So I’m walking around the other day in Charleston, South Carolina, which is our country’s most beautiful city, and I ran across this sight: a brand-new Cadillac Escalade parked right behind a Jeep Grand Wagoneer. It struck me, at that moment, that I was looking at something interesting: The stereotypical full-size American luxury SUV from today, and the stereotypical full-size American luxury SUV from 30 years ago. And my, how they’ve changed.
And yet, in some ways, they haven’t. Both vehicles use V8 power and a body-on-frame design, and both are used to haul kids and pets and gear to soccer practice, or on a road trip across several states, or to the lake for a weekend. They both have column shifters, comfy seats and boxy designs.
But the differences are substantial, too. The technology is obvious, but the biggest difference is probably the styling: While the overall profile isn’t far off, it’s amazing how much more in-your-face the Escalade is than its Grand Wagoneer spiritual predecessor, with the chrome and the huge wheels and the larger size and height. Then again, people probably thought the Grand Wagoneer’s design was excessive back in the late 1980s, with the wood paneling and its large size — not knowing it would be dwarfed in years to come.
To me, the interesting thing is to see these two vehicles together, as they both represent the best SUVs America had to offer at their specific times. I posted this photo on Twitter and someone suggested the 1980s Chevy Suburban was more of a “full-size luxury SUV” than the Grand Wagoneer, but that wasn’t true — the Grand Wagoneer may have been made by a different company, and it may have appealed to different people, but it was the Escalade of its day. And I’m curious to see how this photo evolves 30 years from now.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.