STREET-SPOTTED: JEEP GRAND WAGONEER
More than half a century later, the big Jeep is still a giant among SUVs
APRIL 11, 2019
There's good news and bad news for the SUV that had been in production for just shy of 30 years. The good news is that quite a lot of them had been produced during that time, making it easy to find examples in just about any condition. The bad news is that the best examples have long ceased to be affordable despite the number produced from 1963 till 1991 -- just a few minutes of browsing through classic car dealers and listings will confirm that.
What was the secret to the Wagoneer's longevity?
For starters, the debut version of the Wagoneer was well ahead of its time, offering luxury experience and amenities in a segment that was largely devoid of both, along with four-wheel drive. The Range Rover often gets credit for inaugurating the age of the luxury SUV, but the Wagoneer was already a major player by the time the Rangie debuted, offering the options of V8 power, an automatic transmission, an interior that was not spartan and the kind of air conditioning required by American summers. Add to that a power tailgate, bucket seats and carpeted surfaces, and you have the recipe for a luxury 4x4. Cruise control, power bucket seats and a number of other items arrived a bit later, keeping the Wagoneer fresh through the early 1980s. The debut of the smaller XJ Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer prompted the promotion of the model to a Grand Wagoneer, which absorbed a few more changes even after Chrysler took over AMC in 1987.
Annual production remained pretty strong through the last few years of the model, by which time it had finally begun showing its age -- but even by that time, the Grand Wagoneer was aging gracefully as other big 4x4s fell short on the luxury features offered by the Jeep.
The Grand Wagoneer remained relevant throughout the 1980s as a number of smaller models debuted, including the Cherokee and the smaller Wagoneer.
Instead of fading into the background and starting to seem dated, like many other big 4x4s from the 1980s, the Grand Wagoneer has also been curiously immune to changes in automotive fashion. It was about 15 years ago when the big Jeep, just over a decade out of production, acquired a status that was a little different from the cult status that it had already enjoyed. Instead, it became fashionable again in a curious way, as a luxury item that communicated an old money cachet, becoming a favorite runabout for summer communities in New England and many other places.
Years ago you may have heard about the craze for the Grand Wagoneer that developed around Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and the whole Northeast coastline, stretching all the way down to the mid-Atlantic states. Even airline magazines wrote about this trend. Suddenly, the Grand Wagoneer was the summer vehicle to have at the beach house, wherever that beach may be: the Pacific Northwest, the Michigan shoreline or the Hamptons. We should probably admit by this point that we spotted the Grand Wagoneer in this photo in Greenwich, Connecticut, which is about as old money as it gets. And, of course, it was by no means the sole Grand Wagoneer that we saw in Greenwich that day -- we saw about half a dozen.
Has the Grand Wagoneer craze tapered off over the past decade? Not really. The one major development that we can report when it comes to Wagoneers of all eras is that there are now more shops than before specializing in Wagoneer restorations and upgrades. Don't be surprised a decade from now if you see an EV conversion kit being offered for the Grand Wagoneer, along with a dash-mounted digital pad with aftermarket infotainment, instruments and navigation. The Wagoneer is over 50 years old now, but it still has plenty of life left in it.