10 Reasons Why The Classic Jeep Wagoneer SJ Was Cooler Than You Think
The classic Jeep Wagoneer SJ may not have been built competing with luxury Land Rover and Cadillac SUVs we have today, but it set a path to follow.
Jeep has always been on the top of the pile in the world of offroading and 4x4ing. Long before the rest of the world knew they wanted something as awesome as four-wheel drive, Jeep was providing it to the military and for the few that enjoyed traveling to places that no one else would even think of trying to get to. The Jeep Wagoneer SJ was one of those model lines that simply filled the public's demand, offering a roomy vehicle that could be packed full of necessities and family members.
Today, the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer is still at the top of the pile, competing head-to-head with luxury SUVs such as the BMW X7, the Mercedes-Benz GLS class, and the Cadillac Escalade, but the classic Jeep Wagoneer and the Jeep Grand Wagoneer is the one that made itself a household name. It paved the way for the rest of the world to follow, making it the parent of all the rest of the luxury SUV models that flood the market today. Let's jump right into the Jeep Wagoneer and see why it was so much cooler than you think.
Not until 1974 was the term SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) used on a vehicle. Unsurprisingly, it first appeared as a designation for the Jeep Cherokee SJ, the Wagoneer's smaller sibling. When the design team of the first classic Jeep Wagoneer SJ introduced the vehicle to the market, they called it a station wagon. A station wagon designed to maximize room, comfort, and power while still offering a way to travel in any weather, over any terrain. For all intents and purposes, the Wagoneer SJ was a first-of-its-kind SUV, but since that terminology had not even been made up yet, it was a Jeep-produced wagon with some major off-road prowess.
The Oscar Meyer Weinermobile is one of the most hilarious vehicles ever designed for the roads, but it does the job it was meant to do. It captures the eyes of anyone within range of it and the people from all over the world that travel to see it at the next stop. The Jeep Wagoneer may not be as famous as the Weinermobile, but it does have one great thing in common with it, the designer of both iconic vehicles was none other than Brooks Stevens. He was an automotive designer that focused on the visual impact that an automobile has upon consumers in an attempt to get them to buy the Grand Wagoneer, the Jeep Wagoneer, or an Oscar Meyer Hot Dog.
The 2022 Jeep Wagoneer is one of the most luxurious full-size SUVs on the market today, following along the lines of the first classic Wagoneer SJ produced for the 1962 model year. In the early '60s, the only Jeep wagon available was the Willys Utility Wagon, but that was an outdated design used by the military for the most part. In 1962, the Jeep Wagoneer took the market by storm, offering all the creature comforts of a luxury brand, with the ability to climb up the side of a hill like a mountain goat. As the years passed, each model year gained more luxury items as they became available, such as leather bucket seats and an overhead console with a map light.
As a general rule, classic 4x4 trucks and SUVs all have one thing in common, they are produced with the most innovative technology of the time. This ensures the vehicle can reach places the occupants want, even at the top of a mountain. But the thing about innovations is that one vehicle brand needs to install them on a model for the upcoming year and hope people like them. The Jeep Wagoneer SJ was an SUV that was the first to gain tons of new concepts and additions, such as being the first carmaker to offer an automatic transmission on a four-wheel drive vehicle. The Wagoneer was also the first to have full-time 4-wheel drive and independent front suspension on an off-road vehicle, and the Jeep was the first four-wheel drive to offer an overhead-cam six-cylinder engine.
The SJ was left unchanged from 1963, when the first Jeep Wagoneer was produced for the market, until 1991, when it was retired for the first time. Except for a few minor styling changes and interior additions, the Wagoneer was left alone because the Jeep executives knew they had a great thing going. When the Wagoneer SJ was put on the shelf in '91, it was the vehicle with the longest production life of any brand. That is quite a feat when considering that the Mustang now has a production life of over 57 years, but unfortunately for the 'Stang, it was not given life until mid-1964 for the '65 model year.
As if the basic Jeep Wagoneer was not luxurious enough for buyers, the designers decided to take things a step further by adding the option of upgrading to the SJ Limited. This Jeep had everything that could be imagined for 1978, setting it a mile above its rivals, including the competition from within by the more basic trim levels. The 1978 Jeep Wagoneer SJ Limited had wood grain trim on the sides, forged aluminum wheels, and a roof rack on the outside. Underneath the Wagoneer was the updated Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive system and power disk brakes. Most of the upgrades could be found inside, including leather upholstery, plush carpeting, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, power-adjustable bucket seats, air conditioning, and a top-of-the-line AM/FM/CB radio system.
Like every other vehicle on the market, several trim levels were available to the original buyer. The initial point of the Jeep Wagoneer SJ was to offer an off-road vehicle that was available for anyone to use, which means that the sticker price was lower than expected. Once the money managers at Jeep saw how well the luxurious versions sold, they wanted to increase prices to show that the Wagoneer would still sell, even to people with higher income brackets. The Jeep did continue to sell, offering the Limited Edition for the top-end spenders and the Jeep Wagoneer Custom for the low-income bracket consumers that still wanted to play on and off the beaten path.
In 1984 it became apparent to the Jeep management team that they had to make a few changes to the Wagoneer SJ to stay competitive in the market. The reason for that was the trending demand of consumers was shifting away from big, powerful, gas-guzzling engines to a more civilized, comfortable, and economical off-road vehicle. The designers at Jeep did not want to entirely get rid of the full-sized model because it had sold so well for them over the years, so they changed the name from the Wagoneer to the Grand Wagoneer, which is still used today on the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. In 1984, the Wagoneer was downsized, and a new model was created to fill any gaps, the Jeep Cherokee.
One of the most amazing things about the Jeep Wagoneer is that the brand has changed hands three times throughout its history, but it always kept its design and purpose. The first owner of Jeep will have to be traced all the way back to the 1940s when the Kaiser Jeep Corporation was in charge. Jeep ran under the Kaiser name until AMC purchased the brand in 1970. From there, AMC continued to produce the Jeep Wagoneer until they ran into financial difficulties, selling the brand to Chrysler in 1987. Each company made some minor changes to the already popular design, but for the most part, the Wagoneer was left the same for 28 years.
The end of the classic Jeep Wagoneer SJ came when the name was retired in 1991. The nameplate still lives on today in the 2022 Jeep Wagoneer, but it is not the same beast that it once used to be. Granted, the new version has added luxuries and driving aids to make the experience of being in it more enjoyable. However, for those who still love to drive the old classics, it is not the same Wagoneer that requires driving skill and prowess. The classic Jeep Wagoneer will always be remembered by classic SUV lovers and will be loved for what it was back in the day.