After 40-plus years of Jeep CJ production, AMC decided to shake things up and change the recipe for the beloved CJ-7 and introduce the YJ Wrangler for 1987. OK, to be honest, the recipe was largely the same. The suspension was tweaked and modified to be more stable on-road, but it still used leaf springs front and rear, and the body tubs even used the same stamping. It was very much an updated CJ-7. Today we’d call it a refresh, a mid-cycle enhancement of a vehicle that had looked the same from the windshield forward since the CJ-5 debuted in 1955.
Most noticeable was the switch from round headlights to rectangular, a point of contention for many Jeep lovers yet a point of pride for YJ owners. (XJ Cherokee owners know their Jeeps have the best use of rectangular headlights, but they’re humble about it.)
Compared to earlier CJ-7s, which have a median #3 (Good) value of $9900, the YJ Wrangler has a median value of $8100. That’s despite climbing up our Hagerty Vehicle Rating list with an HVR of 86 while the CJ has dropped down from 78 to 71.
[Editor’s Note: The Hagerty Vehicle Rating, based on a 0–100 scale, considers the number of vehicles insured and quoted through Hagerty, along with auction activity and private sales results. A vehicle that is keeping pace with the overall market has an HVR of 50. Ratings above 50 show above-average interest, while vehicles with a sub-50-point rating are lagging in the market. The HVR is not an indicator of future collectability, but it says a lot about what’s trending hot and what’s not.]
Hagerty auction editor Andrew Newton notes that the YJ Wrangler’s lower price and an increase in insurance quoting activity could combine to raise its values, potentially drawing it even with its CJ brethren. YJs are big with Gen Xers, so they’re not all in the hands of older collectors, which is a good sign for future collectability.
If you’re in the market for a YJ, the trim level and engine are the major factors that determine its price. The funky, widebody Renegades command the highest prices, followed by the upscale Sahara and fantastically stickered Islander package, yet they’re all fairly close. Expect to pay about 11 percent more for an Islander compared to a base model YJ, and a couple hundred bucks more for a Renegade.
Under the skin, the 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine in the 1987 Wrangler was a carryover from the CJ-7, but the 2.5-liter four previously available in the CJ-7 was updated to throttle-body injection, upping its power to 117 horses, which was somehow more than the 112 hp of the carbureted six. AMC’s 304-cubic-inch V-8 didn’t make the move to Wrangler. Despite growing larger and heavier with each new generation, we’ve still never seen a V-8 Wrangler from the factory.
Four years into its 10-year run, the Wrangler saw the debut of the venerable 4.0-liter inline-six for the 1991 model year. Thanks in part to a larger bore and better cylinder head, the smaller inline-six still managed to outperform the 4.2-liter with a healthy 180 hp. Consequently, it’s the 4.0-liter six-cylinders that are often the most desirable, bringing a larger premium over an otherwise identical four-cylinder. For 1987–1990 models, the difference between four- and six-cylinder models amounts to a few hundred dollars in #3 (Good) condition.
With classic SUVs and 4x4s on the rise, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before YJ Wrangler follows suit. It’s the first-ever Wrangler and the last of the leaf-spring front-axle Jeeps, so it holds a unique place in Jeep history. The only question is: How long will it be before collectors truly embrace the square-eyed Wrangler?