Curbside Classic: 1979 Jeep Wagoneer Limited – Unlimited Appeal

CC loves the old Wagoneer. Who doesn’t? They have a very keen following in Japan too; I keep seeing them about quite regularly. It was only a matter of time until one could be caught standing still and open to a few quick snaps. Then, the other Sunday, it happened.

Well, truth be told, I have had a somewhat tatty Jeep Grand Wagoneer in my files for a while – a late ’80s Chrysler-era car, I believe. And it will have its day on CC too, at some juncture. But this older “pig nose” Limited, replete with colorful AMC badging and looking a lot better than its younger sibling, appeared before yours truly and made its way to the very top of the pile.

I’m not an expert on these, so I might br getting the MY wrong, but in any case the deluxe “Limited” trim was available on Wagoneers from 1978 to 1983, after which the big Jeep had a bit of a butt lift and changed its name to Grand Wagoneer.

The so-called “pig nose” was grafted onto these starting from MY 1979 and lasted until 1985. On the other hand, these wheels were ditched in 1980, so that kind of limits the Venn diagram to just the one year. Happens to be the one I was born in, so let’s go for it!

Here’s a 1979 Wagoneer Limited advert with an unbeatable view of the interior. Seems like an extremely pleasant place to be, it must be said. Much as I adore the exterior styling (pig nose excepted) of these wagons, the surprisingly tasteful upholstery and dash are this vehicle’s hidden trump card.

Here’s the real-life interior, aging rather gracefully. From 1982, AMC sold these fully loaded with power window and the like, but this one still has the keep-fit cranks. Those are less likely to fail, all things considered. I spied that the keys were still in the ignition, so I hurried up to take a few more photos – the owner was surely going to return to his prized possession very soon…

In case you’re wondering (I know I did) about that sticker on the backlight, “Buddy Auto” is a restoration shop in Yokohama specialized in Wagoneers, as well as all manner of US-made campervans. So this Jeep has been getting proper TLC. The question is, how long has it been here? Because although typically American, the Wagoneer was also an outlier among Malaise-era behemoths in having a dedicated international audience – even back in said era.

What I’m saying is that there is a decent chance that this wagon was delivered new in Japan back in 1979. Jeeps were the original 4×4 and spread across the planet as such, courtesy of Allied armies. Of course, they could not reasonably produce everything from the US, so starting in the late ‘40s, they established JVs in dozens of countries to manufacture both civilian and military AWDs that were quite revolutionary. The JV system meant that there were many local variants, but also that local acceptance was very high.

So whatever the US mother ship decided to produce was met with a host of potential clients abroad. The Wagoneer was not created with anyone but the American consumer in mind, but the world loved Jeeps, knew Jeeps and some wealthier folks around the globe must have figured that a huge, luxurious V8-powered Jeep wagon with faux wood and A/C was just the thing they needed.

Wagoneers were sold in Europe in the ‘70s and ‘80s – I can bear witness to that. They were not exactly common, but compared to other Detroit full-sizers of the era, they were not unknown. AMC also sold Wagoneers in Japan in those years, despite the Mistubishi J36 Wagon still being in production at the same time.

The two vehicles may have been distantly related genetically, but they were quite different in their intended audience: the price, tax band and level of refinement available in the American-made wagon – especially in this thirsty and plush Limited guise – was a world away from the sober and rugged Mitsubishi, with their clattering Diesels and rubber floor mats.

Just like in the US, the Wagoneer was kind of in a niche of its own, which also helped. The Range Rover hadn’t quite landed yet (it was still missing two doors, for starters) and the Toyota FJ Land Cruiser was definitely reaching for the SUV role that later versions ended up having. But the Jeep had the name recognition, over a decade and a half of continuous production and more glitz and Di-noc than its woodless would-be rivals.

That’s why they never could stop making the old SJ Wagoneers, even when they launched the new-fangled unibody XJs in 1984: they had become a true icon. And they made AMC a fair amount of money too, during those leanest of lean times. Even Chrysler kept them in production for about five years – for the same reason, i.e. if you made them, people would come and spend lots of money to buy one. Still the case today, apparently: body-on-frame Wagoneers are known to be worth a nice chunk of change, no matter where you are, nowadays. Limited by name, but unlimited in appreciation.


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