The Jeep Wagoneer is a luxury 4x4 produced and marketed under Jeep under successive automakers from 1962 to 1991. Described when it was introduced as a station wagon body style, the innovative concept by industrial designer Brooks Stevens over time pioneered the luxury "sport utility vehicle" (SUV).
Initially briefly available with the choice of rigid or independent front suspension, and optional rear-wheel drive only, the 4WD Wagoneer stayed in production for 29 model years (1963–1991) with an almost unchanged body structure, making it the third longest-produced single generation car in U.S. automotive history.
The Jeep Wagoneer evolved to create the luxury 4x4 market segment starting with the 1966 Super Wagoneer model.
The Wagoneer made its debut seven years before Land Rover launched its Range Rover in Great Britain, 18 years before Land Rover introduced a 4-door version, and 24 years before that marque appeared in the US.
With competition from the "big three" automakers advancing on Jeep's four-wheel-drive market, Willys management decided that a new and more advanced vehicle was needed. Conceived in the early 1960s while Willys-Overland Motors was owned by Kaiser Jeep Corporation, the Wagoneer replaced the original Willys Jeep Station Wagon, originally introduced in July 1946 and in production until the 1964 model year.
It was introduced in November 1962 for the 1963 model year as a successor to the Willys Jeep Station Wagon that had been built since 1946. Although sharing a pickup truck chassis (like its predecessor), the Wagoneer had a sophisticated station wagon body design, that was more carlike than any other 4x4 on the market. Compared with offerings from GM, Ford, International Harvester, Toyota, Nissan and Land Rover — which were producing utilitarian work-oriented vehicles with spartan truck-like interiors — the Wagoneer's luxury set it apart. Together with the Gladiator, the revolutionary Wagoneer SJ platform included an advanced overhead cam straight-six engine, and offered features unheard of at the time in any other mainstream 4WD vehicle, such as independent front suspension, power steering, automatic transmission, a factory radio, and optional air-conditioning.
Like its long-lived predecessor, the new 1963 Wagoneer took shape under industrial designer Brooks Stevens, while Willys' engineering staff handled the technical development. To appeal to mainstream consumers, the Wagoneer received a relatively low stance and car-like manners. The lower entry height was accomplished with a transfer case and a compact running gear design. Suspension tuning gave it a good ride, but because it was developed as a truck, it could haul and tow as needed. Development took three years and cost around US$20 million ($191,173,913 in 2022 dollars ).
At its introduction, the Jeep Wagoneer had no direct competition. For comparison, it took another 8 years for Land Rover Range Rover to start in only a two-door body style. It took until 1981 for the four-door 4x4 to be developed and Range Rover sales in the U.S. began in 1987.
The original Wagoneer is a full-size body-on-frame vehicle that shared its architecture with the Gladiator pickup truck. At first, it offered many body types, suspension, and drivetrain options. Available as both two- or four-door wagons, the two-door could be had as a "Panel Delivery" model with windowless sides behind the doors and double "barn doors" in the rear instead of the usual tailgate and roll-down rear window.
Early Wagoneers were powered by Willys' new "Tornado" SOHC 230 cu in (3.8 L) six-cylinder engine, which had debuted in 1962 as an option for Jeep's previous Station Wagons. The engine developed 140 hp (104 kW; 142 PS) and was noted for being fuel-efficient for its day. Both a 3-speed manual and automatic transmission were offered, each available with either 2WD rear-wheel-drive, or part-time four-wheel-drive without a center differential, but with manually locking front hubs. The Warn hubs were utilized to engage or disengage the front wheels, to switch the drive-train between two-wheel or four-wheel drive mode.
Like on the original Willys Wagon, independent front suspension instead of a rigid front axle was again offered to give the Wagoneer a more car-like ride and handling. The original Wagoneer featured independent front suspension (IFS) as standard on the rear-wheel drive models and was optional on the four-wheel drive, for either $135 or $160.
Instead of the Wagon's "Planadyne" design, the Wagoneer's IFS used swing axles and torsion bar springs, but they combined with short upper A-arms, tied into the torsion bars at their inner pivot points, such that the swing axles served as the lower control arms in a kind of double wishbone suspension design and the axles are located fore and aft by control links. On the four-wheel-drives, the IFS replaced the standard Dana 27AF axle with a single, center-pivot front axle that allowed the Dana 27 differential to swing with the curb-side half. Further, all Wagoneers had 11-inch drum-brakes all-around; seat belts were optional, and the 4WD came with a standard compass. Front and rear power take-offs were available for heavy-duty utility applications.
Shortly after the introduction of the Wagoneer, in early 1963, Willys Motors changed its name to "Kaiser Jeep Corporation".
The 1964 models introduced factory-optional air conditioning, as well as a lower-compression 133 hp (99 kW; 135 PS) Tornado engine, to remedy cooling problems and "pinging" at altitude the original had sometimes suffered. While it made less power, it returned greater economy, but this lower-compression version was phased out within a year.
As of 1965, all models came with a new standard safety package that included front and rear seat belts, a padded dash and high impact windshield, and a dual braking system.
Late-year 1965 Wagoneers and Gladiators were available with the 250 hp (186 kW; 253 PS) 327 cu in (5.4 L) AMC V8 engine, which proved to be a popular option. Additionally, the Tornado engine was replaced by American Motors' 232 cu in (3.8 L) OHV inline six. According to the automotive press this engine was smooth, powerful, reliable and easily maintained, but most likely it was cheaper.
Although the independent front suspension was positively reviewed, the option was not popular and was dropped from production, at least for the 4WD models, in 1965.
The 1966 model year also saw the introduction of the more luxurious Super Wagoneer, identified by a new more modern-looking full-width grille. Initially sporting a higher-performance 270 hp (201 kW; 274 PS) version of the AMC V8, fitted with a four-barrel carburetor. With comfort and convenience features not standard or even available on other vehicles of its type at the time - e.g. push-button radio, seven-position tilt steering wheel, ceiling courtesy lights, air conditioning, power retracting rear window into the tailgate, power brakes, power steering, and console-shifted TH400 automatic transmission – the Super Wagoneer is now widely regarded as the precursor of today's luxury SUVs.
Production of the Super Wagoneer ended in 1969, and in total it is believed that 3,989 Super Wagoneers were produced.
Between 1967 and 1969, all rear-wheel drive only models, which the four-wheel drives had outsold from the beginning, were discontinued, and from then on all Wagoneers and Cherokees had solid axles and leaf-springs, both front and rear. At the end of 1968, the slow-selling two-door versions were also discontinued.
For 1968 through 1971, Wagoneers were powered by Buick’s 350 cu in (5.7 L) 230 hp (172 kW; 233 PS) Dauntless V8. The Dauntless made less horsepower than the previous AMC V8 (230 hp vs. 250), but more torque at lower rpm (350 ft⋅lbf (475 N⋅m) at 2400 rpm versus 340 ft⋅lbf (461 N⋅m) at 2600).
After the 1971 model year, Wagoneers were exclusively AMC powered.
In early 1970, AMC acquired Kaiser Jeep Corporation and began refining and upgrading the range. American Motors improved manufacturing efficiency and lowered costs by incorporating shared components such as engines. Reducing noise, vibration, and harshness improved the Wagoneer driving experience. Visually, a big change was made during the 1970 model year, by replacing the metal grill with a new plastic grill with an egg crate pattern instead of vertical bars.
The 1971 model year included a special "X-coded" model finished in "golden lime" with unique wood-grain side panels, numerous convenience features and power assists, that was priced $1,000 more than the deluxe "custom" model. After 1971, the outsourced Buick 350 was replaced by the 360 cu in (5.9 L) AMC V8, and later the 401 cu in (6.6 L) was made available.
The innovative Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system, which broadened the appeal of Jeep products to people who wanted four-wheel-drive traction without the inconvenience of a manual-shift transfer case and manual locking hubs, was introduced in 1973.
In 1974 AMC redesigned the greenhouse of the defunct two-door Wagoneer, with much wider D-pillars and single, long rear side-windows, and reintroduced it as the Cherokee. This replaced the Jeepster Commando, whose sales had not met expectations despite an extensive 1972 revamp. The Cherokee appealed to a younger market than the Wagoneer, which was regarded as a family SUV.
Also in 1974, front disc brakes were introduced as standard equipment. While the new Cherokees still had 4-wheel drum brakes standard, front discs could be had as an option.
From 1976 all Wagoneer and Cherokee models received strengthened frames with stronger cross-members and boxed side rail construction.
After the introduction of the Cherokee, AMC began to move the Wagoneer upmarket, and that brought high demand from a new market segment. Midway through 1978 the "Limited" was introduced, more luxuriously equipped than the earlier Super Wagoneer, offering Quadra-Trac, power disk brakes, air conditioning, power-adjustable bucket seats, power door locks, power windows, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, leather upholstery, plush carpeting, AM/FM/CB radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel, roof rack, forged aluminum wheels, and "wood grain" trim on the body sides. The two-barrel, 360 cu in (5.9 L) AMC V8 engine was standard with a four-barrel, 401 cu in (6.6 L) available at extra cost. Even though the US$10,500 ($47,111 in 2022 dollars ) suggested retail price was in luxury Cadillac and Lincoln territory, the Limited's high-level specification attracted buyers and sales were strong with a total of 28,871 Wagoneers produced in 1978, and 27,437 in 1979.
On other SJ models, there were few styling changes until 1979, when all Wagoneer, Cherokee, and J Series pickup models received a substantial styling update with one-piece aluminum bumpers and a new one-piece chrome plastic grille with a protruding middle section shaped somewhat like a pig's nose, horizontal slats, and square headlights. This front end appearance was described as the "pig nose grill" continued on Wagoneer models through 1985.
For model year 1980, AMC decided to offer the four-wheel-drive platform using a station wagon body style but on a compact platform and introduced the AMC Eagle.
With the V8s the primary choice among Wagoneer buyers, the 258 cu in (4.2 L) six-cylinder engine was dropped in the 1970s, only to return as an option when Jeep sales – particularly of the high-volume Cherokee – were hit by the 1979 energy crisis. The Wagoneer continued to sell relatively well in comparison to luxurious station wagons offered by Ford, Chrysler and GM, while production dropped to 10,481 in 1980, but increased to 13,741 in 1981, 18,709 in 1982, and 18,478 in 1983. When reintroduced, the engine came with a manual transmission as standard equipment, but in 1983, automatic transmissions with “Selec-Trac” four-wheel drive became standard. With this combination, the Wagoneer achieved EPA fuel-consumption estimates of 18 mpg‑US (13 L/100 km; 22 mpg‑imp) city and 25 mpg‑US (9.4 L/100 km; 30 mpg‑imp) highway – outstanding for a full-size SUV. This allowed the company to advertise good fuel mileage, although the more powerful 360 V8 remained popular with certain buyers despite its greater thirst for fuel.
In 1981, the Wagoneer line was expanded to three models. The Custom Wagoneer was the basic model, yet it included a four-speed transmission, free-wheeling hubs, power steering, and power front disc brakes, as well as passenger area carpeting. A new Brougham model added an upgraded interior trim that included woodgrain for the instrument cluster and horn cover, floor mats, power tailgate window, as well as the "convenience" and "light" packages. The Brougham's exterior included a thin side body scuff molding with a narrow woodgrain insert, roof rack, as well as bright door and quarter window frames, and a lower tailgate molding. The Wagoneer Limited was the top-of-the-line with standard Quadra-Trac, automatic transmission, air conditioning, tinted glass, power windows, and door locks, cruise control, AM/FM stereo radio, extra quiet insulation, power six-way driver and passenger bucket seats with center armrest, upgraded door panels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, extra thick carpeting, and a retractable cargo cover.
The basic "Custom" model was eliminated for 1983, and a new Selec-Trac system became standard equipment. A dash-mounted control allowed the driver to change between two-wheel and four-wheel drive. The switch activated a vacuum-activated spline clutch that was built into the transfer case that engaged the front axle assembly. A shift lever mounted on the side of the transmission hump allowed the driver to shift between four-high and four-low with the vehicle moving, although the transmission had to be shifted to neutral and the vehicle had to be moving at less than 5 miles per hour to accomplish this.
For 1984, AMC replaced the SJ-body Cherokee with the all-new, compact, and more fuel-efficient unibody Jeep Cherokee (XJ), and introduced an upscale version of the (XJ) known as the Wagoneer. The compact XJ Wagoneer was available in two trim levels: the "Wagoneer" and the "Wagoneer Limited". AMC originally intended for these vehicles to replace the SJ-body Wagoneer models but high demand prompted the company to keep the old SJ-body Wagoneer in production alongside them despite the fact the design, largely unchanged since 1962, was becoming increasingly antiquated.
The SJ-body Wagoneer line saw consolidation in 1984 with the end of the "Brougham" model, while the "Limited" was renamed the "Grand Wagoneer" to free up the "Wagoneer Limited" nameplate for the compact XJ Wagoneer. In mid-1984, AMC introduced a less expensive version called the Wagoneer "Custom", without the simulated woodgrain exterior. The Custom had steel wheels with hubcaps, standard equipment was pared down, and it had part-time four-wheel drive. Despite its lower price (US$15,995, about $3,000 less than the "Grand"), sales were low, and it was dropped after 1984.
Thus, at the end of 1984, production reached 20,019 with just one fully equipped version available. The Grand Wagoneer remained "the gold standard of the SUV market" and from 1985 it would continue in one version using the old SJ-body until the end of the Grand Wagoneer production under Chrysler.
For the Mexican market, the Grand Wagoneer was built and distributed by Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos, and was offered with the 282 CI engine.
An improved handling package was introduced in 1985 that incorporated a revised front sway bar, gas-filled shock absorbers, and lower friction rear springs. A total of 17,814 Grand Wagoneers were built for 1985.
Starting in the 1986 model year, the Grand Wagoneer received a new four-part front grille and a stand-up hood ornament. An updated audio system became a standard feature and a power sunroof installed by American Sunroof Corporation became a factory option. However, the most significant change was the installation of a fully revamped interior including a new dash pad, new instrumentation, new door panel design, shorter nap cut-pile carpeting, new leather, and corduroy seat cover designs as well as front seats that now featured adjustable headrests. Changes were made to the instrument panel that now featured square gauges, and contained an improved climate control system. The metal glove box door was also replaced with a plastic door featuring a woodgrain overlay. A new two-spoke steering wheel also included new stalks for the lights and wiper and washer controls on the column. The Selec-Trac driveline gained a new Trac-Lok limited-slip differential to send power to the wheel with the best traction. There were 17,254 Grand Wagoneers built in 1986.
The last model year developed under AMC, 1987, was also the 25th anniversary of the Wagoneer design. Standard equipment included the 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 engine and self-sealing Michelin "Tru Seal" P235/75R 15 radial tires. The sound system included a new AM/FM electronically tuned stereo with a Dolby cassette player and four Jensen speakers. The exterior featured revised woodgrained sides in "marine teak" with new nameplates and V8 badges. On the inside were new tan or cordovan trims that replaced the honey and garnet colors, while the interior assist pulls on the door panels were removed. A combined 14,265 units were built by AMC and Chrysler for 1987.
Standard equipment for late Grand Wagoneers included:
Optional equipment included:
Chrysler bought out American Motors Corporation on 2 March 1987. At the time AMC was already working on designing a replacement for the antiquated SJ platform. Chrysler had other priorities, and although the Jeep J-Series pickups that shared the SJ platform and directly competed with Chrysler's Dodge Ram pickups were discontinued in 1988, Chrysler left the Grand Wagoneer largely untouched over its first few years overseeing Jeep production, and even continued to build the model with the carbureted AMC V8 instead of its own (arguably, more modern) fuel-injected V8. Year-to-year changes were minimal. At the time of Chrysler's purchase, customer demand for the Grand Wagoneer continued to be steady, and it was a very profitable model generating approximately five to six thousand dollars on each unit.
The 1989–1991 model years are considered the "best of the breed" due to a number of upgrades. These include upgraded wood siding and modernized aluminum alloy wheels that lost their gold-colored inlays in favor of gunmetal grey metallic. Chrysler also introduced an electrocoat primer for better rust proofing and all exterior colors were now applied in a two-stage base-clearcoat system. In 1988, Jeep's first full year under Chrysler, 14,117 Grand Wagoneers were produced.
Many improvements were made for the 1989–1991 model year series, including a quality replacement for the earlier, leak-prone air conditioning compressor, the addition of the visually identifiable rear wiper/washer assembly, as well as a general improvement in fit and finish. An interior overhead console, taken from Chrysler's popular minivans, was also added. This functional console featured much brighter map lights, an outside temperature sensor and compass, a storage compartment for sunglasses as well as an infrared remote-controlled key-less entry system.
The last three model years also featured several new exterior paint colors and the tan interior color was replaced with a lighter color that Jeep called "sand". The "new" exterior colors included a hunter green metallic that was only available in the 1991 model year and is the paint color of the 1991 Grand Wagoneer in the Chrysler museum, as well as the color of the very last Grand Wagoneer ever made.
The Wagoneer enjoyed one of the longest production runs of any Jeep product. Despite its combined fuel economy of only 11 miles per gallon, its powerful 5.9 liter V8 engine and high towing capacity, and the fact that unlike most competitive full-size SUVs of the era it had four doors, made the Grand Wagoneer popular among its many repeat buyers through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. By 1991, it was the longest-running domestically produced vehicle (29 years) on the same platform.
As a result of the 1990 oil price shock, gasoline prices in the United States rose 11 percent in less than a year. Sales of the gas-guzzling Grand Wagoneer plummeted from over 10,000 units in 1989 to 6,449 in 1990. Slow sales continued during the Gulf War and only 1,560 Grand Wagoneers were produced in the 1991 model year. In addition to its poor fuel economy, the antiquated SJ platform would have required extensive re-engineering to comply with new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that would apply to all light trucks and sport utility vehicles sold in the United States by the mid-1990s. As a result, on 27 February 1991, Chrysler announced that it was ending production of the Grand Wagoneer, leaving the Jeep line without a full-size SUV. Buyers of 1991 Grand Wagoneers sold after that date had the option of having a gold "Final Edition Jeep Grand Wagoneer" badge on the dashboard.
The last SJ Grand Wagoneer produced rolled out of Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Plant on 21 June 1991.
Even before Chrysler assembled the final SJ Grand Wagoneer there were specialized companies that were refurbishing and restoring them. Grand Wagoneers that are in top condition seem not to decrease in value.
The 1989–1991 models years are considered "the best of the breed and still have a loyal following among a select group". Later model, low mileage, rust-free Grand Wagoneers have become highly collectible with some pristine examples selling for more than their original sticker price over three decades after they rolled off the assembly line.
In 2013, the 1963–1991 models were in a list of eight SUVs that have become collectibles and, depending on the condition, desirable items at car auctions.
By 2019, the appraisal values of Grand Wagoneers had been increasing an average of 2 to 6 percent with each bi-monthly update for most of past ten years according to Hagerty.
By 2021, the 1984–1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneers that "created the blueprint followed by countless others" were among the most sought-after cars during the pandemic according to Hagerty, and in the top nine of a curated list of the best vintage cars on the market.
The Jeep Grand Wagoneer nameplate reappeared for one-year as the top-of-the-line model of the new Jeep ZJ platform debuted for the Grand Cherokee for the 1993 model year. It featured a long list of standard equipment including the Magnum 5.2 L V8 engine and unique leather interior as well as the Grand Wagoneer's traditional exterior woodgrain applique. After 6,378 were produced, the model was dropped for 1994, leaving the Grand Cherokee Limited as the top-of-the-line Jeep.
The Wagoneer was occasionally used in rallying, mainly in the United States. Wagoneers placed first and second in the first-ever running of the Sno*Drift rally in 1973.
A Grand Wagoneer also competed in the grueling 9,000-mile (14,484 km) 1988 Trans-Amazon Rally.
Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne announced at the January 2011 North American International Auto Show held in Detroit, that the Grand Wagoneer name was to be revived for an "upper-scale" seven-seat SUV, which he said would be introduced in 2013. In May 2014, Chrysler's "Five-Year Plan" was unveiled, which included the intention to release a flagship vehicle called the Grand Wagoneer that would share a platform with the Durango and Grand Cherokee by the 2018 model year. The Grand Wagoneer would be sold alongside the Durango and the Grand Cherokee.
On 9 June 2015, Fiat Chrysler announced that it would unveil a new version of the full-sized Grand Wagoneer at its dealers' convention on 25 August 2015. In August 2015, however, Fiat announced that the production of the upcoming Grand Cherokee replacement would be delayed into 2018. It is scheduled to be built at Warren Truck Assembly while the next-generation Ram 1500 is to be built at Sterling Heights Assembly.
On September 3, 2020, Jeep revealed the concept vehicle, along with other models and their 4xe electric hybrid technology.
On March 11, 2021, Jeep officially revealed the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models, with both being based on the concept.
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