As you will have noticed, cars are getting bigger. Many think that also means they’re getting less exciting, less charismatic and a good deal more ubiquitous, but that doesn’t have to be the sad truth of the matter if you step outside the world of PCP deals and boot-space bragging.
Some hilarious SUVs can be found on a stroll through the classifieds, each serving as proof that opting for a bit more height doesn’t mean having no enthusiasm for cars. Take the Jeep CJ-7, for example – a high-riding runaround that couldn’t be further removed in its conception from today’s crop of jacked-up hatchbacks.
Preceding the better-known Wrangler and packing a whole host of refinements and luxuries not afforded to its military forebear, the Civilian Jeep is as much at home on the Rubicon Trail as it is cruising up and down Blackpool Promenade. With styling that has gone largely untouched since World War II, it’s America’s Land Rover Defender, if you like, and it certainly turns more heads on this side of the pond.
The one we found is particularly eye-catching, with the fantastically retro stripes and stickers that came with the Laredo package on top of its original gold paint, massive all-terrain tyres and chunky chrome bullbar. The original 4.2-litre AMC straight-six engine – revered for its dependability – remains, as do the Bestop Dualmatic canvas hood and tan leather seats.
It all looks in fabulous condition, too, probably because it has covered just 67,000 miles and been mostly garaged since it arrived here in 1986. A CJ-7 won’t be as cheap to run, easy to fix or ruggedly capable as a contemporary Land Rover, but it lends itself to regular use in all weather far better than a V8 muscle car of similar vintage so is Americana that makes sense to own in Britain.
Looks can deceive, though, so we would look underneath with a torch to check all the chassis’ known weak points, ensure the aftermarket Holley carburettors are tuned to perfection and thoroughly examine the notoriously troublesome electrics.
Hustler Six, £8000
Max Adams: The NSU Ro 80 is probably the quirkiest car you can get this side of a Citroën. Take one stylish four-door saloon designed with aerodynamics in mind, add a rotary engine and mate it to a semi-automatic gearbox with an electronic switch on the lever to control the clutch. Much like the DS, the Ro 80 was very expensive when it arrived in the late 1960s, at £1900, and never sold particularly well, so it’s hard to find one today.
Felix Page: Quirky? Rare? I saw an Ro 80 parked outside the post office just three years ago; they’re everywhere! Well, at least in comparison to the insanely scarce Hustler six-wheeler I’ve found. Just £8000 nabs you this 85bhp, one-of-500 oddity, which is essentially a lengthened, slightly undressed Mini with an extra axle. And there’s plenty of room in the back for James’s friends to join him for the ride.
MA: I don’t think he will have friends for long if he drives around in that mobile greenhouse.
FP: Ahem, it was styled by William Towns, who you might know as the designer of the Aston Martin Lagonda and Bulldog. Besides, shouldn’t you be hunting down a specialist compression tester?
MA: Old news. That’s no longer an issue, thanks to improved rotor tip technology.
FP: Congratulations, you’ve made an otherwise exciting car sound incredibly boring.
MA: I just don’t see how that uncouth beast of yours can compete with the sophistication of my NSU. It was named European Car of the Year when it came out and its engine is turbine-smooth.
FP: Park our two cars side by side and see how many passers-by stop for a chat about rotor tips. I think I’ve got this in the bag, don’t you, James?
Verdict: Give me six of the best: I’ll take the Hustler.