Using a saw grille on a car is very fun. Driving around in a convertible version of a car that only came with a hard top is even more fun. Throwing that car on hope is it funniest. But when that car is one rare manual transmission Jeep Grand Cherokeeit’s hard not to feel a little sad.
Despite how that headline may sound, I do not intend to belittle the people YouTube channels BackyardBroncos. Hell, I’ll even link their videos here on Jalopnik and give them away even more clicks. But I’m pretty sorry about what they did with this poor “Holy Grail” five-speed Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ, and I need someone to talk to about it. So that someone becomes you, dear readers.
You know your friends who are really into music? The connoisseurs who talk about technical concepts like “time signatures” and other terms you have never heard of? I have such a friend named Bobby; every time we rode in the same car, he always played what he, an expert, considered to be the best music in the world. It sounded like shit.
This kind of stuff is pretty normal; someone becomes such an expert on a subject that they begin to value underground elements that the layman can not. They have gone down into the rabbit hole.
The same concept applies to cars. I look at the vehicles I and my colleagues drive. Sure, some of us have regular, cool cars like a Porsche 911, Ford Mustang and VW GTI, but we also have cars like the Yugo GV, VW Passat W8 and Chrysler Voyager diesel in our collection.
The second group of cars is filled with what many would consider deep cuts, and yet, if you ask us why these are such amazing vehicles, we will have solid, rational answers, just as my friend Bobby always had a technically solid answer. on why Radiohead was the best band ever. And yet, the average person will look at these machines and just say, “Meh.”
(Editor’s note: Radiohead is not a niche band, but it’s impossible not to leave this example from David because it’s funny. David claims he was too busy listening to more obscure bands like Avril Lavigne to ever get to know Radiohead). .)
The “Holy Grail” Jeep Grand Cherokee falls into this class of cars. To most people, it looks just like a regular Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ from 1993 to 1998. Nothing special. And yet, here comes an argument as to why it is something worth revering. Prepare for something I think I can have written 9,000 times before.
I went out of my way earlier this year to buy a Jeep almost exactly like the one in the videos above. It’s a red 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee “Base” trim. This means that it was chosen with a gray grille, thin door cladding instead of the usual ZJ cladding that ends at the base of the door, a chromed accent strip on that cladding and on the bumpers, vinyl and fabric seats, manual windows and doors, and no overhead grip handle. Most importantly, it came with one five-speed manual transmission.
As I have said on several occasions, a first generation Jeep Grand Cherokee with a stick shift is one of the best jeeps ever made. Not one of them largest (these titles belong to war legends like Willys MB, M38 and farm cars like CJ-2A and Willys FC), but definitely one of the best. That’s because it’s just incredibly versatile.
It’s cheap, it has plenty of space (unlike most two-door Jeep Wranglers), it’s not too heavy (unlike four-door Wranglers), it’s more comfortable on the road than the beloved XJ thanks to four coil springs and heavier soundproofing, it is not slow and it is very capable off-road driving. You can say the same about most 1993 to 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees, but these unfortunately lack one thing that this “Holy Grail” model has: reliability.
The first generation Grand Cherokees were ticking bombs; their Chrysler-built automatic transmissions failed at an alarming rate. I really think the main reason why ZJs are not as desirable as the XJ Cherokees has as much to do with ZJ’s poor transmissions as it does with the vehicle’s softer appearance. However, the rare (a superfluous Google search suggests that only about 1,500 ever went into production) manual Grand Cherokees with their Aisin five-speed gearboxes were not plagued by these problems. They had all the amazing features of a ZJ with reliability to start.
The best of the best Grand Cherokees were the base model manuals, then the second complaint I hear most often behind automatically transmission errors are errors in the internal electronics. That’s why I bought my ZJ with manual window and manual lock. I know that the matter will continue until the end of time.
I bet ZJ in this video (which is even more barefoot, with no center console!) would also have. Sure, it looks like it had some rust, but it’s not visible that bad. If it’s somehow worse than it seems, and the vehicle really was too far away, at least the parts would have been nice to save. But again, I will not hate these YouTubers for having a great time. I just wish they had chosen any other Jeep Grand Cherokee from 1993 to 1998 that they could find for sale at their local market. Or maybe this was the only one for sale, as the rest died several years ago due to transmission errors.
Sure, BackyardBroncos could weld back a roof on this ZJ, repair the minor sledgehammer damage, and generally restore the vehicle to factory standards. It would not be cheap. It would not go fast. But if I may be so bold, it’s this nice vehicle deserves. It can even be fun (it would not be).
Anyway, throwing a rare machine is definitely more newsworthy than throwing a crap, ordinary ol ‘Grand Cherokee, so from a click-ability point of view, these guys nailed it. I’m just a little sad, that’s all.