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Sunday, January 6, 2013

1963-1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

After a 29-year long run, the last Jeep Grand Wagoneer rolled off the Toledo, Ohio assembly line on June 21st. 1991.

Independent automaker Willys-Overland made quiet ripples in automotive history with the introduction of its all-steel station wagons in 1946. The unpretentious vehicles sold well for years. 

The 1946 Willys-Overland Jeep Station Wagon.
 When product planners began casting about for a replacement to its sturdy but rapidly aging line of Willys station wagons in the late 1950s, the manufacturer turned to industrial designer Brooks Stevens.
Brooks Stevens was the father of industrial design.

The Milwaukee designer possessed the uncanny gift of being able to bring beauty and intrigue to the most mundane and everyday household items.  He streamlined the lowly iron in the 1930s and made it into an instant glamour queen. Upon being shown prototypes of electric clothes dryers, Stevens exclaimed, “You can’t sell that. Nobody will know what it is!” He added a window and an interior light bulb to the unit and sales took off like a Vanguard rocket.

Stevens already had a long and successful working association with the Toledo, Ohio-based automobile manufacturer.

The Willys 6/66 was ultimately nixed. The numbers stood for the price tag.

 He was responsible for the creation of the Willys Victory Car a.k.a. the 6/66 that was shelved after World War Two. Stevens designed the first post-war generation of trucks, wagons and panel deliveries for Willys as well as the sporty Jeepster phaeton. 

The 1957 Jeep FC was popular.

His truck renderings resulted in the fetching Jeep FC series that debuted in 1957. He was already hard at work on the FC’s replacement, a stylish design that would become the J-Series trucks.

Management was keen to mass-market a four-wheel drive vehicle.  In the dying days of Willys passenger cars, schemes were drawn up to fit 1955 Willys Aeros with four-wheel drive. The plans came to nothing and the dies were shipped to Willys’ Brazilian subsidiary.

Willys invested $20 million in the creation of the Wagoneer, an unprecedented amount of cash for the tiny independent. By 1959, Stevens’ drawings had been turned into a sleek, full-sized prototype that carried the name Malibu. The designer wisely maintained a strong visual tie between the new vehicle and existing Jeep products. 

The 1963 Jeep Wagoneer pioneered a whole new segment in the automotive market.

When Wagoneer made its debut on November 14, 1962 it created a worldwide sensation. It featured an all-new overhead-cam six-cylinder engine, optional automatic transmission (an industry first when mated to four-wheel drive) and offered independent front suspension. Almost always ordered with every option possible, Wagoneer quickly became the “official” signature of the gentrified and genteel weekend farmer, referred to quietly within the company as ‘the horsey set.’

Advertising was brazen and bold. “Meet a history maker” shouted the headline. It bragged that the new Wagoneer was “the first station wagon ever built to offer the comfort, silence, speed and smoothness of a passenger car—plus the safety and traction of 4-wheel drive.”   It offered independent front suspension and optional automatic transmission, both industry firsts as coupled to the four-wheel drive concept. 

The 1966 Jeep Wagoneer received an atractive new grille.

The classic design required only minor changes in years to come. Wagoneer got a new grille in 1966. American Motors purchased Jeep Corporation when it was spun off from Kaiser Industries late in 1969. The deal was good for both companies. 

Nash and later American Motors built Thrift-Haul two-tonne trucks primarily for export.

Sharing components reduced costs and AMC finally acquired a truck line, something it had lacked since the last Nash truck was built in 1955. 

Jeep was part of AMC from 1969 to 1987.

Jeep’s new guardians wisely kept changes to a minimum. The availability of AMC’s rugged, 4.2-litre (258-cubic inch) Typhoon six-cylinder engine was good, so were richly upgraded interiors. Wagoneer became more refined than ever before. Bucket seats became optional in 1972. By 1974, wise and farsighted AMC product planners had carefully groomed Wagoneer into a full-fledged prestige vehicle. The range was broadened all the more with the introduction of the lesser-priced Cherokee.

Literature for the 1974 Jeep Cherokee describes the vehicle as a 'sport utility'.

In 1979, Renault invested in AMC by purchasing 5 percent of the company. Its passenger car division might not be doing so well but Jeeps sizzled.  Wagoneers received a new ribbed grille and rectangular halogen headlamps. A ritzy new Limited edition was offered and despite the steep price tag the factory couldn’t turn them out fast enough! 

Wagoneers now boasted leather seats, a Jensen sound system, Trac-Lok limited slip differential, power everything-including six-way seats, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt wheel, just to name a few upscale goodies on the exhaustive list of standard equipment, every one guaranteed to delight any owner. The vehicle lived up to the grand name and few batted an eye at the price tag that was now spiraling into the stratosphere. It was common knowledge in marketing that the average income of purchasers was above $100,000 a year.  Jeep sales hit an all time high for the second year in a row.

Chrysler Corporation purchased American Motors in 1987 and, like AMC and Renault, was extremely careful not to make radical changes to the hot selling Jeep line.  Jeep became part of the newly formed Jeep-Eagle Division, which included the Premier, built in Canada; the Medallion from France and the badged Vista imported from Asia.    

1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

In 1989, one automotive writer observed wryly that Grand Wagoneer was the “favourite of gentlemen, farmers, car armorers, political security forces and body guards.”  Grand Wagoneer now commanded $26,395 f.o.b. Toledo and 17,057 of the truly posh vehicles were produced.

Advertising promised to add the dimension of luxury to Jeep ruggedness and durability. It certainly did deliver with its long list of creature comforts, all of them in the standard equipment column. Grand Wagoneer rolled off the line for the last time in 1991. Chrysler laid the great name to rest.  Brooks Stevens’ timeless design had endured for 28 selling seasons, pioneered an entire new market segment and redefined the American driving experience.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays
 2002 All rights reserved.

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