For decades now, Jeep has been one of the most enthusiastic employers of special editions and so there was no shortage of Jeeps to choose from for the Jeep-Eagle edition of this series. You won’t, however, see too many Eagle-branded models in this two-part feature. Chrysler missed an opportunity with that brand and the scant lineup received little in the way of special editions or unique models. There are a couple I’ll share with you, however, in addition to an array of distinctive Jeeps from the Kaiser, AMC and Chrysler eras of the company.
Jeep CJ-5 Camper
Years produced: 1969
Total production: 336
In 1969, Kaiser-Jeep launched a marketing campaign called the Great Jeep Escape, touting their “Jeep Recreational Fleet”. The marketing collateral highlighted the Gladiator truck’s available lightweight camper package with heavy-duty components, intended to support the addition of a slide-in camper. The Great Jeep Escape campaign also highlighted the ease with which a Wagoneer or Commando could haul a trailer. The most intriguing and unique inclusion, however, was the CJ-5 Camper, a CJ-5 with a camper shell sold through Jeep showrooms.
A businessman by the name of Chuck Prater designed the camper and sold the exclusive rights to Jeep, who contracted Honorbuilt to manufacture it. Naturally, the CJ-5’s short wheelbase posed a problem. To compensate, the camper itself had an axle with brakes. As it was a slide-in camper, Kaiser-Jeep’s marketing suggested you could literally “take it or leave it” – take it out to the sticks and leave it so you can do some serious off-roading. Just hopefully not as serious as this.
The overhang atop the cab was where the “master bedroom” was, though there were two seats elsewhere in the camper that folded out to become single beds. There were four camper configurations available and you could fit yours out with a stove, toilet, refrigerator or ice box and furnace, among other features typical of 3rd-party camper conversions. In all, it was a pretty neat little package.
Given the weight of the camper shell, Jeep recommended you also tick the option box for the 160 (gross) horsepower Dauntless V6. They also suggested you choose the 4.88:1 axle ratio instead of the standard 3.73:1 ratio. According to the brochure, the camper was available for installation on any post-1955 CJ-5; it’s unclear if the production number of 336 was for the camper itself or for ’69 CJ-5s with this factory option selected.
The factory-supported CJ-5 Camper lasted just a single model year. In 1970, Jeep’s sale to American Motors Corporation was finalized and Jeep’s new owners quietly dropped the little house-on-wheels. The number of survivors is probably in the single digits by now.
Eagle Premier 2.5
Years produced: 1988-89
Total production: ?
The Eagle brand was conceived to give Jeep dealers some passenger cars to sell after Chrysler acquired the off-road brand. Market research had found Jeep owners had some of the highest incomes of any domestic vehicle owners.
It would have made sense, then, to make Eagle a premium brand. Well, they didn’t—what was premium about some rebadged Mitsubishi subcompacts? Or the Talon which, while desirable, was scarcely different from a Plymouth Laser? The Premier was Eagle’s most unique product and Chrysler still didn’t know what to do with it. Up-spec trim levels were marketed as Acura Legend rivals while low-end models were aimed at the Ford Taurus. This led to an uncertain brand identity for both the Premier and the fledgling Eagle brand as a whole, a hatchling that had yet to find its wings (and never would). Despite this nebulous brand equity, however, Chrysler found the Premier sold much better in V6 form and the base four-cylinder was shown the door after just two model years.
The Premier 2.5 had always been a bit of an odd man out. Powered by a fuel-injected version of AMC’s venerable 2.5 four, the four-banger Premier was a heavily reengineered French Renault with an AMC engine in a Mopar showroom with a name shared with an old Plymouth (the Volaré Premier).
Although the V6 was available in base LX and upscale ES trims, the four-cylinder was only available as an LX. This meant a softer suspension tune and 55/45 split front seats instead of the 45/45 of the ’88-89 ES. Producing 111 hp at 4750 rpm and 142 ft-lbs of torque at 2500 rpm, the Premier 2.5 could reach 60mph in 11.6 seconds, around 2 seconds slower than the V6. The only transmission was an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic; a five-speed manual was planned by Renault/AMC but cancelled.
The entire Premier range proved to be a sales disappointment for the Chrysler Corporation. They’d projected 40,000 sales for its debut season in 1988 and produced 45,546, only to have 29,878 leave showrooms. Sales didn’t appear to improve for 1989 and contractual obligations to buy a certain number of PRV 3.0 V6s led to the creation of the rebadged Dodge Monaco. Because Chrysler was on the hook to sell the V6s and the four-banger was a slow seller anyway (though there’s no production breakdown), the Premier 2.5 didn’t survive past the 1989 model year; the V6 Premier and Monaco limped on for another few years.
Jeep Compass Rallye
Years produced: 2007-2009
Total production: ?
Despite the seven-slot grille and round headlights, the Compass and its more traditionally-styled Patriot sibling were front/all-wheel-drive models with four-cylinder engines, riding a platform shared with the Dodge Caliber. As a further shock to traditional Jeep values, the Compass was a very different animal, stylistically, from any Jeep past or present. Although the Compass helped attract female buyers and eventually morphed into a commercially successful mini-Grand Cherokee lookalike, these early models were rather awkward and a missed opportunity. The Rallye special edition shows what could have been a more compelling and unique offering.
Imagine a scrappy little Compass with the 285-hp turbo 2.4 four from the Caliber SRT-4, except with all-wheel-drive. That Compass could have been an intriguing American alternative to the Subaru WR-X. Instead, the closest it got to being sporty was the Compass Rallye.
The option package, priced at just under $2k, was purely cosmetic, adding 18-inch black aluminum wheels, a Mopar body kit, driving lights, rear spoiler and some other visual tweaks. As there were no mechanical changes, the Rallye was powered by the same 2.0 four-cylinder with 158 hp and 141 ft-lbs (2WD Sport models) or 2.4 four-cylinder with 172 hp and 165 ft-lbs (4WD and Limited models). There was a five-speed manual standard with the 2.4 but most Compass Rallyes were likely sold with the droning continuously-variable transmission. Despite being a small car, the Compass felt none too sprightly. A shame, too, as the chassis was competent and could’ve handled a lot more power.
The SRT-4’s turbo four wouldn’t have resolved the Compass’ other woes, like its cheap and nasty interior, but it certainly would’ve made for a more compelling compact Jeep. The Compass got off to a slow start, sales only picking up in 2011 when it received a handsome and comprehensive exterior makeover. By then, however, the Rallye was long gone.
Jeep Grand Cherokee TSi
Years produced: 1997-98
Total production: ?
Although Jeep and Eagles shared showroom space, there was very little synergy between the two brands. Just as the executioner’s axe fell on the beleaguered Eagle brand, Chrysler decided to share the TSi trim level with Jeep to create a distinctive, sporty-looking Grand Cherokee.
The TSi name had been used on top-spec versions of the Eagle Talon and Vision but the Grand Cherokee TSi was slotted between the base Laredo and posh Limited models. The TSi had a body color grille, unique 16-inch alloy wheels and lower-body cladding with Iris Blue pinstriping; it could be had with only three exterior colors. Feature-wise, the TSi had the same equipment as the Laredo but added leather trim and cruise control to justify the approximately $2k higher MSRP.
The TSi used the same engines as the Laredo and Limited. This meant a choice of 4.0 inline six (185 hp, 220 ft-lbs) or 5.2 V8 (220 hp, 300 ft-lbs) engines and a mandatory four-speed automatic. Like the flossier Limited, however, the TSi had Jeep’s full-time 4WD system dubbed Quadra-Trac instead of the Selec-Trac switchable 4WD system standard in the Laredo.
Though its cosmetic tweaks suggested the TSi was a sportier Grand Cherokee variant, there was no difference in suspension tune and no extra performance. Those seeking a more powerful Grand Cherokee in 1998 would have to pay a little extra.
Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited
Years produced: 1998
Total production: 14,286
It seems Jeep wanted to send the first-generation ZJ Grand Cherokee off with a bang. Despite 1998 being the ZJ’s last year, Jeep dropped the 360 cubic-inch Magnum (5.9) V8 into its most luxurious Grand Cherokee yet.
The Magnum V8, shared with the new Dodge Durango, produced 245 hp and 345 ft-lbs – considerably more than rivals like the Explorer V8 – and swept the new flagship Jeep to 60mph in around 7 seconds. The 5.9 produced an extra 20 hp and 40 ft-lbs than the existing 5.2 V8, sacrificing one mile per gallon in both the city and on the highway (13/17 mpg).
Although the regular Limited was available with rear-wheel-drive, the 5.9 Limited came only with Quadra-Trac full-time 4WD; the Trac-Lok locking rear differential was also made standard. However, the Up Country off-road package, with its tow hooks and skid plates, wasn’t available on the new flagship as the 5.9 Limited was targeted more at the kind of buyers less likely to go off-road. That’s not to say, though, that the 5.9 Limited couldn’t tackle the rough stuff.
The Limited was already a comprehensively-equipped SUV for the time with features like power seats, remote keyless entry and automatic headlights. Priced at over $4k more than a 4WD 5.2 Limited, the 5.9 Limited justified the extra cost with a sunroof, heated front seats, CD player and a ten-speaker Infinity sound system. The interior used unique gathered “calf’s nap” leather upholstery and bird’s eye maple trim.
There were also some cosmetic tweaks made to make the 5.9 Limited stand out, including a mesh grille and hood louvers. In all, it was an impressively differentiated package for a one-year-only model. Its high price, however, meant only 6% of ’98 Grand Cherokees were 5.9 Limited models.
Jeep has been making special edition models as far back as the 1960s. Though many recent special editions have been more luxury and sport focused, Jeep has retained its off-road pedigree. In the next instalment, we’ll look at some luxurious and sporty Jeep special editions from decades before “crossover” was part of the American lexicon, as well as another Eagle.