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Jeep Grand Wagoneer, the Classic, Lives On

October 17th, 2009 · 5 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Jeep Wagoneer in Land’s EndThe new Land’s End catalog features one of the great American cars, a car brand with great enduring appeal. The Grand Wagoneer. It still holds as an icon, or so the happy scene to the right shows. The car helps sell clothes, and connotes a lifestyle.

The branding question is this: If Jeep is a great brand, which it is, is it less because the Grand Wagoneer is no longer associated with it?

To quote the old Spanish maxim, no one can steal the dance you’ve danced.

That being said, Jeep misses out on the current benefit of the brand legacy by no longer selling the Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer. It was truly deluxe, and that they sell the Cherokee but not the Wagoneer is weird, frankly, and a terrible missed opportunity. Jeep pretty much invented the deluxe SUV idea in the U.S.

The car was a masterstroke; Jeep management took an old concept, their own Willys Jeep utility wagon, and turned it into the symbol of American reserved affluence. For a decade, it was the queen of the American highway, and it still commands admiration from all circles. Some friends of ours in Lake Tahoe, California, quite hip, just found a used one. Stacey and Laurent (he a resort hotel executive) even posted it on their Facebook!

There is a company that re-manufactures the Grand Wagoneer to new condition; one can really still get a “new” Wagoneer. Their contention is that the car rebuilding is actually quite inexpensive, owing to the fact that the parts are still inexpensive and the engine is easy to get to. Designers and branding folks with the new Fiat/Chrysler might want to go see his operation to begin to understand forgotten aspects of the brand’s appeal. Heck, they might want to buy his operation, and restart production.

When Chrysler’s management thinks of the meaning of the Jeep brand, they continue to make it a sort of off road “action” brand, rather than a brand that has defense department roots, and has a certain on-road utility. Truly, the Jeep was meant for difficult conditions, but the condition it was meant most to do was to be easy to fix and to take folks around the base.

First, we are glad that Jeep has survived. It’s still a great brand. But here’s what Jeep is missing, other than, of course, the Wagoneer:

  1. The new Jeeps look moulded, rather than forged. Certainly safety demands from unibody construction are part of the culprits here with the Step 2 kids toys look, but Jeeps still need to seem to be more steel than plastic.
  2. The Wagoneer was deluxe but not fancy. It was straightforward and had no gimmicks. It did not show off.
  3. They are comfy, but are there elements of plushness? The interesting thing about the Wagoneer was that there was a basic frame, but the carpet could be a little thick.
  4. New Jeeps are not that handsome: They all look too much like other Chrysler cars; the only really halfway smart looking Jeep is the Commander. Jeeps need to be carved and styled.
  5. Think of colors. That blue in the photo is fantastic. The other 1970s/1980s Jeep colors were equally simple. But today, the blue sold on the Grand Cherokee is called “Modern blue pearl” and it is insufficient for the job.
  6. Where’s the Woody? There is no woodgrained edition of any Jeep. I would bet folks would buy it if it were available. A little fake woodgrain nostalgia wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps Jeep establishes a customizing department at the factory level? (The PT Cruiser wood panels were a joke, almost cartoonish. Don’t go in that direction.)
  7. They need some Kaiser connection: Sort of a middle America kind of construction. Note, there is a Kaiser parts company that still sells old Jeep parts.
  8. Defense connection: Jeep has lost its connection to the American defense establishment, and it suffers. Is there a way for Jeep to become involved with the DoD or Army in particularl with a new or retooled model? Could Jeep come up with a fleet car that could be sold to the military that is easy to repair, cheap to maintain and inexpensive? That might give it some street credibility. The mistake is thinking that the Jeep needs to go into warfare, when really it needs  to just look spiffy while the General gets driven around the base.

More branding stories of interest:

Detroit: Re-hire the Stripped Car
Goodbye Ricardo Montalban!
Shutting Auto Dealers Caused Job Loss
Dodge Dart Returns Chrysler to the Small Car Market
Car for the Common Man: Plymouth at The Greenbrier
Jeep Wagoneer Will Come Back, Finally

Tags: Cars

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dobey // Oct 17, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I miss the hell out of my Grand Wagoneers. I had two, a charcoal gray with maroon interior and the ultra-sexy navy with deep-tan interior (remember when gents wore rich deep-tan shoes with navy suits?). It was the last car I could actually work on. Make no mistake, these monsters were expensive to keep around. Terrible gas mileage, and costly upkeep. But damn, what a nice ride.

  • 2 Michelle // May 28, 2010 at 10:46 am

    While lamenting the recent sale of our ’91 GW and still torturing myself by reviewing sites dedicated to their history and restoration – which is exactly how I found your site here – I found a kindred spirit of sorts through Dobey’s well worded sentiments. For some inexplicable reason that Mr. Pollard obviously understands, there is a certain appeal that these “Woodies” have for some of us. But for all the luxurious and handsome a “brand” they remain, as Dobey stated they are expensive to maintain and drive. While Jeep created an iconic vehicle that is so classically beautiful to the eye and wonderful to sit in and drive (when they are driveable that is), mechanically they were not built for long term reliability…something was always breaking and usually quite costly to repair w/parts now quite spare to come by. Much of the original equipment is no longer available so one must rely upon refurbished or re-manufactured replacements. You find yourself spending hours on end, caught up in the web (no pun intended) of online research, looking for what you need and then being at the mercy of who is dealing out the parts. All the while your beloved GW sits idle. I am familiar w/the GW restorer that Mr. Pollard refers to; I have had the pleasure of speaking w/Norbert of GrandWagoneer more than once about my GW troubles – and he actually recreates a better built GW than what came off the Jeep/Chrysler manufacturing lines. I would have sent mine to him in a heartbeat if I could have afforded to, but his restoration process begins at $20T…not an inexpensive investment to make on a 20+ year old car. Nevertheless, I can always dream that there is a fully restored GW out there w/my name on it, and I hope that for Dobey as well. In the meantime I’ll take some comfort in knowing that there are others who can relate to the hold that these cars have on those of us who can no longer afford to keep one. Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts!

  • 3 Garland Pollard // May 28, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Michelle..thanks for your thoughts. I have never actually owned one, though every time I see one I say…I WANT THAT.

    I somehow think Jeep might actually bring it back, but of course the replica is never as good as the real. That being said, if Jeep went back to the loyalists and saw what was alluring about the car, they might actually have something to sell.

  • 4 Susan // Jul 7, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Always will love the full size jeeps. My boyfriend and i, together, have all three. A 1967 Gladiator J300, a 1982 2-door Cherokee Laredo wide-track, and a 1984 Grand Wagoneer. Although the Grand Wagoneer sits at his hometown in Georgia, we are working on bringing two back to the street. My Laredo, and his Gladiator. All I have to say, is I hate Smog regulations here in California; it’s the only thing keeping my Laredo from driving legally.

    The Gladiator spent a good chunk of it’s life in various services, from what we gather with the various layers of paint. He started as a white truck, was painted forest-service green, then cal-trans orange; all of which has been slowly disolving over the years into a patina-esque pattern along the truck. When we came upon it, it was being given away by someone who didn’t want to see the truck rot away year, by year, on the top of a mountain Observatory here in San Diego. It would seem that he is the stubborn one at the moment, with a 327 ci. V8 and all original chrome rhino grille, bumper, etc, in almost perfect condition; now he sits in our storage lot waiting on a solution to it’s fuel delivery problems; both previous-owner induced, and yearly snow induced. We don’t know much about it, but we will restore it.

    The Cherokee is another story all together. Lots of previous owner fun there; but it does run, and drive. It just needs some steering column work and a rear fender fix. Sitting in an avacado grove for the better part of 10 years isn’t exactly good for keeping rust away… hah.

  • 5 Victor G. Marchmon // Jan 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Please be aware that I own a 1988 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, which is very well preserved.
    Mine is equipped with Front and Rear customized stainless steel bumpers, a 6,000 lb. Super-winch, an Alpine audio system, a sun-roof top and plenty of space.
    Everyone admires the vehicle when they see it.
    Anyone which is interested in assisting with converting my vehicle to a Fuel Injection, please contact me at 347-697-8821 Victor.
    Moreover, anyone interested in purchase of my SUV is welcomed to contact me as well through phone or e-mail at victorgmarchmon@yahoo.com

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