When the Jeep Wagoneer was introduced in 1963 the words “luxury” and “SUV” had not yet been commonly juxtaposed. In fact, nobody called vehicles with off road capabilities SUVs. They were, for the most part, just called “Jeeps.” Seven years after Wagoneer’s debut Land Rover introduced its Range Rover and it was just a matter of a few decades before everybody — Porsche, Cadillac, Mercedes, etc. — got into the act. SUVs wearing Bentley, Maserati and even Rolls Royce badges are in the offing but let’s revisit “ground zero.” Here’s a super clean Wagoneer Limited that’s one of the very last produced. That parking ticket doesn’t sully its thoroughbred look but rather imparts a sense of horsey hauteur. That’s a tiny red, white and blue American Motors corporate logo on the grill.
The Wagoneer, styled by industrial designer Brooks Stevens, was launched when Jeep was part of Kaiser Industries. Jeep, in fact, was the only surviving automotive division of Kaiser, the company which had the foresight to have gobbled up Willys, the company that had introduced the civilian Jeep (CJ) almost directly after VJ Day. The Wagoneer was meant to replace Willys’ Jeep Station Wagon (catchy model name, eh?) which soldiered on for another two years. Wagoneer continued in production until 1991 though the brand and its assets changed hands many more times. AMC bought out Kaiser, Renault bought AMC, Chrysler bought Jeep and, thereafter, Daimler (Mercedes Benz) acquired Chrysler. Daimler unloaded Chrysler which then went bankrupt and has now reemerged as a unit of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles). This means that the vehicular icon of America’s efforts in World War II was, at one time or another, under French, German and Italian control, though FCA is, technically, based in the Netherlands. Go figure.
The Jeep Station Wagon, seen here in a shot contributed by Feral Cars Field Scout Andrew Keeler, was the first all-steel station wagon though the the car had vestigial hints of timber in its embossed body panels, much in the style of Tudor tract houses.
This AMC-era Briarwood was a variant of the Jeep Cherokee which had actually been designed and initially produced under Renault’s aegis, continuing through the Chrysler and DaimlerChrysler reigns. The Wagoneer was its “big brother” until replaced by the Grand Cherokee in 1992.
Wagoneer shared much with a two door variation, confusingly named Cherokee but unrelated to the later one, and was the donor vehicle for the Gladiator pick-up, the production of which continued for 26 years. We found a very early one bearing a camper on its bed one foggy day. Looks like somebody’s into “roughing it” on wheels.
We also encountered two latter day Jeep products and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share. That contraption, in ‘Renegade Plum’ paint and wearing a most un-Jeep like nose, is a ’72 Jeepster Commando. These were introduced back in ’66 to compete with the likes of International’s Scout and Ford’s (pre-OJ) Bronco.
We much prefer the look of this earlier Jeepster Commando which is more true to its military heritage. This black beauty, vintage ’68, is a contractor’s everyday work truck: not much luxury but lots of utility. Its steering wheel center (below) gives some indication of a labor intensive life.
We close with a shot of a much less pampered Wagoneer than our opener. It’s only a few years older but far less pristine. It still has a lots of rugged presence, accentuated by a standup hood ornament we find silly but marketers apparently felt it denoted luxury, as if the fake wood siding weren’t enough.
One last look at that quite perfect and very snazzy Wagoneer Limited. Note: AMC/Jeep badge on the left.
As you would expect, there are experts out there who cater to those who fetishize these brilliantly enduring machines. The top dog in the field is Kerrville, Texas-based Leon Miller a/k/a “The Wagonmaster.” He buys, restores and sells Wagoneers and has lots of virtually perfect ones on offer if you have the itch. Check out www.wagonmaster.com to view the current inventory, priced between $45,000 – $58,000. Certainly not cheap but, as noted, they don’t make them anymore. And, wouldn’t you know it? Leon has some competition some 300 miles away in Richardson, TX, the home of www.wagoneerworld.com.
If time travel is your thing, go back to 1966 and watch this Wagoneer TV spot filmed “down the shore” in Avalon, NJ.
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