why-the-original-jeep-grand-wagoneer-still-looms-large

Ben Summerell-Youde/Fox SyndicationCar and Driver

The key to the appeal of the new Grand Wagoneer is the old Grand Wagoneer. The 2022 model, just revealed, appears to have all the grandeur of the original, without the 1960s technology and 1980s reliability—and without the woodgrain trim on the sides (sorry, that image up there is an illustration). Will the 2022 Grand Wagoneer’s production run span four decades? Probably not. But we certainly hope there really is a woodgrain option before it’s done.

The demand for Jeep Grand Wagoneer nostalgia can be quantified many ways—per-capita ownership in the 02554 zip code (Nantucket), for instance, or the continued success of Wagonmaster—but let’s look at Bring a Trailer. The auction site’s Wagoneer page shows that 2017 was the last year when nice examples of Jeep’s long-lived full-size SUV were occasionally selling for less than $10,000. Most of them go for at least twice that much now, with one resto-rod example fetching $79,000.

Ezra Dyer

Oh, if only I could time-travel back to 2013, when my neighbors bought a scruffy but presentable Wagoneer for $3500. They eventually traded it straight up for a Dodge Nitro because they needed a more reliable daily driver. And that should tell you a little something about Wagoneers, too: They can wear you down to the point that you’d rather have a Dodge Nitro.

The Grand Wagoneer we tend to think of when we hear the name—fake wood paneling, interior like a ’70s rec room, frozen in a moment in 1985—is like the 1993–1997 North American Spec Land Rover Defender in that it was old even back when it was new. Introduced as the Wagoneer for the 1963 model year, Jeep’s original luxury truck remained in production until 1991, a stretch that Jeep claims is the longest continuous U.S. automotive production run on a single unchanged platform. (Although the Chevy Express is arguably closing in on that streak.)

That’s part of the reason for its appeal now: even though it was produced into the ’90s, the Grand Wagoneer has 1960s flair. It’s midcentury modern on wheels, an ageless design penned by Brooks Stevens, who’s also responsible for the look of basically every Harley-Davidson of the past 71 years—he designed the 1949 Hydra-Glide. Some of his other credits include the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, the Miller High Life logo, and wide-mouth peanut butter jars. In the 1950s and 1960s, this guy was on a major roll.

Jeep

Jeep

By the end of its run, the Grand Wagoneer was incredibly dated but conceptually more relevant than ever. And now, a late Grand Wagoneer is, in many ways, more appealing than the modernized Grand Cherokee that replaced it. It was born into its role as a classic car, with angular lines, proudly fake woodgrain trim, and a drop-down tailgate with power rear glass. You can just imagine sitting there by a creek, readying your fishing gear, possibly with a dog waiting nearby. Some of these had a front bench seat. How great is that? Six passengers, two rows. By the early ’90s, these were Hollywood shorthand for “successful-yuppie ride.”

Jeep

Yes, it also had solid axles with leaf springs, a big dumb carbureted Chrysler 360 V-8 (an engine that lived in the time of cubic inches, but: 5.9 liters), and a three-speed automatic. It earned an EPA rating of 12 mpg on the highway and was as slow as you’d expect out of 140 horsepower. Pre-1987, there was also a base-model 4.2-liter straight-six. That’s even slower. And build quality was typical AMC/Chrysler of the era, which is to say factory shoddy. A Grand Wagoneer probably won’t frag an axle or seize its engine, but its switchgear will die and its A/C will blow warm air and its trim will fall off. And things will leak, and strange noises and smells will periodically present themselves, until you might think hard about a straight-up trade for a Dodge Nitro.

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