Jeep has been doing special editions since the 1960s and they’ve only gotten more prolific with time – there were at least a dozen distinct special edition TJ Wranglers alone! For Part II (read Part I here), I’ve narrowed it down to another quartet of Jeeps plus a lone Eagle.
Hurst Jeepster Commando
Years produced: 1971
Total production: ~100
After World War II ended, Willys-Overland introduced the Jeepster as an attempt to expand their appeal. Based on the CJ, the Jeepster tried to blur the lines between conventional Jeep and passenger car and didn’t even come with four-wheel-drive. It was a flop and disappeared after three model years. Fast-forward to 1966 and Kaiser-Jeep was struggling and needed something to do battle against International Harvester and Ford, both of whom had introduced vehicles aimed at effectively the same audience as the Jeepster had. Enter the resurrected Jeepster, the 1966 Jeepster Commando.
Like the original Jeepster, the Commando was heavily based off the CJ Jeep, this time the CJ-6. This time, there was four-wheel-drive and an optional V6 engine. The Jeepster Commando was supposed to be a fun Jeep aimed at young people but sales started sliding shortly after its launch. To attract buyers, Kaiser-Jeep had mooted a tie-up with Hurst Performance Products for a special edition and Jeep’s new owners American Motors proceeded with the plan.
Despite the Hurst tie-in – they of AMC SC/Rambler fame – there were no performance enhancements to the Jeepster, though the Hurst edition did mandate the optional 160 (gross) horsepower Dauntless V6 and added G7—15 Goodyear Polyglas tires. The approximately $300 package was mostly cosmetic, adding a hood-mounted air scoop and tachometer and red and blue stripes on the mandatory Champagne White paint. As befitting a Hurst project, there were Hurst shifters – a T-handle shifter for the standard three-speed manual and the Hurst Dual Gate shifter with the three-speed automatic.
The Hurst Jeepster’s production run was extremely small – 500 were planned but only 100 or so were built – and the Jeepster line itself was seeing shrinking sales volumes while rivals continued to do solid business. After 1973, the Jeepster was gone and for 1974, Jeep once again looked to the past for a new model. This time, it was a resurrected Wagoneer 2-dr christened Cherokee. It would have a few special editions of its own.
Jeep Super Wagoneer
Years produced: 1966-69
Total production: ~1500
Long before the Grand Wagoneer became the upper middle-class family vehicle of choice in every 1980s movie, there was a different posh Jeep: the Super Wagoneer. It can be credited as being the world’s first luxury SUV, even beating the original Range Rover to market.
Long before automatic transmissions, a power tailgate and air conditioning were ubiquitous in SUVs – and long before SUV itself became common parlance – there was the Super Wagoneer. It had all those features and more, including power steering, power brakes, tinted windows and bucket seats. The powertrain was the 327 cubic-inch Vigilante V8 with a four-barrel carb, mated to a console-mounted Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic transmission.
The exterior was distinguished from lesser Wagoneers with whitewall tires, a vinyl roof and unique accent trim down the flanks: basket-weave gold anodized trim, framed with stainless steel moldings and bisected with a black spear.
Jeep was really pushing the Wagoneer as a practical alternative to conventional sedans. Their 1966 brochure, for example, says, “The Wagoneer handles as easily and as comfortably as any fine car sedan… Inside are… fresh fashions you’d expect only in expensive sedans and they don’t offer the safer road-hugging traction of 4-wheel drive!” The Super Wagoneer was simply the most car-like of the Wagoneer line. It was also by far the priciest, its $5493 asking price just $100 off from a Cadillac Sedan de Ville’s.
Though its production numbers were very low and its run short, the Super Wagoneer lived on in spirit. Its features were made available on the Custom Wagoneer but for the unique accent trim – instead, “wood” trim was available. Eventually, the poshest Wagoneer came to be known as the Grand Wagoneer, a name that will soon return to Jeep showrooms. Though the Wagoneer name has been dormant for years, Jeep has continuously offered plush, well-appointed SUVs. And it all started with the Super Wagoneer.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Tomb Raider
Years produced: 2003
Total production: ~1000
Jeep has well and truly embraced the special edition game, starting way back with the Tuxedo Park CJ-5s of the 1960s. The CJ and later Wrangler trucks have seemingly been the recipient of the most special editions out of the Jeep clan. Regardless of whether it’s a heritage special edition (Willys, Golden Eagle), a movie tie-in (Sahara) or even one of the few video game promotional editions (Call of Duty), a Wrangler special edition is typically limited to some modest tire, paint and trim changes. Once in a while, though, there’s a more distinctive Wrangler. The Tomb Raider edition is one of them.
“Do you come with the car?”
Like the 2005 Sahara, the 2003 Tomb Raider was a movie tie-in, in this case Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, the sequel to Angelina Jolie’s first outing as the ass-kicking archaeologist. Though neither film was critically acclaimed, they were significant as being female-led action films, a concept that still isn’t common 16 years later. Based on the Tomb Raider video game franchise, the Tomb Raider films – like the games – likely had plenty of male fans but it was certainly unique to see a special edition commemorating a female protagonist.
The Tomb Raider was designed to look identical to the truck Jeep designed specifically for and featured prominently in the movie. Like the truck Lara Croft herself drove, the Tomb Raider had 16-inch Alcoa forged aluminum wheels and a raft of Mopar accessories: light bar, riveted fender flares and guards for damn near everything. The only color was Bright Silver, matched to a Dark Slate interior with red accent stitching.
To this day, female-led films often still get scorned by internet trolls. In a strange way, by offering a special edition truck resembling that which was driven by a female action hero, Jeep did a small favor for womankind. Not that it was done out of altruism – Jeep paid handsomely for a heaping helping of product placement!
Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle
Years produced: 1979-80
Total production: ?
Ah, the 1970s. The decade of denim upholstery and giant animal decals on car hoods. Denim seats were available among AMC and Jeep models while animal decals could be found on Chevrolet, Ford and Pontiac models. Only Jeep combined both endearingly kitsch trends with the Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle and the related J-10 Golden Eagle.
The Golden Eagle package was actually offered for some time on the J-10 and the CJ but the Cherokee had a much shorter run, produced only from 1979 to 1980. Like the other SJ Cherokee option packages, the Golden Eagle was only available on the “wide-wheel” 2-dr – that is, the Cherokee 2-drs with three-inch wider axles and fender flares. The wide-wheel Cherokees were an attractively butch update of the 1963-vintage body. Less convincing was the revised side window design. The 1974 SJ Cherokee 2-dr had dusted off the old Wagoneer 2-dr body, retired in 1968 due to slow sales. Perhaps to differentiate it from Wagoneers sitting on used car lots, Jeep gave the “new” Cherokee body a single fixed rear side window with an available pop-out section instead of the old Wagoneer’s larger glass area. Considering you could see the lines in the sheet metal for the old window, it wasn’t the best look.
At least the Golden Eagle package looked suitably 1979. Naturally, there were gold embellishments – the 15-inch wheels, the tape stripes and the big hood decal. In addition to that, there was “Bronze-Tone” rear quarter glass. Inside, the seats were upholstered in beige denim and matched with tan carpets; for 1980, black was made an option. The typeface used for the Golden Eagle decals was the final (gold) crowning touch – very 1979.
Perhaps it was that very 1979 appearance that led to the Golden Eagle’s demise after 1980. Cherokee buyers who wanted a lurid, tape stripe-emblazoned 2-dr could still buy the long-running Chief while the new-for-1980 Laredo had a more understated, luxurious style. It was a new decade and denim upholstery and animal decals just weren’t in anymore.
Eagle 2000 GTX
Years produced: 1991-93
Total production: ?
In this series, I’ve tried to keep a predominantly US-market focus. The only non-USDM special edition I’ve written about was the Mercury Marquis LTS. Trying to find a second limited-run Eagle proved to be a challenge, however. Once again, I had to cross the border north to Canada for an Eagle that belongs just as much in this article as it does in my Obscure Rebadges From Across The World series.
The 2000 GTX was a rebadged version of the Mitsubishi Galant, introduced in Japan in 1987 and the US in 1989 where it won Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year. It wasn’t, however, introduced in Canada as Mitsubishi didn’t market their own vehicles there. Like in the US, Mitsubishi instead sold their cars with Dodge, Eagle and Plymouth badges and some US-market Mitsubishis just missed out on the Canadian market altogether.
The 2000 GTX wasn’t the only Eagle unique to Canada, the Mitsubishi Mirage having been sold as the Eagle Vista up north as well as the Dodge and Plymouth Colt. And like the Vista had been a Colt, the Eagle 2000 GTX had also been sold as a Dodge 2000 GTX from 1989 until 1991. For some reason, it was switched to the Eagle marque in ’91.
Though it was never sold as an Eagle in the US, it was actually more in the spirit of Chrysler’s new marque than some of their other models. Eagle was generally pitched as a more direct rival to import brands and its range was topped with the sporty Mitsubishi Eclipse-based Talon and the Renault-descended Premier. After all, Eagle was the companion marque to Jeep – you know, the brand that sold the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, the truck whose buyers had the highest average income of any American-made car or truck. An Eagle Summit was a perfectly competent Japanese economy car but shouldn’t the Eagle brand have soared higher?
Though the 2000GTX wasn’t exactly a rival for Audi, it was a pretty sophisticated Accord competitor. The base engine was a SOHC fuel-injected 2.0 four, producing 121 hp at 6000 rpm and 120 ft-lbs at 4750 rpm and mated to either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. The range comprised base and Premium models, the latter of which came with power windows, mirrors and locks as well as velour trim.
Atop these models sat the DOHC Premium and DOHC Premium AWD. These both used a DOHC 2.0 four, producing 135 hp and 125 ft-lbs and mated to the same transmissions. The FWD DOHC Premium model came standard with Mitsubishi’s ECS II. This comprised electronically-controlled coil/air springs, telescopic shock absorbers and automatic self-levelling suspension. The FWD DOHC Premium also came with EPS II (Electronic Power Steering), giving drivers the choice of normal and Sport steering modes. This was some heady tech for a compact/mid-size sedan almost 30 years ago. Though the AWD model didn’t have ECS, it had a double-wishbone rear independent suspension. Unfortunately, for the 2000 GTX’s final season, model year 1993, the DOHC engine, AWD and ECS options were all deleted as they were with the USDM Mitsubishi Galant.
Even more disappointingly, while Canadians got another Eagle-branded model with the 2000 GTX, they missed out on the spicy Galant VR-4 sport sedan and its turbocharged 2.0 four with 195 hp and 203 ft-lbs. Still, even with the remaining FWD SOHC variants and their regular suspension, the Galant and the 2000 GTX were peak Mitsubishi with excellent drivability, willing handling and a quality feel.
That concludes the Jeep-Eagle edition of this series. Though there’ll never be another Eagle, there’ll be plenty more limited-run Jeeps. In the next edition of this series, we’ll look at some obscure special editions and forgotten limited-run models from the independent American automakers (excluding American Motors, which was the first company I covered!).