I picked up a stock 97 TJ SE (2.5L, 5-speed, No A/C) with 140k for $4k. I then spent $8k and two years of hobby time on full lockers, gears, suspension, winch, rack, bumpers, etc, etc.
It is highly reliable; starts fast and never hicups. The engine is easy to work on, and striping out the interior bits is also quite easy for upgrades and fixes.
A Reman motor will only cost you $1500 and a
weekend to swap it, or half that for a transmission, so long term cost to run it is dirt cheap, vs. the 6cyl w/auto at twice that price, or my 1/2 ton truck, which costs three times that to rebuild.
It's not plush or fast, but it crawls up anything, gets lots of admiration and ride requests! FUN!
- Lots of elbow room in the engine compartment
- Simple and durable interior
- Lots of aftermarket support
It's a Jeep. Any "improvements" will just be pricey comfort and convenience items for city folks trying to look like they off-road. Keep it simple, Keep it Jeep!