1963 Jeep Wagoneer Custom - Backward Glances
Wagoneer, The First SUV
When the Wagoneer debuted in November 1962 as a ’63 model, it could truly be credited as moving Jeep to the head of the class in the passenger 4x4 utility world. At that time, the term “sport utility” did not exist, but the Wagoneer was just that and a prototypical example of what the SUV would eventually become. What set the Wagoneer apart in those early days was car-like comfort combined with off-highway ability. It was not at the top of the heap in either of those categories, but it did better in combining them than anything else in the era and for many years to come.
The ’63 Wagoneer sat on a 110-inch wheelbase and was offered in both two- and four-door styles and in two- or four-wheel drive. A two-door panel was also available in two- or four-wheel drive. Trim levels varied from a base model suitable for the go-to-work types, to the Custom level that turned it into the equivalent of a middle-trim-level station wagon. In 1965, the Wagoneer would burst forth into the luxury realm, and with the intro of the Super Wagoneer, it would become the world’s first high-end luxury 4x4.
What helped sell the Wagoneer with the mainstream public was its low stance and car-like manners. The skirt-friendly entry height was accomplished with a married T-case and a thoughtful design that tucked the running gear up tight. Careful suspension tuning gave it a good ride, but because it was still a truck at heart, it could haul and tow things that would put the old Ford Country Squire into an early grave.
Though a V-8 was on the company’s mind, Jeep didn’t have one readily available, and the Wagoneer debuted with a six-cylinder: the 230ci OHC Tornado. It was an advanced design with an overhead cam and crossflow head. It breathed well and put out a respectable 140 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. It was the first production overhead cam engine in an American light truck or SUV and one of the first OHC engines offered by an American manufacturer.
The Tornado was both good and bad news. The good news was performance. Yeah, it wasn’t a V-8, but by the standards of the day, it wasn’t a dog either. The bad news was the teething problems, as well as oil leaks and oil consumption that caused some early engine failures. Despite the bugs being largely fixed in that first year, the reputation was tainted and remains so. The Tornado was dropped in the USA after 1965, except for a short run in the M-715 Jeep Gladiator trucks built for the military. The Tornado went south to Argentina and served there in a variety of cars into the 1980s. Truth be told, Jeep desperately needed a V-8 option (which came in ’65), and in the end, it was cheaper to buy Sixes from AMC.
Probably the biggest innovation in the early Wagoneer was the four-wheel-drive independent front suspension. It was a $135 option in place of the standard Dana 27AF solid front axle and was supposed to offer more car-like handling and ride. It featured a Dana 27 centersection that pivoted in a way reminiscent of Ford’s Twin-Traction Beam setup of the ’80s. The ½-ton Gladiator trucks had a similar option using a Dana 44 centersection. Again, it appears a little more testing was in order, because the IFS was troublesome. It didn’t sell well, and most of those sold were in the first years. The option was deleted in 1965, and Jeep tried to forget it had once offered it.
The Wagoneer 4x4 was also available with an automatic transmission. That wasn’t a first in the 4x4 light truck realm, but it was an early entrant, and certainly there was nothing in the 4x4 passenger utility realm to match it. Available air conditioning and a good heating system also added to its reputation as a civilized beast. Optional power steering and brakes put it farther into the daily-driver arena, and for quite a few years, there was nothing with four-wheel drive on the market that could match it for daily driving. The teething problems did not ultimately effect Wagoneer sales, nor future development or popularity. The Wagoneer SJ line lasted to 1991, narrowly missing 30 years of production and more or less had to be forcibly euthanized against the wishes of many loyal customers. It remains an American Icon.
The 1963 Wagoneer you see here is a rare survivor. It’s a Model 1414C Custom trim four-door built in March of 1963 and ordered with the IFS front axle but little else. It was ordered by Howard Hollingsworth (1916-2003) who lived in the greater Seattle area of Washington state. Hollingsworth was an aeronautical engineer with Boeing but also an avid camper, rock hound, and outdoorsman. He ordered the Wagoneer with a very deliberate set of options for just the reasons you would expect—daily utility with the ability to take him into the outback.
According to daughter, Linda Crandall, Howard loved the Jeep for what it could do but hated the many problems he had with it. When the short warranty ran out, leaving him holding the bag for repairs, Hollingsworth wrote an eight-page letter to Jeep, and in precise engineering terms, he told them what was wrong with their Jeep. Their response is lost to time, but it must have been a crackerjack of a letter! For all that, he kept the Jeep until he moved to a retirement home in 1999. It hadn’t run for about 10 years at that point and was eventually given to a family friend who got it running but eventually sold it.
Bruce Rice is an eclectic collector who has restored two Nash Quad 4x4s (1919 and 1921 models) and a ’47 IH KB-8 truck. He found the Jeep on eBay a few years ago and fell in love. The Jeep was complete, showing about 89,000 original miles, and in excellent shape for its age. Bruce spent a couple of years on a frame-off restoration and brought the Jeep back to pristine original condition. It’s one of only a handful of remaining IFS Wagoneers and the best example we know about.
Vehicle: 1963 Jeep Wagoneer Custom
Owner: Bruce Rice
Estimated value: $20,000
Engine: 230ci OHC I-6 Tornado
Power (hp): 140 @ 4,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 210 @ 1,700 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 3.44 x 4.37
Comp. ratio: 8.5:1 (7.5:1 opt.)
Transmission: Three-speed manual, T-90 (BorgWarner AS-8W opt.)
Transfer case: Two-speed, Dana 20 (one-speed Spicer 21 w/auto)
Front axle: Dana 27 IFS (opt., Dana 27AF std.)
Rear axle: Semi-float, Dana 44
Axle ratio: 4.09:1
Tires: 7.10-15 four-ply
L x W x H (in): 183.7 x 158.75 x 64.20
Wheelbase (in): 110
GVW (lbs): 4,500
Curb weight (lbs): 3,758
Fuel capacity (gal): 20
Min. grd. clearance (in): 7.95
Approach angle (deg): 39
Departure angle (deg): 20
Ramp breakover (deg): 24