By now, it’s well established that I love old Jeeps. And while my love spans a variety of models, engines, and architecture types, there’s one Jeep that will always be my favorite: The Jeep Cherokee XJ, the true jack-of-all-trades Jeep. And of all XJs built between the 1984 and 2001 model years, there’s a very specific type that I consider “the holy grail.” And a pristine example just went up for auction and sold for over $16 grand.
Behold on the car auction site for the rich, Bring a Trailer, a 1992 Jeep Cherokee Laredo 4x4 with a five-speed manual. Sold in Oregon after having spent most of its life in Colorado, the Jeep only shows 96,000 miles on the odometer, and appears to have no rust whatsoever.
The red paint looks great in the pictures, as do the lovely chrome bits—the door handles, mirror covers, windshield surround, grille, and headlight bezels—that came as part of the Laredo trim. Plus, the gray interior, with the lovely fabric seat covers, looks wonderful.
Does $16,250 still seem a bit lofty? Sure, but that’s the whole point of this article. Hell, that’s the point of most of our Bring a Trailer stories: Mint condition examples of 1990s-era cars that weren’t worth that much just a few years ago are now selling for giant bundles as the cars reach the age of peak-nostalgia.
Why I Consider This The Perfect Jeep XJ
My first car was a 1992 Jeep Cherokee XJ, a vehicle I bought in college after falling in love with my family’s 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo back in high school. Since buying the XJ, I’ve spent far too much of my life learning as much about XJs as possible to the point where it’s downright unhealthy. But if there’s anything I’ve gained from all of my useless Cherokee studies, it’s an understanding of exactly which XJ I consider the “holy grail.”
Right away, I’ll say that I strongly prefer the looks of pre-1997 XJs. The 1997 to 2001s, an example of which is shown above (that’s my 2000 model that I bought for $500), offer lots of creature comforts and safety features, and I still think they’re extremely handsome, but they’re a bit too modern and plastic-y for my tastes. I realize I’m in the minority, here, but gosh I like an old, boxy XJ.
Plus, from a serviceability standpoint, later XJs make a few compromises. Sure, all manual 1997 and newer XJs have external slave cylinders, which allow for service without having to drop the transmission, and that’s a huge plus. But unfortunately, the fuel pump and filter aren’t serviceable in-vehicle, the oil filter is in a tricky location (particularly on models with the distributor), the oil filter adaptor (which often leaks) requires a torx bit that’s hard to fit, there are multiple O2 sensors to go bad, and I could go on.
Later XJs are still simple by modern standards, but more complex—and more plastic-y—than my favorite model-year Cherokees. Though, again, the big thing for me are the looks: I just prefer earlier styling.
Among the pre-refresh XJs, the interiors of 1995 and 1996 models are just hideous, and you can thank the truly awful squared-off airbag in the center of the steering wheel (see below) for that. So strike 1995 and 1996 models off my list.
So that leaves me with 1994 and older XJs to choose from. Jeep XJs built after 1992 all had oil filters that were in a really sub-optimal position, presumably because Jeep wanted the XJ to share engines with the ZJ Grand Cherokee, which launched for the 1993 model year. Add to the fact that 1993 and newer XJs rarely have the pop-out quarter/vent windows (and 1997 and newer XJs didn’t offer them at all), and I begin looking for 1992 and older models. I have to admit that, while struggling to unscrew an oil filter every 4,000 miles is annoying, it’s not really a deal-breaker. But it’s okay to split hairs when we’re talking about identifying the “holy grail.”
Everything I’ve mentioned so far points us to earlier XJs, which is good, because they have, in my opinion, the most beautiful interiors, often adorning their seats and doors with awesome cloth patterns. The 16 grand Jeep here has an aftermarket shift knob and an altimeter in the dash; I’d probably get rid of those in favor of a fully stock look, but I consider those tasteful mods:
I strongly prefer 1991 and newer XJs, because older models had a “Renix” fuel injection system with which I’m not familiar. Some say it’s more finicky than the Chrysler fuel injection system, plus the cooling system on pre-1991s isn’t known to be as robust as 1991-and-up models. On top of that, 1986 and older XJs didn’t offer the inline-six, so those are a non-starter. And 1987, 1988, and some 1989 models offered a largely maligned Peugeot BA-10 five-speed transmission. Watch The Fast Lane Truck have the one in their Jeep Comanche rebuilt in the video below:
I could deal with 1989 and 1990 models with the good (AX-15) transmission, as I’ve heard “Renix” isn’t that bad, but sadly, these years came with a vacuum disconnect front axle. In fact, all pre-1992 XJs had this feature, including my own lovely 1991, which is a nicer interior and exterior color and a set of better axles away from being truly perfect. The vacuum disconnect is meant to provide a fuel economy benefit (the modern “JL” Wrangler has a similar system) by allowing the front wheels to spin without turning the front driveshaft, but unfortunately, it’s known to sometimes fail.
So if we want to avoid the pitfalls of the vacuum disconnect axle, we’re left with the 1992 XJ, ideally one optioned with vent windows and the Laredo trim with the slick chrome grille. It gets the Chrysler fuel injection system for the 4.0-liter inline-six, a beautiful interior, a great looking old-school exterior, an upright oil filter, a serviceable fuel pump, no vacuum disconnect front axle, and the solid AX-15 five-speed manual transmission.
Admittedly, the one that sold here for over 16 large has the much-criticized Dana 35 rear axle, which many say is significantly weaker than the Chrysler 8.25 that this minty ’92 XJ would have gotten had the dealer not opted for ABS. And if it were me, I’d prefer a non-ABS Jeep, not only to get the better axle, but because the ABS systems on these aren’t particularly great. But this Jeep is so nice that I wouldn’t drive it off-road, so that Dana 35 would be fine. And if I were really concerned about straight-up off-road ability, I’d focus less on interior and exterior niceties, and go for a later, post-1995 XJs with stronger rear axles and later models with stronger manual transmissions.
But if I’m talking about an on-road cruiser that only goes in the dirt occasionally, I’ll ignore the lesser rear axle attached to a marginal ABS system. So, while I’ll admit that the interior color that could be better (I like it, but I’d prefer burgundy), I still consider this 1992 Jeep XJ to be the perfect XJ. If I were rich, I myself would probably have dropped 16 large for it.
Or maybe I’d buy 32 $500 Jeep. Yeah, I’d probably just do that.