Every affluent neighborhood and booming vacation town in America is packed bumper to bumper with luxury SUVs from the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Jaguar. Even Rolls-Royce and Bentley make them, for crying out loud. America’s love of comfy, high-dollar 4x4s is a fairly recent craze, but its roots go way back, further even than Range Rover’s rise in the 1970s, to Jeep.
To be fair, General Motors essentially invented the SUV when it introduced the Suburban in 1935, but Jeep pushed SUVs beyond utility toward luxury when the Wagoneer made its debut in 1963.
The Wagoneer’s production run stretched nearly 30 years and spanned Jeep’s ownership odyssey from Kaiser Jeep to American Motors to Chrysler. Although Wagoneer didn’t change a whole lot in all that time, people tend to consider the Grand Wagoneer of 1984-91 the best of the bunch. The last of the Wagoneers offered a wonderful mix of amenities, power, and utility in a V-8-powered woodgrain box that could go anywhere and do anything.
The first Wagoneer used the same platform as the Gladiator pickup, with two more doors and a back seat. In replacing the Willys Station Wagon, Jeep opted to give consumers something decidedly more comfortable than anything Ford, GM, International, and others sold, but still perfectly suited to working on the farm or going camping. In the years after its debut in 1963, the Wagoneer was the first production 4x4 with independent suspension and the first with an automatic transmission. Power steering, a radio, and air conditioning were other goodies rarely seen in trucks.
Over the years, Jeep added still more features, including Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive, power seats, power disc brakes, and cruise control. The biggest change came with a shuffle in the AMC lineup for 1984 that introduced a line of smaller XJ-body Cherokees and made the Wagoneer name a trim level on the two-door Cherokee. Yet demand for the original Wagoneer, known as the SJ-body, remained so high that Jeep renamed it the Grand Wagoneer and kept building it.
Piling on the luxe—and the quality
Jeep pushed the Grand Wagoneer further upmarket by packing it with features like a power rear window, leather upholstery, and a roof rack. This, of course, drove up the price. The less expensive Grand Wagoneer Custom ditched a few features and the glorious woodgrain trim, but it never really caught on and Jeep discontinued the model for 1985. It dropped the base six-cylinder engine two years later, making the 360-cubic inch V-8 standard.
Chrysler bought AMC and the rights to the Jeep name in March, 1987, but wisely chose not to mess with the Grand Wagoneer. The model remained highly profitable and quite popular despite the age of Brooks Stevens’ boxy design.
Chrysler didn’t tinker much with the Wagoneer—it even kept the same engine—but build quality improved under its stewardship. It added an electric sunroof in 1988, and redesigned the leaky a/c compressor in 1989. It also gave the Wagoneer the same overhead console found in Chrysler’s minivans.
Still, the Wagoneer was on the way out by 1990. Rising gas prices and the start of a recession made a $28,000 (55 grand in today’s dollars) gas-guzzler far less appealing to consumers. It didn’t help that looming federal safety standards pushed Jeep to drop the aging SJ-body. The last Grand Wagoneer rolled out of the factory on June 21, 1991, the last of just 1,560 built for the model year—just a sliver of the 15,000 or so Jeeps built each year. That last batch wore an optional “Final Edition Jeep Grand Wagoneer” badge on the dash.
Demand—and prices—keep ballooning
Given their rarity and reputation for being the best of the breed, 1991 models command the greatest prices, with a condition #2 (“Excellent”) value of $36,900. That’s a premium of more than $4,000 over an equivalent 1990 model, and a jump of 54.5 percent from two years ago. The best of the best condition #1 (“Concours”) examples are worth $62,200.
Maybe it’s the woodgrain, but Grand Wagoneers have only grown pricier. Hagerty has consistently raised values an average of 2 to 6 percent with each bi-monthly update for the better part of a decade. The last two updates saw prices rise 27 percent and 10 percent on average.
With plenty of AMC and Chrysler bits, many things can go wrong on a Grand Wagoneer and you’ve got to keep an eye out for rusty rockers and floorboards, so there can be a wide gap between a rough early Grand Wagoneer and a perfect one. A condition #4 (“Fair”) six-cylinder 1984 model stands at $6,300, while a perfect condition #1 commands nearly six and a half times that: $40,900. A nice driver in #3 (“Good”) condition with some miles and flaws shouldn’t cost you much more than 20 grand.
Buyer interest, measured by insurance quote activity, continues climbing. Hagerty saw a 16 percent increase in quotes during the past year, and long-term prospects look good because Gen X and Millennial buyers make up 41 percent and 25 percent of quotes, respectively.
Grand Wagoneer prices may have seen their biggest surge in recent months, and you can expect continued growth as younger buyers continue flocking to them, Chrysler introduces a new model, and vintage trucks and SUVs grow increasingly popular. Nothing else looks like a Grand Wagoneer, and the truck was something of a status symbol in its heyday. And it offers a remarkable mix of luxury and practicality for a truly off-road-capable truck that’s more than 20 years old.
Everything that made the Wagoneer great back then makes it great today. Time has only made it cooler, and its rising value suggests that climb won’t change course anytime soon.