By on January 16, 2010

odd ball Hyundai

The visit to the yard of the Saab 99 owner was…stimulating, and…out of the ordinary. And a brief tour of his house furthered that impression; and the pirate ship in the front yard cemented it. So when I found my way to the curb, and saw two pretty ordinary looking cars sitting there (his tenants’, I assume), I felt I had returned to a more conventional plane. But then I realized: these are both oddballs too! Must be something about this neighborhood.

cherokee's oddball brother

Well, lets just say they were the unusual variants and re-badges of two very common and popular cars: the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) and the Hyundai Excel. The Cherokee is of course one of the all-time iconic vehicles in the modern age, and a full CC (hopefully) worthy of its esteemed place on the top of Mt. Olympus (which it got to under its own mortal four wheel drive) is forthcoming. As an ex-Cherokee owner, it could well be an ode of possibly interminable length. Anyway, its easy to forget that the Cherokee had a woody brother for the first couple of years, the (un-Grand) Wagoneer.

lil woody wagoneer

The little Wagoneer was designed to replace its big hulking gas-slurping brother, but like the FWD Ford Probe was supposed to replace the Mustang, the RWD originals endured and long outlived their usurpers. The Wagoneer/Cherokee were designed right at the height of the early eighties energy crisis, but by the time they hit the dealers in 1984, oil prices were in their very long decline. The Grand Wagoneer was given a stay of execution, and soldiered on through 1991. But the little Wagoneer was long gone by then. Ironically, it was designed to have as much or more interior passenger space as the big guy, whose design dated back to 1963. But space and fuel efficiency was not the driving force behind the decision to buy a Grand Wagoneer; pretty much the exact opposite. Meanwhile, the little Wagoneer never found its niche.

doesn't stand for precision

The Mitsubishi Precis is nothing more than a Hyundai Excel, badged so that Mitsu had a rock-bottom entry-level car to sell between 1987 and 1994. In case you’ve forgotten the story from the recent Dodge Colt/Champ CC, there was a big little reason for Mitsubishi to be selling this car: it shared its engine and many other components with the Dodge Colt/Champ/Mitsubishi Mirage. So really, Mitsubishi was just keeping its old Colt going in the form of the Precis. Convenient for the parts department too.

These Hyundais have a pretty bad rep, from the rough start they had in the US. We’ll do a full Excel CC sometime, but lets just say it was somewhat understandable. Hyundai had been building the very crude and simple RWD Pony for years, and the Excel was its first huge step into modern FWD cars. Just like GM and other companies stubbed their toes with a major transition like this, so did Hyundai. They should have waited a couple of years before they jumped into the US market. And while the very first few years of Excels really were pretty shaky, they got better pretty quickly. But Hyundai’s rep was already damaged, and it took some heavy lifting to get it back. And did they ever!

the two faces of eugene

A final note as we say goodbye to this unusual quadruple CC  property. Lest you think I’m trying to perpetuate the stereotype that all, or even much of Eugene looks like this, just take a look at the house right next door in the last shot. It couldn’t be more different and conventional: the yard is all neatly cut grass, and there’s a clean Ford F-150 in the driveway. The two faces of Eugene co-existing side by side; in harmony, I assume.

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18 Comments on “Curbside Classics: Two Oddballs From 1987: Jeep Wagoneer And Mitsubishi Precis...”

  • avatar

    Actually, the last year for the full size Grand Wagoneer (known amongst Jeep enthusiasts as the SJ) was 1991. It still had a carburetor all the way to the bitter end.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Right. Fixed! Thanks.

    • 0 avatar

      Edit: I’d like to add that supposedly they made a couple of 1992 Grand Wagoneers (4 total according to Wikipedia) but it’s widely accepted that 1991 was the final year and they all have dash plaques that say “Final Edition” on them. They also tried to capture some of that woody mojo with a 1993 “Grand Wagoneer” based on the newly introduced ZJ Grand Cherokee platform.

  • avatar

    There is a woody ZJ running around my town (Gallup, NM) that is a very early model 1993 or 1994.  But I still like the original the best, our local Buick/GMC dealer had one on his lot (a 1985 model) that was cosmetically GORGEOUS inside and out but had 165,000 miles on it.  It sat there for months, he was asking $6500 but I saw him list it in the paper for $4500.  If my truck was paid for I would have made him a serious offer just to collect it.

    • 0 avatar

      If you do buy one, try to find the newest one possible…the addition of a rear wiper and an overhead console after Chrysler took over were nice upgrades. Plus, they refreshed the instrument panel in 1986 (and integrated the A/C into the normal HVAC controls – the A/C looks like one of those add-on aftermarket units in the older Waggys.) and it was dramatically better in appearance. Overall, 1989-1991’s are generally regarded as the best of the Grands… 

    • 0 avatar
      Andy D

      EdDan, trust me, at 165k , you dont  want  to get involved unless the rig  comes with a complete set of service records including a re-built engine.

    • 0 avatar

      Well hell guys if your going to collect it, you’ve got to be willing to do the work.  And engine work is a lot cheaper than body or interior work.  Plus I’m not afraid to get greasy and learn something on an ancient V8 that they’ve been building since Moses was a baby.

  • avatar

    Eugene? Stereotyped? You’re going to have to pull out all the stops with an article showing the Ferrari – Maserati – glitzy – bling side of Eugene to stop the stereotype rot that has set in after the past few articles!
    From what you’ve shown me of Eugene it kind of reminds me of some areas of Vancouver BC where genuine hippies still live (before the average house price reached 7 digits). Keep up the good work. Really interesting articles on cars I didn’t know a thing about.

  • avatar

    Mitsubishi Precis: the rich man’s Hyundai Excel. Back in the day when they were selling these new a dealer here in Connecticut got in some hot water by taking new Excels from their Hyundai lot, “badge engineering” themselves some Precis’, and selling them on their Mitsubishi lot for more money. The cars were so identical that all it took was some double-sided tape for the badges. It worked for a while until someone figured out the VIN number or country of origin.

  • avatar

    You say the neighbors are “normal,” but I don’t call that White and Sky-Blue camper? thing “normal.”  What is it?  Paddy-wagon for the funny farm?  Old milk delivery vehicle?

    Oh wait, it’s not the neighbor’s, what is it though?

  • avatar

    I admit it, I really liked the “ZJ”  Grand Wagoneer.  It was mostly the overstuffed seats, but still…that’s gonna be another good CC if there’s one in Eugene.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The worst thing about  the early XJs was the wimpy  2.8 GM V6. Later Xjs with  the 4.0 I6 were much  better.   I saw “wagoneer” and I was hoping for a send up of  the SJ . I’m  on my 5th and probably last Grand Wagoneer.

  • avatar

    I always liked how the bitty Wagoneer echoed the 1965 Ambassador with those stacked headlamps and beaky grille. Nowhere near as good-looking as the Ambi, but you can see the lineage.

  • avatar

    A year ago I was looking around to buy a third Jeep, specifically an XJ Cherokee. If a guy wants to turn one into an off-road toy, there are plenty to pick from to rebuild. However for more street driver use, I’d only buy a ’99 through ’01, and never ever an ’87.
    I regret to this day that I didn’t buy a ’99 back in the day when I was considering it.

  • avatar

    It must be damp there.  Even the road is mossy.

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