There’s a unique appeal to be found in a Jeep Wrangler that you don’t get even in most other Jeep models, let alone other brands of off-roader. It’s a beautiful single-mindedness on a par with that of a Porsche 911 GT2 RS Clubsport.
The Wrangler is designed to go very off-road at the drop of a hat, and it includes nothing that isn’t going to help it achieve that or offer basic provisions for a driver and passengers. You know, like seats and a heater.
Small, relatively lightweight for its capability level, endlessly customisable and easy to repair, the Wrangler has been a deserved legend for decades. The TJ generation was the first to switch leaf springs for coils, starting in 1996. It was still small, at just 3840mm long, and its 1780mm height made it 50mm taller than it was wide.
It was something of a crossover model, and not in the 21st century soft-roader sense. The TJ still used ancient AMC engines in four and six cylinder counts and the door handles were also AMC items. Both would be killed off at the end of the TJ’s life cycle, and not before time. Although it was being used in the brand new 1996 Wrangler, the straight-six lump at the front harked back to 1968.
Still, it remains a piece of US automotive history that evokes strong opinions in a lot of ordinary Joes and Janes. Many of those opinions are actually positive, too; just not those of the motoring press. Anything less refined on the road than a premium German hatchback has always been panned in European reviews.
With the arrival of the new Jeep Gladiator, which takes a Wrangler base but strengthens and toughens it in line with the extra length in the body and wheelbase, we thought we’d see what was out there in the classifieds. At the time of writing there are a surprising amount for sale on Auto Trader; over 200 in fact.
The cheapest is a fetching green one: a 4.0-litre straight-six TJ with 70,000 miles on the clock. It has bubbling and peeling alloy wheels, a dirty-looking interior but surprisingly clean and straight bodywork. Underneath, though, it’s a whole world of rusty pain. The chassis looks like it’s spent half of its life driving in salt; rust is visible everywhere you can see the ladder frame. Under the rear bumper looks nightmarish.
We suspect this one has been used for proper off-roading. The presence of a fire extinguisher on the roof cross-member hints at it, as well as the (undeniably cool) box of tricks in the tiny boot. It holds rope, ratchet straps, a first-aid kit, basic tools and there’s plenty of room left for some sandwiches and a Mars bar.
The canvas roof over the open-backed body looks in fair condition, the Toyo all-terrain tyres have plenty of tread left and the spare wheel also has its own full-size go-anywhere tyre. There’s even a towbar for hauling a trailer of, say, mountain bikes around with you. Or your home barbecue. Why not bring that along for the trip?
The price for this is a mere £4490, which, if you have a workshop and are willing to go to town sorting that rust out, is a tempting price. For the rest of us it might be wiser to spend a bit more.