By on June 10, 2013


Doug writes:

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.

Derek writes:

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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57 Comments on “Derek And Doug’s Fantastic Crap Wagons: Jeep Grand Wagoneer...”

  • avatar

    Well, that leaking Rear Main Seal isn’t catastrophic; it’s a common problem in the 4.0L I6’s. Replacing it is messy, but not overly difficult. (It doesn’t require dropping the shaft, just the oil pan.)

    • 0 avatar

      These didn’t have 4.0L I6s, though. I think it would have the AMC 360 V8.

      I think the one for $5,850 is about as good a deal as one is likely to find on a JGW. Any less and it will cost far more to make it as cosmetically nice. There are reasons why Wagonmasters charges so much. Nice ones are hard to come by, which drives up prices. Bodywork and trim wasn’t particularly resistant to the ravages of time, which drives up costs. If you can get one for $6K with no cosmetic needs, working A/C and working power features, then fixing a few mechanical wear items is not likely to be all that painful.

      • 0 avatar

        Admittedly, I considered calling on it.

        • 0 avatar

          This article inspired me to poke around a bit, and that one is an unusually good value. Check it for frame damage. Otherwise, it is a bargain with serious upside. There are project cars that people want more for.

      • 0 avatar

        When I read what Wagonmaster really does to their cars, it doesn’t sound like much more than a really comprehensive tune up and a good detailing. He just happens to find really well preserved examples with low mileage. Unfortunately they do not address the fundamental issues with these vehicles that can and should be corrected. Heck, for $30,000 he should at least throw a throttle body fuel injection system on them. I suspect he gets them very cheap from estate sales and such and then flips them for MASSIVE profit.

      • 0 avatar

        i remember riding in one when they were already old. they were terribly unreliable and this one had no AC in Florida. they get zero mpg with that 360. having said that they are timeless and gorgeous. I think they had AWD.

        • 0 avatar

          Well, Me and a friend just bought an 87′ Grand from a dealer in Portland,OR. ALL original, 114,000 on engine, new paint/wood, nice interior, and it got us home to Salinas,CA. Need a new starter halfway down but we were expecting that with the way it was slowly starting. NO BIGGIE! These Jeeps are easy to work on, fairly cheap to get parts for and I would rather push this thing uphill than drive any newer piece of crap SUV! And we got around 15-16, just like the 56′ Mercury wagon I used to drive. I don’t mind the mpg. It makes up for that in many other ways!

      • 0 avatar

        A 1989 model is post AMC and 160 HP makes me think MOPAR 5.2 litre (318 CI) or their 360 which I think is referred to as a 5.9 litre.

      • 0 avatar

        I believe the 258 was the base engine, it was just that few actually went out the door with it.

  • avatar

    There’s one in Hamilton, Alabama for $1600.00.

  • avatar

    I think spending 40K on a 24 year old JGW is just nuts. They were horrible then, I doubt they improved with age,.

    • 0 avatar

      Ding! Ding! Ding!

      As someone who was actually into cars when this shytebox was in showrooms, I can tell you that it was merely an affectation/style statement of the upper-middle when it had a sticker in the window.

      They were horrid then, and even more horrid now, especially compared to a Landcruiser of the same year….

    • 0 avatar

      Guess you would rather be driving an Escalade then?

  • avatar

    There is a lot in Kerrville, TX that specializes in them. They are certainly iconic.

  • avatar

    These were excellent in their day, though the design was left to rot for too many years. But in their prime, they were quite the Prep mobiles in the upscale neighborhoods. And they were nearly indestructible. Lord knows we put one through hell in the late 70s/early 80s…vehicles did not come much tougher…

  • avatar

    Buy the one in Atlanta for $5,850. Sell it in Connecticut. Profit.

    Grand Wagoneers with similar cosmetics and 70-80K miles are three times as expensive in the upscale suburbs around NYC.

    • 0 avatar

      I was just going to post the same thing. If Doug thinks these things are spendy down in Hotlanta, he would need his vapors looking at them in New England. Though on the plus side, up here we toss in the rust for FREE!

      Still plenty of nice ones running around the nicer parts of the Maine coast, but when one comes up for sale, holy-moly they are expensive. That one in Atlanta is tempting ME – I want to sell my ’02 GJC to my kid brother and replace it with something old enough to run on antique plates and classic insurance – one of these is bound to be lots cheaper than an old Range Rover. But then again, a lot of the charm of the ’02 is I don’t give a toss what happens to it…

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not that it’s too expensive regionally… it’s that it’s too expensive PERIOD!! In my books, it’s hard to justify spending $6k or $10k or Wagonmaster $40k on a 30-year-old vehicle that rides like a 50-year-old vehicle. I had a Range Rover Classic, which I imagine was arguably similar in terms of ride quality and driveability, and I don’t want to go down that road again.

        • 0 avatar

          The design is 50 years old, but the ride isn’t. I haven’t driven or ridden in any ragged-out or modified Wagoneers, but the ones I’ve been in had better ride and handling than other SUVs and even most American cars. Even with leaf springs and beam axles, Jeep engineers once had a virtual black art of making their suspensions compliant in strategically beneficial directions and rigid in others. The ZJ may have been the last of their products to embody their know-how. Eventually, new corporate owners got just as committed to controlling costs, and Jeeps stopped driving above their station.

          The interior of the late Grand Wagoneers didn’t impress me much when they were new. They seemed much more cramped than mid-’70s Wagoneers and Cherokees that were dimensionally the same, but then I grew a lot in the intervening decade. Many luxury features were clearly just added without much thought given to integration. None-the-less, the last ride I had in a Grand Wagoneer through deep snow on all season white-walls was as impressive as the first time my friend’s older brother took us out to terrorize the streets and parking lots in a 401 powered Wagoneer following a blizzard. I think we pulled out a stuck Ramcharger(may have been a Scout) from a snowdrift that day before driving away from some tire-chain-clad police cars like they were parked. The difference in civility on the highway over a K5 Blazer was dramatic too. The people who built the Wagoneers knew what they were doing. In spite of the quality issues and ridiculous interior, I tend to think that the people that paid big bucks for them new knew what they were doing too. I shudder to think what owning a vehicle that was haphazardly assembled over 20 years ago is like, but I’m glad some people are still keeping them around in their original form.

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            From my own experience, having sat as passenger in a 75 Rangie, 79 Wagoneer and 89 Land Cruiser, I can personally classify ride comfort in that order.

            The Wagoneer was from my neighbor, who fitted a Limited interior to it. With good shocks he could make that thing move, and it wasn’t a kidney breaking ride. He replaced it with a ZJ which back in the day was like riding in a Caprice.

            The Rangie was dad’s. Smooth, no jumping.

            The LC was my uncle’s, fitted with Toyota’s “Soft Ride” suspension. It was anything but soft.

  • avatar

    Doug, you have outed yourself as a miserable plebe. Of course the Wagoneer is dated and impractical for the money- that’s precisely the point. Efficiency and modernity are for proles who cannot afford such lovely waste.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! So very true. But I already went down this road with a Range Rover Classic, and believe me: it is not a road I want to go down again.

      • 0 avatar

        Been there too with a ’95 RRC-LWB. Slow as a turtle and drank to the tune of 8-9mpg in suburban driving and 15 Hwy at 70mph max…after that it was closer to the city #. 240 miles before I had to fill up.

        That Wagon Master site reminds me of the Copley Motor Cars folks in Massachusetts; selling Defender’s for the same price range…more money than brains…Mr. Leno

  • avatar

    I would think that if I wanted to sell something I would certainly photograph it on the grounds of my tragically non-existant estate – it would indicate the car has probably had good care, by someone who could care less about the expense … so it would make people more likely to buy.

    I’d certainly rather buy from the second guy than the first, considering the relative backgrounds …


  • avatar

    You don’t have to find one in good condition, any one that’s complete will do. Then take it to a So. Cal. outfit that works only on Grand Wagoneers:

    They’ll do a frame-off restoration and bring it up to showroom-new condition. It’ll cost less than a Ferrari and seats more people!

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    These are nice, specially the later ones. In this case I would have to decide between old style dash of the newer one introduced circa ’85-86.

    But if I am going into this kind of trouble, I’d buy the Old Blighty special. The Rangie suspension beats the Wagoneer hands down any day.

    And if burning money is the deal, there’s always someone willing to swap a LS-Something there.

  • avatar

    Funny how Jeep is releasing the new, funny looking Cherokee when they could instead bring back the classic Wagoneer.

  • avatar

    Perhaps the time is ripe for the resurgence of ground up restorations of the long forgotten International Harvester Travelall…

    Take the whole crew to your next clambake in that

  • avatar

    People do pick the strangest four wheeled contrivances to lavish affection on, like this lashup of a vehicle dating back to 1961 and its OHC six. Did any body panel ever hang straight or line up with its neighbor?

    I understand, though. I want a pristine 1965 Volvo 544, kingpin front suspension and all.

    It’s good to dream, because the reality is usually so utterly disappointing. I drove my dream pristine Volvo back in 1987, on sale at merely 50% more than its original price.

    I said I’d think about it. Then hopped back into my Audi Coupe and laid tracks outta there. Jeepers, that Volvo was no fun to drive in light of subsequent vehicle development.

    Now, a further 25 years later, I have the itch again. But realistically, I don’t dare scratch it!

  • avatar

    I believe that anybody who wants a Wagoneer as a regular driver has no experience with one. Had a buddy who owned one in the ’70s. I think it was a hand-me-down from his dad. Rough and noisy, the leaky exhaust and burning oil fumes from the (AMC?) V8 made us sick. There was only one word for the ride: Hard. The poor thing had no idea where straight ahead was; any forward progress resembled the America’s Cup fleet on the windward leg. It was also a serious ruster. Not for me, Baby.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, it is not right to judge a car by experience with a beat up example. These things ARE trucks, full stop, but they are a fairly nice ride when in good condition. There was also a fair bit of evolution between the REALLY truck-like 70s versions and the semi-luxed out ’80s version. Softer ride and a more sound deadening for sure.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    For dang sure they ride a bunch better than the contemporary K-5 Blazer or full-size Bronco.

    But they have leaf spring-solid axle underpinnings so they can go wherever true Jeeps go.

    They were ALL Trail-Rated back then.

  • avatar

    Everything everyone has said about this sled is true, and except for the wallpaper and fake-looking leather it never advanced very far beyond the ’63 Wagoneer that some nutty professor friend of my dad’s had. But by the end of its life in the early ’90s, this stupid truck had the highest owner demographics of any car or truck sold in America. There’s the sociology question I’d like to see answered!

    • 0 avatar

      That’s an easy question to answer – they didn’t get stuck on the beaches of Montauk, Nantucket, and Casco Bay, or on the way to the chalet in a winter storm.

      Realistically, for a big, AWD station wagon with some luxury, what else was there back in the early 80’s? No official Range Rover imports yet, Suburbans were a bit too big, the other smaller full-size 4x4s only had two doors. If you were wealthy and had a beach house or ski chalet, and needed to haul crap, these things were the go-to rig. They were tough, and ran as well as anything American did in those days.

      The Range Rover was its closest competition once they started selling them here, but the original Rangie was a LOT smaller, and was a fair bit more expensive, both to buy and to run. And had a pretty bad reliability rep right from day one.

      • 0 avatar

        The Range Rover sold a bunch of new Grand Wagoneers at a private school I went to for a few years. When the Range Rover showed up in 1987, quite a few parents traded in their Grand Wagoneers. Most of them wound up trading back into Grand Wagoneers, although two Range Rovers wound up in the hands of students. These days, that might sound like normal rich people conduct, but the ’80s were different in my hometown. Cars had spent the ’70s getting worse, so there was no stigma in having an older model, particularly an older model of a rich person sort of car. Trading every other year was for sales reps. People with 2002s looked down their noses at 325e drivers. People with 450SELs made derogatory comments about 380SEL styling and power. A 280SE 3.5 convertible carried more prestige than a new Corniche. Sting Rays were popular. Stingrays were not. It went without saying that such cars weren’t purchased used, except by teenagers perhaps. Range Rover did our local Jeep dealer a big favor, as otherwise people would have kept their old Wagoneers as an indicator that their money was old too.

  • avatar

    I have heard reliability stories about them but never known an owner to agree/dismiss those claims..
    What a Great car to bring to forum.
    I always thought they were the ULTIMATE in Luxury SUV`S and didnt have any idea so many thought the same!
    Thanks TTAC

  • avatar

    Fun article. I worked with a guy who a striver type who bought 7-8 year old one in 1994 or so. Just liked the look of it with a Labrador.

    What a money pit it was for that guy.

    The fact the this wagonmasters operation is getting 40K for these things blows me away.

    One competitor of this vehicle was the mid-late 80s toyota Land Cruiser. LCs were much more utilitarian than it is now. I was in my early 20s whem my dad bought one, and the ride was way too rough for me then. Really uncomfortable. I’d bet it was quite a bit better built than the grand wagoneer tho.

  • avatar

    Has anyone seen these with the rare independent front suspension that they made for a few years?

    I think it was in the 60 – 70s?

    I found some pictures online. it was a really odd setup.

    This was the longest run production vehicle. They didn’t change much except engine, transmission, and interior over the years.

  • avatar

    You got me looking at these too. I found the 1993 Grand Wagoneer version that I completely forgot about:

  • avatar

    I have an 89 Grand Wagoneer. It’s definitely been a project from day one, despite the fact it was in pretty good shape when I got it seven years ago. Right now, I’m the process of converting it to fuel injection.
    I’m not going to even think how much I’ve spent on it (constant small things, mainly) but I take some solace knowing I bought it for $3,000 and once it’s fuel injected, I figure it’s worth about $8-9,000. Not bad, and it’s the perfect winter driver.

  • avatar

    That brought the awesome memories with my best friend from the high school. With her penchant for thrashing everything in sight, her father gave her the Grand Wagoneer with very basic trims (no AC, no power windows, no power anything except steering and brakes, cheap vinyl seats, etc.).

    That Jeep was built like a tank and could take the beating better than the bumper cars at the carnival. One day, she was driving to a party, bringing the bunch of balloons. As I said before, the Jeep had no AC, meaning all of opened windows to keep herself cool in hot Texas weather. The balloons took liking of her and started to hassle her, distracting her. While she fended the slutty balloons, she lost control of the Jeep, and the Jeep slid and slammed into the telephone pole on the side. The damage to the Jeep was minor. The only injury my friend had was her wounded ego.

    She never learnt how to master its lousy braking system. We would paint the black strips at some intersections. One day, she didn’t see the stop sign and mashed the brake pedal to the metal. That disrupted the continuum in the force and caused her Jeep to slide round in slow spiral to the middle of intersections. Miraculously, the drivers really paid attention that day and scurried out of our way.

    I really miss that Jeep!

  • avatar

    I keep reading comments from people talking about how excellent these were and how the rode so nice, were so luxurious, etc. I don’t remember that at all! My friend’s dad had one back in the late 80s, it was brand new, must have been either an ’88 or ’89 as we had just graduated. It was OK, better than a Chevy C/K I guess but was not anything too special. It reminded me a lot of my grandfather’s 70s and 80s Cadillacs that he was so proud of… big heavy doors, overstuffed seats soft riding but not confidence inspiring by any means. It was exactly what it was: a 60s/70s design still being made like in the old days. I guess if your nostalgic dream cars are based in 60s/70s iron, then these are wonderful. But to compare them to any remotely modern SUV is a joke. My Series 1 Discovery was 100x better in all ways, well maybe except reliability but as I have said before, it wasn’t THAT bad and I would guess an old Jeep would be just as bad these days.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Growing up in the Rocky Mountain region, I spent my youth in the backseat of the Grand Wagoneer. Also learned to drive in one. Heck, back in those days, one had either a Scout or a Wagoneer. Period. Till AMC came out with their Eagle, which became very popular as well.

    In other words, I’ve loved on Wagoneers before Wagoneers were cool.

    Prone to a bit of fiddly transmission issues, as well as a persnickety electrical system. But on the whole, pretty dang reliable, if only a bit thirsty.

    I’d have one again. Really would. The off-road capability was (and still is) quite good. These were four-wheeled tanks, heavy, sure-footed and able to plow through snow or climb crazy grades. Or do both simultaneously.

    They were also Cadillac floaty smooth on the highway, if you like that 1970s old man disconnected ride.

    You’ve got my blessing to take the plunge. BTW, get a really clean one, and as a capable wrench yourself, you can do anything the Wagonmaster’s doing to his offerings. New wiring, plumbing, carpets, headliners, brakes, rubber, and a stereo and moonroof upgrade. Tada. $40k, 30 year old Jeep.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned 2 of these and if I remember correctly my 88 had a 6 digit odometer…but it only had a tiny “1” that dropped down after the first trip around. It didnt’ look like it had 2-9 waiting to follow

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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!!!!

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