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Wilson's Auto Restoration Blog

Classic Jeeps Through the Years. Here Are the Highlights of Each Era

There are seemingly endless reasons you might want to buy a classic Jeep. For starters they have quite a rich American history. By the end of WWII, the United States had produced a total of 647,343 jeeps—about 350,000 from Willys, 280,000 from Ford, and the early 2,675 from Bantam. Jeeps were monumental in winning the war and General Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded a Jeep the Purple Heart after it survived two beach landings during WWII.

There are way more reasons people get Jeeps besides it being a war-time hero. Jeeps are also one of the easiest vehicles to customize with the massive selection of accessories available. If you like your vehicle to stand out and get noticed, the Jeep will do just that. The styling of a Jeep is rugged and ready for action. It’s an exciting combination of an SUV and a convertible (not to mention removable doors), giving you the best of both worlds.

Maybe the reason you love Jeep is for their brilliant simplicity. The simple construction of the Jeep makes repairs uncomplicated and more affordable. Parts for this vehicle are usually readily available, keeping the cost in check. Priced relatively low, a used Jeep is a good value for the money. It’s American made and was built with durability in mind. Jeeps can easily last for many years and miles, and since repairs are affordable, a lot of owners keep this vehicle for a long time.

Regardless of the reason for your love of Jeep, there are a few things you should know before you purchase one. Namely the different eras of Jeep, specifically speaking about the ones built after the war for civilians. This guide only discusses Jeeps that were purchased in dealerships.


The Early Years: 1945-1953

It might be hard to believe that the 1945-1949 CJ-2A and 1949-1953 CJ-3A were meant for civilian use. Most of them used surplus parts from the war and many of the “civilian improvements” were offered as options. The CJ-2A and the CJ-3A were both originally marketed as vehicles for farming and agriculture. Despite the mislead marketing, almost 350,000 of them were sold.

These models were quite simple. They had a 55 horsepower, 134 cu. in., inline-four engine called the Go Devil. These little Jeeps were tough, but not exactly built to last. Many of the original models have become victim to rust and corrosion. Willys-Overland used heavy sheet metal in the body and frame of the early Willys.

If you are in the market for one, make sure you pay close attention to the frame and suspension attachment points, body mounts, engine mounts and every other mount. Inspect them very closely for any cracking. These Jeeps come from an era when you needed to know how to overhaul an engine every 50,000 miles. If you are interested in learning such a skill, this is a great little motor to learn on.

Expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 ranging from a barn find to fully restored.

The In-Between Years: 1953-1964

Consider yourself an official Jeep nerd if you know the differences between the earlier CJs and the 1953-1964 CJ-3B. First off they had a higher hood in order to cover the greatly improved, 74 horsepower, Hurricane engine. With more than 20,000 sold to consumers per year, they are relatively easy to find.

Towards the end of their run, a handful of late CJ-3Bs had the Dauntless 155hp Buick V-6 that was offered in the next generation. The increased power and torque didn’t cause too many issues with the Dana 18 transfer case or weak Dana 25 front axle. Issues did arise if the Jeep was used for towing or excessive use. Another small issue should be noted as well. If fitting this with larger tires (and who doesn’t want larger tires right?) , Be prepared to encounter compromised axles and steering knuckles.

If you are searching the market for a CJ-3B, you can easily get one in excellent shape for $12,000 – $15,000.

The Modern Era: 1955-1983

Jeep really stepped up their designs, compared to the CJ3s, with the all-new, larger 1955-1983 CJ-5, and 20-inch longer 1956-1975 CJ-6. For the most part they shared a lot of the same options. The Hurricane four-cylinder engine was fitted in many through 1971 and the Dauntless V-6 was an option from the 1966.

Jeep started using the bigger AMC straight-sixes and their 304 V-8 in 1972. Along with the introduction of the new motor options, Jeep also introduced longer frames to hold them. The CJ-6 did not break sales records. They actually did not sell well at all. Recently the interest in these vehicles has taken a turn and collectors are taking another look.

When looking for one, remember that the Dauntless V-6 and AMC straight-six 258 are very solid motors. You would be well off to get either of these engines in your classic Jeep. Finish it off with a 1971-’79 T18 four-speed transmission, 1972-up Dana 30 front axle and up-through-‘76 Dana 44 rear, and there’s a fine Jeep.

When looking for one to buy, remember that these vehicles were regularly off-roaded. Inspect the frames very closely. Before 1976 they were open and susceptible to cracking. After 1976 they were boxed and susceptible to rust, as was every other part of the Jeep. Don’t worry about rust too much if you can afford to get new metal. (Which is widely available). Expect to snag one of these easily for less than $10,000.

Collector Models: 1976-1986 CJ-7 and 1981-1985 CJ-8

Despite the CJ-6 falling short for sales expectations, it worked out for the CJ-7. The CJ-5 was becoming a coveted vehicle itself with all the TV airtime it got on shows like Charlie’s Angels and The Six Million Dollar Man. And adding a few more inches to the CJ-7 netted Jeep 380,000 more sales.

It was still primarily a CJ-5 mechanically speaking, but the extra room in the frame meant there was enough room for an automatic transmission. Unlike in later CJ-5s, almost all CJ-7s had strong front Dana 30 front axles and Dana 20 or Dana 300 transfer cases, with the popular T18 four-sped phased out after 1979.

Beware of any models that have the weaker AMC Dana 20 rear axle, or Quadratrac four-wheel drive. Once again, these Jeeps were typically used pretty rough off-road. Rock climbing can really do a number on steering and suspension, not just components but mounts and attachment points. When you go out looking for one of these collectibles, do your best to find one with the 304-cu.in. V-8 or the 258-cu.in. Straight-six.

Chances are you will shell out $15,000 for a nice one. Keep in mind that the stock carburetors were pretty much junk, the engines are prone to leaks and there were a few other notorious issues as well. Never fear however as there are plenty of replacement parts still available.

The New Age Era: 1997- Current

The newer Jeeps are more refined and sophisticated as you would expect with all the advancements in automotive technology we have seen over the past 20 years. They are also more rugged and off-road ready than ever before!

Don’t even get us started on all the customization possibilities either. They are literally endless. We could build anew Jeep every day and not run out of options for years, if ever. We are amazed to see all of the unique Jeeps that enthusiasts are creating.

A 1997 model is technically 20 years old this year and may be considered a classic in some states, but for the most part we will need to let time go by before we start seeing new age Jeeps in any classic car shows.

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