Jeep Wrangler YJ

Among many enthusiasts is the notion that Wranglers stopped being good when Jeep went to the JK platform in 2006; likely a similar feeling to what Jeepers thought in 1987 when the YJ replaced the CJ-7. The  square headlights and bent grill of the YJ must have been what the plastic fenders and V6’s mean today in the JK. Those who malign the JK embrace the preceding Wranglers. However, there is a little bias against the square headlights of the YJ regardless of however good the vehicle underneath is. For this, the YJ has been overshadowed by the succeeding TJ (1997-2006), yet it is still a quintessential classic Jeep in ways that the JK can’t replicate.

Everything is metal on a YJ, despite the fact it originates from the late eighties and nineties. The grill is metal, the fenders are metal, and the tub has familiar slab-sidedness and gentle curves around the rear corners. It has exposed screws, wipers that haphazardly just lay across the windshield, and the top-heavy, nearly rickety, profile that ended with the JK. On the right rear corner of Wrangler, the magic words, “4.0L High Output” can be seen on models built after 1991. But back to that later; the YJ initially got off to a shaky start in its introductory year of 1987. It had a messily-designed plastic dash that replaced the flat metal unit in the CJ and a couple of weak, carbureted engine choices, the AMC 258 cubic inch straight six and the 150 cubic inch AMC inline-four. The 1987 Wrangler looked far removed from the CJ; it sat lower and wider for increased stability. But most noticeable and what was considered sacrilege to the more dedicated fans were those square headlights, they seemed to corrupt the familiar face of the Jeep in some eyes. By being the replacement for the CJ and by having those controversial headlights, the YJ has an inescapable stigma of not being a worthy successor to the CJ.

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The 4.0-liter inline six had multi-point fuel injection, and, in the Wrangler, produced 180 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. With this engine, the YJ makes all the classic Jeep noises and the torque seven-slot hearts desire. It has two leaf-sprung solid axles, probably the last light-duty vehicle to have them. The interior is a lot more comfortable than it has any right to be, it’s a sparse box with slap-dash design. But thanks to its proportions, the YJ feels very capacious. There are no airbags to worry about, just a wide, thin rimmed steering wheel with three stainless steel spokes. It has the high doorsills, and thin doors that swing open and closed lightly and freely. The mirrors are spindly, vertically oriented rectangles. It’s unmistakable for anything else.

In the age of the CJ, the YJ likely looked like a soft caricature. Square headlights are still brought against it, even today. That aside, the YJ is a premier example of what a classic Jeep is. It immerses you in an experience that personifies what the JK tries to be. It is an elemental and unique machine with the pull, roar, and sheet metal people have known and loved.

 

Ford Courier

Purposefully lean would best describe mini-trucks, the delightfully small and utilitarian compact pickups of the mid nineteen eighties and before. This Ford Courier, a Mazda rebadge, was produced from 1977 to 1983 in the thick of the mini-truck era. It sits low with no off road or macho pretense, has skinny, small diameter steel wheels with dog-dish hubcaps, and uncluttered, upright styling.

This truck is a tool, its for hauling things, in this case a small trailer. Just look at that cab to bed length ratio. Most pickups you will see today have this ratio the other way around, with the cab longer than the bed. The exterior is almost architectural in its design, with unabashed angularity and functionality. Grasp the metal handle and thumb down on the push button to swing open the light metal door. The interior is like the inside of a thin metal box, because that’s exactly what it is. There’s a little style in the way the red of the vinyl upholstery meshes with the black metal and plastic surroundings, but that’s obviously secondary to the overall function. The wispy thin two-spoke steering wheel has no pretensions other than to guide the truck it is attached to through a worksite. A tall, thin, spindly shift lever juts straight out of the transmission tunnel in front of the bench.

This Ford Courier is a tool, but can’t tools be just as fun as toys. There’s a sense of superficiality in the pickups of today; they try to mask their working origins in gluttonous size and power. Modest trucks like the little Courier, which have only the barest essentials to do the work trucks were meant to do, are refreshingly pure.

1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

In Limited trim, the Jeep Grand Cherokee represents the best of what SUVs were in the 1990s. This decade,  a sweet spot for SUVs, was a time between the watered-down vehicles following and the elemental vehicles of prior years. 1994, the year of the featured Grand Cherokee, was also a year in which the last vestiges of traditional American luxury still had influence in automotive design. Enter the pillow topped tan seats, gold-trimmed lattice wheels, gold emblems, and fake plastic wood of the Limited. The first generation (ZJ) Grand Cherokee arose from the AMC era with the Concept 1 of 1989, but unlike the XJ Cherokee, reeks of design principles defining the contemporary Chrysler. Those surprisingly stiff, yet luscious-looking leather seats look at home in any puffed-up K-based Fifth-Avenue. The overhead console, with its green dot-matrix computer, looks like nothing but Chrysler.

What made the ZJ great was the dimension of substance in combination of its fanciful accoutrements. It had two coil-sprung solid axles and, of course, the soulful and stout 4.0 liter inline-six. The powertrain was longitudinal, as it should be in an SUV, and transfer cases offered low range gearing. It had a Uniframe design, common to all closed Jeep SUVs in the 80’s and 90’s, that unified the frame and body  into a single structure.

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The exterior is, in essence, an XJ Cherokee of larger dimensions with more concave sides and rounder edges. Square headlights and taillights have a stacked look to them, but are flush and smooth with the tidy body. The Limited in particular has prominent gold colored strips on the monochromatic bumpers and ribbed cladding; who can’t love a little bit of flash. The interior is posh with the squishy flat seats but unlike many classic SUVs, has appreciably spacious and efficiently designed accommodations. The gold theme continues with a 120 watt Infinity Gold stereo.

Nearly everything was perfect about this pure white ’94 ZJ. The paint, often peeling down to the bare metal on these, shown dazzlingly bright against the cold drizzle. Doors shut tightly and easily; aside from some cracked leather, it was free of the buy here pay here aura of impending death by neglect. But unfortunately, being a ’94, the engine spins a dubious Chrysler four-speed as opposed to the rock-solid AW-4 four-speed in 1993. At over 180 thousand miles, it could have only so much life left. But this perfect example of what is, on paper, the perfect SUV has a fresh transmission ready for the years and miles to come.