Old SUVs – What’s Next?

After getting Bertha, I’ve had quite a few conversations around what is the ‘next’ vintage SUV to get hot.  As you’ve all seen, the prices for old Defenders, Wagoneers, pre-1980 Land Cruisers, and pre-1985 Broncos are through the roof.  There are no more deals out there – even for garage finds.  It’s essentially prohibitive, especially for the novice buyer.

Keep in mind that the real cost to own a vintage SUV is not the upfront purchase price, but the after-purchase costs that go into maintaining, restoring, and upgrading the trucks to your liking.  And there is always something that needs to be fixed.  It’s the exact opposite of leasing a brand new car, where there is no worry.  There’s ALWAYS worry with a vintage SUV.

Over the last year, prices for the second wave of vintage SUVs have started to go up as well.  For obvious reasons, I’ve been watching the prices of FJ60 and 62 Land Cruisers.  From my back-of-napkin calculations, they’ve gone up ~35-40% in the last year.  Where you used to be able to find a running truck in the $12-17K range (low end), you will be hard-pressed to find something that is below $22-25K.  And that’s just to get the truck in your garage.  It might need a new engine, transmission, exhaust, or the systems may need to be updated, or it may have rust that needs addressing…all of which is a significant investment in either time (if you do it yourself) or cost (if you farm it out)….but probably both.

It’s funny how these vintage SUVs have almost become an appreciating asset on the books.  I love it.

Anyway…

So what are the ‘next’ SUVs that will become collector’s items?  I have some thoughts.  When I think about a high-value SUV, I think about a couple of things: 1) Good lines.  It has to look cool.  2) Function.  The SUV has to be an SUV.  3) History.  Is there a cult following for these trucks?  4) Price to buy and cost to maintain.  This is why you won’t see any British SUVs included.

Here are my four picks.  Bear with me here, as I’m trying to look over the next twenty years:

1. First Generation Ford Explorers (1991-1995)

These were some of the first mass-produced SUVs that really took off.  The Ford product is generally thought of as solid, and since it’s a Ford, it will be relatively easy to maintain.  The lines are of that classic SUV, and the interior has plenty of room.  Extra points for the Eddie Bauer editions.  You can usually find these in good running condition for around $10K.

2. Early 90’s Jeep Cherokee Laredo

Another classic SUV that was ahead of its time.  My argument for the Cherokee is that it is the perfect size as a daily driver.  Eventually, folks realize that they don’t need a Suburban 365 days a year unless there are 3+ kids to deal with, and even then it’s questionable.  The Cherokee has all the creature comforts, most come in 4WD, and they look fantastic with a roof rack.  In good condition, a Jeep Cherokee can be found for $10-12K.

3. First Generation 4-door Chevy Tahoes

Tahoes have become a de-facto SUV.  They are everywhere, and owners love them.  However, they are a much different SUV than the first generation 4-doors that were released in 1995-96.  These trucks are absolutely tough as nails and featured a v8 engine.  As with the Fords, Chevy produces good products that are relatively inexpensive to maintain (vs. the British SUVs), and easy to find mechanics to do the work.  I’m a HUGE proponent of a 4-door truck as it makes access so much easier.  As for price – these can be found for well under $10K in good working order.  Plenty of good color options as well, but I’m partial to green.

4. Jeep Commander

I’m fully aware that this is out of left field, but I’ve always been a fan of the Jeep Commander.  I love the size and the lines.  It’s a sharp-looking utility vehicle that would be GREAT for the camper/fisherman.  They only produced these in the late ’00s, so there aren’t a ton out there.  Since it’s a relatively new truck, you’ll get a lot of built-in creature comforts – including a fold-down third-row seat.  It’s only a v6 engine, but should be able to haul a smaller boat.  My only concern would be ground clearance, so I’d add about a 3″ lift and some bigger tires, as well as a roof rack.  The kicker here is that you can find these for $5-7K, and it’s a Jeep, so the upkeep wouldn’t be a checkbook killer.   Not too shabby.

Keep in mind that all of these are long-term investments.  I don’t expect any of these to sell for $70K like some of the fully restored Land Cruisers or Broncos, but these are GREAT SUVs with character, that would be really fun to own.  Most importantly, they’d get the job done.  Again – these are ‘buy and hold’ investments, but I am sure that you’d find plenty of adventures (and fun upgrades) on the way.

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19 Comments

  1. austin wilhelm
    04/27/2021 / 10:41 AM

    The Jeep Commander did have a good look to it, i’d be concerned though because it’s probably more Chrysler than Jeep.

  2. CCE
    04/27/2021 / 10:55 AM

    Good list, and you’re absolutely correct about the Jeep Cherokee. I’m dubious about the Commander. I’ve owned several Jeeps from model years 1984 – 2013, and the Commander was the worst of the lot, mechanically speaking, and the toughest to add aftermarket accessories to (bumper, lift, etc.). I would also add late 90s 2-door Tahoe to the list.

  3. Chris W
    04/27/2021 / 11:00 AM

    Always loved the look of the Jeep Commander. Too bad it came out right before/during the recession and the gas price boom. Only 4 years in production. Did have a V8 and even one with a HEMI V-8.

    Should had made a Diesel option.

  4. A.R
    04/27/2021 / 11:32 AM

    We got an 08’ commander hemi new when the markets crashed and gas was a small fortune, she hauls a$$ as we keep it at the lake. Great post!

  5. PMuncy
    04/27/2021 / 11:42 AM

    After multiple trips to mainland and Okinawa, I would say don’t sleep on the import toyota SUV’s and the dark horse mitsubishi Delica. Definitely a market here in the states and the diesel/right hand drive combo is pretty cool!

  6. Andrew
    04/27/2021 / 11:46 AM

    Almost like buying my house, I feel as if I got “ahead” of the 3rd gen 4Runner craze. I had to drive 3 hours to find mine but I couldn’t be happier. I wouldn’t quite call them “vintage” yet but the prices are skyrocketing. I got mine in May 2020 for $4k with 220k miles on the clock. I am using it as a daily driver. It has its bumps and scratches but I think that adds to its character. Been loving it for almost a year now.

  7. Bubba
    04/27/2021 / 12:38 PM

    Just before the Jeep Cherokee became a hit (first for AMC), the first generation Chevy S10 Blazer and GMC s-15 Jimmy came on the scene. These were the coolest and we so wanted Mom’s station wagon to be traded in on one of these. Alas, that never happened. The ‘83-‘87’s have the dog 2.8, but the ‘88 and up have the 4.3 v6 which may not have big Horsepower numbers, but had more than ample power and torque.

    While the two doors to me are the best looking, they did make it in a 4 door the last 3 years of production of the first Gen. I think the sweet spot is the ‘88 to around ‘92 when you could still find the two tone with wide middle side stripe giving it a ‘70’s flair to it. These, like the first Gen explorers, have to be getting pretty rare thanks to ‘09’s cash for clunkers.

    This is my call on the next cool vintage SUV.

  8. Brad Wesley
    04/27/2021 / 12:39 PM

    I’d considered getting a Commander when they rolled out but don’t regret passing given the build quality of Chrysler products from that era. A 5-speed Discovery I in alpine white or willow green is top of my list. Love me a P38 Range Rover but I’m not sure even I’m enough of a glutton for punishment to own one. Don’t sleep on the 1st gen 4Runner, particularly the 2 door with removable top, either

  9. Blake
    04/27/2021 / 12:48 PM

    Good list. I would add another criteria of a good history of reliability and then would add as probably a top choice the FJ100 series, particularly the LX570 version. These trucks are awesome and still won’t break the bank quite yet. The Lexus version is a little less money because of the air shocks that need replacing but they are still just as capable as the Land Cruiser. I picked one up two years ago for 8k and could sell it today for 12k easily.

  10. Tanner
    04/27/2021 / 1:06 PM

    I’d also guess that the Bronco II will grow in value as they aren’t as popular now but retain some of that classic 60s-70s Bronco size and style.

  11. whiskeydent
    04/27/2021 / 2:08 PM

    From way left field, throw in the early 4Runner .and the Isuzu Trooper (1980’s) and Rodeo (1990’s).

  12. Q
    04/27/2021 / 2:18 PM

    I’m not so sure there will be much of a “next wave”. Most SUVs post-mid-90s are not built well enough to run long enough to become “legacy” vehicles. At least older model Tahoes and Explorers are cheap and relatively simple to repair. The Commander is a really poorly built vehicle (like most Chrysler products) and won’t last like a Toyota.

    Best bet for a “next wave” vintage SUV to me is the Mitsubishi Montero (Pajero internationally). These are already becoming very popular with the overlanding community, as old Toyota LCs and Lexus LX/GXs get pricey. As the 25-year import window opens up to late 90’s Yotas, expect to see more 70-series Landcruisers and Prados imported as well.

    Sadly, as cars become more computerized, these “Legacy” SUVs will become a thing of the past. Most trucks today are too complex to repair and have too many points of failure to be enjoyable to own at high-mileage.

    • austin wilhelm
      04/27/2021 / 2:25 PM

      There’s a bunch of early aught Tahoes and Surburbans rolling around with close to 300k miles.

  13. WC
    04/27/2021 / 3:58 PM

    With you on the early 90’s straight-6 Cherokee and the Commander as well. Despite loving Dad’s Eddie B explorer as a kid ,(~1yr older than yours…w/ directionals), I can’t see them making a come back…Seems like Ford’s push-button 4wd wasnt quite perfected in those early models, plus, those Explorers were built on a rickety Ford Ranger frame….it would be a year or 2 before they rolled out the indestructible Ford F’kin Ranger.

  14. Jackstraw
    04/27/2021 / 9:28 PM

    The Lexus GX470 is the US version of the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and its popularity is exploding. Built from 2003-2009, the earliest versions are almost 20 years old now and you can still find examples under $10k. Toyota reliability, lots of options to personalize and modify and timeless styling.

  15. Fritz
    04/28/2021 / 9:14 AM

    Any love for old Jeeps, e.g. CJ 5/7?

  16. AugustatoAtlanta
    04/28/2021 / 12:45 PM

    I would like to suggest the Ford Bronco II as an honorable mention. Late 80’s-early 90’s. Smaller SUV with good looks-exterior tire rack, 2 tone, large rear windows, good clearance. Can still be found at reasonable prices. Fun little weekend mule.

  17. HL
    04/29/2021 / 8:54 AM

    Had a white Jeep Commander with a Hemi and the brown saddle interior, leveled it with Wrangler Wheels and tires. It was mean and awesome but got like 160 miles a tank. I could barely drive it without needing to fill up. I got rid of it so quick. I think vehicles need BIG tanks. Next F-250 I get I am putting a liguid transfer tank in the back and getting it connected to my fuel line : know who and where to do it and am looking forward to having 200 gallons for road trips.

  18. SFM
    04/30/2021 / 11:05 AM

    Great list all around. I’ll say the ford explorer really brought me back, and forgot how good those bad boys were in my bronco obsession. I will say the 2 door Tahoe with the tailgate is still a head turner for me, though I don’t think it’s next to be hot, because they were hot when I was in high school. The Jeep Commander was something I wish stuck around because the LR3 is not a worthy heir to the Disco, but the commander certainly borrowed some of its lines.

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