Christmas is a time of year full of traditions. There’s the food, the tree, the extremely repetitive Christmas songs, and then of course those Christmas movies. I can think of no other season that you associate with watching the same movie every year, yet that’s what happens at Christmas, and we all have our personal favorites. In our family, Chevy Chase’s hilarious (if you have a rather simple sense of humor) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has a special place. I actually find the first 10 minutes the most fun, when Chevy alias Clark Griswold drives his family out into the wilderness to find the family Christmas tree, and on the way manages to get into a fight with a pick-up and to squeeze his giant station wagon with vinyl wood decorations on the sides between the axels of a big truck.
The movie came out in 1989 and as said, Chevy/Clark is driving a boring station wagon rather than the car that was launched precisely for this kind of family setting and situation (except the part under the truck), featuring the same kind of fake wood decoration. I’m of course talking about the legendary Jeep Grand Wagoneer, a record-breaking SUV in several aspects. The Wagoneer was notably built for 29 years, the third longest of any one generation car in American history. It was also launched in Europe seven years before Land Rover’s first Range Rover, which was of course three-door only for the first years, meaning it’s arguably the grand daddy of all modern luxury SUV’s. I saw the below example in Oslo, Norway earlier this week, perfectly parked in front of a nice hotel entrance, putting its elegant line in the right context. This week, we’ll therefore have a look at this true but increasingly rare SUV legend in its most luxurious version!
The Wagoneer was produced for so long that its mother company Jeep had time to change owners no less than three times. When production started in 1963 Jeep was part of the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, making the Wagoneer the direct replacement of the Willys Jeep Station Wagon that had been produced since 1946. Seven years later Jeep would be sold to the American Motor Corporation (AMC), and finally in 1987, to Chrysler, where it’s remained until today. As said the Wagoneer was built until 1990, however the Grand Wagoneer version that we’re focusing on here was only introduced in 1984, meaning most of the ones you see were built during the Chrysler years. That’s perhaps less important than the fact that quality-wise, the 1988 to end production years seem to be the best, with a number of improvements both to the interior and the exterior, In terms of engine though, Chrysler continued to use the 5.9 litre (360 cui) V8 developed by AMC, that at around 150 hp wasn’t very powerful in horsepower but all the more in torque, giving the car great towing capacity. It was also a heavy drinker, with average consumption apparently at 11 mpg or around 20 litres per 100 km…
What’s always enchanted me with the Grand Wagoneer is its looks and of course, it’s wonderful fake wood! Jeep guarantees that not a single tree was chopped to produce the vinyl panels on the exterior, and the same seems to go for the inside. There’s definitely an 80’s chic around the panels but they do add visually to the body, making it look less heavy. By modern standards the Grand Wagoneer was of course less heavy not only in looks, weighing in at around two tons, around half a ton less than a modern, large SUV (in the traditional American way, the Wagoneer was a six-seater). Being the top of the line version the Grand Wagoneer also had a lot of equipment for the time, with stuff like premium speakers, central locking and windows, and even keyless entry on the last model years from 1989. Of course it also had the split tailgate like the Range Rover does, perfect for enjoying a cup of coffee out in the wilderness, or on whichever adventure your Grand Wagoneer has taken you.
Any type of Wagoneer has gotten rare these days and even fewer are in the condition you want them to be. The original Grand Wagoneer additionally suffers from the doubtful long-term quality of fake wood, so I was really lucky to see one in such a good condition as the one in Oslo. The rarity is also seen in prices, with a good version costing at least EUR 40-50.000. Then again, for car that has such presence and literally invites you to take your family or friends out on any adventure you can think of, that really is a bargain. Fuel costs will stay somewhat reasonable given you’ll cruise around at moderate speeds, listening to your cassettes on the premium speakers. There will be some additional costs to pencil in though, unless you already have a pair of used Timberlands, a squared flannel shirt and a leather jacket that has lived as least as long as the Grand Wagoneer in the closet!