Curbside Classic: 1993 Jeep Grand Wagoneer – The Not-So-Grand Wagoneer

The early 1990’s was a big decade at Jeep, in all kinds of ways – including making changes.  After almost thirty years of continuous production, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer was phased out by Chrysler after the 1991 model run.  What would the world look like without a Grand Wagoneer in Jeep showrooms?  It seems that Chrysler was afraid to find out and introduced one as a 1993 model.  What – you didn’t notice?  It seems that you had a lot of company.

AMC’s Jeep operation had quite a decade in the 1980’s.  After starting out with the CJ and the Wagoneer, both essentially 1960’s designs, the new XJ Cherokee made its debut for 1983.  Jeep’s timing was fortuitous, as this was almost exactly the time when America began to fall out of love with the station wagon and in love with the SUV.  The old Wagoneer (which became the Grand Wagoneer) stayed around, but mainly because rich people insisted on throwing large wads of cash at the company in order to keep buying them.  AMC was willing to wring money out of the past, but knew that the XJ Cherokee was the future.

Around the time the XJ hit showrooms, AMC began work on its eventual replacement.  In what it called the “XJC” Project, the company sought design proposals from three outsiders—Larry Shinoda, Alain Clenet, and Giorgetto Giugiaro.  By 1986, work on the Cherokee’s successor began in earnest with the latest advances in computer design and Francois Castaing’s Product Lifestyle Management design and production system.  This system was designed to speed development of new models by designing efficiencies into the cycle rather than to cut costs out of it while work was going on.

The ZJ Cherokee was well underway when Chrysler acquired AMC and progress continued.  The next generation Cherokee began to take on a recognizable form in the 1989 Jeep Concept 1 show car.  The ZJ was most likely intended to replace both the small XJ and the ancient SJ, that therefor took on dimensions that more-or-less split the difference between the two.  As the car’s launch date approached, it became clear that the XJ’s continued success meant that it was not going away.  Instead, it was the old SJ Wagoneer that had been put out to pasture the previous year, so why not offer a version that would cater specifically to those who might miss Old Faithful?

The 1993 Grand Wagoneer would essentially be a trim package at the top, top, top end of what was already an aggressively priced new SUV.  The new Grand Wagoneer would be a Grand Cherokee Limited, only with the addition of the 5.2L V8 as standard equipment and with a uniquely luxurious interior.

Of course, it would not be a proper Grand Wagoneer without the exterior trimmed with woodgrain, so that was included too.  $29,996 would be the cost of entry to this most rarified of Grand Cherokees – about a $1,300 premium over the already steep Grand Cherokee in Limited trim.  For another comparison, the new GW was also nearly $200 more than the MSRP had been for the old 1991 Grand Wagoneer.

It turned out that a new Grand Wagoneer was not what America’s SUV buyers were seeking.  At least not THIS new Grand Wagoneer.  OK, it actually was what 6,378 of America’s SUV buyers were seeking, but that was not much compared with the 250,143 copies of the ZJ with a Grand Cherokee name on its painted steel flanks.  It was, however, more than the 4,253 1991 “Final Editions” of the old SJ Grand Wagoneer.  But in any case, the Grand Wagoneer would exit Jeep dealers at the end of the 1993 model run, not to return until the recently introduced 2022 model.

Perhaps Chrysler was not trying very hard to sell the new GW.  While it got a two-page spread in the Jeep full-line catalog, that seems to have been about it.  It did not get a mention in the Grand Cherokee brochure and does not appear to have gotten a brochure of its own.  Oh well, at least the full-line catalog told us about all there was to know about this model: the seats were described as a “biscuit pattern” and that both an overhead console and automatic temperature control were standard.

This had not actually been AMC’s (or Chrysler’s) first try at weaning GW buyers off of the ancient Kaiser-era platform.  The XJ Cherokee had been offered in “Wagoneer” and “Wagoneer Limited” versions from 1983 to 1990.  They may have made for particularly luxurious Cherokees, but their volumes did not tempt the company to axe the old cash cow.

I have found myself with a bit of free time, and have been looking back through my photo stash for some old things I never got around to writing up.  This is one, and it deserves its day.  Like many of you, I had forgotten all about these when I saw this one.  When I saw the nameplates, I knew that I had to photograph it.

This may have been the last one of these I ever saw.  Grand Cherokees were still relatively common sightings a decade ago, but that has changed.  For whatever reason, these never developed the rabid fan base of the XJ Cherokee, examples of which are still seen from time to time.  Not to mention the even more rabid fan base of the old SJ Grand Wagoneer, with prime examples relatively common and available for sums that make their original MSRP seem like a bargain.

No, the ZJ Grand Cherokee seems to have gone the way of most Ford Explorers, with a few pampered examples still around but not many others.  At least in my own experience.  Given the rust showing on this example, it is a pretty safe bet that it has been turned into a Hyundai Sonata or a Samsung refrigerator since these photos were taken.

Jeep struck gold with the original Wagoneer – a utility vehicle that became a luxury icon.  It is hoping to do so again, with a new edition introduced in 2022.  That new version’s introductory base price of $59,995 is actually a little cheaper than the old one after adjusting for inflation, but they make up for it by making versions that crack six-figures on the window sticker.

This ZJ version of the Grand Wagoneer was not such a gold-strike.  Unless you shoot on-the-street (or in-the-parking lot) photos of curbside classics.  Because in this context, a 1993 Grand Wagoneer, in all its leather and woodgrain glory, is gold indeed.


Further Reading:

CC For Sale – 1993 Grand Wagoneer (Brendan Saur)