Pictured is a 1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I spotted this tired old beast in Park City, Utah. Along with Land Cruisers and Land Rovers, vintage Jeeps are among the most common vehicles you might find littered against the backdrop of the mountains surrounding Park City — with especially unique models like this one popping up all over this famed playground for the rich. Realizing I knew very little about the Grand Wagoneer, I set out to better understand the model’s lineage — one that spanned four decades, endured two ownership changes and was sold new all the way from Kennedy up until George H.W. Bush’s third year in office.
Set apart from other SUVs of the era by its luxurious appointments, the Grand Wagoneer was built from 1963 (when it was called simply the Wagoneer) all the way up until 1991, making the example pictured among the very last batch of Grand Wagoneers produced. Over its 28-model-year lifespan, the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer soldiered on as the Jeep brand changed hands from Kaiser to American Motors in early 1970, and then from AMC to Chrysler in 1987. With production occurring in four different decades, it comes as no surprise that the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer underwent a number of evolutions over its lifespan. Early variants included a 2-door version that was also available as a panel van with rear barn doors replacing the standard split rear-window/tailgate setup. 1966 saw the introduction of the more luxurious, high-performance "Super Wagoneer," which was packed with features unheard of at the time — like a power rear tailgate and a 7-way tilt steering wheel. By many accounts, it’s regarded as the first true luxury SUV.
With AMC ownership came much improvement and refinement, along with the addition of the Grand Wagoneer’s iconic wood exterior paneling. AMC would also refine and consolidate the trim-level offerings over its 17-year ownership of the Jeep brand. Despite the now-famous AMC-developed XJ Cherokee replacing the Wagoneer-derived "Cherokee" in 1984, the Grand Wagoneer soldiered on due to high demand.
Demand had yet to subside when Chrysler purchased Jeep in 1987, and the decision was made to continue Grand Wagoneer production until further notice — as by this point the aging platform had grown highly profitable. Chrysler ownership started to pay off in the final years of production, as general fit and finish were improved, and parts and features from the large Chrysler parts bin were added. These later models are widely regarded as the best of the bunch — and with values of vintage SUVs skyrocketing on a whole lately, well-maintained examples can fetch well in excess of $50,000.
The Jeep Grand Wagoneer was a true trailblazer for the feature-packed SUVs we know today, but with such a long production run and with so many variants, it’s easy to overlook them on the street. Hopefully what I’ve outlined above will help you to appreciate one of the most influential SUVs in history — one that laid the foundation for the modern Jeep brand as we know it. In the spirit of the original, Fiat-Chrysler has recently made it known that the Grand Wagoneer nameplate is on its way back, set to do battle with the leading luxury SUVs on the market … just like the original. Find a Jeep Grand Wagoneer for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.