We generally associate luxury off-road driving with Land Rovers. The British carmaker certainly has a rich history of supporting the tag. Now, with the advent of crossovers and SUVs, we have many players in the luxury SUV space such as the Bentley Bentayga, Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and dare to say Lamborghini Urus.
But in the midst of all this buzz, we forget that the advent of luxury off-road driving; and the birth of SUVs, in general, happened here in America. We’re talking about the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer. A vehicle so ahead of its time that Jeep had to tone it down eventually to help the public understand their vision. The ’63 Wagoneer packed the first of many features, including independent suspension and automatic transmission.
With the comfort of a car, the ability of an off-roader and the spirit of an adventurer; Jeep Wagoneer from 1963 is the reason why we have luxury SUVs today.
Jeep Wagoneer was born with a need for practical luxury for families
In the early 1960s, there were a bunch of 4WD cars for family use. But no one provided the comfort and coziness that a family needed. Such as the Dodge Power Wagon Town Wagon, Chevrolet Suburban and International Harvester Travelall were all capable off-road vehicles but terrible family cars. American middle-class families in the late 1950s and early 1960s were hungry for off-road adventures, but did not get the ship to fulfill it.
But everything changed with the launch of the Jeep Wagoneer in 1963. This was a pick-up based station wagon that packed all the comforts of a passenger car. This was incredible during the period, and Jeep turned many eyes on its way. 1963 The Jeep Wagoneer was far ahead of its time, and the vehicle that started the luxury SUV segment.
Packed a humble 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine that was ahead of its time
1963 Jeep Wagoneer came with a single engine option. It packed the then new Jeep Tornado 232 Cu. inches (3.8 liters) Straight-six engine. Performance was lousy with 140 hp, and the torque of 210 lb-ft was nowhere near its depicted power. But this engine was ahead of its time, as it was the first and only single-cam engine (OHC) manufactured in America at that time. This engine eventually got a name for being reliable and high on both performance and efficiency.
Due to its extra resistance, the ’63 Wagoneer needed an oil change only at 6,000 mile intervals and a major lubrication overhaul at 30,000 miles. This was unusual for any 4X4 vehicle or SUV at the time. The first Wagoneer came in RWD and 4WD configurations. The gearbox options included a three-speed automatic, a three-speed manual and even a three-speed manual overdrive.
1963 Wagoneer packs the first of many features in a 4X4 vehicle
1963 Wagoneer was a gamble that paid off for Jeep. It had a lot of innovations and was the first in terms of many features. This comfortable off-road family car was so ahead of its time that many SUVs still use this icon as the drawing during development! Wagoneer was the first 4WD vehicle to come with a three-speed automatic transmission.
The RWD models made the Wagoneer the first 4WD vehicle with an independent front suspension option (which was $ 160 at the time). In this case, the rear axle used leaf springs, but the front one came with protected torsion bars and enclosed axle shafts. This meant that the front had two pivot axes and could move independently over terrain.
No other car manufacturer could come up with such a system for decades to come. In addition, the ’63 Wagoneer used a poison transfer bag that helped keep the driveline shorter, which helped lower the ride height. This helped a lot when getting in and out of passengers. The 4X4 models had a more common layout, with leaf springs at both ends (the back used variable speed springs).
So timeless design that it lasted for 28 years
The 1963 Wagoneer was a very flexible machine. It was offered in both a two-door and four-door model and looked quite subdued compared to its “raw” competitors. This iconic and immortal design was written by industrial designer Brooks Stevens. He was also behind Willys Station Wagon’s design.
But Wagoneer was different, as it was the first Jeep to have no design connections with the flat-screen models of the time. Wagoneer had a bulbous form factor with the front fenders integrated in the body, acres of glass and an upright grille (distinctive and offered only for a few years).
In addition to being offered as two- and four-door iterations, the Wagoneer was also offered as a panel van. And it was impressive to see a brand new machine, even though it used the same surface as the Jeep Gladiator pickup. 1963 Jeep Wagoneer had a design language that lasted for over 28 years, and we can still see its inspiration in 2022 Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.
This luxurious 4X4 based on a pick-up remains a status symbol
Jeep gave the world something very sophisticated and beautiful with Wagoneer. Before this SUV arrived, no one knew that an off-road car could be as cozy as a passenger vehicle. The interior was luxurious and comfortable, with many upscale furnishings that were rare at the time. ’63 Wagoneer was offered with a variety of interior fabrics and nine vibrant exterior colors.
The classic wooden rim steering and vinyl-wrapped roofline added another layer of lux appeal in the meantime. Eventually, air conditioning, seat belts for both rows and padded sun visors were offered. In the 60’s, the Cadillac was the best status symbol among cars. But the ’63 Wagoneer was the beginning of a new one. This is the vehicle that started the SUV culture in America. Then off-road cars became a status symbol.
Sources: Allpar.com, Motortrend.com, Hagerty.com, Autoweek.com, Popularmechanics.com, Cars.usnews.com