Although the Land Rover Defender was the definitive off-road vehicle, the Range Rover, which they introduced in 1970, improved the concept far beyond what anybody could have guessed. Most car historians agree that the Range Rover started the modern SUV class with a unique blend of off-road capabilities, elegant designs and luxury appointments. After this model, most car manufacturers decided to sell comfortable off-road vehicles.
And, that is how the SUV craze swept through the industry. The Range Rover was the answer for customers who needed a capable car, but not a Spartan off-roader like the Defender. The company didn’t expect much in 1970, but soon, the sales were so encouraging, Range Rover invested in the concept. During the â80s and early â90s, the original Range Rover was becoming the bestselling vehicle in its class as well as a legend of the industry.
The idea of owning a classic Range Rover is appealing but be ready to search for a good example at an affordable price. The Range Rover wasn’t the most durable of all classic SUVs, so cars in poor condition are less money. However, they will need many repairs, so models in the best shape are getting costlier each day.
The Samurai sold well in the states from 1985 to 1989. But then a harsh Consumer Reports article brutally interrupted its career. It stated that the Samurai was a small death trap on wheels. The article explained that this little SUV was prone to roll-overs that had been the cause of many accidents, including some with fatal outcomes.
Suzuki sued Consumer Reports claiming that this wasn’t true, and the case dragged on for 10 years. Eventually, they settled out of court. Although some independent reporters proved the little Samurai was a bit unstable, it was not as catastrophically as Consumer Reports claimed.
Unfortunately, the damage was done and they withdrew the Samurai from the U.S. market, even though they continued to sell it in the rest of the world. Today, you can find the Samurai here and there, and the controversy about its stability could add value at some point.
Everything started in the mid-60s when Ford realized the market for compact and off-road capable SUVs was emerging. So, Ford invested a lot of effort and money into constructing the Bronco since it had its own platform, suspension and drivetrain components. Finally, they equipped it with straight six and V8 engines, giving it enough power and decent performance.
The Bronco was compact, which helped it to be maneuverable on and off the road, making this Ford quite capable when the asphalt stops. The small dimensions meant that the interior was cramped, but the buyers loved it nonetheless, so sales went through the roof. The second and third generations were even more successful. That is because they were bigger and more comfortable vehicles with a longer list of options and updated equipment.
However, despite the solid sales, Ford decided to retire the Bronco in 1996 to concentrate on their pickup truck line, as well as their new SUV models. The first-generation Bronco is rapidly gaining popularity. Soon, it will be beyond the reach of the average customer. So, if you want this model, you’d better act fast.
When they introduced it in 1981, the Isuzu Trooper was the perfect car for the time. It was a relatively spacious, great-handling off-road SUV with dependable mechanics. Also, it had a nice design and lots of character, which was something that Japanese cars often lack. The Trooper was a capable off-road vehicle. And yet, it still retained a certain level of on-road highway manners.
And all that means it was equally at home on dirt roads as well as on the interstate. Because its U.S. competitors had V8s and bigger engines, the Isuzu 2.8-liter V6 didn’t sound like much. But, it was enough for all driving purposes and off-road driving. From today’s perspective, the Trooper looks a little boxy, but that’s how SUVs from the â80s looked.
Also, one of the key characteristics of this model is its impeccable build quality. That means there are a fair number of survivors on the road today. In fact, this model has a cult status among classic SUV fans.
In Mopar nomenclature, Plymouth was always an economy or muscle car brand. In fact, they were dedicated to family cars, small sedans or two-door coupes. During their history, they did produce some pickup trucks, but never any off-road models. Dodge was more into that market with a series of SUV models and big success in that field.
However, in the late ’70s, Plymouth decided to try its luck in the off-road market with the Trailduster. It was a two-door, all-wheel-drive vehicle identical to the Dodge Ramcharger. The idea worked since the Trailduster was a good looking truck, similar to the Ramcharger, but with different trim and details. To promote the product in that market, Plymouth even offered all-wheel drive at a lower price with more equipment than Dodge.
But, they had no luck, so after a couple of years, they discontinued the Trailduster although the Ramcharger stayed on the market. All this means the Trailduster is rare and could be expensive in the near future. And sadly, it also means you will have to search all over the country for a decent example.
Today, most U.S. customers recognize the Nissan Patrol as the Armada. It’s a big, heavy luxury SUV often in two-wheel drive configuration. But long ago, the Patrol was a serious off-road vehicle they intended for heavy-duty use with the mechanics to cope with the toughest terrains.
Although they designed it as a competitor to the FJ 40 Land Cruiser, the Patrol has evolved since the early â80s into a modern SUV with global appeal. Nissan redesigned its chassis and engines, as well as the interior and introduced the third generation of the Patrol in 1980. It was a boxy SUV but with lots of interior room, tough mechanical components and undeniable off-road capabilities.
The Jeepster Commando is a forgotten Jeep model they produced between 1966 and 1973. It was an upscale version of those pure off-road models that featured removable hardtops and a small truck bed behind the front seats. It was a practical model that drivers could use for cruising, as well as for carrying smaller items and going off-road.
Buyers had a wide selection of engines, from small inline four and six cylinders to V6 and V8 engines. AMC produced most of the engines because they owned the Jeep brand at the time. Also, Buick produced a 225 V6 known as the Dauntless V6. Despite solid sales results; Jeep decided the Commando had no future on the market. They discontinued this interesting, capable convertible SUV in the early ’70s.
With the Wrangler prices already going strong, the Commando could be a more interesting option. It is cooler, rarer and more comfortable. Also, it uses the same basic technology.
In the late â80s, the Suzuki Motor Company needed something to make buyers forget the Samurai scandal. They wanted to regain the position they lost on the compact SUV market. And the answer was the new, modernly-styled model they called the Sidekick or Vitara. It was Suzuki’s global project to introduce a modern looking and more on-road oriented model.
They wanted it to appeal to a younger crowd and be safer, better equipped and more usable than the smaller, problematic Samurai. They presented the first-generation Sidekick or Vitara in 1988. Immediately, it met universal praise from the buyers and the motoring press. It was the right model for the time with cool looks, nice options, long and short wheelbase versions, and an optional open top.
It could either be a family SUV as well as a fun vehicle for weekend trips to the forest. Under the hood were several engines, all relatively small in displacement and power, but enough to propel the compact Sidekick to a performance similar to or better than its competitors. The production of the first generation lasted from 1988 to 1998 and they called the replacement model the Chevrolet Tracker.
The success of the Blazer and the Bronco inspired Dodge to offer its own off-road model they based on a shortened truck chassis and with the closed body style. They called their new model the Ramcharger, introducing it in 1974, along with the identical Plymouth Trailduster.
The base engine was Chrysler’s venerable 225 slant six unit, but buyers could choose between four more engines, including the mighty 440 V8. The power level of this famous big block was not that high for 1974 but loads of torque was more important for off-road driving and pulling the Ramcharger out of the mud.
They presented the second generation in 1981 and discontinued it in 1994. Basically, it was just an update of the original design. This means that Ramchargers are quite common and affordable, so you should be able to find a decent one with ease.
Introduced in the early ’80s, the Mitsubishi Pajero soon became popular in Europe, the Middle East and America. It was a simple but effective off-road SUV that came in many varieties and with a couple of powerful engines. The construction of the original Pajero was basic with a ladder chassis and leaf spring suspension in the back. But its off-road performance was more than good.
Over the years, they upgraded the Pajero to a more luxurious machine, and it even went racing. In the late ’90s, they introduced the Pajero Pinin as a smaller, more affordable version of the original Pajero. However, with the introduction of European SUVs in that class and market, the popularity of the Pajero started to decline.
The International Scout was a small, usable off-road SUV with engines ranging from the 2.5-liter straight four to the 4.4-liter V8. Also, it came with a removable hardtop, which meant that every Scout was also a convertible. And better yet, it had a fold-down windshield. The first models were quite basic, so only nature lovers, hunters and forest patrols used them.
But the second generation introduced a more luxurious Scout with more options, better engines, and exterior trim. The Scout was one of the first SUVs to gain a significant increase in value since it was relatively rare compared to the Bronco or Blazer. Also, many Scouts were affected with rust issues, so examples in good condition are hard to find and expensive. However, if you are lucky, you could find a decent Scout for an affordable price.
Back in 1969, Chevrolet was caught off guard with the success of the Ford Bronco, Jeep CJ, and International Harvester Scout. Simply, the market wanted small, good-looking and capable off-road SUVs but Chevrolet didn’t have any in its model lineup. Something had to be done so the Chevrolet engineers thought of a brilliant idea. They would use an existing pickup truck and mount a full interior and roof.
And they would name it the Blazer or GMC Jimmy. The idea was great, so soon Chevrolet fans had a new SUV model with bigger dimensions than the competitors. But it also had some bigger engines under the hood. At first, all-wheel drive was the only option. While some versions came with rear-wheel drive only, soon AWD became standard. The Blazer became popular and was used not only by civilians but also by the U.S. military.
It sold well in America as well as in the rest of the world, especially if they equipped it with a 6.2-liter diesel V8 engine. The Blazer was so popular that the second generation stayed in production from 1973 to 1991 with minimal modifications. But the prices are on the rise, so if you want one, you should hurry up.
Toyota Land Cruiser J60
It is insane that good examples of the J60 series Landcruiser are bringing north of $30,000 today, but this is the reality of the collector car market. The classic â80s SUV was affordable not that long ago, but now the prices are getting out of hand. However, the restoration projects are still somewhat inexpensive. So, if you have the means to perform one, you should consider finding a 1980’s Landcruiser.
Toyota introduced the Land Cruiser in 1980 and discontinued it in 1989. They sold it all over the world and it was popular in America. The J60 combined the ruggedness of a classic FJ40 with a durable 4.2-liter inline six-engine and a bigger, more comfortable body. This combination proved influential, so the J60 is now in the focus of collectors all over the world.
If you want something different and you are not afraid of importing a car from overseas, here is a special vehicle for you, the Russian UAZ 469. Introduced in 1971, the UAZ 469 was a successor of the GAZ 69, a simple and rugged military jeep-like vehicle. They improved the 469 with a new chassis and live axles in the front and rear.
Also, it had a more powerful engine in form of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline unit. However, despite the various improvements, this was still a crude car. It was extremely durable since they made it for the toughest off-road courses and for military use. It was uncomfortable and simple, but effective. This off-roader is still in production in Russia and still in use all around the world.
Jeep Cherokee XJ
Introduced in 1984, the Cherokee XJ generation was an enormous success for Jeep. It had boxy yet elegant looks, great build quality and lots of usable features. In fact, the second-generation Cherokee was the SUV of the â80s as well as a globally-successful model.
Despite being a modern, comfortable vehicle, the Cherokee XJ retained all the Jeep characteristics like rugged mechanics and a dependable AWD drive train. Also, the engines were great, which helped it claim the title of one of the best SUVs of all time.
In some foreign markets, they produced the Cherokee XJ until 2014. And that just shows how good of a car this Jeep was. The XJ is the next big thing since decent examples are hard to find yet people fondly remember this great vehicle.
Conceived in the early â70s, the Lada Niva was the most common SUV in ex-Soviet Union. They also sold it in significant numbers abroad, so it was often seen on dusty roads in Third World counties. The all-wheel drive was standard, as well as a somewhat anemic four-cylinder engine which limited its on-road performance.
They produced the Niva for a long time, even selling it officially in Canada. They might not be the best, fastest or toughest classic SUVs out there but they are affordable and unique in America. So if you are looking for something to confuse your neighbors, this could be it.
These are the classic SUVs that could become collector’s cars very soon. Did you pick your favorite? If you want one of these, you’d better hurry up before they are too hard to find or too expensive to buy.