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5 Affordable Classic 4x4s Worth Buying Today

With Prices of All Classic 4x4s on The Rise, Grab One of These Gems Quickly

Best Affordable Classic 4x4s: Chevrolet K5 Blazer 4x4 (1973-1991)
Chevrolet payed homage to a second-generation (1977) K5 Blazer converted it to all-electric propulsion, while retaining as much of the stock Blazer as possible and approximately 90 percent of the new parts installed for the eCrate package are factory components from the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

The best affordable classic 4x4s worth buying today is a wide-open topic that can lead to lengthy and sometimes impassioned discussions. For instance, what does best affordable classic 4x4s mean? If you’re flush with cash, finding an affordable classic 4×4 could mean spending much more money than the average classic 4×4 enthusiast may define as ‘affordable.’ Prices for classic 4x4s have started soaring into “Barrett-Jacksonauction stratospheric heights. Let’s set some boundaries before we get deep into this conversation.

Keep in mind that most classic 4×4 fans are likely to be pretty handy with a wrench and a welder. They will need to be. Most classic 4x4s are not in showroom condition. The truth is that for most classic 4x4s to be truly affordable to most buyers, it’s going to have some issues. It’s probably going to have an imperfect body, faded or peeling paint, a patina of rust here and there, some missing parts, and mechanicals that will need to be repaired, replaced, or otherwise tended to.

The second-generation (1978-1979) Ford Bronco is larger, more powerful, and more feature-filled than it’s predecessor. It will also cost you a lot less to own than a first-generation (1966-1977) Bronco.

Let’s take a look at our top 5 pics for the best affordable classic 4x4s, how they were equipped, and what you should be looking for. Prices you should expect can range depending upon the mechanical condition of the vehicle, its level of upgrades and modifications, the mileage it’s seen (100k is common among these vehicles), and the state of its body can differ widely depending upon the region of the country (Rust Belt vs Southwest) in which it has been driven.

Top 5 Best Affordable Classic 4x4s:

Ford Bronco (1978 to 1979)

As if running examples of the first-generation Ford Bronco weren’t expensive enough already, the news and eventual launch of the all-new 2021 Ford Bronco have sent asking prices for ’66 to ’77 Ford Broncos into an upward trajectory that makes them near unobtainable to the average classic 4×4 enthusiast. We have good news though. One of the best affordable classic 4x4s is the second generation of the Ford Bronco. It’s more powerful, larger, and more feature-filled than the prior generation. Running examples of it are much more affordable today than first-generation Ford Broncos. This makes the second-generation Ford Bronco one of our top affordable classic 4x4s worth buying today.

One of our picks for best affordable classic 4x4s is the 1978-1979 Ford Bronco due to its traditional boxy pre-wind tunnel body design and heavy-duty drivetrain.

The last Ford Bronco to sport a solid front axle, the second-generation Ford Bronco offered a coil-sprung Dana 44 up front and a Ford 9-inch axle in the rear. Two powerplants were offered. The Ford 351M V-8 (5.8L 16-valve) and the Ford 400 (6.6L 16-valve). Three transmissions were available. The two manuals are the 4-speed Borg-Warner T-18 and 4-speed New Process 435. Both are excellent heavy-duty truck transmissions with high first-gear ratios good for off-roading, and either would be our choice over the C-6 automatic transmission also found in second-generation Ford Broncos. Transfer case choices were the full-time chain-driven New Process 203 (a differential in the rear of the case allows the front and rear shafts to spin at different speeds) and the part-time gear-driven New Process 205. We prefer the New Process 205 for its simplicity and reliability.

For such a short production cycle of just 2-years, it did quite well, selling better than the Chevrolet Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger of the day. There are plenty of them around for the classic 4×4 enthusiast at fairly modest prices, and spare parts and aftermarket upgrades for the second-generation Ford Bronco are easy to source. Although even this generation of Ford Bronco is beginning to rise in value, we found good high-mileage examples with prices as low as $5,000.

Toyota 4Runner (1996-2002)

The third-generation Toyota 4Runner is one of our picks for best affordable classic 4x4s worth buying today for many reasons. The third generation was the 4Runner’s first significant redesign, receiving an all-new sleek and contoured full steel body (no more fiberglass bed cap) with greater interior and cargo space. It was also the first of the 4Runner line to feature a 4-wheel coil-spring suspension design and rack-and-pinion steering. The ride and handling improvement over prior generations of the Toyota 4Runner could be described as dramatic. It shared engine and drivetrain components with the new Tacoma, making parts availability then and now far more generous.

The 3rd-generation 4Runner debuted in 1996 with a new all-steel body (no more fiberglass bed cap) and a powerful new 3.4L V-6 engine, making it one of our choices for best affordable classic 4x4s.

Engines available for the third generation Toyota 4Runner were the 2.7L 3RZ-FE inline-4-cylinder You will also find some with the more powerful 3.4L 5VZ-FE V-6. Although both engines have a good reputation for longevity much like the previous generation’s 22-RE inline 4-cylinder, we prefer the 3.4L V-6 over the 2.7L I-4 for the increased lower-rpm torque of the V-6 for off-road duty. A 4-speed automatic and 5-speed manual was used in the third generation 4Runner. Transmission preference is personal, and although we prefer the manual transmission, you’re likely to find more of them with automatics because most, especially with the V-6 engine, were ordered with automatics.

Aftermarket and factory support with parts, upgrades, and modifications for this vintage of Toyota 4Runner is extensive. Aside from the robust list of parts and accessories available through Toyota, there are literally dozens of aftermarket companies that produce performance upgrades and factory replacement parts for the third generation Toyota 4Runner. We found examples (near-stock) in good shape running from $3,000 to $9,000.

Datsun/Nissan 720 Pickup (1980 to 1986)

The word “classic,” when applied to the Datsun/Nissan brand, would normally be reserved for its cars such as the humble 510 that became a road racing phenom (through the efforts of Brock Racing Enterprises in the late 60s and early 70s) or the sleek and sexy 240Z that debuted a year later. However, in this case, it’s the Datsun 720 pickup truck we’re including in our best affordable classic 4x4s worth buying today category. Why? Because it’s quirky and uncommon. We think it could be one of the next up-and-coming classic 4x4s.

The Nissan 720 4×4 pickup featured a “divorced” transfer case (not directly mated to the transmission), and was originally powered by the 2.0L carbureted L20B inline 4-cylinder engine. It was soon replaced by the more powerful Z22S 2.2L inline-4-cylinder engine. An optional naturally aspirated inline-4 diesel engine (SD22 2.2L) was available in 1980 to 1983 models.

The 720 series pickup truck was introduced in 1980, and while a 4-door crew-cab version was available elsewhere, the U.S. market only received the regular cab and King Cab models. Both offered 2-doors and regular or long bed options. The 720 pickup truck debuted with Datsun’s 2.0L carbureted L20B inline 4-cylinder engine, but changed to the Z22S 2.2L inline-4-cylinder carbureted engine, with its NAPS pollution control system, for 1981-1982 model years. An optional naturally aspirated inline-4 diesel engine (SD22 2.2L) was available in 1980-1983 models. In mid-1983, Nissan introduced the Z24 2.4L twin-spark 4-cylinder engine, the SD23 2.3L OHV diesel 4-cylinder, and the SD25 2.5L diesel 4-cylinder.

These later models built in the U.S. are the better years to look for if you’re interested in a classic Nissan 720 pickup truck. Surprisingly, there are many sources for replacement and aftermarket upgrade performance parts for the Nissan 720 pickups. These run the gamut from driveshafts to ring-and-pinion sets to locking axle differentials. Prices for good used Nissan 720 pickups we found ranged from $3,000 to $7,000.

Jeep Wrangler TJ (1997 to 2006)

Why the Jeep Wrangler TJ instead of an early CJ-series “flatfender” or the Jeep CJ-7? The Wrangler TJ is one of our picks for best affordable classic 4x4s worth buying today because of its unique characteristics. The Jeep Wrangler TJ was the second generation of the Wrangler model, but it was a lightyear jump in off-road technology from the previous Wrangler YJ or the CJs that came before that. It’s also what we refer to as the “last of the little Jeeps” before the JK model filled the trails with 4-doors.

The Jeep Wrangler TJ (1997-2006) is among our best affordable classic 4x4s picks. The TJ is already hot, but good clean examples can still be found for less than a small fortune.

The Jeep TJ was available in a short wheelbase, and as of model-year 2004, a long (Unlimited) wheelbase model. Featuring an all-new front and rear coil-spring suspension, redesigned body, and interior, the Jeep TJ retained the classic Jeep open-body style and signature solid front and rear axles. Power came from a 4.0L inline-6-cylinder engine or a 2.5L inline-4-cylinder engine (phased out for 2003 with the 2.4L PowerTech engine) with a choice of 3- or 4-speed automatic transmissions and 5- or 6-speed manual transmissions. The off-road-focused Rubicon model was launched in 2003 (the Unlimited Rubicon would come in 2005) with its 4:1 ratio transfer case (non-Rubicon models carried a 2.72:1 ratio transfer case) and a Dana 44 axle front and rear with standard electric locking differentials.

The most sought after of the Jeep Wrangler TJ series is the Unlimited Rubicon model. Its featured a longer wheelbase, upgraded axles, and higher-ratio transfer case.

Prices for the TJ can be on the high side of what many would call affordable, and TJ Unlimited owners are already asking sky-high numbers. In our opinion, your best buys are going to be in non-Rubicon short wheelbase TJs. You can always upgrade it to “Rubicon” axles with lockers. The factory replacement and performance upgrade parts marketplace for the Jeep Wrangler TJ is comprehensive. Look for the 4.0L engine and 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. We found Jeep TJs in good shape (near stock or stock) going from $4,000 to $10,000, depending on model year, equipment, and condition.

Chevrolet Blazer (1973 to 1991)

With quite possibly one of the longest production runs of any 4×4, the second-generation Chevrolet Blazer with its powerful engines and drivetrain wrapped in a boxy pre-wind tunnel body design is one of our picks for affordable classic 4x4s worth buying today. Along with the rest of the GM truck line, the second-generation Chevrolet Blazer was redesigned and updated. Some two-wheel-drive Blazers were being built as late as 1982, but the vast majority of the second generation K5s were 4x4s.

This 1977 Chevrolet K5 Blazer exemplifies the boxy but beautiful 2nd-generation Blazer. Pictured is the all-electric-drive 1977 K5 Blazer-E project Chevrolet created for SEMA365 (2020) using its e-Crate package.

The new K5 Blazer came equipped with a 4.1L inline-6-cylinder engine as standard into model-year 1984. It was available with a wide selection of other engines during its production run, including the desirable 6.2L Detroit Diesel V-8, a 4.8L inline-6, and a host of V-8 (5.0L, 5.7L, and 6.6L) engines. With the advent of throttle-body fuel injection (TBI) after 1987, the 5.7L was made the standard powerplant and is likely what you’ll find in most of the later-model second-generation K5 Blazers. 1973 to 1980 model-year K5 Blazers can be found with the preferable gear-driven part-time NP-205 transfer case (mostly mated to the SM465 manual transmission and some TH350s) or the chain-driven full-time New Process 203 transfer case (mated to the TH350 automatic). The Dana 44 front and Corporate 12-bolt rear axle combination ran through to the 1980 model year. From 1981 until 1991 the chain-driven New Process 208 transfer case (New Process 241 after 1988) with the front/rear Corporate 10-bolt axle combo was used.

From 1989 to 1991, the Chevrolet K5 Blazer received a series of updates and upgrades. New grilles, headlight bezels, and body side moldings were minor changes. Important mechanical improvements such as 30-spline axle shafts for the Corporate 10-bolt axles, a single serpentine accessory drive belt on the standard 5.7L V-8, and a switch to the New Process 241 transfer case (with its improved oiling system, upgraded planetary, and higher GVWR rating) were made in 1989. For the 1990 model year, standard rear-wheel ABS, and a further improved 5.7L with a redesigned rear crankshaft seal, new camshaft sprocket, and heavy-duty intake valves were onboard. More improvements came to the standard 5.7L engine for 1991, including an upgraded TBI system. The entire engine line also received more powerful 100-amp alternators in 1991.

First-generation Chevrolet Blazers (1969 to 1972) are beginning to pull down prices previously seen on classic sports cars, but good examples of the 1973 to 1991 K5 Blazer can still be found for far less. During our search, we found prices ranging far and wide due to condition and level of modification, but running examples of second-generation Chevrolet K5 Blazers averaged around $15,000.

If you don’t need 4×4, you might want to check out these classic wagons: 10 Best Collector Station Wagons of All Time.

About Stuart Bourdon

A passion for anything automotive (especially off-road vehicles), camping, and photography led Stuart to a life exploring the mountains and deserts of the Southwest and Baja, and a career in automotive, outdoor, and RV journalism. He has held editorial staff positions at publications such as Four Wheeler, 4Wheel & Off-Road, Jp (all-Jeep), Trailer Boats, and Camping Life. When not behind a camera or in front of a computer, Stuart can often be found behind the wheel.