Times were changing for the iconic Jeep back in 1987. The long-lasting and well-loved Jeep CJ was being decommissioned and its replacement was headed to showrooms. New for that year was the Jeep Wrangler, the similarly styled but completely new open-top off-roader. It was the first year for the Wrangler name, along with its new Cherokee-derived underpinnings.

The Wrangler YJ featured styling that was instantly recognizable, including the folding windshield, removable doors and hardtop, and long, flat hood. Purists did complain about the square headlights and the more luxurious cabin. Motor Week’s host, John Davis, even says the updated YJ was being referred to as the Yuppie Jeep.

Still, the Wrangler proved it carried the Jeep lineage of the CJ thanks to its shift-on-the-fly 4WD, automatic locking hubs, and taller ground clearance. The YJ came powered with two engine options: the base was the AMC 2.5-liter four-cylinder while the 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder was optional. Both engines came standard with a five-speed manual while an automatic transmission was available.

Safety was becoming a concern for the Jeep, so when the YJ took shape on the drawing board, it featured a lower center of gravity, improved road handling characteristics, better steering, and a stronger roll cage. Regrettably, Motor Week’s testing revealed the YJ’s power steering was lifeless, especially on-center.

Despite the minor concerns and the YJ’s initial image issues, the original Wrangler has proved itself to be both a worthy off-roader and a classic that’s just now coming into its own.

Mark McNabb
Mark McNabb was a contributor at TopSpeed from 2013 to 2018. Growing up, Mark always had a mind for tinkering on random items throughout his home and dad’s garage, including a 1953 Ford Mainline and 1971 Corvette Stingray.  Read full bio
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