optional on these workhorses.--The best engine options for power and torque in earlier trucks are the 400- and 440-cubic-inch big block V8s that lasted until 1980. These engines are heavy and thirsty, but at a time when every manufacturer was moving to smaller, emissions-choked engines, there’s something so right about having a big motor in a truck like this. It was possible to pair one of these big-block trucks with the practically indestructible NP435 four-speed manual for the ultimate off-road machine. Dodge offered several very cool and very rare trim packages for the Ramcharger that are nearly impossible to find today. The “Macho” package was similar to the one Dodge used on the Power Wagon pickup and featured tough-looking flat black stripes and the word “Macho” in giant letters everywhere. Even more rare was the Top Hand model that featured brush guards and a roll bar built by off-road legend Vic Hickey. In 1981, some of the fun was lost when the styling became a little more serious; every Ramcharger roof was now steel and welded onto the body. The best of these so-called second-generation models came right at the end, in 1993, when Dodge loaded an optional Magnum 5.9-liter V-8 engine into the ‘Charger with 230 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Because Dodge sold so few of these final trucks, they are tough to find.--The Ramcharger has always been the contrarian’s SUV, never selling nearly as well as models from from GM, Ford and Jeep. That makes them very rare today. Hagerty pegs a 440-cid V-8–powered Macho from the late 1970s with an average value of $13,500 and says spotlessly restored ones are worth around $30,000. Since so little changed with the truck’s bodywork over its nearly 20-year run, even the newest 1990s Ramchargers look old-school today. There is far less support for these trucks in the aftermarket than either the Chevy Blazer or the Ford Bronco. And that just might be why so few are built for off-road use or restored. But LMC Truck does have a good selection of bodywork, trim and interior parts.--
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