I recently had the chance to drive a 1986 Jeep and a 1987 Toyota. The Toyota had crank windows, manual mirrors, manual locks, and only two radio buttons for FM presets. The Jeep required you to wait five minutes after starting it before you could go anywhere.
Both of them are probably worth more than my Aston Martin.
That’s because the Jeep I drove was a beautiful Grand Wagoneer, and the Toyota was a perfectly preserved, low-mileage FJ60 Land Cruiser. It’s also because we live in an age where old SUVs are suddenly becoming valuable. That’s right: The plain, boring people-mover that drove you to soccer practice in the waning days of Communism is now worth something. The regular ol’ family truckster whose center seat-belt cavity served as a receptacle for unwanted yellow gummy bears is suddenly an investment-grade collectible.
In order to find out why old SUVs are becoming valuable, I went on a fact-finding mission to Morrie’s Heritage Car Connection in Minneapolis, which is an exotic and vintage rental-car firm that allowed me to borrow two of their most prized possessions: a mint Grand Wagoneer and a 37,000-mile FJ60 Land Cruiser. (EDITOR’S NOTE: When Doug says he "went on a fact-finding mission," he means he begged Morrie’s to let him drive these things, because he thinks about old SUVs approximately as often as a cow thinks about chewing grass and mooing.)
So here’s what I discovered: The Land Cruiser and Grand Wagoneer are just life-alteringly cool. I’ll begin with the Land Cruiser.
You know what’s cool about the FJ60 Land Cruiser? It isn’t trying to be cool. It just is cool. You buy a Ferrari, or a Lamborghini, or one of those new Maseratis they lease for $46.50 per month plus a promise that you’ll say nice things to your friends about it, and you’re trying to be cool. You buy an old Land Cruiser, and you put your dog in the back, and you have on some unassuming clothes, and you’re just cool. Without even hoping to be.
Part of the reason for that, I think, is that the Land Cruiser simply isn’t for everyone. Anybody can get in a new Ferrari and put his or her foot down. The Land Cruiser requires some compromises to access its charm. For example: You want an old SUV design that looks like nothing on the road? You’ll have to deal with the fact that this thing is carbureted, and the speedometer only goes up to 85 miles per hour, and the acceleration is approximately equivalent to a steam roller being driven by a construction worker who takes union-mandated smoke breaks every 3.7 minutes. You want a practical old classic? You’ll have to shift your own gears, and roll down your own windows, and fish your own gummy bears out of the center seat-belt cavity.
Authentically cool people can deal with that. Those of us who merely pretend to be cool borrow an old Land Cruiser for a column and a video and then scurry back to an 11-year-old Range Rover with heated seats and a generous aftermarket warranty.
Then there’s the Grand Wagoneer. While the Land Cruiser represents the family SUV in its purest original form, the Grand Wagoneer is something else entirely: one of the first real luxury SUVs. A true competitor to the Range Rover back in its day, the Grand Wagoneer has supple seating, and power windows, and power locks, and power mirrors, and a sunroof, and an electronic tailgate window, and power seats.
The Grand Wagoneer even has a button for four-wheel drive. This may not seem like much, but it was a big deal back then, because most utility vehicles of the period required you to get out and manually lock the front hubs in order to access the four-wheel drive. Not the Grand Wagoneer. In the Grand Wagoneer, you just pushed a button, and then you continued listening to your kids tell you about their classes at Greenwich Country Day School.
On the road, the Grand Wagoneer is an absolute pleasure. While it felt loud and rumbly when I first started it up, it’s almost impossible to describe how smooth and quiet it was when I drove it down the street. It felt like an old Rolls-Royce in every single way: The brakes made no noise. The engine made no noise. The wind noise was nonexistent. The seats were ultra-comfortable. And you could move the steering wheel approximately three inches in either direction before any apparent steering actually took place.
What I discovered, after a few hours with the Grand Wagoneer, was this: When it was finally cancelled in 1991, this thing was the very last bastion of ’50s Americana that still existed. It still had that old family station wagon feel, it still seemed like an occasion to drive, and it was the kind of vehicle you’d take out for a simple Sunday Drive with your wife, your kids, the family dog and no particular place to go. And this feeling wasn’t all intangible: Both the interior and exterior are loaded with old-school wood, its body-on-frame design and carbureted V8 hail from a very different era, and that hood ornament sweeping across your view when you make a turn just screams "We can beat the Soviets to the moon, I’m sure of it!"
When the Grand Wagoneer passed the reigns to the smaller, unibody Grand Cherokee in 1992, it was like the precocious ’50s paperboy growing up and turning into a ’90s yuppie, complaining about traffic and trading stocks on his laptop.
Of course, the driving experience isn’t the only reason these things are so cool. Styling is another. In today’s world of crossovers and tightening crash-test rules and regulations, modern vehicles are starting to look minor variations on one rather dull theme. Not so with the Grand Wagoneer and the Land Cruiser, which carved out their own distinct paths, and their own unique, highly ultra-functional styling language, which I think could be best described as filing cabinet chic.
So what are these things worth? If you’ve ever searched for a Land Cruiser, you know just how hard it is to find an original, low-mileage one like the FJ60 I drove — especially considering it spent its entire life in Southern California. Although there aren’t many comparable vehicles out there for guidance, I suspect the Land Cruiser is worth $30,000 to $40,000. As for the Grand Wagoneer, the one I drove had slightly higher miles — around 115,000 — and was a little older than the ones that command the highest values. But a low-mileage 1991 model restored by the nation’s top Grand Wagoneer shops will probably bring $50,000 or more.
That’s a lot of money for an ’86 Toyota and an ’87 Jeep. Find a used SUV for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.