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The Carchive: The ’76 Jeep Wagoneer

Chris Haining December 1, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 7 Comments

SUVs have reached ubiquity now, and are familiar enough for us to believe that they’ve always been around. There have also been endless arguments as to who actually invented the hulking great luxury four-wheel-drive as we know it, and now is really not the time to get drawn into such a debate.

However. We can probably award a certain North American machine with some kind of honorary mention – if not for inventing the segment, then certainly for dwelling in it for a bloody long time. It’s the Jeep Wagoneer. Welcome back to The Carchive.

“Jeep Wagoneer…known internationally as an ideal dual-purpose vehicle, equally at home on-or off-road.”

In 1976, the date of this brochure, the Jeep lineup was split into two slices. There was the CJ, which was truly the direct decedent of the wartime Willys Jeep, and there was the Wagoneer. And, if you trace its lineage back to it’s predecessor, the Jeep Station Wagon, you could argue that the Wagoneer was a replacement for the Willys, rather than a descendant.

Well, perhaps not, but there’s still no doubting the big Jeep’s stamina. Debuting in 1963, but with a rather different look, the Wagoneer was launched under Willys branding – although that didn’t last long and the Kaiser Jeep corporation was formed soon after its launch. In 1966, though, Brooks Steven’s classic design was updated to receive a look that would last until the very end.

“Wagoneer provides responsive power with its standard 4.2 liter (258 CID) Six with 3-speed manual transmission and manually-engaged four-wheel drive”

Just like the original Range Rover, the Wagoneer was far from a luxurious machine. It shared a similar relationship with the Jeep CJ as the Range Rover did with the Land Rover, in that it gave well-heeled buyers a more civilized off-roader. The standard package included ‘rugged Fairway Vinyl front and rear bench seats’. Potomac Stripe fabric was optional, as was Sof-Touch (sic) Vinyl. Not a spec of leather in sight.

As befits something for sale in North America, air-conditioning could be had, though, and woodgrain exterior trim was on the options list, too. This was obligatory, or should have been. I’m actually amazed how poverty-spec the example on the front cover is – right down to a total lack of decorative trim and white-painted steel wheels.

“Backed by over 30 years experience and know-how, Wagoneer is a jeep in every way”

Indeed. The five-door vehicle on these pages lasted until 1991, some 28 years. The three-door Wagoneer became the Cherokee in 1974, following several years during which you couldn’t buy one at all. It was then replaced in 1984 by the smaller, rather more square-cut XJ. That, in turn, was available with three or five doors, and even in an upscale Wagoneer variant of its own. This continued parallel to Brooks Stevens – developed Grand Wagoneer, until its final pensioning off in 1991, to be replaced by the Grand Cherokee.

A convoluted journey, then, and a vehicle more than deserving of its place in history. It was one of those rare beasts, like the Mini, the original Range Rover, the Volkswagen Beetle and Brooks Steven’s other classic – the Studebaker Avanti, as a machine that seemed to defy the aging process. That doesn’t mean it didn’t grow dated – by the time they were discontinued all of the above were positively archaic – but they had somehow acquired nobility.

A truly classic machine, right from the word go.

(All images are of original manufacturers publicity materials, photographed by me. And yes – I find it hard to relate today’s Grand Cherokee with anything in this brochure)