Jeep Grand Wagoneer Slated For 2021 Return, Though Restored Version Of Venerable SUV Available Today
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.’s announcement on Monday of a $4.5 billion investment in manufacturing capacity in and around Detroit also signals the likely return of Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, classic nameplates in the history of sport utility vehicle.
After nine years of delays, teases and false starts, FCA says it will introduce Wagoneer in 2021 – a vehicle that will compete against models like the Chevrolet Tahoe, Lincoln Navigator, Range Rover and other big SUVs.
But customers who can’t wait until 2021 – or those who wonder if FCA might once again delay return of the big SUV after a thirty-year hiatus – can buy a restored Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer from a company in Kerrville, Texas that has been restoring original versions of the vehicle and selling to nostalgic enthusiasts for 26 years.
“Almost every one of our customers has a story” about why they want one, said Chip Miller, whose family owns Wagonmaster, which has restored 2,000 Wagoneers since starting the company in 1992. “A grandfather drove one, another one said she rode in one in the car pool to school and loved it. I heard everything.”
Memorably styled and engineered for off-roading, Grand Wagoneer probably might be best known for its square grille and characteristic wood paneling.
His father writes: “I was smitten the first time I laid eyes on the Jeep Wagoneer Limited when it was introduced in January 1978. I thought it was the most beautiful rendition of a sport-utility vehicle I had ever seen... loaded with leather upholstery and power conveniences, plus the full wood-grain treatment and classic styling. I purchased one, at a cost of approximately $22,000 to drive every day as my company car. Being an agriculturalist/businessman, this fit perfectly.”
The model’s history stretches back to the early 1960s, when the Kaiser Jeep Corporation decided to update the old Jeep station wagon. The first Wagoneer appeared in 1963, a body on frame four-door that is credited with being the precursor to today’s SUV. Following a series of corporate transitions to American Motors and then to Chrysler, Wagoneer was updated.
Chrysler introduced a Grand Wagoneer version, with a fuel efficiency rating of 11 miles per gallon. With the runup in gasoline prices of the early 1990s and falling sales, Chrysler discontinued the model – much to the chagrin of Chip Miller’s dad, Leon.
“My father had just retired from farming and ranching and was hoping to buy a new one,” said his son. “Dad called the company in Detroit and tried talking to them. He was incensed.”
Finally, the elder Miller, now age 86, bought a used Grand Wagoneer and fixed it up. A real estate agent fell in love with his car offered to buy it. “Because Dad can’t relax, that was the beginning of our little retirement business,” said his son, who joined his father in 2010.
Via the company’s website, www.wagonmaster.com, Miller receives daily offers from Wagoneer owners to sell their vehicles. Once they are restored, they sell in the range of $60,000 to more than $90,000. According to the company, the heaviest concentration of restored Wagoneers, 38, can be found on Nantucket island. Other “hotspots” are Memphis, Nashville, the Carolinas, Florida, California. Some have been ordered from as far away as Kuwait, Switzerland and Nova Scotia.
FCA isn’t saying much about Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer or granting sneak peeks of its design. But the automaker’s ambition for the Jeep brand has been immense: Since 2009, the year Chrysler filed for bankruptcy and was merged with Fiat, global Jeep sales have risen from 337,716 to 1,585,257. FCA believes it could be selling 3 million Jeeps annually by 2022.