Earlier this year, John Johnson faced a dire dilemma. Having recently retired, he and his wife were in the motoring market for a classic vehicle. All of the contenders had been eliminated and they were torn between two remaining options: a muscle-bound 1969 Dodge Charger or a big and brawny Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
After giving it some hard thought, the choice was easy, and they went with the rugged and refined 4×4 off-roader.
It’s a model with a ton of happy heritage for the car-crazy couple who now live in Waynesville, North Carolina. In the 1970s and ‘80s, John worked for American Motors and then Chrysler, serving in a wide range of capacities from turning wrenches as a repair technician to overseeing maintenance as a service rep to corporate manager. Being up the food chain, John had a company car when the couple got married which was indeed a beige Grand Wagoneer. With wedding bells still ringing, they used it for their honeymoon, cruising to sunny Captiva Island, Florida, from their home in Fort Lauderdale.
On the Hunt
With their mind made up and more than ready to relive the past, this spring they began searching for a suitable candidate. They located this Bright White 1990 example in February, purchasing it from the third owner who lived in Lebanon, Missouri. Just 6,449 were produced that year and given their capabilities, many were run hard.
This Jeep wasn’t the norm, showing just over 64,000 miles and presented in excellent survivor condition with no traces or rust or abuse. It had been sold new at Grayson Jeep, in Knoxville, Tennessee, to a young woman who five years later traded it in to a local Cadillac dealership.
The second owner purchased it for use as his hunting and fishing cabin cruiser in rural Townsend, Tennessee. Despite the woodsy setting, it was used sporadically and very well cared for. In 2015 the outdoorsman put it up for sale at which point it headed to Missouri and the seller John encountered.
Back in the Saddle
Being a tech and having worked on countless of these before, after getting the Grand Wagoneer home, John knew just what to do to make sure it was in tip top condition.
He changed all of the fluids (from the coolant in the radiator to the power brakes and rear differential and everything in between), overhauled the 5.9L V8’s 2-barrell carburetor and tweaked the emission equipment. “Even though I was a tech in the 1970s, these never changed much,’ laughs John. “It really was a breeze going through it and all of my dealership training readily came back.”
The Grand Wagoneer debuted in 1963 and largely remained the same through its final model year in 1991. Some of the most iconic versions are the ones like John’s that bear faux woodgrain paneling on the side. On his, it’s all original and very well preserved – much like the rest of the vehicle.
The model has also become noted as the maverick that ushered in the modern era of large, comfortable and capable SUVs that dominate today’s roadways and off-road trails. Over its many decades of production, the Grand Wagoneer was first produced by Kaiser Jeep, then American Motors and finally Chrysler with each iteration being desired and collectible by enthusiasts.
A Course for Adventure
With the retro SUV ready for adventure, John has wasted no time in getting it out in the wild. In late summer he had it on display at the Great Smokey Mountain Club Jeep Invasion, held in Pigeon Forge – not far from where the vehicle was sold new.
It turned heads, caught attention and most importantly brought back many happy memories. “Jeep is such a historic and well-loved brand,’ said John, who also has a late-model Grand Cherokee. “Having worked for the company and been around them so long, this Grand Wagoneer was definitely the right choice for my family to get out and enjoy the open road.”