Do You See the Makings of the Modern Jeep Cherokee in Jim Marski's '62 Utility Wagon?
Everybody knows that the origin of the traditional compact soft-top Jeep, now produced as the Wrangler, dates back to the rough-and-tumble vehicles of World War II. But not everyone may know that the roots of the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee go back almost as far. It could be argued that the bloodline for today's popular sport/ utility vehicles started with the post-war '46 Willys-Overland Station Wagon, the first all-steel station wagon from an American manufacturer (other automakers still used wood for their station wagon bodies). From those '46 wagons a line can be traced directly to the '63 Wagoneer, to the '84 Cherokee, and to today's Grand Cherokee.
It has been a slow evolution, but there were a few significant milestones along the way. In 1949 four-wheel-drive was added to the mix for the four-cylinder wagon. Shortly thereafter, an inline six-cylinder engine joined the list of upgrades available for two-wheel-drive models. Starting in 1954, 4WD and a six-cylinder engine could be combined in the wagon and sedan deliveries, establishing the blueprint for future generation models.
The post-war utility wagon and panel delivery body styles stayed in production through 1965, two years after the more modern Wagoneer was introduced. Although they never sold in huge numbers, these wagons proved to have staying power among Jeep buyers; retaining the same basic body style for so many years helped keep costs down.
How do the old and new compare? Surprisingly close, at least in the fundamentals. The six-cylinder 4x4 utility wagons, like the '62 model pictured here, rode on a 104-inch wheelbase, and measured 176 inches in overall length. By comparison, a '93 Cherokee sat on a 101.4-inch wheelbase, and stretched to 168 inches in overall length. A 4x4 utility wagon weighed roughly 3,200 pounds, while that same '93 4WD Cherokee four-door hit the scales at a tad more than 3,000 pounds. Despite the passage of so much time, the crisply folded sheetmetal of the two still carries a family resemblance.
Avid Jeep collectors Jim and Peg Marski of Pine, Colorado, use this Mallard Blue '62 wagon as regular transportation. While other Jeeps in their collection are primarily brought out only for car shows or occasional limited driving, the utility wagon has proven itself capable of comfortably handling frequent driving chores. It's not quite a daily driver, but Jim tends to reach for the keys to the wagon first when there's an errand that needs to be run in town.
The Marskis' Model L6-226 Utility Wagon features options such as front bumper rails and guards, an oil bath air cleaner, turn signals, and a radio. The price for the 4x4 six-cylinder model started at $3,010 in 1962. This wagon spent most of its life in Pennsylvania before undergoing a cosmetic and mechanical restoration in 1995 and 1996. Jim purchased the Jeep in 1997, with approximately 99,000 miles showing on the odometer.
The Marskis' Willys utility wagon is equipped with the 115hp, 226ci L-head six-cylinder. The engine's torque rating rings in at 190 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm. The 226 six-cylinder was a happy by-product of the Kaiser corporation's purchase of Willys-Overland in 1953. Prior to 1954, Willys-Overland offered its small six-cylinder in 2WD wagons, but it was not much better than the available four-cylinder. The 226ci flathead six-cylinder Kaiser added to the ensemble was a much more capable engine, and it stayed in production through 1964.
The 4WD hardware on the '62 wagon consists of a Spicer full-floating front axle and semi-floating rear axle, and a Spicer Model 18 transfer case. Buyers who waited a little longer to purchase their then-new '62 utility wagons could have chosen a much more powerful engine: Halfway through the '62 model year an overhead cam, 230ci "Tornado" engine was introduced, providing utility wagons with 140 hp.
Which almost brings us up to date. The Jeep Cherokee today is still a boxy, compact utility vehicle, with rugged 4WD hardware, and comparatively simple four-cylinder and straight-six engines. And why not? The formula has been in place long enough, and seems to have a winning track record.