As many of you know, the Jeep Wrangler isn’t one of those vehicles that’s often preserved. Instead, it’s usually driven by the first owner, lifted by the second owner and turned into a rock crawler by the third owner — if it even makes it that far. But I recently had the chance to drive a perfect 1993 Jeep Wrangler that didn’t go down that path — and it was glorious.
This opportunity came about from Motorcars of the Main Line, a dealership here in the Philadelphia suburbs with an amazing (and seemingly endless) inventory of cool vehicles. Motorcars of the Main Line picked up a mint 1993 Jeep Wrangler Renegade, which had clearly been used as a beach vehicle on Cape Cod by its long-term single owner — and I had to see what the Wrangler was like 25 years ago.
Not surprisingly, it’s very different from the Wrangler of today.
The first thing I noticed when I got behind the wheel of the ’93 Wrangler Renegade is just how small, and light, and bouncy it was. This isn’t a substantial vehicle, and it doesn’t feel like it’s even trying to be a substantial vehicle. It’s just hops along the road, alerting you to every bump, but also eagerly moving the moment you press the accelerator and allowing you to steer and guide it exactly how you want, largely due to surprisingly quick steering and a responsible throttle.
After only a few minutes, I was having fun in the Wrangler. It isn’t fast, it isn’t sporty, and it certainly isn’t safe — but it seemed like an eager little puppy, ready to do basically anything I asked of it. Compared to my Land Rover Defender — another 2-door, soft-top SUV that hails from this time period, albeit one with a V8 — the Wrangler was so much peppier, with so much more zest for bounding along on the roads. It felt shocking easy to operate, and to drive, and a quick drive made me start to see why people like these old Wranglers so much.
A quick drive also made me start to see why “Wrangler purists” say the new model has changed so much. Not only is the old one peppy and quick and responsive, but it feels like it was intended for use as a third vehicle — on the beach, for instance, or on an unpaved trail, or whatever. It doesn’t have creature comforts, but you don’t need creature comforts, because it’s just a fun little runabout toy. The new one is very different: Once Jeep realized people wanted to use these vehicles every day, they made them more substantial, more comfortable, more capable of being driven on the highway and over long distances. The result is that today’s Wrangler is much more user-friendly than past models, and the sales figures prove it’s what buyers want — but there’s no doubt some of the charm of the old model has been lost in translation as Jeep has evolved the Wrangler over the years.
Of course, in some cases, that’s a good thing. The Wrangler I drove was the top-of-the-line model back in 1993, and yet its equipment levels were laughable — no airbags, no antilock brakes, no power anything. Interior carpeting was an option. And some of Jeep’s solutions for typical automotive items are laughable by today’s standards; if you want to open the door further, for instance, just remove a little cloth loop and it opens up. There’s nothing to stop the spare tire on the rear tailgate from hitting the brake light when it swings open — it just does. And the windshield wipers don’t go down when they’re off — they just sit right there on the windshield, blocking some portion of your view.
Still, some people appreciate this stuff — largely because people who use the Wrangler on the beach or off-road don’t necessarily care about all the creature comforts of modern vehicles; rather, they just want a fun little SUV that’s simple to drive and simple to work on. The 1993 Wrangler is certainly that, maybe more than I ever expected. And while I really like the 2018 Wrangler and all its impressive features and its surprising stability and ride comfort, getting behind the wheel of the ’93 model helped me understand exactly where all those Jeep purists are coming from. There’s something to be said for doing it the old way, too. Find a used Jeep Wrangler 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.