How the 1984–1991 Grand Wagoneer cast the luxury SUV mould for today’s model.
Although luxury trucks are a key profit center for modern automotive manufacturers, there was a time when only a single brand on the American market was brave enough to make the leap from ski station to valet station. It was the early ’80s when AMC decided to go all-in on an aging platform by transforming its already decades-old Wagoneer into the Grand Wagoneer and open up an entirely new segment for U.S. buyers. The Jeep Grand Wagoneer beat the (still Spartan but nevertheless high-priced) Range Rover to the American market by a handful of years, and while Land Rover was able to outlast its underfunded rival in the long run, as contemporaries there was no question who was first, and in the minds of many sport-utility fans, who also did it better.
A bit of backstory first. The original Wagoneer, internally known as the Full-Size Jeep, FSJ, or SJ, debuted in 1963, and would soldier on for decades with only minor mechanical tweaks. The first hints that the truck had the potential to woo an upscale clientele came with the Super Wagoneer, which then Jeep owner Kaiser released in 1966. Packed with luxury gear completely foreign to anything trucklike at the time (power brakes, a high-end radio, tilt steering, power steering), it wasn’t long before the model was commanding nearly three times the average transaction price of an entry-level automobile.
Once AMC purchased Jeep in 1970, the product line coalesced around the more basic Cherokee and its more family-friendly Wagoneer variant. Despite repeated urging from AMC dealers to increase the price point on the latter—due to the surprisingly high household incomes of buyers attracted to the truck’s blend of on-pavement comfort and rugged go-anywhere image—each truck would stay in its lane for the next several year