By on December 10, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride is an early example of the Cherokee, built while AMC was still alive and well-ish. And it just so happens to be the same color and trim as the Comanche pickup featured here recently.

And it’s just about factory fresh.

AMC started work on its new compact SUV in the late Seventies, when a group of engineers (some from Renault) started sketching an all-new Jeep as successor to the full-size Cherokee the company already produced. The Euro-American collaboration proceeded to the mock-up stage, with clay bodies based on the extant SJ Cherokee/Wagoneer. AMC assigned Dick Teague to finish off the Cherokee’s looks, and also told him to work up a four-door version. While the project was ongoing, AMC heard about the two-door S-10 Blazer coming from GM and wanted to one-up The General.

The design was the first unibody 4×4 vehicle outside of military use and meant the XJ was much more modern than the body-on-frame SJ it replaced. The new Jeep was 31 inches shorter, six inches narrower, and weighed 1,200 fewer pounds. Though it was much smaller, the interior size was 90 percent of the SJ’s due to the packaging efficiencies of unibody construction. It was also more capable off-road with greater wheel articulation, and a newly designed Quadra-Link suspension which reduced the tendency to roll over.

Upon introduction for the model year 1984, the XJ Cherokee was an instant domestic sales success. It also found sales success in other countries and was the first Jeep officially exported to the European market. Part of its appeal abroad was down to more fuel-efficient engines than typically found in American SUVs. The base engine was a 2.5-liter inline-four from AMC, along with the 2.8-liter V6 from the S-10 early on. The largest engine on offer was the proven 4.0-liter I6 from AMC. Two different diesels were offered, a 2.1 from Renault, and a 2.5 from VM Motori, though neither found favor in the American market.

Worth a mention is the extended production of the XJ Cherokee abroad. Though Jeep wrapped up the XJ in 2001 domestically, it lived on at three brands in China, all of which produced their own version. Shuanghuan made their XJ through 1997, Beijing Jeep through 2005, and BAW kept one in production through 2014. Cherokee was also produced until the early 2000s in Argentina, Egypt, and Venezuela.

AMC produced the Cherokee until 1987 when Chrysler took the helm, and eventually, production was finished under Daimler Chrysler. The XJ’s official successor in the model year 2002 was the Liberty, which was more friendly on the road, but less friendly off it and never captured the global appeal of its older brother. The magic was sort of gone.

Today’s Rare Ride is a lower-middle Pioneer trim from 1985, with a festive tweedy interior in red and off-white. Looking almost new, it’s seen just under 48,000 miles in 35 years. Equipped with an automatic and the 2.5-liter engine, this Jeep’s yours for $12,500.

[Images: seller]

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43 Comments on “Rare Rides: Be a Pioneer in a Jeep Cherokee From 1985...”

  • avatar

    It’s so beautifully basic and clean lined, then BAM! look at those seats.


    • 0 avatar

      @ lstanley – Some nice words about Dick Teague here:

      I’d also opine that this Cherokee shows what manufacturers could be doing with base steelies if their motivation were something other than cynically trying to shame buyers into spending more money on alloy wheels.

      • 0 avatar

        Steelies were fine all throughout the 80’s. My 83 Civic had silver painted steelies with chrome “H” logo center cap and chrome lug nuts. My car had chrome trim rings, but I think they might have been added by 1st owner. Looked good and appropriate for the time. Some modern cars might look good with steel, some might not. I didn’t mind cars in the 80’s & 90’s that had composite “alloy look” wheel covers with the lug nuts exposed. You could take wheels off and on without removing the covers. Honda probably wasn’t the first to have them, but they were common starting with mid-80’s Civics & Accords.

        • 0 avatar

          “Some modern cars might look good with steel, some might not.” Agreed. I think only non-truck to attempt the hubcap-and-beauty-ring approach recently has been the 5th-gen Camaro. It wasn’t entirely successful there because of that car’s cartoonish proportions and the use of black rather than body-color-painted or silver-painted wheels.

          I’m actually not opposed to plastic wheel covers on principle, but I really dislike the ones that try to pass themselves off as spoked alloy wheels. Who is the industry fooling? The Scion xB and xD are the recentish models that stand out to me as having decent-looking plastic wheel covers that didn’t try to fake their way above their station.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      I loved these original Cherokees. A two-door version with the inline six, manual transmission, 4WD and air was perfect for so many applications. My father was a big AMC fan and so was I by default. This was one of their finest efforts.

      What is the closest vehicle to this today? The current Cherokee doesn’t seem to cut it… nor does the Compass. Perhaps if there was a two-door version of the new Ford Bronco Sport. But there isn’t. More’s the pity.

      • 0 avatar

        My son bought one this summer. A 2 inch lift and 33’s. The thing is incredible off-road. One of his friends has a 4 door with 5 inch lift and 35’s. That thing is almost unstoppable.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Speaking of seats. When Renault designed the XJ they used the center-rail front seats from the Renault Alliance/Encore. They stuck around until they were upgraded in the mid 90’s.

    • 0 avatar

      Those seats remind me of the ones in my first car, a 1963 Rambler Classic 770. Just switch out blue for the red trim, and blue lines instead of red. THe rest of the interior is different – no Weather Eye.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Those are some ambitious seats.

      More burgundy:

      And a pair of ‘ludes:

  • avatar

    Amazing condition…but I’d want the six, not the four.

  • avatar

    HD photography makes every respectably clean car and house look like Kim K on a good day.

    There are isht stains on that driver’s seat.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I bought the “wagoneer” trim, 4-door version of this in 1984, with the 2.5 liter engine and the 4(?) speed manual. It had the least sophisticated 4wd setup — a direct link between front and rear axles with no fluid coupling, clutches etc. So, it was strictly a snow or off-road proposition, since the wheels would bind in a turn on high traction situations. The 4-cylinder proved to be the superior engine over the GM V-6, which was quite unreliable and provided only slightly more power (the 4-liter I-6 wasn’t offered until 1987, IIRC). For the 55 mph speed limit that was pretty aggressively enforced during that era, it was fine. I remember getting around 25 mpg on the highway. We owned the car for 8 years and it was quite reliable. The only failure I remember was the master cylinder for the hydraulically-operated clutch.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, my Laredo would hop, skip and squeal in a turn with 4×4 engaged. I would always say, “I think our Jeep’s got it’s undies in a bunch”

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t thing the GM 60 degree V6’s were unreliable or bad engines as numerous 150-200K examples existed when we were selling cars in the 90’s and 00’s. I think some of the reputation actually came from the Vari-jet carburetor that was a bit more of a pain than the tried and true Dual jet setup on other engines. Also both the 2.5 AMC 4 banger and the 2.8 GM were rather overworked in these platforms as in the S-10 Blazers. Good maintenance was a must and those that were seemed to go a long time from what I have seen. I would say that the 4.0 was a stronger and better engine in these with the added benefit of port injection.

      As an aside I had a 1985 Celebrity with the 2.8 carbed V6, my buddy had a 1986 Century sedan with this engine and a neighbor down the street had a 1984 S-10 with this same motor. Besides the carburetor issues these engines were running quite well with no issues. Mine had 120K. My buddies Century had 200K and the S-10 had 150 before being traded in. All were taken good care of with regular oil changes and the carburetors either replaced or rebuilt and kept in tune. That seemed to be very important on these types of engines. No experience on the TBI 2.8 engines so maybe those were the offenders?

  • avatar

    My friend had one with a 2.8 and stick. It was painful to watch him shift, but he mastered it eventually. He was an hororable man and loyal friend. I could use a friend like that these days.

  • avatar

    A 4-cylinder with a carburetor? Gotta sign me up for that!

    • 0 avatar

      I remember when that engine came out, it was fairly powerful for the time IIRC. Some versions of the Eagle Premier and clone Dodge Monaco even had it. More powerful and torquey than an Iron Duke.

      • 0 avatar

        From what I can tell the AMC 2.5L was rated 105hp/132lb-ft in ’84 and the Iron Duke was rated at 92hp/132lb-ft. I doubt I would have much enjoyed either one but at least the GM engine had TBI for this model year, the AMC engine didn’t get it until ’86.

        By ’91 the AMC engine had MPFI and made 130hp/150lb-ft, which is a decent improvement over the ’91 Duke’s 110hp/135lb-ft.

  • avatar

    I have a reflexive, nauseous response to red interiors (particularly this shade of vinyl) due to childhood trauma of riding in Malaise-era iron and baking in the backseat greenhouse in the summer with a feeble or switched off AC doing little to cool off my husky younger self or quell my car sickness. It’s amazing that two-door variants of full size cars and SUVs persisted for as long as they did, much to my detriment.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    About a decade ago I was at a wrecking yard picking up a part. Off on the side they were selling rebuilt wrecks and vehicles too good to scrap. There was a very clean low mileage mid 90’s Cherokee red two-door with the 2.5 four, automatic AC and 2WD. For some reason probably because how it was equipped it sat for a while until someone finally bought it. Because they are popular and clean ones are getting tougher to find it would be sold quickly.

  • avatar

    Be still my heart, the most perfect SUV ever designed and has yet to be improved on. My ’90 Laredo 4-door with the straight 6 was my first entry into the Jeep world. So taken was I that there was a Jeep of some kind in my driveway for the next 17 years.

    I still long for the boxy, straight-up, straight-6, no nonsense XJs of old even with their cheesy AMC interiors

    Look what I found…

  • avatar

    I briefly drove I believe an MY87 XJ sedan in the mid 00s. Interior was dated like this and there was a fair amount of rust on the lower doors and quarter panels. I do not recall the motor but don’t remember enjoying the drive and we dumped it at the Thursday sale. Looking at the example posted, its looks closer to 1975 on the inside but I suppose AMC wasn’t doing so well and probably ran interiors and trim forever.

  • avatar

    Bought a late 80’s version of this for $500.- in 2003. 2.5, stick, 4×4. Was a real treat off road. Only swapped out a starter and ran it for a couple years doing local errands and occasional off road excursions.

    Sold it on for $325.- to a guy who promptly took it out on the back 40 and rolled it. We tipped it back over with the tractor and it still ran fine. Had to sit down low as the roof was caved in some. After the party that night never did see it again.

  • avatar

    Never forget my first time making love. It was in the back of a Cherokee. I was all alone at the time.

  • avatar

    Never owned one myself, but my cousin did. 1985 4 door 4×4 with a 5 speed stick and a Renault 2.1 diesel engine. Up here in Canada the body rusted despite our attempts to keep it clean, but to its credit, the only things that were needed maintenance wise was oil changes and the odd can of seafoam in the gas tank.

  • avatar

    Damn shame that AMC brings out new Cherokee and I-4 engine, has a sales hit, but succumbs to the Chrysler takeover. AMC finally seemed to turn the corner after years of eking by and then Chrysler swoops in to get Jeep at a bargain price. A shame. RIP Roy Chapin.

  • avatar

    The vent placement on this generation Cherokee always amused me.

    “So we finished the dashboard design, what do you think?”

    “Is this the final version?”

    “Yes, the final form.”

    “Well. It is a clean and functional design but I only have one question.”


    “Where are the air vents?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “You know, the air vents. The vents for heat and air conditioning.”


  • avatar

    For anyone curious about the Cherokee in China (and automotive JVs in China in general), I HIGHLY recommend “Beijing Jeep” by Jim Mann.

    Fun fact: The Liberty was called Cherokee in overseas markets, although I’m not sure which ones, specifically.

  • avatar

    I once owned an 88 pioneer Olympic edition. Fun vehicle and bullet proof. I have photos of it airborne flying off of a pond embankment one weekend messing around at a friends farm. I was always intrigued by the smorgasbord of parts from different manufacturers that made this vehicle. This Jeep had over the top off-road capability that way surpassed the requirements of it’s target marketing demographic that purchased this type of vehicle back in the day.

  • avatar

    “First 4×4 outside of military use.” Not so. While various early Soviet 4×4 vehicles can justifiably be excluded, the GAZ-72 (based on the M20 “Victory”) was actually available, if rather expensive, for civilians. With over 4600 produced between 1955 and 1958, it can’t quite be called an obscure one-off, either. With two solid axles, a 2-speed transfer case, and ground clearance comparable to an unmodified Cherokee, it was a proper 4×4 as well (unlike something like a Jensen FF, which also predates the Cherokee by some decades).

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