There was a time when all other 4x4s were spartan and utilitarian, workhorses designed in the spirit of the original four-by-four, the Willys MB from 1941. But this week in 1962, another kind of SUV was introduced: the Jeep Wagoneer.
It is the first SUV to offer comfort and convenience features seven years before the Land Rover was introduced same idea in Range Rover. Meanwhile, SUVs have become positively luxurious and created Navigator, Escalade, Cullinan, Bentayga, Urus, Levante, Range Rover, G-Wagen, Cayenne, DBX, X7 and Q8.
Still, it all started with Wagoneer, a nameplate that Stellantis is revived as a luxury brand within Jeep.
But the pregnancy of Wagoneer did not just happen. It was the result of Jeep’s growing bloodline.
Willys faced a post-war dilemma
It was 1945 and World War II was coming to an end. When the war was over, Willys-Overland president Charles Sorensen, a former Ford boss, considered the direction of his company. The company’s only car, the Americar, was very much one also driven. That was not the case with its other vehicle, the Jeep MB. Its wartime fame gave the company the greatest chance of success, despite its small potential market.
So the company started working on a civilian version of MB, which would be called CJ.
But the company needed more than CJ. The company previously considered building a Jeep-based compact car named 6-70, designed by Milwaukee-based industrial designer Brooks Stevens. But wiser heads won and the project was abandoned.
Based on the status of a war hero
Instead, the company produced another Stevens Jeep-based design, the Jeep Station Wagon, which carried flat exterior panels that could be stamped in appliance factories to keep costs down.
When it arrived in 1946, it rode on top of a heavily modified pre-war Willys Americar chassis, powered by a Willys 2.2-liter L-head 4-cylinder engine that had a capacity of 63 horsepower with a 3-speed manual transmission . Nevertheless, it was not available with four-wheel drive until 1949, as a result of a special order from the US Army the year before. After that, the changes were few, even after Willys-Overland was acquired by Kaiser Motors Corp. 1953
But in 1959, Station Wagon faced competition from newer truck-based competitors such as the Chevrolet / GMC Suburban, International Harvester Travelall and Dodge Power Wagon. So again, the company, now known as the Kaiser Jeep, turned to Brooks Stevens.
A new type of vehicle is emerging
In turn, Stevens produced a prototype vehicle he called the Malibu, which debuted in 1962 as the Wagoneer.
“The Wagoneer is not a rebuilt passenger car with a tailgate tucked in,” the brochure said, “nor is it a modified windowed truck – the all-new ‘Jeep’ Wagoneer was conceived and designed as a wagon.”
Built on a Jeep SJ chassis, it had a 110-inch wheelbase and 183.6-inch overall length, almost 8 inches longer than the Station Wagon and came with two or four doors. It was the first four-wheel drive trailer to offer an independent front suspension (standard on 4x2s, optional on 4x4s), and an optional BorgWarner automatic transmission.
The power came from the only overhead cam engine built by an American carmaker, a 3.8-liter 6-cylinder, which generated 140 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque through a standard 3-speed manual transmission.
However, the base models were hardly sumptuous, with simple upholstery, rubber floor mats and a rolled tailgate window. Deluxe models, later known as Customs, were nicer, with carpets, upgraded upholstery and door trim and, on a 4×4, a compass. Buyers can add such amenities as a front-mounted winch, AM radio, glovebox light, electric clock, dual-speed windshield wiper, power steering, power brakes, overdrive, heater and defroster, seat belts, right-hand mirror, snow plow, an electrically operated tailgate.
Prices started at $ 2,546 for a 4 × 2 two-door.
The wagoner is being upgraded
But Jeep continued to make its good idea better and added air conditioning in 1964, while an American Motors-manufactured 250 hp “Vigilante” 5.3-liter V-8 followed in 1965. A new, first-class model, Super Wagoneer, was added for 1966 and came with all sorts of amenities.
After all, an SUV with a vinyl roof, chrome roof rack, tinted windows, whitewall tires with full-wheel hubcaps, buckets, a center console, tilt steering wheel, air conditioning, carpets, power brakes, power steering, power steering tailgate and an AM radio were positively luxurious.
A four-barrel version of the 5.3-liter V-8 was embedded under the hood and produced 270 hp through the console-mounted TH400 Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. Priced at $ 5,943, or $ 48,422 today, it costs more than a Cadillac DeVille. Super Wagoneer, which was never very popular, was discontinued in 1969.
When Kaiser Jeep Corp. was purchased by AMC in 1970, AMC continued to upgrade Wagoneer and added Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive in 1972 and front disc brakes in 1974. Since 1978, AMC Limited introduced a fully loaded Wagoneer not unlike the Super Wagoneer.
An idea whose time was right
But times had changed, and this time Luxury Limited proved successful. It remained in the Wagoneer series even when the Wagoneer was reduced on AMC’s XJ platform for 1985. The old Wagoneer soldiers on. Now known as the Grand Wagoneer, it was built until 1991, with the same body panels as it did in 1962.
Fittingly, Wagoneer has returned for 2021 as a new Jeep luxury brand. The first two models include Wagoneer with standard wheelbase and an extended Grand Wagoneer. But the odds are that there will be more.
And it all started this week, 59 years ago.