By on February 17, 2012

Ah, the Malaise Era. By the late 1970s, AMC was on the ropes. The Jeep Cherokee still sold well, however, and the brains in Kenosha decided they’d go for the Acapulco Gold-smoking generation and throw a few square yards of decals on the truck. Golden Eagle!
I had forgotten all about the Golden Eagle, which was a classy trim level for the Cherokee, but the sight of this example in a Denver self-service wrecking yard made me remember how I thought these things were semi-cool as a kid. Going to junkyards in Colorado really gives you a sense of the history of four-wheel-drive vehicles in America; this junkyard has at least four more Malaise Cherokees in stock.
It’s got tape stripes.
It’s got extremely 1970s decals on the doors.
It’s got an AMC 360 under the hood.
It’s got denim seats, complete with jeans-style buttons. Not quite as cool as the Levis Edition Pacer, but still cool.
Most of all, it has a giant angry eagle decal across the hood. It must have been fun to see this thing out the windshield at all times.

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23 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle...”

  • avatar

    I used to own one of these things. that picture of the tape stripe (and the door sag) stirs the muscle memory in my right arm about how you had to PUSH that 100 lb door to get it to jump up onto the latch striker. (it was easier to pull from the inside)

    say what you want about these things, but that thing was a 9 mpg Sherman tank on the road. NOBODY got in your way. I miss that giant POS< but I don't miss the stoopit smog pump and all those obnoxious little metal tubes that went to the exhaust manifolds and continually leaked/rotted/cracked.

    • 0 avatar

      i remember how pulling the smog pump and installing a decent carb suddenly made this thing into a beast. i had one minus the decals with a primer grey paint job in high school. seeing this dead beauty made me long for the good old days of 2 door small block trucks.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    but does it have a shower? ; )

  • avatar

    A lot of times I think the ’70s were the worst decade. Then sometimes I think it was the best.

  • avatar

    My BIL Bob once had a 70 Wagoneer for a while and my best friend drove his brother’s ’65 Wagoneer and even had an artist friend paint the school mascot, a blue and white Viking on the hood. :-)

    That poor 65 was red but someone saw fit to paint it with household enamel paint and a brush at one point in red also years earlier and that’s how it was found, sitting in a field, often in the middle of a large puddle/pond like area during the winter so it had massive rust along the body panels. A little aluminum sheeting, some pop rivets did the job there. :-)

    I think they kept no more than 3-4 years before finally moving on with it and this WAS in the early to mid 80’s.

  • avatar

    Thanks for this relic!
    This is what I see.

    I see a front end that was originally designed for a set of round headlamps and a stand up JEEP grille circa 1965. The lump in the center hood and the bump in the center of the grille show us that AMC could not afford to change this vehicle enough to cover up it’s decade-plus original style. If AMC had the money, this front end would have been a unified, modern, coherent design. Instead we got a meatloaf with the bones from leftovers protruding from it.

    The same thing happened inside, didn’t it? We have seats that were not intended to be covered with a fabric that wasn’t meant to be used in any car interior. You plop your sweet buttocks onto that branding iron of a button in the month of August and you would have cauterized any hemorroids you may have had. The dashboard of this vehicle was crafted years and years earlier, but since AMC had no ability to update it, we see something sadly forced to wear fake leather grained vinyl plastic upon a Kennedy-era steel beam. The A/C ventilation ducts are as much a part of the original design of this vehicle as a 1975 Craig eight track player or a CB radio unit mounted with duct tape.

    The Malaise Era auto manufacturers seemed to believe that buyers wanted the same old crap served up in new colors. How many times did we see nothing special about these special vehicles other than the adhesive vinyl stripping, hood decals and differing wheels?

    Like Schwarzenegger in a Speedo circa 2010, this vehicle came off the line in Toledo an embarrassement of it’s pure self. There comes a time when demands should force a manufacturer to either stop producing a vehicle, or recreate one which smoothly incorporates the new era’s progress. Sadly, AMC had no money to do that until it was given several million from Renault for a new Cherokee. And worse, AMC was too hard up to put this vehicle to sleep until then.

    The quality of this vehicle was in keeping with the era. Ugh. What happens with Malaise era electric wiring in a body on frame vehicle like this? You bought a JEEP back then and you also bought a family of electrical gremlins to drain your batteries. How many JEEP dealer mechanics learned how to locate electrical shorts in these things?

    The new Cherokee that came out a few years after this one was manufactured was such an improvement over this vehicle in so many ways.

  • avatar

    I wish that were near me. I really want that hood as a piece of art, for the wall or the back yard!

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    What I hated about these things were the back side windows. Talk about crappy…looked like a sedan delivery truck that someone took a sawzall to, and installed RV windows on.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s exactly what it WAS. The 2-door Cherokee was a reincarnation of the Kaiser Wagoneer panel truck…right down to the body-panel past the B-post. To parts-bin up a competitor to the Blazer, they just rigged up the tooling, cut an opening for a back window; put a flip-out vent on the premium models…paint everything above the beltline white, just like the Blazer…and, PRESTO! The Blazer-killer.

      There were rumors of a restyle of the SJ body from the time AMC took the keys to the Kaiser works. But, in spite of the money AMC made off the line, there somehow was never enough to do anything more than stretch the CJ frame a couple of times, for the long-nose CJ5 and CJ7. The SJ Cherokee was there, and would see no changes.

  • avatar

    I could use those axles for my ’69 Wagoneer.

    Despite carrying infamously identical sheet metal (save the fender flares) for nearly 40 years, the Wagoneer and Cherokee actually had 2.5 generations of chassis. From 63-72 they had a non-boxed frame with post-mounted rear springs, and from 75-91.5 they had a fully boxed version with springs under the frame (and a bunch of other differences).

    The 72-74 models have the new front end, but the rear springs are orphan bastards. If you want a lift, you need to custom fabricate mounts for something else.

    Other bizarre facts: from 68-70 they used the Buick 350, as the AMC 360 and 401 weren’t available yet. This was mated with an adapter ring to a Buick Nailhead bolt pattern TH400, despite the fact that GM had no shortage of BOP pattern TH400s around. Seems like Kaiser got a good deal on an end-of-life bulk buy.

    Shortly thereafter, they started using BOP pattern TH400s…with an adapter to mount to AMC motors. Funny how that works…

    • 0 avatar

      Couple of old Wagoneers at this yard as well. Never been much of a Jeep fan, so I usually don’t shoot them. IHC products, yes. Jeeps, don’t notice most of them.

      • 0 avatar

        Full size Jeeps are a wrecking-yard staple.

        Not unlike the death of the Old Volvo, malaise era Wagoneers are finally being killed off by abysmal mileage, tendency to fail smog, lots of steel, and abundance of cheaper modern alternatives. Late 90s Suburbans are crazy cheap.

        The axles sell nearly instantly, as they’re the perfect size to swap under a Wrangler or CJ.

      • 0 avatar

        which junk yard was it? I just got a 79 Cherokee and could use some parts — have had trouble finding places that had them. Thanks!

    • 0 avatar
      The PIG Smith

      mad_science, the axles under this Golden Eagle are wider than the axles under your Wagoneer…about 6ish inched wider.
      Thus, J series trucks and Cherokees with the large fender flare (like on this Golden Eagle) are considered in the FSJ (Full Size Jeep) community to be Wide Track (W/T)

      You have a great idea to use modern axles under your 1970 model Wagoneer.
      Not only are they stronger and easier to get parts, the front axle will provide you with disc brakes (better stopping) and an open knuckle (better turning radius)

  • avatar

    A butt on attached to the seat.


  • avatar

    I nearly bought a low-mileage mostly intact one of these when I lived in Denver a few years ago but the complexity of the full time 4 wheel drive system scared me away in the end.

    Hard to believe that Jeep soldiered on with this styling into the early ’90s. I think it works; there is something very rugged, American, on my way to the ski slope or fly fishing stream about it but it certainly looks dated – even for 1979.

  • avatar

    For every vehicle, no matter how objectively awful or outdated, there’s a club that loves it: Someone let the International Full Size Jeep Association ( know about this one, there’s an AMC 360 someone might want!

  • avatar

    This article reminds me of the 1978 Jeep Cherokee that Chrysler’s Mopar Underground team put together for the gathering of Jeep fans at Moab. The modifications the team installed could easily be used on this Jeep Cherokee.

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