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Retro Review: Jeep Scrambler

Chris Kaiser

Nostalgia has a powerful effect on car fans, and Jeep lovers are no exception. Few trims define “back in the day” good times more than the Jeep Scrambler.

Your Rad Dad’s Wrangler

1980s retro has been having something of a moment lately. Synthesizers have returned to popular music, mom-jeans are no longer just for moms, and Jeeps once again have truck beds. The newest vehicle in Jeep’s lineup, the Jeep Gladiator, is both their answer to the mid-size truck and something of a throwback to Jeeps of yesteryear. Most specifically to the CJ-8 Jeep Scrambler of the early-80s.

Jeep Scrambler advertisement - curbsideclassic.com
Jeep Scrambler advertisement - curbsideclassic.com

Produced from 1981 to 1986, the Jeep Scrambler’s chief claim to fame is having a truck bed in back rather than a backseat. Built on the longer CJ-6 platform, the Scrambler came standard with an 86hp inline-4 with an optional 115hp 6-cylinder and, in ’81 only, a 150hp V8. Most Scramblers came with a 4-speed manual, but there were also options for a 5-speed, as well as a 3-speed automatic. The longer wheelbase, an extra 10-inches over the Wrangler, gave the Scrambler additional off-road stability and on-road comfort.

80’s Jeeps, You Gotta Collect ‘Em All!

In the end, the Scrambler wasn’t a big seller for Jeep, only seeing five years of production. But those limited numbers mean the Scrambler is a pretty hot collectors’ car. Unmodified versions carry an average value of $22,000. As with many Jeeps, new and old, you’ll also find lots of modded Scramblers ready for serious off-road action. Price wise, these tricked-out Scramblers run well into the $40-50,000 and even $60,000 dollar range.

The Perfect Ratio of Style and Substance

The mechanicals of the Scrambler weren’t too far off that of the regular Wrangler at the time. What sets the Scrambler apart, then and now, is its style. That short cab followed by a small bed gives the Scrambler a distinctive profile. Add in the thick roll bar and wood trim strips along the sides of the bed and you’ve got some serious panache.

1981 Jeep Scrambler - carsforsale.com

1981 Jeep Scrambler – carsforsale.com  |  Shop Jeep Scrambler on Carsforsale.com

If the typical Wrangler of the day spoke to a certain, freewheeling devil-may-care kind of fun, the only just slightly more serious Scrambler, says, in effect, sure, I could help move your couch, but wouldn’t you rather we just go rock crawling instead?

The Scrambler was serious … about fun. Take the striping and decals as exhibit A. In typical 80s style, the striping was big, bold, and neutral colored. All those oranges, yellows, and browns might have us scratching our heads today, but back in the early 80s, if your velvet tracksuit didn’t come in three gradients of tan you simply couldn’t get a date (a true historical fact, according to my cousin James.) But boldest of all was the Scrambler name emblazoned on the side of the hood. It was a proclamation and an invitation at the same time.

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Head Honcho

1983 Jeep Honcho J10 pickup - carsforsale.com

1983 Jeep Honcho J10 pickup – carsforsale.com  |  Shop Jeep J10 pickup on Carsforsale.com

We can’t ignore the fact that the Scrambler wasn’t the only OG Jeep with a bed. The original Gladiator, the J-Series pickup truck, was produced between 1962 and ‘71 and was based off the Wagoneer platform. The Gladiator name was eventually dropped in favor of the simpler J-Series moniker. The Honcho trim package, with its cool decals, roll bar, and Levi’s denim interior, was so popular in the late 70s and early 80s that J10 trucks became commonly referred to simply as Jeep Honchos.

Scramble On

2019 Jeep J6 Concept - blog.mopar.com
2019 Jeep J6 Concept - blog.mopar.com

Last year’s Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah showcased not one but two Jeep models with beds in the back. We know the Gladiator’s raison d’etre is to be a big Wrangler with a bed, but Jeep also brought an actual Wrangler with a bed, too. The J6 concept borrowed a bunch of hardware from the back end of the newly minted Gladiator, and, low and behold, produced a Jeep that deftly recreates the Scrambler of old. It does a better impression of the CJ-8 than even the Scrambler Gladiator concept Jeep also brought to Moab (though the Gladiator did get the throwback decals).

Please Jeep, Let’s Catch That Retro Wave

Our enthusiasm for the Gladiator knows no bounds. Not only is it neck and neck with the Colorado for most off-road capable mid-size truck, it’s indisputably the most fun vehicle in the segment. Take the roof off, take the darn doors off and I dare you to tell me otherwise. Consider the Gladiator as a proof-of-concept for the J6.

2020 Jeep Gladiator - jeep.com

2020 Jeep Gladiator – jeep.com  |  Shop 2020 Jeep Gladiator on Carsforsale.com

With all this said, just imagine a real J6, a real Scrambler redux. As we’ve seen with the Gladiator, Jeep fans, even among car nerds, are especially susceptible to nostalgia. People love faux utility, as their affection for utes demonstrates, and they love retro anything. A new Scrambler would practically be printing money for Fiat Chrysler.

2019 Jeep JT Scrambler Concept - blog.mopar.com
2019 Jeep JT Scrambler Concept - blog.mopar.com

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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