Few cars are as fashion-forward as the vintage off-roader. It shows up in the premium you pay for them. Used Land Rover Defenders go for astronomical sums; the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser has at least reached near-Earth orbit. The closest most enthusiasts of either car will get is following an Instagram hashtag.
This phenomenon begs the question. If you want a vintage off-roader, why not just buy a Jeep? Specifically, why not buy a CJ-7?
The CJ-7 comes from the perfect spot in the Jeep lineage. It’s the last of the CJ (Civilian Jeep) line dating back to the original Willys. But, it also has decades worth of improvements. The CJ-7, debuting in 1976, brought a longer wheelbase, better stability and more room for passengers and a proper door. The shocks are better positioned. It’s the point where rugged character met relatively modern ride quality.
One could go newer with the Wrangler YJ that came out in 1987. It was formidable. I have a soft spot for it because it was my first car. But, going newer means approaching the wall of absurd Wrangler resale value. The square headlights from that gen aren’t “90’s rad.” They are an eyesore.
The CJ-7 is cheap compared to foreign idols. A search for a CJ-7 on AutoTrader Classics will find a private seller going fishing with a restored $40,000 version. But, judging from Bring a Trailer auctions, there’s a definite CJ-7 price ceiling. Only three of the 25 auctioned on site (as of this writing) have gone for more than $20,000. Only one CJ-7, with $38,000 worth of restoration work, gaveled north of $30,000 and didn’t meet the reserve.
For comparison, four Land Rover Defenders on Bring a Trailer have been bid past $90,000. So, well-worn 1990s trucks are going for the same price as a new Range Rover. If a Land Rover Defender sells for less than 20,000, it has a weird body style, an odometer well past 150,000 miles, or some form of the word “project” in the headline. Whether you want a base for restoration or a fully restored CJ-7, you can find one for a relative bargain.
Provenance is less complicated with a Jeep. About 7,000 Defenders were sold new in the U.S. from 1992 to 1998. The rest are imported. Maybe you find a Defender that has spent its first few decades traipsing around a Tuscan wine estate. But, the import has probably lived a hard life, especially if kept in the British weather.
Maintaining a Jeep is easier. The Jeep aftermarket is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Whether you want to restore a CJ-7, mod the heck out of it, or just keep it running, a myriad of sites like Morris 4×4 Center, Quadratec, and CJ Jeep Parts sell any conceivable part.
The Jeep does not have the Defender’s premium appeal. Land Rover has become a more premium marque in recent decades. Something British can be a byword for sophistication among us colonials. Exclusivity counts for something. There aren’t hundreds of thousands of similar looking new Defenders or FJ40s roaming every mall parking lot in America. All that appeal for the Defender over a Jeep, however, is mostly superficial. It’s not a function of the car’s capability, build quality, or (I would argue) aesthetics.
The CJ-7 is just as classic and timeless as a Defender or FJ40. You can afford to have a charming, vintage off-roader and send your offspring to college. You will have just as much fun. The Jeep wave may get a bit tiresome. But, hey, it’s better than being hounded by car photographers.
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