I visit classic car shows regularly, and apart from sportscars, grand tourers and limousines, I occasionally come across some great examples of military vehicles like jeeps and, of course, Land Rovers that have a certain charm to them.
With cars from the 1970s and 1980s fast becoming collectables and being snapped up by collectors, I got thinking about why more enthusiasts do not collect old SUVs.
Everyone remembers the origins of the Jeep, and the Range Rover as the original luxury SUV. In fact, Land Rover’s specialist division recently announced that they would restore and sell a handful of first-generation, two-door Range Rover 3.5-litre V8s at prices even higher than that of a new Range Rover V8. That said, while there is a huge demand for old Toyota Land Cruisers in the country, I would like to see more SUVs from the 1970s and ’80s like Jeep Cherokees, Mitsubishi Pajeros, Nissan Patrols or ‘Jongas’ as sold to the Indian Army and the sort being saved from scrap yards and preserved. If you want something more interesting looking and modern, how about a Land Rover Discovery in Camel Trophy avatar? In fact, I’d love to participate in a vintage car parade in something like an early Dodge Power Wagon someday.
With their tank-like build quality, robust mechanicals and reliability, they would make ideal daily runners too. Of course, restoring them and keeping them running wouldn’t be easy, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be harder than any sedan or sportscar from a similar generation.
If you have the heart to take your classic SUV off-road, it would be great fun. With an old-school, low-ratio gearbox and the absence of electronic aids, you’d have just your skill to rely on to negotiate the terrain.
Finding an old Land Rover or Willys with, say, an original Go Devil or Hurricane engine to restore as a project car can be tough, as many of them today have transplanted diesel engines.
You do not have to go in for a full-sized SUV. Just as compact SUVs are in vogue, I think something like a Mini Pajero or, better still, an original Suzuki SJ413 would be great cars to preserve too. Of course, finding one would be near impossible, but the search will be worth it and it shouldn’t break the bank either.
If you can’t find a Samurai or SJ413, but want a car that’s as capable as a mountain goat off-road, extremely reliable, easy to maintain and has motorsport (rallying) heritage in India, get a Maruti Gypsy. There are plenty of nice examples available today, but five years from now, finding a good example won’t be easy. Yes, you’d miss a power steering and some refinement, but it’s great to drive with the canvas top off and the windscreen down. Being the vehicle of choice for the Indian Army for decades, and a favourite with the off-road community, the Gypsy will hold its place in history!