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Barn-Find 1972 Jeep Wagoneer Road Trip

Washington Wagoneer Rescue

Fred WilliamsPhotographer, Writer

My friend Sallee asked me if I could help her and her husband, David, sell an old Jeep they no longer used. Of course I know lots of people who are looking for a new 4x4 project, and I told her no problem, send me the photos and I’ll see if I can find an interested buyer. And then the pics arrived of a near-pristine 1972 Wagoneer sitting in a garage.

The story goes that David’s dad had bought the Jeep new and used it as a daily driver before taking it to the family cabin, where it was retired to work truck status. Then it got parked in the garage for about 13 years. It is a one-owner, barn-find, 89,000-mile SUV that is perfectly tarnished.

Spoiler alert: This classic is now my daily driver.

After seeing the photos I worked out a deal to make the Wagoneer mine. I was looking for another sport/utility after I sold my Suburban a few years ago. I liked the ability to haul stuff and sleep in the back on camping trips. I hadn’t even thought about a Wagoneer until I saw the one we put on the cover of our October 2015 issue (“A Modern 1976 Jeep Wagoneer Sleeper”). When this green machine landed in my lap I figured it was meant to be.

The Wagoneer was slumbering in a garage next to a cabin on a lake in Washington State. It fit the scene so perfectly, I felt bad taking it from there. The cabin is this awesome little hideaway, and the owners have kept it looking perfect with period-correct stuff from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The garage is even better, with an aluminum canoe hanging from the rafters and tons of neat old tools.

Because it has been sitting for years I knew the Jeep would need refreshing to get it running. I ordered a pile of parts from RockAuto and from Omix-ADA. With some help from friends we replaced the spark plugs, cap, rotor, plug wires, fuel filters, and air and oil filters. RockAuto has parts for a variety of 4x4s, and Omix-ADA offers restoration parts for every model Jeep imaginable.

A fresh battery, a cleaning of the terminals, and a bump from the key allowed us to crank over the engine. The starter worked fine and the engine rotated without issue. But it would not fire up.

The fuel pump was leaking so a replacement was due. Most of the fuel lines are metal, but the rubber hoses at the pump and carb were replaced with fresh rubber.

By good luck the fuel gauge was reading under a quarter-tank, so rather than drop the tank and drain it we decided to just add fresh gas. This is a gamble, as old gas can make for a giant stinky mess, but it paid off. The new gas seemed to fix the no-running issue. We had new fuel filters before and after the new fuel pump to keep garbage out of the pump and carburetor. We would eventually find out that the fuel gauge wasn’t working at all.

With a fresh tune-up and all lubes topped off from brake fluid to coolant, we took the Jeep for a test drive with astonishing success. The 4-wheel drum brakes stopped the hunk of 1970s glass, chrome, and steel before we plunged in the lake, and the power steering was one-finger light, making for a perfect cruising machine. It was time for a road trip!

The tires on the Wagonner were new, in 1978, as proven by some notes left by the prior owner on the cover of the owner’s manual. As much as we trust Michelin for making a good product, we opted to upgrade to fresh BFGoodrich Mud-Terrains. The local Discount tire had us fitted with the cutest little 29-inch muddies and put the chrome hubcaps back on in no time flat.

The interior of a 1972 Wagoneer would have modern-day worrywarts hyperventilating with its lack of safety gear, its neck-snapping low-backed seats, and no airbags, but it’s great for road tripping with three friends and two dogs. The big windows mean everyone has a great view, the heater (and the two dogs) kept everyone warm, and the layout of the truck made conversations easy. I’ve been in new 4x4s where you can’t hear the people in the front seat talking while road trippin’. The Wagoneer doesn’t have that problem. Only a few vibrations and clunks from the rear end gave the gearheads of the group anything to worry about, but they never revealed themselves as major problems. The interior did have the sweet aroma of squirrel nest, gas fumes, exhaust leak, and musty old Jeep, but no one complained.

The Warn 8274 had been used by the previous owner to drag rocks around the lakeside beach at the cabin, and the cable had some bad kinks in it, so we replaced it with a new wire rope and hook from Warn. Our early January road trip into central Oregon soon had us testing the new cable when the 29-inch tires proved too small for the snow-covered trails we wanted to explore.

After some help from another snow wheeler extracting the Wagoneer, we continued to Crater Lake National Park. The old Jeep ran flawlessly for the thousand-mile road trip, and we’re already planning another adventure in it to more national parks. The Jeep rides like a caddy but could use better shocks. The gauge cluster doesn’t always work, the lights are dim, and we’re seriously considering a cup holder, but otherwise the Jeep is perfect—and that’s hard for us to admit for something on such little tires?! It gets more comments than any new car we’ve driven. Even a trip to the local auto parts store is an adventure behind the wheel of a 40-something-year-old 4x4, but we assure you, we always have a bag of tools in the back, just in case.

Snow Every Day
The Wagoneer rescue will be featured on an upcoming episode of Dirt Every Day. You can find it on the Motor Trend channel on YouTube or by subscribing to Motor Trend on Demand at motortrendondemand.com.