The story of the 1984–1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Although luxury trucks are a key achievement for modern car manufacturers, there was a time when only a single brand in the US market was brave enough to take the step from ski station to service station. It was in the early 80’s when AMC decided to go all-in on an aging platform by transforming its decades-old Wagoneer into Grand Wagoneer and opening up a whole new segment for American buyers. The Jeep Grand Wagoneer beat the (still spartan but still expensive) Range Rover to the US market by a handful of years, and while Land Rover was able to survive its underfunded rival in the long run, there was no doubt as a contemporary who was first, and in the consciousness of many sport-utility fans, who also did better.

Old roots

A little background story first. The original Wagoneer, internally known as the Full-Size Jeep, FSJ or SJ, debuted in 1963 and would struggle for decades with only minor mechanical adjustments. The first hints that the truck had the potential to woo an exclusive clientele came with the Super Wagoneer, which the then Jeep owner Kaiser released in 1966. Packed with luxury equipment that was completely foreign to everything truck-like at the time (power brake, a high-end radio, tilt steering, power steering), it did not take long before the model received almost three times the average transaction price of an entry-level car.

Once AMC bought the Jeep in 1970, the product line merged around the more basic Cherokee and its more family-friendly Wagoneer variant. Despite repeated calls from AMC dealers to raise the price of the latter – due to the surprisingly high household incomes for buyers who are attracted to the truck’s mix of pavement comfort and rugged rides anywhere – every truck would stay in its lane for years to come.

More than just wood

AMC started playing with the idea of ​​another plush Wagoneer model towards the end of the 70’s with the limited tuning, the model shown above and among the first Wagoneers that became completely woody along with the earlier 1970s Custom. More importantly, it showed that customers would really be willing to continue to feed their fantastic outdoor imagination even if the truck’s asking price was raised to provide a quieter, smoother experience and a lot of extra modern conveniences.

By 1982, Limited had made significant progress in sales, and AMC amassed gear such as leather buckets and trim, a complete interior update on standard Wagoneer / Cherokee, air conditioning, and a list of features and electrical assistance that would not have looked out of place in a modern Cadillac. Unfortunately, it was also a time of financial crisis for the last remaining independent American automaker, and with bills piling up and partner / investor Renault increasingly deciding to condense the Full-Size Jeep into a single model. This would drive novice buyers to the all-new compact unibody XJ Cherokee platform and retain Wagoneer’s golden goose to lay the most profitable eggs possible.

Thus, the nameplate Jeep Grand Wagoneer came as a 1984 model, and it brought with it most of the equipment that had come to define the former Limited. Most examples were powered by a 5.9-liter V-8 (an original AMC design) good for 140 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, although a much less powerful and marginally more economical 4.2-liter straight six was also offered. for a time. Shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive remained standard, as did wood trim (it could not be removed as an option until 1984) and new narrow, vertical taillights that were no longer wrapped in the rear fenders. 1986 would provide the final styling update – basically just a hood ornament with the Jeep logo and a new grille – and the interior would also be more thoroughly modernized with things like head restraints, better climate control, a redesigned meter package and a new steering wheel.

Initial sales of Grand Wagoneer were stable, with a starting price of just under $ 19,000, which placed it in the same category as family-oriented wagons from such as Volvo and far above simpler contemporary trucks such as GMC Jimmy and Ford Bronco. The profit on the vehicle remained huge, with almost a third of the asking price represented sauce to Jeep.

Chrysler would buy the AMC in 1987, but the Grand Wagoneer would stay the course, with the purchase of 1988 models that mainly match its predecessors outside a newly available sunroof and keyless entry, a roof console with map lights and a rear wiper became a minor addition to the equipment list in 1989. Pentastar would, however, bring with it a number of improvements under the skin, such as improved anti-corrosion measures, better overall assembly of the vehicle and standardization of certain components that had previously been taken from a car wash list.

Last of its breed

Grand Wagoneer would sail through its twilight years firmly entrenched as the daily favorite driver among Martha’s Vineyard and Texas oil slicks. When the truck was shut down after 1991 (a victim of breaches of safety standards and its own inevitable single-digit fuel economy), the Jeep pulled in buyers whose median income hovered around $ 200,000 in today’s dollars.

It is an impressive achievement for one of the least technically sophisticated vehicles on the market. In fact, Grand Wagoneer had to rely almost entirely on its character to create customers, and given its respectable 4×4 reputation and setback design – the longest unchanged body style from any American manufacturer, the basic, Brooks Stevens-written record debuted for 1963 – it’s easy to understand why those who have money to burn could overlook Jeep’s thirst for fuel and fluid handling in exchange for exceptional road comfort and versatility.

When the next wave of luxury SUVs hit American dealers in the late 1990s – led by vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Lincoln Navigator – the focus would shift from delivering a truly robust platform to maximizing interior passengers and cargo. room while softening the ride so that it is as cheap as possible. As long as the truck in question looked like a part, buyers were willing to give premium sports tools a pass on the off-road features they were most unlikely to need on the daily commute.

The Jeep Grand Wagoneer may have demonstrated the extremely profitable luxo-truck concept, but with a few exceptions, it remains in a class of one. Unduplicated even decades later, it is now rediscovered by a new generation of fans looking for a classic respite from the same / same people sitting at retailers across the country.

The Grand Wagoneer returns!

The current Jeep owner Fiat Chrysler, for its part, plans to revive the nameplate of the 2022 Grand Wagoneer, which should only light up the star of its iconic predecessor. So far, the Grand Wagoneer Jeep shows off is a concept, but apparently it is quite close to the production model that is expected soon. The truck sits on a new platform that comes from the Ram 1500 pickup and goes head-to-head with the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, as well as things like the Land Rover Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class. As with the old Grand Wagoneer, the new one will sit above a cheaper Wagoneer model with lower trim, mimicking the hierarchies of Ford and GM, where the same basic full-size rigs are shared across Ford and Lincoln brands, as well as Chevy and GMC and Cadillac series.

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