Early 70’s Jeep CJ-5 or CJ-6
Here we have one of the final Jeep models that were strongly against the automatic transmission as an option, in fact for these early CJ models it was either manual transmission, or you were SOL. For those of us that love to go off-roading or mudding, there is only one real choice, and that is stick shift or scram.
They came with manual transmission options of either the T-15 three-speed or the T-18 four-speed, and had a stretched wheelbase of 84 or even 104 inches in length to accommodate the AMC six-cylinder base engine. They had optional upgrades such as the 258 inline six-cylinder. Then if you toss in the fact they had a superb power brake option with 11-inch drum brakes, there is no debating it belongs on this abbreviated top 5 list.
Jump forward more than a decade later, and we will introduce the CJ-7 from 1986 into the mix. By this point the Jeep engineers have learned a lot from their earlier CJ models, and it is safe to say they have discovered a way to master the build for this CJ-7. With a 30-spline Dana 44 and a Trac-Lok differential makes the CJ-7 a masterpiece, and for some, they consider it the leader when it comes to off-road performance, spliced with modern age comforts.
It didn’t come with the large V-8 option that early CJ-7 models had been known to come with, but it had a very strong inline six with 258 horsepower, and a much wider track for better performance. Many would opt for the hardtop, and you have yourself one very reliable and vintage looking Jeep to hit the trails with.
Early 2000’s XJ
The XJ was planned to have been killed off in 2002, but Chrysler Corporate decided they would make the cut from their lineup a year earlier than planned. This sent a lot of Jeep and off-road enthusiasts scrambling to acquire a 2000-2001 variation of the XJ. This decision by Chrysler could have more or less helped the XJ solidify itself on our list of these 3 Top off-road Jeep models, solely because of its story and demand.
One note worth mentioning is if you can find an early 2000 factory made, you can probably find one that has a high-pinion XJ axles to avoid the use of low-pinion axles which came later that year, and followed through into 2001, likely due to the fact they knew this was the last dance for the XJ at that time.
Recapping These 3 Jeeps
The 1970s CJ models were incredibly durable, and most of all had the most power for its size, when compared to these other two. But where the smaller CJ models lacked, the CJ-7 made up for plenty in the mid 80’s with a much wider track, to provide greater traction for off-roading. What interested us the most of these 3 models, was the XJ. Not because of its early death from production, but because in stock, it truly was in a league of its own. Most other Jeeps you will need to add several aftermarket parts, from a dealership like Clear Lake Jeep of Houston, where as the XJ was able to handle the trials of trail right off the lot.