SUVs were a thing even before SUV was a term. The concept of having a vehicle that does not have to rely on roads is as old as the 1940s. We have seen these vehicles evolve from bare-bones utilitarian workhorses to comfortable and capable family haulers.
While we have some of the best SUVs of all time on the market right now, the big daddies of the modern crossovers cannot be forgotten. As a matter of fact, some of these are still cooler than many of their modern counterparts.
Land Cruiser 80 Series
Toyota introduced the first Land Cruiser in 1951 and the name is still alive to this date. The initial models were purely utilitarian and extremely dependable. The concept was simple, the fewer things a vehicle has, the lesser the chances of things going wrong.
While it might not be the best option to roam around in the 1950s or 1960s Land Cruiser, the 80 series Land Cruiser, released in 1990 is a good option to have. It is a classic but still has all the quirks and features to make it practical and relevant in this age. You can find a good unit for under $30,000.
If you have an insanely wide driveway, don’t mind your car doing 0-60 in half a day, the H1 is the way to go. Did I mention the 12MPG too? However, on the plus side, this thing looks extremely cool. Probably the only vehicle on the planet cooler than the G-Wagon.
If you do want to get the most fun out of this car, find one with the Duramax Diesel engine swap. Those things are fast and have a better fuel economy. However, don’t expect this tank of a truck to be cheap. We couldn’t find a single listing for this vehicle below 125 grand.
Mercedes W460 aka G-Wagon First Gen
The G-Wagon has earned the reputation of “the most capable off-road machine that no one takes off-road,” and every last word of that statement is true. The latest G-Wagons are available with V8 or V12 Biturbo engines and three locking differentials. That translates to an unstoppable car but you’ll have to pay $150,000+ to get one of these.
If you want the G-Wagon swag in your life without having to sell everything you have, the W460 is the way to go. Thanks to Mercedes for not making any drastic changes to the SUV, leading to the newer generation look almost the same as the previous ones. You can get one of these for $25,000-$30,000. That’s a lot of money for a 40-year-old car but it’s not just any car, it’s the G-Wagon.
Jeep Wagoneer XJ
After the massive success of the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer SJ, the XJ was released in 1983. This Jeep had a unibody construction and all the luxury features that the previous generation lacked. This compact SUV was offered with 4 and 6 cylinder engines.
This capable and cool off-roader is quickly getting the status of a classic but there is still time if you want to buy one. You can acquire a reasonable sample for under 20 grand. Just learn to drive stick, throw on some all-weather tires go off-roading.
7th Gen Chevrolet Suburban
Starting in 1935 as a wagon, Suburban is one of the longest-running nameplates of any automaker in history. While the 12th generation of the Suburban is one of the most luxurious SUVs on the market, the 7th gen is the one where this vehicle transformed into a capable off-roader.
You can get one of these for $20,000 and it can double as an (extended) family hauler and an overlander. But does it look outdated or classic? That’s a difficult one.
The big daddy of all modern SUVs, this vehicle played an important role in making the Allies win the Second World War. There is no ABS, air conditioning, doors, or roof in this car because those are not needed to win wars.
However, this is one of the cheapest ways to get into the classic (or pre-classic?) SUV game. You can get one of these for well under $10,000 and roaming around in one of these is still one of the coolest things to do on Saturday evenings.
Ford Bronco Ranger Wagon
The 2021 Bronco is unarguably the most capable American SUV on the market but this gem of the 1970s is a good option too. The concept behind this car was simplicity and economy. All glass panels are straight and the bumpers are straight C-channels.
If this looks like an attractive SUV to you, there’s a bit of bad news. These things are changing hands for more than 100 grand right now.
1980s Jeep CJ-7
Built between 1976 and 1986, the CJ-7 marked the departure of Jeep from utility to luxury and capability. This vehicle was offered with a 2.5L I4 as a base engine but you could upgrade all the way to a 5.0L AMC V8.
This Jeep hits the soft spot between classics and functional SUVs. You can get your hands on a soft-top model for just under 30 grand and a V8-powered beast will set you back $50,000.
Jeep Cherokee XJ
Offered in 2 and 4-door configurations, Jeep marketed the XJ as a Sportwagon, even before the term SUV was a part of the dictionary. The XJ added some everyday practicality to the already capable CJ models.
Available with a number of different I4, I6, and V6 diesel and petrol engines, the XJ is a fairly capable off-road machine that can serve as a daily driver. You can grab this classic for well under $20,000. Get some renovation work done and you’ll have yourself an excellent classic ride.
1999 Ford Excursion
If you have not judged from the look of it, the Excursion is a heavy-duty full-size SUV. It is based on Ford’s F250 Super-Duty Truck and shares most of the chassis components and dimensions with it.
Being based on such a beastly vehicle means that the Excursion is an extremely durable and dependable vehicle that will never die on you. Not only that, it has style and features that are not primitive. You can find a well-kept example for $15,000.
1st Generation Land Rover Discovery
First thing first, this vehicle is not reliable. That’s it, we said it! Though it does have some serious looks – don’t let them fool you. This vehicle will cost you a lot in repair bills, you know the drill.
What the Discovery does offer is the old-school feel and the rugged form factor of SUVs. If frequent breakdowns don’t bother you, buy one of these for under $10,000.
1st Generation Nissan Pathfinder
It does not find any path on its own, that’s just catchy naming. This SUV was one of the first of its kind from Nissan and was a successful one. Like many of the SUVs of the 1980s, this one was available with a number of different I4 and I6 petrol and diesel engines.
Honestly, this one does not have particularly nice looks but it does excel in reliability. These Japanese cars last hundreds of thousands of miles and present no problems.
Land Rover Defender
It is criminal to make a list of old-school SUVs without mentioning the Defender. This classic is one of the most iconic SUVs of all time. You cannot deny that it has looks envied by many of the modern vehicles of this class.
However, in classic Land Rover style, this off-road machine does come with reliability issues. If you do want to get one of these, spend 100 grand and grab one of the EV-converted ones being offered on the market.
1st Generation Toyota 4Runner
Introduced in 1983, this compact SUV was based on none other than the indestructible Toyota Hilux compact Pickup. The first-gen 4Runner was offered a choice of different I4 gas and diesel engines with the range-topping model offering a V6.
This vehicle remains, to this day, one of the most reliable, dependable, and capable SUVs to ever come to the US from Japan. Looking at the shape of this thing, you can tell it prefers function over form.
2nd Generation Suzuki Samurai
Unfortunately, we happen to live in an age when we cannot hire a Samurai to protect us. What we can do is buy a Suzuki Samurai to take us places. This vehicle might look small, but it is a pretty capable off-roader.
While other SUVs of that time used raw power to conquer terrain, this one relied on its lightweight to go places. You can get this SUV with engines all the way from 0.59L 3-cylinder 2-stroke to 2.0L turbo diesel I4.
1st Generation Range Rover
It might come as a surprise but the first-gen Range Rover was not built to be a luxury Overlander. It was a purely utilitarian off-road machine. The interior had all kinds of cheap materials from vinyl seats to plastic dashes.
However, Land Rover being an off-road car maker did bless the Range Rover with some serious capabilities. It was available with 3.5 to 4.2L V8 engines and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system to make it able to go anywhere the driver wanted.
Toyota Land Cruiser J40
If you want an extremely rugged, dependable, and reliable classic SUV at the expense of comfort and luxury, look no further. The J40 Land Cruiser, released in 1960 was meant to take people from point A to point B regardless of anything being in the way.
You can buy one of these with straight-4 or straight-6 engines and Toyota’s primitive all-wheel-drive system and the classic Toyota high-low transfer case. This car can do anything from hauling groceries to plowing the field.
Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed
This Japanese SUV was different than any other vehicle on the market in the 1980s. The first-generation Pajero was capable and reliable while offering the small bits of luxury that appeared in the competing vehicles way later.
Under the hood of this SUV, you can find a 2.0L I4 or a 3.0L V6. Both powerplants deliver enough power to move this wagon through any terrain that you want to take it to.
Chevrolet K-5 Blazer
Everyone knows of the legendary Chevy Tahoe but do you know the big daddy that led to Chevy making the Tahoe? That was the K5 Blazer. This vehicle was introduced back in 1969 and continued production till 1995 before being replaced by the Tahoe.
What’s great about this SUV is that it is the smallest full-size SUV that Chevy has ever made. If you want a big SUV with an old school touch, you can pick one of these up for a fair price.
1990s Volkswagen Type 2 T3
Originally introduced as a commercial vehicle, the Type 2 gained popularity as an Overlanding SUV with the introduction of the Syncro all-wheel-drive system in 1984. It has the size of a van with the dependability of an SUV.
If you are looking for a cheap overlander that you can move into, this is a good option. However, get the one with a water-cooled engine and factory-fitted air conditioning. This one will surely make you look incredibly cool.
1st Generation Nissan Xterra
The Xterra was introduced in 1999 with the marketing tagline “Everything you need, nothing you don’t.” It did have everything that you can need from an off-road car but nothing that can weigh it down or break to cause problems while you are off-grid.
The Xterra is not exactly a classic, but if you want an SUV with an old-school feel, it is a good candidate for that. The best thing is, you can buy this car for just $5,000.
2nd Generation Mitsubishi Montero
The second generation of the Pajero, also known as the Montero was offered in four different versions: Metal Top, Canvas Top Convertible, Semi High Roof Wagon, and High Roof Wagon. It was designed with more choices of engines and a better all-wheel-drive system.
The car looked quite modern, considering that it came out in 1991. The shape of this car is on the borderline between modern and classic. You can buy one of these for under $15,000 and take it on any expedition that you have planned.
Jeep Wrangler YJ
When American Motor Corporation designed this Wrangler, they tried to make it a bit more tamed while retaining the trademark reliability and off-road abilities of the model. The decrease in ground clearance, improved suspension, and better handling did make the vehicle a viable daily driver.
The best part about this design is that it retains the old-school look while being fairly modern. You can buy this off-roader for under $20,000 for a well-kept sample. Unless a neighbor has the G-Class or Hummer, this will be the coolest car in the city block.
Land Cruiser 60 Series
Okay, I promise this is the last Land Cruiser on this list. Not because there aren’t other cool Cruisers, but because this list has to end. This model of the Land Cruiser was made from 1980 to 1990.
The car was available in 5 and 8 seat configurations. Like any other Land Cruiser, this vehicle was characterized by reliability and utility. Leaf spring suspension and solid axles don’t make this car the most comfortable one but it will take you places and will look cool while it’s at it.
This vehicle still looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, imagine how wild this design would have been in 1997. Powered by a 3.5L V6, a smooth 4-speed automatic transmission, and Isuzu’s Torque-on-Demand all-wheel-drive system, this car was surely ahead of its time.
Other than the fact that this SUV is 25 years old, there is nothing that makes it old school. It is fairly modern even by today’s standards, at least as far as looks go.
1st Generation Dodge Durango
While the latest Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat has recently made waves for being the most powerful and the fastest production SUV, the first generation Durango from 1998 too is not any less of a car.
It looks cool, can tow more than three tons, and can seat seven people in comfort. With the monstrous 5.9L Magnum V8 under the hood, this car is one of the very few which balance form and function in such a nice way.
1980s Dodge Raider
If the Durango seems like a bit of overkill and you want to buy a more modest offering from the Detroit boys, the Dodge Raider is the one you need. Technically, this SUB was not made by Dodge. They rebadged a version of the Pajero/Montero as the Raider.
Resultantly, what we have here is a car that will satisfy your inner patriot while giving you the performance and reliability of one of the most successful Japanese SUVs of all time.
1st Generation Isuzu Trooper RS
While Toyota was still using leaf springs and solid front and rear axles, their cousins over at Isuzu released this SUV. It had independent front suspension and combined capability with luxury.
Available with I4 and I6 diesel and petrol engines, the Trooper was not the most good-looking car of its time but was fairly dependable. Unfortunately, Isuzu couldn’t sell a lot of these and production stopped in 2006. You can buy this square-edged Japanese SUV for under $10,000.
1st Generation Toyota RAV4
Toyota created the RAV4 with a totally new platform that was made by combining the characteristics of Corolla and Carina. Both of those are sedans and that had a major impact on this SUV. It was comfortable.
What was not very sedan-like, was the off-road ability of this vehicle, which it had plenty. It was named the 1997 automobile of the year and for good reason. If you want to enjoy the 1990s SUV comfort, prepare a check for $15,000 before you go hunting for the RAV4.
1990s Suzuki X90
This subcompact SUV is for the ones who think even the Samurai is a big SUV for them to have. The X90 replaced the Samurai as Suzuki’s smallest SUV in the US market. It was available with a T-section removable top.
At the heart of this 2-door coupe of an SUV is a 1.6L SOHC gas motor. Given the tiny dimensions of the vehicle, the engine is more than enough to move it at respectable speeds and help it negotiate tough terrain.
1960s International Harvester Scout 800
The Scout 800 was a full-size SUV manufactured by International Harvester from 1961 to 1980. These people were better known for making farm equipment and agricultural machinery and that’s why the Scout never got much attention.
The Scout came with a 4.4L V8 engine and could be bought as a hard-top or a convertible. The vehicle was fairly normal for its time but after International Harvester went out of business, the Scout got the status of a collectible.
The Rocky was another of the rugged Japanese SUVs of the time. It had solid front and rear axles and leaf spring suspension, not the most comfortable setup but surely the most reliable one for that time.
Built on a durable ladder frame chassis, the Rocky was offered a choice of different gas and diesel I4 engines. For the ones who want a car for under $10,000 that they can take to the trail, this SUV is one of the best options.
Land Rover Series III
Available in 2-door and 5-door format, the Land Rover Series 3 had one thing that made it the king of the off-road in its time. That was a fully boxed welded frame that could take any amount of abuse without giving in.
Most of these cars are in pretty bad shape today. However, if you can get your hands on a V8 model and spend some money to reinstate it to its former glory, you can have a formidable old-school off-roader.
3rd Generation Nissan Patrol (Post Facelift)
This is one of the SUVs that are badass in both looks and capability. Third-generation Patrol is the ideal balance between capability and looks. If you install a snorkel and arrange for the car to be raised a few inches, the result will be a mean-looking machine.
It does not only have sick looks but serious performance too. It comes with an I6 patrol or a turbo I6 diesel engine and has just the right amount of power to go with the appearance.
Range Rover P38
This was the Range Rover where Land Rover finally understood that they had plenty of rugged off-road workhorses and needed to make something upscale and luxurious. From wipers for the headlamps to heated seats, this late 1990s car has it all.
Under the hood is a big honking 4.6L V8 gas motor to move the statesmen inside the car at respectable speeds and get them out of any tricky situation they might be in.
The ML was Mercedes’ line of luxury crossovers before BMW’s M lineup forced them to change the name to GLE class. The ML320, produced between 1998 and 2005 was meant to replace the G-class.
We all know that this thing was not even a worthy competitor of the G-Wagon for all the good reasons. However, it was a great car on its own. If you want to enjoy German luxury in an SUV at a discounted price, consider this car.
First Generation Volvo XC90
If you don’t want to go too back into the past and want a dependable luxury SUV at a steal of a deal, the XC90 is a very good option. Introduced in 2002, the XC90 combines looks, comfort, and ability.
If you want to get one of these, the best option is to go for the one powered by the I5 engine. Sure, the I6s are more powerful but the I5 is a rare engine and a cool thing to have.
Lexus RX 300
Lexus is the division of Toyota dedicated to combining top-class luxury with the impeccable reliability of Toyota. When you add reliability and luxury, you get a huge price tag as a byproduct. However, the first-gen RX300 is a way to enjoy the benefits without a huge price tag.
This midsize crossover SUV is powered by a 3.0L V6 coupled with Toyota’s tried and tested AWD system. Strictly speaking, this is a sedan with off-road abilities.
1st Generation Geo Tracker
A love child between General Motors Canada and Suzuki, the Geo Tracker was one of the most futuristic SUVs of the 1990s. Just like the Samurai, this compact SUV relied on its low weight to tackle off-road situations.
This car is powered by a 1.6L SOHC motor that puts out a humble 80hp. Speed is not the name of the game with this one but reliability and capability are. Finding one is not easy but these things cost under $10,000.
Honda CR-V Mk1
Designed by the greatest auto designer to ever work for Honda, Hiroyuki Kawase, the CR-V was the first SUV to be developed by Honda in-house. This compact crossover SUV had an I4 engine and a focus on passenger and driver comfort.
This is a car that will get you in on old-school SUV club but, frankly speaking, it is not the most capable SUV out there. You can go off the road on it but can’t go off-roading.