Better than a $700 Tracker? 1986 Isuzu Trooper vs 1956 Willys Jeep Wagon

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Good morning, and welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today, we’re going to see if we can find a better stickshift 4×4 than David did. But first, let’s see which land yacht won the Shitbox Regatta:

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Ooh, close one! Our closest yet. But it looks like we’re taking the Fury road. Immortan Joe and his Cadillac are just going to have to lump it.

Now, as you might have heard, our illustrious Editor-In-Chief, in an uncharacteristic move, recently bought a vehicle on a whim. My first thought, like so many others, was “Why?”, followed closely by “Big deal; that’s only a good deal in Detroit. I can find a way better manual 4×4 out here on the West Coast for that price.”

Famous last words. I did find one that is almost as cheap, and (I think) can be driven home under its own power, but is much rougher. So I’m balancing it out with something that costs more, but is infinitely cooler than some Suzuki with a Chevy badge on it. And not even David can argue that point. Let’s take a look at them.

1986 Isuzu Trooper – $800

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter inline 4, 5 speed manual, part-time 4WD

Location: Brush Prairie, WA

Odometer reading: 206,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs, and I think it’s drivable-ish

Rugged, boxy, and useful, the first-generation Isuzu Trooper was a cool little truck. And this one, being a long-wheelbase 2 door, is even cooler. It’s not exactly a powerhouse, with a 96 horsepower engine, but it had a ten-year run all over the world in various guises, and you still see plenty of them around. Usually four-doors, though.

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This Trooper has clearly been used like it should, and for a long time. 200,000 miles isn’t a ton for these trucks, especially over the course of 36 years, but they don’t appear to have been easy miles. Half the grille, half the interior, and half the exhaust are heaped in a pile in the back seat, and it’s about six different shades of blue and silver in various places.

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But nobody buys a cheap 4×4 to impress the valet at the country club. This is a toy and/or a tool, and for either use it can be a little scruffy. The seller says it runs, but doesn’t expressly say it’s drivable, so take that as you will. But I would guess that as long as it goes into gear, and the brakes and clutch are serviceable, it’ll get you home.

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Which is more than could be said of a certain electrically-challenged Tracker. But I digress.

Now, a brick-shaped Japanese 4×4 is all well and good, but look what I found lurking in the woods up near Astoria…

1956 Willys Jeep Station Wagon – $2,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 134 cubic inch F-head inline 4, 3 speed manual, part-time 4WD

Location: outside Astoria, OR

Odometer reading: ad says 100,000, which probably means unknown

Runs/drives? Runs and putters around, but you probably can’t drive it home

Here it is, the great-great-granddaddy of all Jeep SUVs. Designed by legendary designer Brooks Stevens and introduced practically before the last of the confetti from V-J Day had been swept away, the Jeep Station Wagon set the stage for every Cherokee, Wagoneer, Scout, Explorer, Blazer, and yes, even Trooper, that came after it.

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This Jeep features a 4 cylinder Willys “Hurricane” engine, an evolution of the old “Go-Devil” flathead Jeep engine that arguably helped win the war. The Hurricane is an F-head design, with overhead intake valves and in-block exhaust valves. It’s backed by a 3 speed manual and a two-speed transfer case, driving all four wheels when you need it to.

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The seller says the engine has been rebuilt and runs well, but needs the “gas pedal fixed.” I would guess the linkage is damaged or sticky or something. It has some rust, but honestly, I’ve seen worse (we all have). It’s essentially drivable, it sounds like, but the tires are too old to be trusted for more than a quick run up and down the road.

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Overall, this looks restorable with some work. Or finish tidying up the mechanicals and leave the body as-is, as long as it’s structurally sound. Either way, it’s a cool, desirable vehicle that’s bound to turn some heads.

I’m willing to admit it when I’m wrong, and it turns out that David’s little Tracker was actually a hell of a score, as long as he can get the electrons flowing through it in the right direction again. You used to be able to buy running driving Trackers and Monteros and Troopers for $500 all day long around here, but I guess not any more. But you know what that little Tracker isn’t? A Willys station wagon. I’m not sure this old Trooper out-values that Tracker, but I’m convinced the Jeep out-cools it. What say you?

Quiz Maker

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37 Responses

  1. I’ve owned a Trooper of this vintage before, except it had the GM 2.8 V6. Even with that, it was a bit underpowered. Ever see a kid draw a vehicle on the sides of a cardboard box and pretend they’re driving? That’s what these troopers are like, except for grown ups. Charming, full of character, but you know you’re just playing around.

    Now, I have no experience with these older Willys, but they’re just so damn iconic. We have some sweet bias plies, sunlight showing through from inside the cab, and really, everything seems to be all there. This is one you can hold onto, slowly fix on, and probably not regret. I’m silly for Willys.

  2. I’d go with the Trooper because you can actually drive it as is. That Jeep needs to go to someone with the time and money for a full restoration, including rust repair. There’s no point in spending the money to get it roadworthy again only to let the rust goblin keep eating away at it.

  3. That Willys is actually in pretty nice condition, that is not rusted just ask somebody from Troy, Michigan.
    There’s no panel there you couldn’t form from raw sheet.
    I like it, I like it a lot.

  4. The Jeep, all day.

    Some people think these are classics, something I have never heard anyone say about the Trooper. Also, there are still parts out there, and rust can be dealt with. Granted, that means shelling out some money — unless you can do bodywork, which I can’t — but you’ll be left with something kind of neat-looking.

    Some part of me would pitch a SBC into this and spiff up the rest of the driveline to match. Brakes too, naturally. They make neat Hot Rods, even if most I’ve seen still ride and handle like the original. Which is to say: they are uncomfortable as hell.

    I think we all know how David Tracy would vote….

  5. I didn’t even read any of this. Jeep. Jeep all day. Look at that face!

    Also Mark, David Tracy is on a plane right now to buy this and attempt to drive it home. You know that you’ve done that, right?

      1. I must confess, I skimmed over the Isuzu to make sure it matched mine (it does, in all but color combo) and jumped to the comments to post what I know about it. I never do that lol but I have since read it and still pick the Jeep.

  6. Even if the Jeep was missing an engine and all the window glass I’d pick it over the Trooper. I really, really don’t ever want to have to get anything from the 80s to pass smog ever again. Most especially with that many miles on it. At my stage in life I want simplicity.

  7. Be aware, the Trooper has a one year engine and trans combo. The engine was mostly used in 2wd pickups and Amigos. 1985 and 1987 Troopers have different engines.

    Also, the headlights will suck. Replace them with aftermarket and they still suck. The guy I sold my 86 to also had an 86 and said the same thing.

    I L O V E D my 1986 2d LWB Trooper 5spd 4wd. I just hated it when the transmission failed (with its welded-in crossmember) and the 2nd engine started acting up. I sold it to that guy 3 states away desperate to find use for his rusted-out twin.

    It was not easy to find parts for because many things, like the fuel tank, were unique to it. I ended up paying a machine shop to refurbish a gas tank from a 1993 Amigo 2WD that had 4 giant holes in it from the junkyard. I was lucky to find a NOS fuel pump and sending unit after lots of searching. I’m telling you, it was not easy to find specific parts. None of these parts are available new, that I could find anyway.

    It was such a neat little rig, and a big reason why I want a 2 door/manual/base Bronco today. I’d even take one with a fixed metal roof, although Ford is unlikely to build one.

  8. Honestly, I’d probably pay $2400 for that Jeep just to be able to say that I own it. The Trooper may be a better buy for price and to tumble around in as a weekend toy; but I don’t think that you can call yourself a red blooded American if you choose it over an OG Jeep.

  9. running or not running aside, I think the Jeep holds more value just because of its rarity and rise in custom off-road builds. Worst comes to worst you could recoup your costs and then some parting it out. Even more so if you can shrewdly negotiate the price down to 2000. My vote goes to the Jeep

    1. That thing is far too good for him. He actually can’t even see a jeep unless it’s significantly more fucked up than that. His visual cortex just won’t process the signals from his eyes. If you made some more holes in the bodywork and covered it in mouse shit, sure. But as is? It’s just a grey blur.

    1. That’s true. The only real “alternative” to the Tracker is the Trooper.


      See? It’s almost the same freakin’ name. They’re both Japanese 4wd 5spd SUVs that are underapreciated and priced under a grand.

      The Jeep is just a placeholder in this comparison, if only because its cooler, older, American and priced way above the other two, and accidentally stole the show as a result. This either needed to be between the two Trxxxxrs or a 3rd little Japanese 4wd 5spd like a Samuri or Daihatsu Rocky. Oh yeah. Under a grand is probably unlikely, but then only the price would be the outliar.

      1. I really love your comment, especially because of the shitshow that a Daihatsu Rocky was for me. Just about everything about that beast was amazing, and Toyota-sourced. Holy shitballs did I love that rig. Except for the engine, which is both unobtanium and uses headgaskets and a design for heads made from tissue paper.

        THAT would be a hell of a project to do for this site: take a whole collection of those little 4x4s from the mid-late 80s and shoehorn a 22r or some such in there. The engine is the lone weakness of the Rocky/Feroza, and if that could be solved, it’s pretty great.

        And again, truth be told…I think all those little guys were pretty great for many reasons.

  10. Unless there’s a big surprise under that Jeep, it doesn’t look like there’s much wrong with it that you couldn’t tack back together with some harbor freight tools and a few weekends. Not so it looks clean, but nobody needs it to look clean. There are probably better examples for the money if you want to wait, but nothing wrong here.

  11. I’d do whatever it takes to make that Willys drivable, and drive it as is. Every year on the road adds 1.4% to its deterioration so you have a few years to drive just leaving it be. Just a little proactive rust remediation and you should be ahead of the game for the foreseeable future. Treat it like maintenance not restoration and it’s perfect.

  12. The Jeep is kind of interesting… but it needs a complete restore. And even after a restore, you’ll have a vehicle that is nice to look at, but awful to drive/use

    The Isuzu is getting to be old enough to get into ‘classic’ status in maybe another decade. And it’s cheaper.

    So I’m going with the Isuzu.

  13. the Trooper has a time and place, yep. I voted for it.

    But as several commenters have already noted, this is nothing more than trap bait for the big lunkfish that is one David Tracy. He’s absolutely on the phone now, making arrangements for delivery

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