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May 1997 Willie's Workbench

Posted in Features on May 1, 1997
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Wagoneers are pretty neat family vehicles. They grew from their utilitarian beginnings in 1963 to their luxurious end in '91. During their lifespan, body dimensions virtually stayed the same but improvements were made in quality control, body stiffness, and driveline. The Grand Wagoneer was the choice vehicle for real estate executives, exclusive hunting clubs, and the Aspen ski crowd, as well as the family camping vehicle and grocery getter. While seemingly large, its 109-inch wheelbase is just 2 1/2 inches longer than a Chevy Blazer's, with an overall length one inch shorter.

In reality, like any Jeep vehicle, parts interchangeability is both limited and boundless, depending on the year, model group, or driveline changes. For instance, the earliest models (1963-68) used Rambler V-8s, first with the Borg-Warner automatic transmissions, and later with the GM Turbo 400s.

In 1968-71, there was a switch to Buick 350 V-8s. With the AMC acquisition in 1972, the switch was to AMC V-8s: The 304, 360 or 401 was available, depending on model years and the states they were sold in. Those Jeeps with auto transmissions had the B-W Quadra-Trac transfer case. The T-18 four-speed (with 6.32:1 First) was a rare option from late 1968 till 1980. Standard offering was a three-speed T-14A for the six-cylinder models and a T-15A for the V-8s.

In 1980, the Chrysler TorqueFlite replaced the GM TH 400, along with the NP 208 or the Quadra-Trac replacing the 17-year-old Dana 20. Numerous changes, such as galvanizing panels and specialized coatings, were used to combat notorious rust vulnerability. Tailgates and rear rocker panels were the biggest hit with rust (usually caused by the drain holes filling up with crud).

About this time, the T-18 was dropped and replaced with the aluminum-case, lighter-duty Tremac T-176 four-speed as the heavy-duty option, and the not-so-strong B-W T-5 with a Fifth gear overdrive was offered as an option in 1982.

Model year 1983 brought out a whole new breed of full-time and part-time transfer cases, such as Selec-Trac, and later, Command-Trac.

Model year 1984 was the year of the first Grand Wagoneer replacing the Limited as the top-of-the-line offering (in reality, the only option available, partially due to the introduced of the down-sized Cherokee that also offered a "Wagoneer'' version). Luxurious options gave the Grand Wagoneer near-limousine quality and plushness while still offering excellent off-road capabilities. Accessories such as roof racks, tire holder, suspension kits, grille guards, winch mounts, and lighting kits are still available from most of the major manufacturers.

Any of the Wagoneers can be developed or rebuilt to personalized use, with budget the only restraint. Because of its classic '60s styling and lack of the "melted plastic'' look of the '90s, the Wagoneer stands in a class of its own.

I owned a '68 Wagoneer for several years. It had the factory (Buick ) 350 V-8 and the GM TH 400 trans, and had well over 100,000 miles on the clock when I bought it off a lot in 1974. The engine and trans got a performance rebuild, along with a modified set of Hooker headers from a passenger car. A Jeep FC-170 truck donated a Dana 44 front axle, which I used along with disc brakes from a '75 CJ and a early dual-drive Gleason-Torsen with 4.11:1 gears to replace the inadequate drum-braked Dana 27. A spring-over conversion in the front and some modified shackle work at the rear made for a 6-inch lift. The tapered-axle Dana 44 rear was replaced with a narrowed Dana 60 with a Powr-Lok differential, again fitted with 4.11:1 gears. The Dana 20 transfer case had the lower Spicer 18 gears, along with a prototype overdrive from Sierra Transmission. Flared front fenders and Scrambler rubber flares in modified rear fenderwells made room for tire sizes up to 33 inches.

While I had it, it pulled a house trailer, a race car and (believe it or not) two trailers at once on several occasions, as well as providing everyday transportation. And it saw lots of hard four wheeling. Just before the 200,000-mile mark, I sold it to a friend who, in time, actually replaced the body and then proceeded to put close to that many more miles on it before selling several years later. Who knows? It still may be on the road.

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