Wagons get a bad wrap in the car world, especially when it comes to performance. But over the years, there have been a number of industry-changers in the form of wagons, the original 4×4 Jeep Wagoneer being one of them. That’s why it is the subject of this week’s Vintage Monday!
A full-size body-on-frame design, the Wagoneer was released to the market in 1962 (as a 1963 model) as the successor to the Willys Station Wagon and offered luxury amenities unseen before in the four-wheel-drive market.
In addition to seating for the whole (up to six passengers) family, the Wagoneer offered plenty of cargo room with Jeep advertising its new creation as having the largest cargo area compared to other similarly-sized vehicles. It also had a low tailgate for easy loading and wide door and tailgate openings, which helped with its cargo carrying abilities. The Wagoneer was available in two- and four-door variations with the two-door model marketed as a panel delivery vehicle.
Rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive Wagoneers were available, but the 4×4 version of the wagon offered “go anywhere” capabilities with the comforts of a traditional car thanks to a leaf spring independent front suspension and a variable-rate leaf spring rear suspension. It’s said that the Wagoneer was the first sport utility vehicle.
Powering the Wagoneer its first year was a 230ci overhead-cam, inline-6 Tornado engine capable of producing 140hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. This was tied to a three-speed Borg Warner manual transmission in standard form, but could also be had with a three-speed automatic transmission as well.
In 1964, the Wagoneer received a lower-compression and thus lower horsepower Tornado engine, capable of producing just 110hp. This was because of cooling issues the model had had with the original Tornado engine.
By the mid 1960s, the Wagoneer was being offered with a 327ci Vigilante V8 engine good for 250hp and 340 lb-ft of torque, as well as the Tornado inline-6 engine.
In the middle of 1965, a second version of the Wagoneer was released to the market as a 1966 model in the form of the Super Wagoneer.
This submodel offered even more luxury amenities than the Wagoneer, including a seven-position tilt steering wheel, power brakes, power steering, a push-button radio and even air conditioning. It was powered by a 270hp V8 engine and offered a TH400 automatic transmission. Production of the Super Wagoneer ran through 1969.
In 1968, the 350ci Buick Dauntless V8 engine was introduced to the Wagoneer lineup, producing 230hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. By 1971, that engine was phased out for the 360ci AMC V8 with a 401ci V8 option available. AMC had bought the rights to the Kaiser-Jeep company in 1970 and opted to transition the Jeep line to all AMC-branded engines.
In 1973, the famed Jeep Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system appeared in the Jeep lineup, which eliminated the manual-shift transfer case of the previous 4×4 system. This was followed by the debut of the Jeep Cherokee–a throwback of sorts to the two-door Wagoneer of the early years.
The Wagoneer continued on in various forms, constantly receiving upgraded engines and components, until 1991. The Jeep Grand Cherokee replaced the Wagoneer (available in both Grand Wagoneer and Wagoneer Limited models at the time) in 1993, retiring the Wagoneer namesake except as a trim level.
Though the original SJ-based Wagoneer has been gone for over 20 years now, the namesake is said to be coming back in the near future on a new Jeep offering. Only time will tell if this happens, and if so, how much of a throwback the new Wagoneer will be to the original model!