Thanks for the info on weight. I suspected as much, but it's good to get confirmation.
The Samurai/Tracker are unitized bodies, right? Would seem making major changes (like pushing the engine back) would be pretty difficult in one of those. Could presumably build a frame and mount the components - they're plentiful in the local yard.
I wish the Cherokee was a full-frame. I like the size and straight-axle simplicity (and the inline 6). The FS Blazer would probably work, but they're a bit on the larger side and harder to find locally.
What about the Ranger/Explorer chassis? From what I've read, they're about the same, the Explorer being a bit wider in the mid section. A lot of guys seem to use them under early vehicles, so it would fit my body plans.
There's also the S-series blazer/pickup.
I like the idea of a more compact starting point, both for lower weight and for better mileage on the way down and back to the property. Rangers could even be had with a 4 cylinder and 4wd IIRC. Not a big fan of small powerplants, but the gas mileage and compact packaging are appealing. I'm not going to be rock crawling or tearing up hills at breakneck speed. Just want to steadily climb a slippery slope.
What's your opinion on IFS vs a live axle up front? The straight axle appeals to me because it's simpler and presumably more durable. But most OEMs (aside from the Cherokee) use IFS on their 4x4s. It would be a lot easier to get ahold of a IFS 4x4 frame than the straight axle if there's no real downside (other than the looks with a "traditional" body style).