Junkyard Gem: 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

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Not many (non-military) mass-produced vehicles have ever stayed in production in more or less the same form for better than a quarter-century. There's the Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle, of course, as well as the Peugeot 504, Hindustan Ambassador, Austin Mini, second-generation Suzuki Cultus, second-generation Volkswagen Passat, and … well, many others that stretch the definitions of "more or less the same form." It gets even tougher to find an American vehicle that meets that standard; even the Ford Model T— which was hilariously obsolete when Henry the First grudgingly permitted production to cease in 1927— didn't even make it to 20 model years. The SJ Jeep Wagoneer is one of those rare machines, built by three different companies over a period of 29 model years, and the ones built when George H.W. Bush was president were essentially the same vehicles as the ones built when John F. Kennedy was president.

Here's a late Grand Wagoneer, found in a self-service yard in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The SJ Wagoneer is the conceptual ancestor of every new luxury SUV you can buy today, first unveiled when the idea of a genuinely comfortable truck seemed ridiculous to most. Introduced by Kaiser Jeep as a Brooks Stevens-designed replacement for the jouncy, combat-grade Willys Station Wagon, Wagoneer production was taken over in 1970 by the American Motors Corporation after that company bought Kaiser-Jeep. AMC built Wagoneers and — starting in the 1984 model year — Grand Wagoneers until Lee Iacocca's Chrysler gobbled up the company in 1987. Iacocca was more interested in the lucrative Jeep brand itself than in the aging Grand Wagoneer by that time, but Chrysler continued to build the SJ all the way through 1991.

When the Jeep XJ Cherokee was introduced by AMC for 1984, the Wagoneer name became the name for a Cherokee trim level and the Brooks Stevens truck became the Grand Wagoneer. Now the Grand Wagoneer is back, weighing about two tons more than this 4,470-pound '89 and packing 327 to 366 additional horses under the hood.

That's right, this Jeep had a mere 144 horsepower when new, though the torque was an adequate 280 pound-feet. The engine is the good old American Motors 360, which was introduced to the world in 1970 in such Kenosha-made machines as the Rebel and AMX.

The AMC 360 (later known as the Jeep 5.9) still causes plenty of confusion among parts-counter employees to this day, because Chrysler also built a V8 called the 360, which was completely unrelated to the AMC engine. Sure, the AMC 360 has a front-mounted distributor while the Chrysler 360's is in the back, and the SJ Wagoneer never had a factory-installed Chrysler engine, but it doesn't matter — just the similarity in designation has been enough to cause decade after decade of parts mixups.

All Jeep SJ Wagoneers had four-wheel-drive (and four doors) after the late 1960s, though you could buy an SJ-based Cherokee with rear-wheel-drive and/or two doors later on.

This one doesn't look too rough, aside from some sun-fading and parts yanked off by junkyard shoppers.

Just 186,816 miles on the clock. The sticker below the speedometer seems to indicate that maintenance service was performed in 2004, when the mileage total was 182,760. It's hard to imagine a running vehicle driving just 4,000 miles during 18 years in sparsely-populated Wyoming (where the residents habitually drive 150 miles just to grab a quick lunch), so I suspect that this truck broke something mechanical and got parked for good quite a while back.

The SJ Wagoneer was built in Iran during the Shah's time, as the Simorgh and Ahoo, and there are still some out there on Iranian roads today.

I couldn't find a TV commercial for the '89 Grand Wagoneer, but this '73 ad is close enough.

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