11 December 2012

Buyer’s Guide: 1963-91 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

As an owner of a 1991 Grand Wagoneer (nicknamed “Effie” for FE, or Final Edition), I’ve been in a pretty good position to judge the popularity of Grand Wagoneers. It certainly seems like they’ve been increasing in popularity of late, creating opportunities for those who want to preserve and restore these original (it pre-dated the Range Rover by a decade) luxury sport utility vehicles.

Many people assume it’s a 70s vintage vehicle based on the wood panels and the styling. In reality, it was launched in the early 1960s and was built into the 1990s. Introduced under the Willys/Kaiser regime (1963 to 1971) and continued through the AMC and Chrysler years (1972-87 and 1988-91, respectively), it was known as the SJ platform and was the longest domestically produced SUV built on the same platform.

The 13 MPG (highway) fuel economy and the rather underwhelming 144 hp rating are the Jeep’s only real liabilities. The Grand Wagoneer has a surprisingly comfortable ride and a basic three-speed automatic transmission that does what it needs to with little fuss.

The basic engines in the latter years were the Chrysler 340 and 360 cubic-inch engines. The latter has the distinction of being the last carbureted engine offered in North America. It matters little which V-8 is under the hood of your Grand Wagoneer; none provides more than adequate horsepower but all are quite long-lived. The chassis is similarly solid and overall durability is legendary.

A unique and convenient feature is the ability to switch into 4WD without having to stop, lock the hubs, or put it in neutral as was the case with most SUVs of the era — you could be traveling at 60 MPH and switch seamlessly into 4WD.

Minor cosmetic differences were most noticeable in the front grille and rear taillights throughout its 29-year tenure. Of course, the powertrain was modified under each manufacturer and Chrysler ended the classic with features including an overhead console, dual power seats, digital compass and — my favorite — the "Final Edition" badge affixed to the dashboard of the last 1991 models.  

Typical rust areas are in the fenders, particularly on dog leg areas of the car. Rocker panels can be of concern for rust and unfortunately, some rust may develop under the wood paneling. The bubbling should be obvious. Both engine parts and body panels appear to be readily accessible and there are many websites including www.teamgrandwagoneer.com that can aid you in your search. 

If you find an early or a late model Grand Wagoneer, expect to do some minor body work or some basic engine tune-up service. Change the coolant, oil and transmission fluids. Check the firmness of the hoses and belts, replace the fuel filter, exercise the power window motors by rolling them up and down, and make sure the front and rear drive axles are serviced, too. You’ll find that these SUVs aren’t difficult to maintain, and they really are built like tanks — the sheet metal and engine are heavier, and the chrome is thicker. At about 4,500 pounds, your Wagoneer should feel solid and remain quite resilient.

The Grand Wagoneer market is in a spot that is indicative of a vehicle on the rise. While it’s somewhat easy to find Wagoneers that need everything (typically around $3,500) and those in perfect condition (such as very expensive examples of the LE models, which can reach or exceed $50,000), the nice driver-quality ones are getting rather scarce. When they come to market, expect to pay between $12,000 and $18,000.

As for investment potential, I don’t intend to ever sell mine — my 9-year-old son has claimed it! I have so enjoyed the simple joy of driving it — this is one vehicle from which you can literally see everything around you; there are none of the blind spots that are so prevalent in modern cars. It is a topic of conversation wherever we go, especially at gas stations where the Wagoneer happens to enjoy its frequent fill-ups.

33 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Neal Dallas, TX August 19, 2013 at 15:50
    Are all of the Grand Wagoneer's built in 1991......"Limited Edition"s? There is one I'm thinking about buying. I checked the VIN and it is Built in 1991, but how do I know if its a "Limited Edition". Did they make 2 models that year? 1 being a regular GW and another one "Limited Edition" GW? So, other than a plaque on the dash......is there any other way for me to tell...ie certain VIN, stamped rear axle, other markings?
  • 2
    Mark Hopper Phoenix March 5, 2014 at 19:26
    I bought an 1985 red wagoneer 5 yrs ago and now use it for daily transportation. It was one owner, 50,000 and original everything. It runs great w/ weak links being: rear window problems, sticky power door locks, fussy carburetor and negative gas mileage. Despite that, LOVE IT! I recommend the 1985 as its the 1st year for headrests yet still has the preferable round gauges and the awesome steering wheel. After 1985 the cars got more squarish in gauges, steering wheel. Mark
  • 3
    Trevor Virginia May 13, 2014 at 03:08
    I have owned two Wagoneers a 1979 and a 1989 and put well over 100k miles on each. They did not have the best reputation back when they were being built. Consumer reports rated early 90s Grand Wagoneers dead last in quality for several years running...and 89-91 Grand Wagoneers are known for being better than the ones built by AMC before Chrysler bought them out in 1987. Despite their faults these Jeeps were decades ahead of their time with the Quadratrack and Selectrac four wheel drive systems and were the most carlike of any SUV of the 60s, 70s and 80s, unlike Chevy Blazers, Ford Broncos, and IH Scouts, they had four doors which is why they sold very well until the First Gulf War caused gas prices to spike in 1990. That said, even back when they were fairly new Grand Wagoneers were money pits that required constant repair some of which was due to their inherent design flaws, like the inward sloping tailgate that leaked from day one, the idiotic gas tank skid plate design on every SJ built since 1980 that traps dirt and moisture against the frame and causes it to rust in two just aft of the driver's door after about a decade unless you happen to live in the the desert southwest where it rarely rains and never snows. (That is where the Wagonmaster finds his Jeeps) Then there were the oil leaks, water leaks that caused rusted out floor boards, door locks that locked themselves when you shut the door, mufflers and tailpipes that needed replacing about every other year, radiators that constantly needed service, and a bunch of vacuum lines any one of which could get a leak and make the engine run like crap and the Motorcraft carbs that always seemed to need rebuilding. Last but not least there is the tailgate window that has been known to decapitate Grand Wagoneer owners and their small children. There was a recall for this in the 80s, but the "fix" was having the dealer install a sticker on top of the lock cylinder that reads "Always Remove Key" and rotate cover so it pressed against the key to keep it in the off position if you took your hand off of it... but the spring on the cover is usually broken by now. They look retro and cool but as a 21st century daily driver forget it unless you own a service station and can buy gas at wholesale, and have a full time mechanic on call. The last Grand Wagoners built have been on the road for nearly a quarter of a century. Unless the Carfax says it has been in the desert southwest since new, there is a 99.9% chance that it has rust hiding behind the frame by the gas tank. The frame on my my 89 Grand Wagoneer was completely rusted out by 2000, and I live in Southern Virginia where it rarely snows and the only "off road" driving it ever did was the gravel driveway to my farm. I never even drove it on the beach. There should have been a recall about this in the mid 80s but AMC never changed the design and Chrysler kept right on building them with this defect right up until 1991. I forgot to mention the defective clearcoat on the 87-91 Grand Wagoneers that turns white then peels off in sheets. The only way to fix the problem was to strip the entire car. Chrysler re-painted a few of them for original owners who bitched loud enough but there was never an official recall and if you find a 87-91 Grand Wagoneer with its original panit you can rest assured that it was always garage kept because it if it was ever parked outside the clearcoat would have peeled off ages ago.
  • 4
    Trevor NC May 19, 2014 at 04:46
    Most people who want one of these old Grand Wagoneers today never owned one back in the day. Yes they are beautiful cars and they rode like a Cadillac (when they were new) but that is about where it stops. By 1970 the design was somewhat dated and, the main reason they continued to sell well through the 70s, 80s, and into the 1990s in spite of their aging design and well known defects was because Jeep had a better four wheel drive system than the competition, and they offered four doors, an option that was not offered on competitive domestic SUVS, except the much larger Suburban, until the mid 1990s. When new, Grand Wagoneers were rated at 11 city 13 highway. Back when gas was under a buck a gallon they were not so bad but at three or four dollars a gallon driving them gets pretty pricey. They also were known for water leaks, wind noise, body panel rust and oil leaks. (I have never seen one that didn't leak some oil), not to mention an idiotic fuel tank skid plate design that traps dirt and moisture causing the frame to rust out and break in half right under the driver's door after about a decade, unless you live in a desert where there is no moisture. There is a reason Wagonmaster is located in Texas, it doesn't rain much and hardly ever snows there so old Wagoneers don't rust out. Also, every Grand Wagoneer built after 1987 had a defective Chrysler paint job so unless it has been sitting in a garage for the past quarter of a century it has by now usually either had a cheap respray (possibly more than one), usually by some place like Maaco, or the original paint is peeling off in sheets. The only way to fix the defective paint problem is the strip the whole car back to the primer and places like Maaco don't do this, they just spray over the defective paint and it keeps on peeling taking the new paint with it. I have owned two of these vehicles, a 1979 Wagoneer and a 1989 Grand Wagoneer and drove each of them well over 100K miles and sold both for significantly more than I paid for them. They were comfortable cars and I enjoyed driving them. If Jeep still built a full size body on frame SUV I would probably go buy a new one. That said, if I had not lived on a large farm with a fully equipped shop, and had the ability to fix their many small problems, and a few large problems myself they would have bankrupted me...and that was back when they were still fairly new and Jeep dealers still stocked parts for them. Now the only parts available for them are either aftermarket parts, or used parts from a junkyard which are probably worn out. Buyer beware!
  • 5
    Cory Dowdle Battle Creek, MI May 25, 2014 at 22:43
    i Have a 1988 Jeep grand wagoneer 89K miles very little rust, paint is sun damaged, interior is in very good condition. This car has sat for many years, then i drove it for a while and it drove fine, except it needed exhaust work, and then all of a sudden the crank shaft bearing went and then i was told i needed to rebuild. Between the rebuild and exhaust i was looking at $2700. Well i parked it in a garage since then for the past 7 years. Now I am thinking I should just sell it, but unsure of how much its worth. Any Insight....? Please let me know.
  • 6
    Basil Carter Jr. STANLEY ,Va. June 30, 2014 at 02:15
    I have 1988 grand wagoner,77.000 orig. miles garage kep. real nice ,inside&out,its brown with the light woodgrane side panels.factory a/c power almost everything.i was thinking about selling it. ANYONE INTERESTED! if so email me.
  • 7
    Alan Montgomery South Dakota July 11, 2014 at 14:36
    I have a 1991 for sale 77k miles all power and little rust 360 v8. Considering offers. It's white.
  • 8
    Damion Hendrickson Cape July 12, 2014 at 22:10
    Basil and Alan. Please send me a note on your wagoneer. I am looking for car to drive to train 5 miles daily. Aka commuter car. Looking to get wagoneer , I would like to learn more about yours. I would flat bed to cape. Damionhendrickson@hotmail.com
  • 9
    Tim Indiana August 23, 2014 at 23:04
    Would like to respond to a couple of the posts with GW for sale...don't see a way to email them?
  • 10
    George Baltimore September 20, 2014 at 20:36
    Have 91 GW,in pretty good shape, needs repaint,clearcoat is peeling, some minor rust spots, mechanicals in good condition. Contact if interested.
  • 11
    Paolo Germany November 7, 2014 at 17:17
    I'm looking for a Gw to buy. Any suggestion about years production ? I know 1991 are more quoted as beeing the final edition... Looking forward to be hearing from you soon
  • 12
    Julia California November 10, 2014 at 23:02
    I picked up my 90 for a steal.. $700 about 7-8 years ago and still love it. I've put about $2k into it, and now know most of its idiosyncrasies... Still have a way to go in its resto but we'll worth it.. Still runs strong at 190k. Oil? If course it drips, it's a heep! This is my 3rd jeep, and they all drip oil.
  • 13
    Shellie NC December 31, 2014 at 00:20
    I have a 91 Wagoneer with the wood grain panels, and I was wondering if anyone knew if there was more collectability in mine because my VIN ends in 000001. From what I have researched I have the "first of the last" I have read about the plaques and from what I have found, Jeep didn't placard them all, it was the owners preference when purchased...anyone have any thoughts about my VIN number?
  • 14
    Ben Philadelphia February 6, 2015 at 22:32
    Grand wagoneers never had chrysler v8s and never came with a 340. They were amc powerplants. The 360 in the grand wagoneer shared only the displacement with the mopar 360.c also had a 340ci engine.
  • 15
    Shellie NC February 28, 2015 at 12:59
    Looking to see if anyone is interested in buying my 1991 Grand Wagoneer...VIN ends 000001.. Has high miles, but its my daily driver...starts like a champ everytime..even in this cold snow and ice we got hit with... I'm looking for around 5,000. If so leave a comment on here...and we will figure out how to exchange info.
  • 16
    Dave Antram United States March 23, 2015 at 10:19
    Great vehicles - wish they would make start making them again now. Classy look, ageless style! Grew up with one or two in the family, one being a 1977 Cherokee 4 door. Still have that one, but it is pretty rough. Found a 2-door 77 Cherokee from NC and what fun it is! Also, picked up a 1988 Grand Cherokee that I'm tweaking a few things on to get it back on the road and moving again. Very iconic American rolling iron in my book!
  • 17
    Benjamin Belgium April 7, 2015 at 16:24
    I own a 90 Wagonmaster , bought it with lots of engine trouble and electric problems , Nice care though after 2 weeks of daily work , dismantling dash and steeringcolum electrics , fixing iginition problems , it now runs on LPG , yes Propane gas ! and it runs fine , got a 200 Litre tank for some 800 Km's , runs very cheap now , petrol is still 20 litres for 100 Km , more then thursty . glass in reardoor is still a problem ; all electric doorlocks problematic. replaced mufler and reartube with cheaper XJ model exhaust , it fits but needs a longer tailpipe , In Belgium and Europe lots of parts available for XJ bodys , nothing for GW's hence the choice of XJ exhaust. I did away with airpump and nearly all the vacuumtubes on the engine , modified carbinlets and airfilter to exept propane tubing , fitted Air/Fuel meter with lambdasonde , runs now between lambda 0,99 and 1.03 , I still have to fit a lambda regulating system so the exhaustfumes will be lambda 1 or ideal clean engine . I noticed that iginition advance needs a lot of advance to run less thursty . I am very glad with the car , it feels like a tank really strong , compared to the new plastic age cars . I have always had US iron to run , mostly Chevy's , but this feels stronger . but Chevys are running much better MPG . I also run a 93' 6 cil Cherokee XJ 4.0 as daily car , happy with it too .
  • 18
    Lori New York April 15, 2015 at 17:23
    I have a 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer for sale. Needs some work,, has some rust. All original, I bought it from the one and owner. Has less than 40,000 ORIGINAL miles on it, have title, original keys. Has running boards. E mail if interested
  • 19
    pamela michigan April 27, 2015 at 10:13
    i have a 1988 jeep grand wagoneer my steering column was use and now have totally givin up. I need to know what other steering column can i use that would work or where i can get another one from
  • 20
    Roy Colorado September 11, 2015 at 18:16
    Just a small correction. The Grand Wagoneer was never offered with a Chrysler motor. Starting in 1971, only AMC motors were offered in the entire Wagoneer line. In the 70's, the V8's you could get included the 304, 360, or 401, all AMC, depending on the year. After 1978, the only V8 offered in the Wagoneer line was the AMC 360. When Chrysler bought out Jeep in 1987, they chose to leave the Grand Wagoneer "as is" with as few changes as they could get away with. They always intended on stringing it along until the Grand Cherokee platform was ready. And that included keeping the carbureted AMC 360 until the very end.
  • 21
    alfano performance Kenosha WI October 20, 2015 at 11:48
    This article indicates Chrysler put their 340 engine as well as the AMC 360 in the FSJ GW. I have been around these vehicles all my life and have never seen or known one to have a 340 in it. Has anyone seen or own one of these unicorns? The only engine available in a GW during that time period should have been the AMC 360.
  • 22
    Pat Duff, Canada November 7, 2015 at 22:39
    they used a Buick 350 in 69 and 70 and AMC engines but no Chrysler
  • 23
    Angi Washington State January 27, 2016 at 19:30
    Fantastic write up. Thank you! I have been researching for years and trying to find just the right one. I think we've found ours and this article has really helped me calm the nerves involved in the actual commitment. I am so excited to finally own one. I love the last paragraph of your article, too! My children have already claimed ours, too, as their future vehicle....we shall see....
  • 24
    SIA Bay Area, California February 1, 2016 at 11:54
    I'm the original owner of a 1990 white GW with 140K miles. Runs great. The body is also great although the wood panel has faded a bit. Respond if you're interested in purchasing it.
  • 25
    GW4Life Philly February 20, 2016 at 07:11
    Love these old jeeps - have two of them and getting a 3rd one. I like to restore them and turn heads wherever I go. Finishing one now. If anyone wants a restored one email me at vickmorrow64@gmail.com
  • 26
    Noah S.C. March 5, 2016 at 14:49
    SIA, what are you thinking of asking? How is interior?
  • 27
    Matthew Brockmeier Denver March 21, 2016 at 17:58
    Noah, I have a white 1988 with brand new tan interior, including deadstock Cumberland Cord inserts in the seats. No rust. Car lived in the CA desert until moving to CO a few years ago - original owner (an accountant) gave it to his daughter, who I purchased it from. Power windows, locks, seats, mirrors all work. Currently 150k miles, engine rebuilt at 132k. Email me at matthewbrockmeier@gmail.com if you're interested. Matt
  • 28
    Pleo USA April 24, 2016 at 18:03
    I am interested in purchasing a Jeep Wagoneer, it would have been nice to include the price asked for the vehicles so I would not have to individually request. Also: see craigslist.
  • 29
    ciro Italy May 1, 2016 at 13:25
    I owned 3 GW, 1988 - 1989 -1991 Final Edition. It is a car that has something special, you loved it or not is still a car that no one has been able to match his long-lasting desineer. In a few years it will be one of the best car investmemt. Every year is more difficult to find them in good condition or all original. Teamgrandwagoneer.com is a great source of spare parts and wagonmaster.com is doing a great job in restoring them and I hope to continue to see them on the road for many many years haed!!
  • 30
    brett oregon May 13, 2016 at 23:58
    Do you know if an 89 rear seat uses the same clips as a 79? I need a new seat! Thanks
  • 31
    Jim Philadelphia August 13, 2016 at 15:38
    Restoring two of these right now a 85 and a 87 - driving one of them to work a couple of times per week. Can't stop in a gas station without someone asking me about it! After replacing wood and wood trim and new paint job and all those comfy leather/corduroy seats - it does not get any better than this! - if interested in mine or a totally custom one - shoot me an email jdswarrior@yahoo.com - My next project is an astral silver one with a two tone silver and black interior with custom charcoal wood and some special chrome bumpers, chrome valve covers, chrome air filter cover and flowmaster exhaust with partially blacked out windows - pull that baby into any gas station, country club or car show and it will be a conversation piece for sure - keep on wagoneering!
  • 32
    Justin New Jersey September 22, 2016 at 18:09
    It's been a while since anyone has commented but figured I'd throw it out there. A '89 slipped through my fingers and I've been looking for another one. Looked on Craiglist/ebay but is anyone here looking to sell?
  • 33
    Robert Romans Destin, FL September 29, 2016 at 15:31
    @Justin in NJ...I've got an '89, white with burgundy interior with 115K miles (odometer still works). Interior is excellent. All for windows and the rear window work. Paint and wood is better than good, but not great. Some rust, but I have new (just arrived this week) rocker panels and the driver side floor pan. Oh yeah, I almost forgot a few other minor selling points...Just finished installing a NEW 360 from Jasper with a nation-wide 3 yr/100K mile warranty, a NEW AC system (the only original part is the compressor which works 100% and doesn't leak, so why change it?), NEW 150v alternator, NEW exhaust and muffler, and NEW BT stereo. 4x4 works. Interested?

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