14 May 2016

It's all about Utility

IT’S NOT HARD TO FIND GREAT VINTAGE SUVS — AT AUCTION AND ELSEWHERE

Whether they are more sporty than utilitarian or vice versa, sport utility vehicles aren’t defined by displacement, a fixed or removable top or the level of creature comforts. Two doors or four, eight cylinders or six, manual or automatic, Ford, Chevy, International or Jeep, it seems there is an SUV for every lifestyle, from mending fences in Montana to schlepping the kids to soccer practice in Scarsdale.

I like my Broncos old school, and at September’s Fall Auburn sale, Auctions America offered a 1966 with removable hardtop. This was the first production year for the Bronco, and they were really basic, though they were available in pickup, wagon and roadster form. Lot 3157, in red with a white top and a 289 underhood, showed very well. Selling at $32,450, this Bronco looked as ready to take on logging roads as it was suburban streets.

If you think International Harvester just makes trucker caps for bearded ironic hipsters, you’re reading the wrong magazine. IH also built SUVs, and the Scout was well respected as a workhorse and generally perceived as good looking despite its utilitarian roots.

While we were scouting around for great buys on an International, we found this 1979 Scout II Rallye at Mecum’s Austin sale. Lot F59 really stood out, and not just because of its orange and white livery. With a 348-cid V-8, air conditioning, power steering and power brakes, it brought a mere $9,900 and gets the gold star for not only individuality but also SUV personality.

There’s no way to talk about the utility aspect of SUVs without mentioning Jeep, and at Palm Beach, Barrett-Jackson sold lot 53, a 1988 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The semi-official car of places like the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard, these big bruisers make you look as if you belong, even if you’re just lost. All of the late Grand Wagoneers like this one were equipped with vinyl "wood" sides and a leather and cloth interior. With the 5.9-liter V-8 and automatic transmission, this one was a solid bargain at $11,000.

Bet you can’t think of a nameplate still in use that predates Chevy’s Suburban. There are a lot of Suburbans out there, and we’re seeing more and more classic examples find their way to collector vehicle auctions. Back to Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach for a 1978 in two-tone bronze and tan with a tan interior. Equipped with a 350-cid V-8, three-speed automatic, air conditioning and cassette, this beast also included what could be the perfect period accessory — an-old school phone-style CB radio. Lot 608 sold for relative peanuts, at $6,050.

If you were looking for something more vintage, you could have purchased lot F106, a 1972 Suburban at Mecum Denver, in two-tone blue with a white top and black vinyl interior. A hard-to-find three-door model, it came with factory front and rear air conditioning and power steering. This one easily would have held all the Griswolds on their vacation, without having to strap Aunt Edna to the roof. It brought a fair price, too, at $20,900.

The definition of collector cars keeps changing, and it now encompasses all kinds of trucks. We’ve only scratched the surface here with what’s available, and if you’re not one for auctions, the good news is that most collector SUVs are not rare. Find one on Craigslist — or even on the bulletin board down at the laundromat. You won’t find a Duesenberg that way, but it’s a good bet you can get yourself a decent, classic SUV not too far from home.

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