11 December 2012

Buyer’s Guide: 1963-91 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

As an owner of a 1991 Grand Wagoneer (nicknamed “Effie” for FE, or Final Edition), I’ve been in a pretty good position to judge the popularity of Grand Wagoneers. It certainly seems like they’ve been increasing in popularity of late, creating opportunities for those who want to preserve and restore these original (it pre-dated the Range Rover by a decade) luxury sport utility vehicles.

Many people assume it’s a 70s vintage vehicle based on the wood panels and the styling. In reality, it was launched in the early 1960s and was built into the 1990s. Introduced under the Willys/Kaiser regime (1963 to 1971) and continued through the AMC and Chrysler years (1972-87 and 1988-91, respectively), it was known as the SJ platform and was the longest domestically produced SUV built on the same platform.

The 13 MPG (highway) fuel economy and the rather underwhelming 144 hp rating are the Jeep’s only real liabilities. The Grand Wagoneer has a surprisingly comfortable ride and a basic three-speed automatic transmission that does what it needs to with little fuss.

The basic engines in the latter years were the Chrysler 340 and 360 cubic-inch engines. The latter has the distinction of being the last carbureted engine offered in North America. It matters little which V-8 is under the hood of your Grand Wagoneer; none provides more than adequate horsepower but all are quite long-lived. The chassis is similarly solid and overall durability is legendary.

A unique and convenient feature is the ability to switch into 4WD without having to stop, lock the hubs, or put it in neutral as was the case with most SUVs of the era — you could be traveling at 60 MPH and switch seamlessly into 4WD.

Minor cosmetic differences were most noticeable in the front grille and rear taillights throughout its 29-year tenure. Of course, the powertrain was modified under each manufacturer and Chrysler ended the classic with features including an overhead console, dual power seats, digital compass and — my favorite — the "Final Edition" badge affixed to the dashboard of the last 1991 models.  

Typical rust areas are in the fenders, particularly on dog leg areas of the car. Rocker panels can be of concern for rust and unfortunately, some rust may develop under the wood paneling. The bubbling should be obvious. Both engine parts and body panels appear to be readily accessible and there are many websites including www.teamgrandwagoneer.com that can aid you in your search. 

If you find an early or a late model Grand Wagoneer, expect to do some minor body work or some basic engine tune-up service. Change the coolant, oil and transmission fluids. Check the firmness of the hoses and belts, replace the fuel filter, exercise the power window motors by rolling them up and down, and make sure the front and rear drive axles are serviced, too. You’ll find that these SUVs aren’t difficult to maintain, and they really are built like tanks — the sheet metal and engine are heavier, and the chrome is thicker. At about 4,500 pounds, your Wagoneer should feel solid and remain quite resilient.

The Grand Wagoneer market is in a spot that is indicative of a vehicle on the rise. While it’s somewhat easy to find Wagoneers that need everything (typically around $3,500) and those in perfect condition (such as very expensive examples of the LE models, which can reach or exceed $50,000), the nice driver-quality ones are getting rather scarce. When they come to market, expect to pay between $12,000 and $18,000.

As for investment potential, I don’t intend to ever sell mine — my 9-year-old son has claimed it! I have so enjoyed the simple joy of driving it — this is one vehicle from which you can literally see everything around you; there are none of the blind spots that are so prevalent in modern cars. It is a topic of conversation wherever we go, especially at gas stations where the Wagoneer happens to enjoy its frequent fill-ups.

0 Reader Comments

Join the Discussion