Do you know what the similarity is between aviator glasses, diver watches, and SUVs? They can all make you look cool, sure, although I have another thing in mind. Actually, they have all had a substantial change of character after becoming trendy.

Aviator glasses had practical protective use for pilots in open cabins. Diver watches started out as timepieces for actual divers and marines. What about SUVs? They were indeed utility vehicles in the beginning. Now… they only look the part, and even that is not always the case. But how did that happen?

Today we are going to explore one of the pivotal vehicles that might have started the modern crossover trends: Jeep Wrangler YJ. Yet there is one key difference – the YJ is a crossover done right. Let’s see why!

The history of Jeep Wrangler YJ

As a company, Jeep has had many successful SUV models. In fact, it would be hard to name them all with their variants. The CJ model specifically ranks among our favorite vintage SUVs. Why is that relevant? Because Jeep Wrangler YJ follows right in its footsteps!

The story began decades ago. Before the days of giant steamroller-like SUVs, people wanted cars that could traverse rough terrain. By the end of World War II, such vehicles have already been developed, though only for military use at first. Fortunately, companies realized the potential such cars had for the mass public. So, they started working on one.

Thus, through a couple of failed prototypes, the Willys-Overland Civilian Jeep was born – or CJ for short. It was a small, highly-capable car that was virtually gobbled up by farmers. More than 214,000 CJ-2A’s were produced.

It continued to grow in popularity with the CJ-3A, CJ-3B, and CJ-5. With the last one, the Jeep finally became its own marque after dropping the Willys name. The CJ lineup lasted for another two generations until 1986 with the CJ-7. Throughout all that, its aesthetic remained largely the same, with an outstanding reputation to boot. But then it was time for a change – enter Jeep Wrangler YJ!

How Jeep YJ changed the game

Jeep Wrangler YJ

Do you know why I call the YJ model the granddaddy of modern SUVs? Because it had a big role in the roadrunner trend among those vehicles. See, at first, people didn’t even think of buying such cars for daily driving. Their idea was to handle the off-road. Add to that some workhorse utility, and you get a good niche of loyal customers.

With that said, the company wanted to push its lineup towards the mainstream market. So, they made its track wider, reduced the clearance a bit for better stability on the road, touched the comfort up, and made it easier to handle. In other words – they made it more of a car, less of a Jeep.

You can see how following the same philosophy brings us towards newer crossovers. Sadly though, they fail in one core thing: actual off-roading performance. See, the YJ may have been made a more mainstream ride, but its spirit was still there. Today even modern electric SUVs can hardly be considered off-road vehicles. Sure, some models can still handle rough terrain. Jeep actually has some of those. Yet now they are the exception rather than the norm.

All in all, it is fair to say that Jeep Wrangler YJ was a game-changer. But what if I told you that it rivaled another Jeep model and both of them actually made the company what it is today?

Brothers in arms – Wrangler vs. Cherokee

As far as iconic vehicles go, the Cherokee is way up there. In fact, it had already been on the market when the first Wrangler became available. Though when you compare them, the Cherokee seems more like a modern SUV. So why do I not consider it the granddaddy instead? Actually, I do both.

In my mind, Jeep played it really smart with those vehicles. The initial idea was to have the Cherokee reach the family market. To contrast that, the Wrangler was a good off-road vehicle that could still offer a nice daily ride if you wanted it for your sole car. Ultimately though, both of those brought the off- and on-road crowds closer together.

The Cherokee XJ showed us how a high-clearance vehicle could be a good family choice. Conversely, with the Wrangler XJ, we saw that an off-road car could also be a comfortable one. The blend between the two would likely be the ultimate crossover. In fact, the modern Wrangler (JL) may be just that!

Where does the Jeep Wrangler YJ stand today?

Interestingly enough, the YJ model still has quite a fanbase. Together with its successor, the TJ, and the Cherokee XJ, they make up a huge chunk of the off-roading niche. The YJ specifically allows for many modifications, which is why people love it. Additionally, it is considered a more hardcore option for off-roading purposes. You may even see some friendly rivalry between fans of each model.

Since there were so many YJs produced, you should not find it difficult to get your hands on one. With that said, you may have to look all over the country for a decent unit. Though with good car shipping services, transporting it to you will not be much of a trouble.

We have to note that it does retain its price. Well-maintained models can get all the way up to $20,000, with the average being around $10,000. Still, for a hobby car that offers an amazing experience, I consider that a steal.

The legacy of Jeep Wrangler YJ

Even if SUVs are no longer what they used to be, people have still not forgotten about off-roading vehicles. Sadly, developing new cars costs a lot, and the off-roading market just isn’t that big, which is why we should be thankful that some options still exist for people who want to conquer rough ground.

Perhaps we will never see mass-market vehicles built for the sole purpose of off-roading. But we can look towards the YJ and see that maybe we don’t need them. A true crossover has been done, and it hasn’t disappointed us. This is what we should be looking forward to!


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