CC Outtake: 1963 Jeep Wagoneer – Explorer Edition

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We were on a walk, and I suddenly started trotting when I spotted the distinctive grille of this Jeep Wagoneer down the street. Wow; I’ve been looking for an early ’63-’65 Wagoneer for as long as I’ve been doing CC, to do a definitive write-up on what was one of the most significant pioneers of the modern SUV genre. When I noticed the lack of a solid front axle, I got really excited. It’s one of the rare independent front suspension versions! I couldn’t believe my luck…literally. 

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It was too good to be true. One look inside told me what I had been fearing since I noticed the non-stock wheels. This is not an original. It’s had a Ford Explorer dash-ectomy. Ugh. And I so much love those original old steel and chrome Wagoneer dash boards. Bummer.

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I dropped down to look underneath, and sure enough: that’s not the very distinctive Jeep IFS that used a live, pivoting “swing axle” for its lower control arms, and upper control arms with torsion bars. A bit like the original Explorer and other Ford twin-beam front ends, but without the camber change. It was a one of a kind. This looks like one of a million other Ford Explorer front ends, after it went to conventional IFS in 1995.

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I don’t know why I even bothered to raise the hood, as I knew the also very unusual and rare Willys Tornado SOHC six was undoubtedly gone too. Sure enough, and replaced by a pushrod Ford 4.0 V6.

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I would have loved to wax eloquently about the terrific styling job done by Brooks Stevens, and the similarity to the Studebaker Lark Wagonaire from this view. The Jeep Wagoneer lasted for 30 years! And still was interesting to look at after all that time.

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I have fond memories of things that happened in the back seat of a ’65 Wagoneer at a drive in movie on a very frigid Iowa April Saturday night, with a new girl friend. We found creative ways to keep warm, and didn’t care what the other high school aged couple in the front seat thought about the moans. The driver’s parents owned the jeep, bought after a move to an old farm outside Iowa City and used to haul kids and a horse trailer. The Tornado six didn’t stand up to the abuse too well, and was eventually replaced by a big Fury with a 383.

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It’s an odd front end, for 1963 design state-of-the-art, and one that was replaced by 1966 already, although the Jeep Gladiator trucks kept it on for a couple more years yet. Brooks Stevens was of course an early exponent of the neo-classic movement that was just getting under way at the time, including his Excalibur, that appeared just a few years later. of course, the 1959 Studebaker Lark as well as the 1960 Valiant may well have been an influence too.

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No, the hood ornaments are not original.

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One of these days, I’ll find the real thing. Although I get the idea of having an updated car, especially a classic shape like this one, but I just can’t quite warm up to this one. That plasticky Explorer dash gave me the willies.

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So I’ll keep looking. And hoping. For a genuine 1963-1965 Wagoneer, with the original SOHC six (which has quite a story), and the unique torsion bar IFS. It may be a while…

Until then, here’s Jim Cavanaugh’s CC on a 1989 Grand Wagoneer