Image: Steve

Off-roaders around the world are always trying to fit the biggest tires under their rigs for added ground clearance, traction and also for bragging rights. But sometimes doing so requires irreversibly damaging iconic SUVs—and that bothers me deeply.

Let me begin by saying that I’m down with people doing whatever they want to their own vehicles. Also, I recognize that this is putting my Jeep-card at risk, but I can’t keep hiding this. Deep in my heart, I feel pain when I see vehicles like that hacked-up Grand Wagoneer in the photo above.

That thing used to be a gorgeous machine, with nice, fake wood grain on long, straight body panels, and wide, steel bumpers in the front and rear. It was a masterpiece. But now the doors have been hacked, the fenders have been chopped, the rear quarter panels are ruined, the grille has been sliced, and even that iconic radiator support panel is toast. Sure, it’s badass, and it’s better off-road, but at what cost?

Who knows, maybe that Wagoneer had rust or other body issues before the build, but often times—especially in the Jeep Cherokee XJ community—people take perfect, rust-free Jeeps and put them under the knife. Just look at the gorgeous Jeep XJ above having its sheetmetal—originally designed by AMC’s Bob Nixon—irreversibly hacked!

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A number of people have claimed that the Jeep Cherokee is a future classic, and that prices are beginning to rise thanks to a dearth of “clean” examples. “Dearth” might be a bit of an overstatement since AMC and Chrysler made about 2.8 million XJs, but it’s very true that it’s becoming harder to find nice Cherokees that haven’t been on the receiving end of a cutting blade. And that, to me, is a shame.

Image: Ebay

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To be sure, bigger tires are usually a good thing for off-road capability, as is suspension flex, which cut-up fenders enable. But getting big tires and articulation doesn’t always require the destruction of beautiful pieces of auto history. Take that Cherokee in the photo above; instead of cutting away at the fenders, quarter panels and bumpers to fit the 31-inch tires, the owner simply put a tasteful lift kit on. It’s more expensive, but the Jeep still looks very much original, and the modification can easily be undone if a future buyer wants to put the XJ back into its beautiful stock form.

I myself am an avid off-roader, and there’s something cool about the XJ being the “disposable” off-roader that it is. Plus, I’m totally cool with people hacking up their beaters. But I’m also a huge fan of Jeep history and design, so seeing hundreds of clean XJs (and other off-road icons) get Sawzall-ed by backyard mechanics who often just want to brag about their bigger tire sizes—and watching the remaining stock of originals dwindle—just makes me sad.