Vintage Monday: The 1974-1983 Full-Size Jeep Cherokee (SJ)

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1974 Cherokee SJ. Image: IFSJA.org

For this Vintage Monday, we’re going to take you back to the late 70s and early 80s. Yeah, yeah, we know, but in all fairness those years did produce an awesome off-road vehicle, the full-size Jeep Cherokee (SJ). So lets take a leap back and check out this back-road staple, shall we?

Produced from 1974 through 1983, the full-size Jeep Cherokee was the American Motor Corporation’s (AMC) attempt at reintroducing a two-door model to the Jeep line-up that was different than its other models. A previous two-door model, available as a version of the Wagoneer, ran its course for the company between 1963 and 1967. Though it was a two-door vehicle, it was very much a Wagoneer, with the same window setup and pillars as the traditional four-door model.

A variant of the Jeep Wagoneer, the Jeep Cherokee was a branded as a different model that offered a more “sporty” body style for those looking to enter into the station wagon market with a little bit of pizazz. The Cherokee featured a fixed rear window with optional flip-out section, four-wheel-drive and potent engine options.

On the base level, Jeep Cherokees were equipped with a 110 HP 258ci inline-six engine or one of two 360ci V8s, one a 175 HP two-barrel and the other a 195 HP four-barrel. If those options weren’t quite powerful enough for you, a 401ci V8 four-barrel engine could also be had, good for 215 HP. It is said that with this engine, the Jeep Cherokee could virtually out-run any other 4×4 on the market at the time. Of course, the optional 3.07 rearend gears also helped the situation.

These engine options were most often paired with T-18/T-18a four-speed manual transmission, although a GM TH400 automatic transmission was available. Other options included a gear-driven Dana 20 rearend with 2.03:1 low range or a chain-driven constant four-wheel-drive QuadraTrac system with available 2.57:1 low range. The Jeep also came with optional front disc brakes, and a semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension system.

In 1975, a Cherokee Chief package was added to the Cherokee line as an early 1976 model, which included different trim, larger fenders and wide-track axles to accommodate larger tires. In 1977, a four-door variant was introduced (known as Model 18) to the options list.

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1979 Golden Eagle Cherokee. Image: Cars On Line

Throughout its production, the full-size Cherokee offered four different trim levels, including the standard trim, “S” trim, Cherokee Chief trim and Golden Eagle trim (available only in 1979). Differences between trim levels came down to seat types, interior fabric variants (including denim for the Golden Eagle trim level), steering wheel types, badging, wheel options, paint schemes, interior add-ons like rear-seat ash trays, and how the dashboard was adorned.

For the 1979 model-year, the 401ci engine was discontinued as an option, leaving just the two 360ci engines and the inline-6 as options. The 401ci engine remains the largest engine (via displacement) ever offered in a Jeep even to this day.

After 1979, the TH400 automatic transmission also went by the wayside but was replaced by the TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission from Chrysler. Just a few years later, the Jeep Cherokee model was sized down into a compact SUV (the XJ model) carrying the same name starting in 1984.

Though we may never see a “full-sized” Jeep Cherokee in the future, the old SJ platform remains a popular one among off-roaders all over the world. And with left and right-hand drive variants once available, don’t be surprised if you hit up some Australian or UK off-road events and see a familiar face!

About the author

Lindsey Fisher

Lindsey is a freelance writer and lover of anything with a rumble. Hot rods, muscle cars, motorcycles - she's owned and driven it all. When she's not busy writing about them, she's out in her garage wrenching away. Who doesn't love a tech-savy gal that knows her way around a garage?
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