Your observations are interesting and so correct. I think about this stuff all the time. My thoughts are typically along the lines of getting what I want from what I have, without losing the original concept. We have a '47 Willys CJ2A and I have been fixing it up while we use it. I think of this old Willy's, and both the vehicles you borrowed, as starting points. You can add and subtract things like soft tops, refrigerators, roof top tents, winches, tires, gears, etc., to make it what is useful to you. I think many folks who buy them, especially the Wrangler, find great joy in personalizing them.
Loved that jeep, friend of mine had one in the seventies and I rebuilt the transfer case for him. Just remember to count the needles in case the kit you bought is wrong, and you can turn down as many hardwood dowels on a lathe as you need to slide in place and hold the needles during assembly. There was a local place (shout out to Wally's 4x4 Sales) that had almost everything you could possibly need to rebuild a 2A, and it was less than a mile from my house. No idea if it's still t in business, but if it is, I imagine they still have a rusted "one of everything" in the yard
Good observations. I had owned a couple of Land Rovers (not Range Rovers) and had gotten used to the capability off road and in the snow. Then someone rear ended me hard enough to shove my beloved LR2 into the car in front of me. With damage to the front and the back, Grundy wrote it off. With the need to buy a new car and no savings as I had not anticipated moving my LR any time soon, I bought a Ford. I loved that thing and my daughter has it now that I have retired which means it never goes off road any more. The Ford is great, but its an all wheel drive car with higher ride height. A LR it ain't. But its not supposed to be. Now that I am retired I am back to two seat sports cars. Three of them. Life is about cycles...
Sometimes purpose built use is best. You don't have to improvise to make it do the work you want it to do. But sometimes you can be surprised of the utility of things. In the very early 1970's my brother and I used to cruise off road in the same area you traveled in the Sierras and the Mojave. Gone for days, never seeing another vehicle or person. No GPS, no cell phone just a topo map a compass and Mark 1A1 eyeballs looking out the window. Our vehicle of choice a 1968 VW Westphalia Camper van. It wasn't designed as an off roader and merging into traffic on the I-5 was and adventure in itself. Never modified it for off road other than slightly wider tires and lowered tire pressure. Took care of the traffic merge problem with engine mods that would allow 70 mph in third at the top of most on ramps. Those were the days. No quads, very few off road bikes and lots of rarely traveled trails and washes to explore.
"It cannot reheat leftover pizza or bake a sandwich..." I did some field research on that as a child, in the early sixties. Remember the "screensaver" Sunbeam toasters that lowered the coast automatically and then brought it back up? Enjoying a before school English muffin with peanut butter and deciding it was insufficiently toasted, rather than bother my mom with my little problem, I simply put one half back in the toaster and watched it lower automatically. As it smoked and flamed in all its glory, the toaster slowly brought it back up so that it could get more combustion air.
I received a Jeep Wrangler very much like the one in the column from Hertz a couple of summers ago when I was visiting Savannah, GA and basically Up To No Good; the person at the rental counter giddily informed me I was getting an "upgrade" when all I really wanted was a clean, aligned Mazda 3, because they're especially fun to drive when they're not yours. I had no plans to leave the pavement during my stay, so I saw no point in this thing. Then the monsoon came. It'd been a while since I did any driving in these parts when it rains heavily, but it's no fun at all, or at least it wasn't in anything I'd ever driven before this. The Jeep just didn't flinch from water that would've pulled the wished-for 3 into the ditch, and I was grateful to have it on the long drive to the remote spot I spent the first couple of days in. Then the sun came out, the pavement dried, and it was a complete pig to drive around in.
Along the same lines, observe the evolution of Japanese trucks--especially those built for and sold in the US market. Early Datsuns and Toyotas that came into the US were pretty crude and basic--very much like US-made pickups from before (and just after) WW II. This primarily because in Japan of the 50s and 60s (like the US before WW II), trucks were used for commercial purposes, not in lieu of cars for family transportation.
US truck builders discovered a market for fancier, better-equipped pickups in the mid-50s; it took Japanese manufacturers well into the 70s to discover this for their growing US market. Contrast a Datsun 521 truck (1967-1972) with its successor, the 620 or even more so, the 720 from the early-mid 80s.
My '72 Datsun 521 had 7 leaf rear springs and was rated (everywhere but the US, for import duty reasons) at 1000 pounds; elsewhere the rating was 1000 kilos. Empty it rode like a buckboard; the heater control was in the passenger footwell, manual drum brakes, manual steering etc. My 81 720 had factory air, power disk brakes, a plush interior with carpeting and even (the original) extended cab. And three leaf rear springs. Softer ride, but much less load capacity.
The evolution of pickups has paralleled that of SUVs, just has a longer path. I read somewhere that fewer than 6% of 4x4 trucks are actually driven off-road...but the bragging rights are great!