This hyper-rare 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee “Excursion” at a scrap yard in Detroit deserves to be saved

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This rare Jeep Grand Cherokee “Excursion” may be the most 1990s SUV of all time. Based on the already quite “90s” Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ – with its plastic lining and headlights that faded to yellow as soon as they left the factory – Excursion added to the conversion van treatment that was so popular in the era. This means that it has a TV with cathode ray tubes, VHS, high ceilings and lots of wooden strips inside. The bull bar drives nostalgia from the 90’s over the top, which makes this incredible Jeep well worth saving from a scrap yard in Detroit.

Going around on the internet right now after Spencer Strucienski took some pictures of my previous scrap yard in Detroit, Ryan’s Pick-a-Part, this red 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Excursion. “I found something today that I did not know existed! Located at Ryan’s Pick a Part in Detroit, “Strucienski wrote in Junkyard Finds Facebook page, where he posted the pictures you see here. He’s not the only one surprised when he sees this Jeep; legendary car journalist Doug DeMuro once wrote an article about Autotrader with the title What is this weird Jeep Grand Cherokee? refers to this very mysterious Jeep.

And really, it’s a fair question, because the information about the excursion is scarce.

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Picture: Upfitting Company

I’m really not entirely sure which refurbishment company was in charge of the remodel after the jeeps rolled out of the Jefferson North Assembly Plant. How did they build the jeep? It seems pretty straightforward.

The conversion company cut a large hole in the ceiling and grafted on a higher fiberglass lid complete with fantastic Land Rover Discovery-like skylights. Below the rockers are treadmills, at the back there is a spare tire holder and at the ends of each axle there is a custom aluminum wheel (yes, they are missing in the Jeep on the scrap). A bull-bar protects the grille and headlights, with some large round extra lights that adorn the outside of the jeep. On top of the fiberglass lid is a roof rack, which has bars that reach down along the A-pillars to the top of the front fenders.

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On the back you can see the remains of the spare tire holder. Part of the hinge protrudes from the plastic cover on the passenger side, and the latch to lock the carrier in place is located between the registration plate housing and the rear glass handle. Just to the left of the ratchet plate is what appears to be a plug, which I assume is there to drive the inner pieces while the engine is off.

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Speaking of interior pieces, check them out:

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There is an electric sunroof, a cathode ray tube TV (the best kind of ray tube, if you ask me), connections for game systems or other audiovisual equipment and two headphone jacks. At the back is a large storage container with an integrated VHS player and air compressor:

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You will notice the wood that surrounds the VCR. You can find that wood almost everywhere in this Jeep:

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There is wood on the door panels, wood on the dashboard, wood on the gear frame, wood on the gearbox frame, and is there wood around the meter? This cottage is a damn termite paradise, and even though it looks a bit hasty, I can not say that it does not add a little character.

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Overall, it seems that the headliner has held up much better than the factory you would have after 24 years. In fact, the Jeep does not look that bad overall. If I had to guess, the notoriously unreliable 44RE four-speed automatic is bolted to the 5.2-liter V8, the reason why this Jeep is on the scrap.

I think someone should save it and replace a better transmission (maybe one manual from one of my “holy grails”?), even if it would be a completely idiotic, impractical endeavor. As cool as this Jeep would look on terrain or on safari, it is not really better equipped than a slightly modified ZJ. The fiberglass ceiling adds something that looks like negligible usable space, and the audio and video equipment is so old that it adds almost no value. The only thing that is worth keeping, and that you can not easily replicate via the aftermarket, are the ceiling lights and the overall exterior appearance.

But they are the ones who matter! Those windows in the ceiling are just amazing, as is the overall shape of this ZJ. Seeing this rare machine (I have no idea how many were built, but I can not imagine it was more than a thousand) easily lifted and turned into a landing rig would be amazing. The ZJ platform, with its solid axles, reasonable service weight in relation to its interior space, short overhangs, flex-y fully coil-sprung suspension and disc brakes is an excellent platform for the paths. Or, if someone simply cleaned up the Jeep a bit and kept it in stock, it would probably win each Radwood show ever.

Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen. In general, once a car has reached the lines of a scrap yard, it stays there until it meets the crusher.

Update 22 June 23:45 ET: According to the ad above, Mark III Industries from Ocala, Florida made the transformation on this magnificent jeep. Here is some information from May 1995 Car news article:

Designers at Mark III Industries Inc., the country’s largest vehicle converter, are looking at a Jeep Grand Cherokee to see what can be done to bring it up.

[…]

Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee owners often spruce up their vehicles on their own with treadmills and other luxury amenities, says Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12, which represents workers at Chrysler’s Jeep assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio.

“They can really spice them up,” Baumhower said. “It is interesting that the conversion companies seem to have found a new market for our vehicles.”

Mark III will send its modified Grand Cherokee to Chrysler Corp. for inspection.

[…]

“The real trick is getting the TV in,” said Jim Hossack, Mark III’s vice president of product development and materials. Mark III is experimenting with inserting a TV in the back of a Grand Cherokee front seat.

Interesting, New York Times story from July 1996 mentions Indiana-based Glaval planning a Grand Cherokee conversion:

This year, Chrysler Corporation is letting Glaval Corporation in Elkhart, Ind., Convert Jeep Grand Cherokee sports vehicles, Chrysler’s most popular vehicles. Glaval will raise the ceilings of the Grand Cherokees and create space for a TV, VCR, Nintendo machine, advanced stereo, indirect lighting, cabinets and other accessories in the conversion industry. The rebuilt Grand Cherokees will join the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Suburban and Blazer in the line of sporting tools that have become limousines.

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