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The Jeep Wagoneer was the first luxury 4x4, produced under varying marques from 1963 to 1991. A "sport utility vehicle" (SUV) for decades before the term was even coined, the 4WDWagoneer saw only minor mechanial changes during its 28-year plus production run, the third longest in US automotive history.

The Wagoneer pioneered the sport utiliy vehicle marketplace, the most car-like 4x4 in spite of its massive boxy shape. Compared with offerings from International Harvester and Land Rover — which were producing utilitarian work-oriented vehicles with spartan truck-like interiors — the Wagoneer's luxury set it apart. Based on the Jeep SJ platform, the revolutionary Wagoneer sported an advanced overhead cam inline 6 cylinder, independent front suspension, and offered features unheard of in any other 4WD vehicle made it at the time such as power steering and automatic transmission.

The Wagoneer made its debut seven years before Land Rover launched its Range Rover in Great Britain, and 24 years before that upscale marque appeared in the United States. It was succeeded by the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The Willys and Kaiser years

With competition from the "Big Three" advancing on Jeep's four-wheel-drive market, Willys management decided that a new and more advanced vehicle was needed. Conceived in the early 1960s while Willys-Overland Motors was owned by Kaiser Jeep Corporation, the Wagoneer replaced the originalWillys Jeep Station Wagon, which dated to 1946 and remained in production until 1965.

Like its long-lived predecessor, the new 1963 Wagoneer took shape under industrial designerBrooks Stevens. Willys' engineering staff handled the technical development. The cost of development was around US$20 million.

The original Wagoneer was a full-size body-on-frame vehicle which shared its architecture with theJeep Gladiator pickup truck. It was originally available in two and four-door body styles, with the two-door also available as a panel truck with windowless sides behind the doors and double "barn doors" in the rear instead of the usual tailgate and roll-down rear window.

Early Wagoneers were powered by Willys' new "Tornado" SOHC 230 cu in (3.8 L) six-cylinder engine, which had debuted in 1962 as an option for Jeep's older-style station wagons. The engine developed 140 hp (104 kW) and was noted for being quite fuel-efficient for its day. However, it was known for cooling issues and "pinging" at altitude, leading the company to introduce a lower-compression 133 hp (99 kW) Tornado in 1964.

1963-1964

In early 1963, Willys Motors changed its name toKaiser Jeep Corporation. Seat belts were optional.

There were few other changes for 1964, except for optional factory-installed air conditioning.

1965-1966

Late-year 1965 Wagoneers and Gladiator pickup trucks were available with the 250 hp (186 kW) 327 cu in (5.4 L) AMC V8 engine, which proved to be a popular option. Additionally, the Tornado engine was replaced by American Motors' 232 cu in (3.8 L) OHV inline six. According to the automotive press this engine was smooth, powerful, reliable and easily maintained.

The 1966 model year also saw the introduction of the more luxurious Super Wagoneer, initially with a higher-performance 270 hp (201 kW) version of the AMC V8, fitted with a four-barrel carburetor. With comfort and convenience features not found on other vehicles of its type at the time - e.g. push-button radio, seven-position tilt steering wheel, ceiling courtesy lights, air conditioning, power tailgate, power brakes, power steering, and console-shifted TH400 automatic transmission – the Super Wagoneer is now widely regarded as the precursor of today's luxury SUVs. Production of the Super Wagoneer ended in 1969. Brakes were 11" drums.

1967-1971

Two-wheel drive models, which the four-wheel-drives had outsold from the beginning, were discontinued after the 1967 model year, and at the end of 1968 the slow-selling two-door versions were also discontinued.

For 1968 through 1971 Wagoneers were powered by Buick’s 350 cu in (5.7 L) 230 hp (172 kW)Dauntless V8. The Buick made less horsepower than the previous AMC V8 (230 hp vs. 250), but moretorque at lower rpm (350 foot-pounds force (470 N·m) at 2400 rpm vs. 340 ft·lbf (460 N·m) at 2600), and it had 5 main bearings instead of the AMC’s 4.

After the 1971 model year, Wagoneers were exclusively AMC powered.

The AMC years

In early 1970 American Motors Corporation (AMC) acquiredKaiser Jeep Corporation and set about refining and upgrading the range. AMC also improved manufacturing efficiency and lowered costs by incorporating shared components such as engines. Reducing noise, vibration, and harshness improved the Wagoneer driving experience.

The 1971 model year included a special "X-coded" model finished in Golden Lime with unique wood-grain side panels, numerous convenience features and power assists, that was priced $1,000 more than the deluxe "Custom" model.

After 1971, the outsourced Buick 350 was replaced by the 360 cu in (5.9 L) AMC V8, and later the 401 cu in (6.6 L) was made available. The innovative Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system, which broadened the appeal of Jeep products to people who wanted four-wheel-drive traction without the inconvenience of a manual-shift transfer case and manual locking hubs, was introduced in 1973.

In 1974 AMC resurrected the two-door Wagoneer as the Cherokee. This replaced the Jeepster Commando, whose sales had not met expectations despite an extensive 1972 revamp. The Cherokee appealed to a younger market than the Wagoneer, which was regarded more as a family SUV.

There were few styling changes during this time. However after introducing the Cherokee, AMC began to move the Wagoneer upmarket that brought high demand from a new market segment. The Limited, more luxuriously equipped than the earlier Super Wagoneer, offered Quadra-Trac, power disk brakes, air conditioning, power-adjustable bucket seats, power door locks, power windows, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, leather upholstery, plush carpeting, AM/FM/CB radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel, roof rack, forged aluminum wheels, and “wood grain” trim on the body sides. The 2-barrel, 360 cu in (5.9 L) AMC V8 engine was standard with a 4-barrel, 401 cu in (6.6 L) available at extra cost. Even though the US$10,500 suggested retail price was in luxury Cadillac territory, the Limited’s high-level specification attracted buyers and sales were strong with a total of 28,871 Wagoneers produced in 1978, and 27,437 in 1979.

With the V8s the primary choice among Wagoneer buyers, the 258 cu in (4.2 L) six-cylinder engine was dropped in the 1970s, only to return as an option when Jeep sales – particularly of the high-volume Cherokee – were hit by the 1979 fuel crisis. (The Wagoneer continued to sell relatively well after production dropped to 10,481 in 1980, but increased to 13,741 in 1981, 18,709 in 1982, and 18,478 in 1983.) When reintroduced, the engine came with manual transmission as standard equipment, but in 1983 automatic transmission with “Selec-Trac”four-wheel drive became standard. With this combination the Wagoneer achieved EPA fuel-consumption estimates of 18 mpg-US(13 L/100 km; 22 mpg-imp) city and 25 mpg-US (9.4 L/100 km; 30 mpg-imp) highway – outstanding for a full-size SUV. This allowed the company to advertise good fuel mileage, although the more powerful 360 V8 remained popular with certain buyers despite its greater thirst for fuel.

In 1981, the Wagoneer line was expanded to three models. The Custom Wagoneer was the basic model, yet it included a 4-speed transmission, free-wheeling hubs, power steering and power front disc brakes, as well as passenger area carpeting. A new Brougham model added an upgraded interior trim that included woodgrain for the instrument cluster and horn cover, floor mats, power tailgate window, as well as the "Convenience" and "Light" Packages. The Brougham's exterior included a thin side body scuff moulding with a narrow woodgrain insert, roof rack, as well as bright door and quarter window frames, and a lower tailgate moulding. The Limited Wagoneer was the top-of-the line with standard Quadra-Trac, automatic transmission, air conditioning, tinted glass, power windows and door locks, cruise control, AM/FM stereo radio, extra quiet insulation, power six-way driver and passenger bucket seats with center armrest, upgraded door panels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, extra thick carpeting, and retractable cargo cover.

The basic "Custom" model was eliminated for 1983, and a new Select-Trac system became standard equipment. A dash-mounted control allowed the driver to change between two- and four-wheel drive. The switch activated a vacuum-activated spline clutch that was built into the front axle assembly.

The 1984 saw consolidation with the end of the Brougham model, while the Limited became the Grand Wagoneer. Thus, starting in 1984, only one fully equipped version was available, and this would remain until the end of the Grand Wagoneer production under Chrysler. Production reached 20,019 in 1984 with just one version available.

An improved handling package was introduced in 1985 that incorporated a revised front sway bar, gas filled shock absorbers, and lower friction rear springs. A total of 17,814 Grand Wagoneers were built for 1985.

Starting in the 1986 model year, the Grand Wagoneer received a new four part front grille and a stand-up hood ornament. An updated audio system became a standard feature and a power sunroof installed by the now defunct American Sunroof Company, became a factory option. However, the most significant change was the installation of a fully revamped interior including a new dashpad, new instrumentation, new door panel design, a decorative tailgate "cap", shorter nap cut-pile carpeting, more modern headliner and visors, new leather seat cover designs and front seats that now featured adjustable headrests. Changes were made to the instrument panel that now featured square gauges, featured woodgrain overlays and contained an improved climate control system. A new two spoke steering wheel also included new stalks for the lights and wiper/washer controls on the column. The Select-Trac driveline gained a new Trac-Lok limited slip differential to send power to the wheel with the best traction. There were 17,254 Grand Wagoneers built in 1986.

The last model year developed under AMC, 1987, was also the 25th anniversary of the Wagoneer design. Standard equipment included the 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 engine and self-sealing Michelin "Tru Seal" P235/75R 15 radial tires. The sound system included a new AM/FM electronically tuned stereo with Dolby cassette and four Jensen speakers. The exterior featured revised woodgrained sides in English Walnut with new nameplates and V8 badges. On the inside were new tan or cordovan trims that replaced the honey and garnet colors, while the interior assist pulls on the door panels were removed. A combined 14,265 units were built by AMC and Chrysler for 1987.

Cherokee and the final years under AMC

The Wagoneer and Cherokee names were applied to the new, much-smaller and more fuel-efficient unibody XJplatform in 1984, but high demand prompted the company to keep the old SJ-body Wagoneer in production.

The full-sized Wagoneer Limited was renamed the Grand Wagoneer.

The XJ Wagoneer and Cherokee were basically identical, except that the Wagoneer had vertically stacked low and high beam headights with front turn signals moved behind the grille, and the woodgrain side panels of SJ tradition. In mid-1984, Jeep introduced a less expensive version of the Grand Wagoneer named the Wagoneer Custom without the simulated woodgrain exterior. Wheels were steel with hubcaps, and standard equipment was pared down. It had part-time four-wheel drive. Despite its lower price (US$15,995, about $3,000 less than the "Grand"), sales were poor.

The Grand Wagoneer remained "the gold standard of the SUV market" and it would continue in one version using the old SJ-body "for 1985 and beyond".

The Chrysler years

Chrysler bought out American Motors on March 2, 1987. Despite its advancing age the Grand Wagoneer remained popular. Chrysler largely left it untouched over its few years overseeing Grand Wagoneer production from the final setup under AMC's watch, and even continued to build the Grand Wagoneer with the carbureted AMC V8 instead of its own (and, arguably, more modern) fuel-injected V8s. Year-to-year changes were minimal. At the time of Chrysler's purchase, customer demand for the Grand Wagoneers continued to be steady, and it was a very profitable model generating approximately five to six thousand dollars on each unit.

The 1987-1991 model years "are considered the best of the breed" due to a number of upgrades. These include upgraded wood siding and modernized aluminum wheels that lost their gold colored inlays in favor of gunmetal grey metallic. All exterior colors were now applied in a two stage base/clearcoat system.

Finally, a number of further improvements were made for the 1989-1991 model year series including a quality replacement for the earlier, leak-prone air conditioning compressor, the addition of the visually identifiable rear wiper assembly, as well as a general improvement in fit and finish. An interior overhead console, taken from Chrysler's popular minivans, was also added. This functional console featured much brighter map lights, an outside temperature sensor and compass, and an infrared remote-controlled key-less entry system.

The last model years also featured new paint colors. These "new" colors included the rare Hunter Green metallic that was only available in the 1991 model year and is the paint color of the 91 Grand Wagoneer in the Chrysler museum, as well as the color of the very last Grand Wagoneer ever made, which was a significant part of the historic collection at the National Automobile museum.

End of the line

The Grand Wagoneer enjoyed one of the longest production runs of any Jeep vehicle. The powerful V8 engine and high towing capacity made the Grand Wagoneer popular among its many repeat buyers, and as of 1991, it was the longest domestically produced vehicle (29 years) on the sameplatform. The 1987-1991 models years "are considered the best of the breed and still have a loyal following among a select group".

A total of 1,560 SJ Grand Wagoneers were produced in the 1991 model year. Owners had the option of having a "Final Edition Jeep Grand Wagoneer" badge on the dashboard.

The last Grand Wagoneer produced rolled out of Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Plant on June 21, 1991.

ZJ Grand Wagoneer

For 1993 Chrysler prepared the Jeep Grand Cherokee(originally designed by AMC) to replace both the discontinued flagship model and the smaller Cherokee. The completely new design had been delayed following Chrysler's purchase of AMC so Chrysler could redesign its hot-selling minivans for 1991.

However, the Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer were still popular. Chrysler decided that the compact Cherokee could be kept viable with minor updates, whereas the cost of updating the full-sized Grand Wagoneer would be too great.

Replacing the traditional Grand Wagoneer with a modern vehicle that was intended to retain the model's loyal buyers, Chrysler introduced the compact Grand Wagoneer ZJ in 1993. It was based on the new Grand Cherokee.

Powered by Chrysler's 220 hp (164 kW) 318 cu in (5.2 L) Magnum V8 engine, the ZJ had model-specific woodgrain trim, model-specific, extra-padded leather seating and extra sound-deadening all standard. Jeep's 4WD "Quadra-trac" system was also standard. But it was smaller, offered less interior space, and lacked the familiar road presence of the original. Despite excellent reviews from many publications, sales did not warrant a return of the Grand Wagoneer for the 1994 model year, and thus the ZJ Grand Wagoneer was a one-year only offering.

Competition

The Wagoneer was occasionally used in rallying, mainly in the United States. Wagoneers placed first and second in the first-ever running of the Sno*Drift rally in 1973.

The Jeep Cherokee XJ 84-01 models have their own mild modification desert racing class "Jeepspeed 1". The "Jeepspeed 2" desert racing class includes the ZJ and WJ Grand Cherokees.

A Grand Wagoneer also competed in the 9,000-mile 1988 Trans-Amazon Rally.

Revival

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne announced at the January 2011 North American International Auto Show held in Detroit, that the Grand Wagoneer name will be revived for an "upper-scale" 7-seat SUV to be introduced January 2013.

The new Grand Wagoneer will replace the outgoing Dodge Durangothat has been produced since 2010, and will be produced at the same plant as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP). It will seat seven or eight passengers and will feature the same specs as the current Durango. It will be priced similarly to the Durango, starting at around $28,000.00.