Derek And Doug's Fantastic Crap Wagons: Jeep Grand Wagoneer
I really like the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I think that’s because I like all boxy SUVs, which is why I’ve owned most of them. I have never, however, owned a Grand Wagoneer.
One look at the local used car market tells you precisely why that is: they’re expensive. For instance:
This 1984 Grand Wagoneer is actually pretty damn cool. Mileage is unlisted (mileage is never listed) but I think we can all agree mileage doesn’t really matter. That’s because it’s lifted, gorgeous, and owned by someone who clearly cares about it, but possibly cannot read an odometer. The problem: it’s nearly $7,000 for a 30-year-old SUV with 160 horsepower and an engine described as leaking “some oil at the rear main seal.”
Forget the lifted one. I actually prefer this 1989 example, partially because it appears to be owned by the kind of old money people who really should be driving Grand Wagoneers. (Pro tip: if you’re going to sell a used car on Craigslist, do not photograph it on the grounds of your estate.)
The owner is asking $5,850. It’s got cold air conditioning, a rebuilt engine, and recent tires and brakes. Unfortunately, mileage is also unlisted. If you actually visit the listing you’ll note it says “CONDITION, SHOWING 78,000 MILES,” but that’s meaningless since the Grand Wagoneer has a five-digit odometer. Could be 178,000. Could be 278,000. Could be 4,378,000, which would probably be described by an ever-optimistic Craigslist seller as “all highway.”
Unfortunately, I still can’t wrap my head around spending six grand for a 25-year-old SUV that has its roots in the ‘60s and was sold in the Middle East as the Jeep Ahoo. Even if it has really thin D-pillars.
Like any Member of the Tribe worth his Polo shirt, I have Ralphie Lifschitz-esque desire to be a WASP. Unfortunately, I look ridiculous in Nantucket Reds and every time I view the family dinner scene in “Annie Hall”, it reminds me far too much of having dinner with my ex-girlfriend’s family.
I haven’t given up on the four-wheeled essence of preppy cool, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. There is something timeless about these cars that goes beyond the wood paneling, though it’s taken a couple decades for them to be appreciated by the broader car community (though, based on other posts on TTAC, plenty of the B&B have a strong affinity for them).
Doug is lucky that the Southern climate is conducive to preserving these cars. In my entire province, there are only three examples and they’re all varying degrees of everything I don’t want.
At one end, we have a $12,000 off-road special with a lift kit and other parts that I’m totally ignorant about. All I know is that $12k is roughly a third of the way to a gorgeous Wagonmasters car. Might as well buy the best or go home. There’s also another example for $3,800, again with off-road gear but no wood trim. At least the mileage is low (under 60k miles). For the enterprising mechanic, there’s a field car too. I am not that guy.
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Man, why you gotta do a Wagoneer post while I'm travelling for work? My recommendation for Wagoneer shoppers is to find the newest non-emissions controlled example your jurisdiction allows. I have a '69, which is before the major chassis revisions in 72-74. It's got a Buick 350 V8 and a very '60s interior: all metal, not as malaise-y as later years. That said, it's harder to get drivetrain, suspension or chassis parts compared to the more common later AMC/Chrysler years. In general, I've been really disappointed with the kinds of problems mine has, and what seems to be really common. Preventing leaks (and thus, rust) seems to be a terrible game of whack-a-mole, more so than most other classics. If you don't need the room, I'd much more strongly recommend a CJ or Wrangler for an offroad toy. If you do need the room, I'd probably just recommend a Suburban or Blazer. Not as East-coast country club chic, though.
They had a bad reputation back when they were being built and they haven't gotten better with age. Every one built since 1980 has an Achilles heel, the IDIOTIC fuel tank skid plate design that traps moisture and dirt against the frame and causing it it rust out after about a decade. They also have problems with water leaks, wind noise, and the under dash A/C that was basically an afterthought since the Wagoneer was designed in the 1950s, when cars didn't have A/C. It freezes your knees (when it works) while the rest of you stays hot. Engine fires are common due to three little pieces of gas line that nobody ever thinks to replace but when they crack dump gasoline on the hot manifold, and POOF you have an engine fire! That said, I thought they were cool ever since I was a little kid, bought one when I got my license, and have driven them for a quarter of a century. My first Wagoneer was a 1979 that I bought when I was 15 for 1700 bucks. It was a rebuilt wreck that the owner said needed an engine overhaul. It barely ran, smoked, and leaked oil BAD! Because its body was sprung from having been wrecked it also leaked every time it rained. It was showing 117K but the seller had bought it from a crooked used car dealer who later went to jail for fraud (rolling back odometers) so God only knows how many it really had. Anyway, I took it home, tuned it up, put a carb kit, a rear main seal, and couple cans of bondo in it, and put a $300 Maaco paint job on it and drove it another 100K miles. I did have the tranny rebuilt along the way. When reverse went out, I was a broke college student so I drove it that way for several months until I finally saved up enough cash to get it fixed. Reverse still worked after it got warmed up so I just backed into parking places. I sold it 14 years later for twice what I paid, even though the 360 was so worn out that it was only firing on 7 cylinders. I had some concern it might give up before the buyer (who thought he got a great deal) got home with it. My second was a low mileage 89 that someone had traded at a Chevy dealer in 1996. It looked like hell because the defective Chrysler clearcoat was peeling off in sheets so I got it for less than half the blue book value, and put a $1k paint job on it. It was a great vehicle until it got to about 100K miles and then stuff started going wrong with it, radiator, water pump, fuel pump, smog pump, EGR valve, alternator, power steering pump, rear window motor, Ignition module, then rust started poking through the frame. I had just finished grad-school and had no money to buy a new car so I took the gas tank out and welded in a piece of quarter inch thick angle iron to reinforce the bottom of the frame where it was rusting out and drove it another 82K miles before I got another car. The old Grand Wagoneer is still sitting in my garage but I haven't driven it much since the the Iraq war broke out a decade ago and gas prices went over $3 bucks a gallon. It only gets about 7 mpg city, 13 mpg highway. Jeep dealers no longer stock parts for Grand Wagoneers and haven't in over a decade, any new parts are aftermarket. The only mechanics who know how to properly tune their carburated, vacuum controlled engines are nearing retirement age. The Grand Wagoneer is a duke's mixture of Ford, GM, Chrysler, and AMC Jeep components. Most of the Jeep specific parts are difficult to find anymore and when you do they are expensive. Some parts like the exterior faux wood moldings, and some of the plastic interior trim pieces are not available anywhere. Grand Wagoneers were never as common as Blazers, Broncos, and Suberbans, and quite a few went to the shredder thanks to Obama's cash for clunkers plan so finding parts in salvage yards is practically impossible. They are so old now that they are kind of like a 1957 Chevy or a 1972 Hemi Cuda. Neat to look at, nostalgic to cruise around in on weekends, but as a 21st century daily driver FORGET IT!!!!