Home » Trail-Rated Paperweights: 1987 AMC Jeepster vs. 1987 Jeep Honcho OffRoadster

Trail-Rated Paperweights: 1987 AMC Jeepster vs. 1987 Jeep Honcho OffRoadster

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“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”. Mom would say that when I’d come back to the table at Wang’s Family Buffet, a plate stacked a foot high with eggrolls, chicken wings, and crab rangoon. She was right; I was never going to finish consuming all of that fried goodness, and I knew it. Our own David Tracy has experienced the same issues with sad vehicles that he saw online and simply had to purchase with little regard to the number of similar sad vehicles he already owned. A few he’s brought back to some semblance of life, while many others molder and become affordable housing for possums. Those are the subjects of today’s showdown.

NOTE: You’ve probably already noticed that Mark is out this week, so the rest of the staff is taking turns trying their hand at Shitbox Showdown. The following cars are not really owned by David Tracy and thus not for sale, since they do not actually exist. If they did, however, I have no doubt that our great founder and Jeep devotee David would have had derelict examples like these in his collection, so just go with it.

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Yesterday, Thomas presented us with equally tragic “whole life crisis” cars, in this case Canadian-specification sports machines that Bryan Adams might have gifted himself with after winning a Juno Award in the early eighties.

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Neither is much of a prize now, but it was a blowout for an Audi-built Porsche against the often-unloved Corvette C4. Our dear readers would apparently rather do 1980s cosplay as a thirtysomething cocaine-addicted stockbroker than as balding fiftysomething owner of a concrete company that also owns a Donzi speedboat (though I’m not sure if those stereotypes hold up above the border).

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Today, there’s a couple of too-good-to-pass-up examples of Jeep products David purchased a year or so ago that were left behind when he went Hollywood; you might remember the rescue stories. Both are Sebring Red, both were ill-fated attempts by Jeep to expand their market share in 1987, and both are as needy as a person who posts ten times a day on Instagram. David has finally had a revelation and accepted the fact that someone else has to make them Their Problem. Which of these two death throes American Motors products would you choose?

 

1987 AMC Jeepster- $4,500 “OBO”

Engine/drivetrain: 4.2 liter Inline Six, 5 Speed Manual, 4WD

Location: Ferndale, MI

Odometer reading: 27,678 miles, probably flipped (the odometer, not the car, maybe)

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Runs/drives? Technically, yes, but realistically no

The idea of making a Jeep Wrangler into something more practical for daily suburban use than, well, a Jeep Wrangler, is an admirable idea. Styling this streetable YJ to look like a Pacer might not have been an admirable idea. The AMC Jeepster failed to find buyers despite the capable Wrangler chassis under the comfortable, weather tight targa topped body, but the concept proved quite appealing to David, especially a surviving example in a sad state with one pop up headlight winking happily at him. If you can imagine a Suzuki X-90 that actually made sense, this might be it (they tried again with a concept that went nowhere in 1998).

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This particular one is a Holy Grail with a five speed and the Trailrunner package with a lift, and inclinometer, side steps, and cool driving lights hidden under the grilles below the windshield. David got this example running rather easily and drove it an astonishing 800 miles back to the Motor City a year ago, which you can read here. Since that time he’s done , well, very little. He did some minor brake work and flushed the radiator, but even the Taco Bell wrappers from his return trip that he was going to pitch the next morning are preserved for the ages. Power accessories reportedly work except for the door locks (like, who’s gonna steal it?), and if you prioritize tunes over conditioned air, you might be happy with this Jeep, or car, or whatever it is since the radio works but climate control fan does not.

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Door panels with the “Pacer” style fin (the fishbowl glass can’t roll all the way down) are in good shape, even if not all of the speakers work.

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The top is sealed relatively well, and the rear seats flanked by cool louver-covered side windows look like they were never occupied by anything other than mold, mildew, and a few mice.

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In back the trunk lid features giant cartoon Jeep taillights and a special flexible exhaust bracket (bungee cord).

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No mention if David has the optional trunk seats seen in the brochure below; they’d be nice to have if nothing else as a surface over the likely rusted floor.

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The clutch is having a hard time mediating between the engine and the rare five speed, but a sieve-like main seal means you or your mechanic will become friendly with this part of the car anyway. Under the hood, the legendary Jeep six still reportedly runs strong, which is a good thing considering the limited access the deep windshield provides to the back cylinders. If you have to change the back plugs, words will emerge from your mouth that broadcast TV would beep out.

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David will even throw in the Jeep compass/Swiss Army knife key for instead of hoarding it as a keepsake!

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This Big Red Egg needs plenty of work but appears to be in decidedly better nick than Tracy’s next offering.

 

1987 Jeep Honcho OffRoadster Pickup- $3,500 OBO

Engine/drivetrain: 5.8 liter dual throttle body fuel injected V8, 5 Speed Manual, 4WD (if it works)

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Location: Royal Oak, MI

Odometer reading: 64,546 miles (likely flipped once)

Runs/drives? More than likely could run, what constitutes ‘drives’?

If there’s one car that pulls at David’s heartstrings, it’s large new-for-1962 Jeep SJ trucks; the Cherokee and pickup models he owns are seemingly non-negotiables in terms of things he’ll part with. The 1987-1992 full sized SJX that replaced it might be a bit too modern and refined to earn that much of his love, but the Holy Grail Honcho OffRoadster model of this short-lived series certainly was a must-have. Only 1000 were planned to be built, but the VINs stop after about 587 so it appears there were few takers. Naturally, when Mercedes Streeter found one outside of Chicago, logic got thrown out faster than a Spin Doctors CD and he immediately purchased it. After a bizarre adventure of getting it sort of running and back to Detroit (which you can read here), he kept it in climate controlled storage, meaning the climate of the parking lot in Royal Oak where he left it controlled the continued deterioration. Grand plans for a frame-off restoration changed to the frame attempting to rust itself off. By David’s own admission, this ‘project’ is good from afar but far from good (and, as we said, rougher than the Jeepster).

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With an electric sliding roof panel, a 360 cubic inch fuel injected V8, a five speed and special wheels and ground effects, the Offroadster was a short wheelbase SJX Honcho modified by ASC when new. Some fender flares are cracked; finding a replacement will prove as likely as Drake really getting into collecting Wartburgs. The blow molded plastic “air gate” is still there, and the randomly-opening-cargo-dump feature is still functional.

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You can see the way the roof works in the owner’s manual snippet below.

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The roof panel, which is now primarily emergency crank operated, would allow a lot of water in if it wanted to, and it looks like much water did indeed want in. This water rusted out much of floors and caused the interior to smell like the south side of San Francisco at low tide. Electric windows work, the Cerwin Vega Bass Boxx does not, and I wouldn’t even ask about air conditioning. The comprehensive instrumentation on the seven-slot dashboard works sporadically, which means it doesn’t really work at all.

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Still, David did drive it over three hundred miles to its current resting place, so indeed it “ran when parked”. Since that was over a year ago, you had best bring a tire compressor and jump pack to even think of driving it anywhere.

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David said that this formerly 235 horsepower truck was “pretty fast”, but when your frame of reference is old postal Jeeps and Oldsmobile compacts my guess is that, combined with the carbon monoxide from the busted exhaust, was skewing his opinions. If you want an example of how rarity doesn’t equate to monetary value, this OffRoadster is certainly it, but the potential for period cool factor is still high for ambitious welders.

So put on your Vision Street Wear t-shirt, pop on a backwards baseball cap and hightop Reeboks; time to decide. Yeah, neither of these alternative universe Jeep actually exist, but which one of these running 1987 basket case would you want to pop your Def Leppard Hysteria cassette into, if either AMC tape deck worked? On a deeper level, the Jeep brand needs all the help it can get these days, so your input on these unexplored product niches is even more important today than it would have been four decades ago. Would a full-sized Jeep truck or a modern Wrangler Jeepster today change their fortunes? Choose now – David needs both of these gone quickly.

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
8 months ago

The offroadster- I like the design better…will restore it

Jimmy7
Jimmy7
8 months ago

“an X-90 that makes sense” – sign me up! This one looks like the Fuego designers summered in Kenosha.

Oldskool
Oldskool
8 months ago

I’d take that Jeepster in a minute! That thing is hot! I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already built something like that onto a CJ/Wrangler chassis. And as with a typical CJ/Wrangler, you can get just about any part at any price point to keep it going. And anything else, fab or adapt something.

The Honcho, not so much. It looks like a lowered Comanche with a cab aero kit and a butt ugly K car nose. I guess Chrysler didn’t waste any time during the 1987 takeover. Oddball low production engine, parts are probably unobtainium. And I would think for most, including myself, that it doesn’t fit the niche of a Jeep. A lowered screamer doesn’t do me any good.

Give me a short wheelbase, short overhangs, good ground clearance, unkillable torquey 4.0/4.2 with stick. Give me the Jeepster.

Last edited 8 months ago by Oldskool
Tim Beamer
Tim Beamer
8 months ago

Get the Honcho, weld the frame back together, and do an LS-swap to it.

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