Vintage Review: 1963 Jeep Wagoneer – Jeep’s I.F.S. Road To Nowhere

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

If you’re like me and just can’t get you enough Wagoneer, you might be interested in this. I recently ran a very full CC on the Grand Wagoneer, which included a brief overview of the novel Independent Front Suspension that was available for the first five years of the Waggy’s long life. In the article and comments there was speculation about how well it worked and why it was only offered so briefly. The questions greatly outnumbered the answers, which got me searching deep into the World Wide Web where I was able to find Motor Trend’s first road test of Jeep’s newest creation.  This article sheds light on both how well the i.f.s. worked and how much of a breath of fresh air the Wagoneer was when it first came out.

Since I don’t have a physical copy of the magazine to scan, I have the full text and pictures entered below. The road test text is in italics as are the captions, which are the original Motor Trend captions. The test starts below and runs continuously to the specification charts. I’ll put my commentary after the article so you don’t have to search within it. If you want to skim or skip the article text, just scroll down past the charts.

First Test: Willys Jeep Wagoneer

The Jeep Becomes A Gentleman: New Turnpike Engine and Country Club Look — Same Old Backroad Dependability

by Jim Wright

Long a builder of strictly, almost starkly functional, utility-type vehicles, Willys adds a whole new dimension to the line with the Wagoneer. Up to now, most four-wheel-drive enthusiasts (of which there are thousands) have been faced with the problem of two cars in the garage. Jeeps and other FWD vehicles are the greatest for tooling over cow trails or across uncharted deserts — but for the most part, they’re either too slow, or too cramped and uncomfortable for freeway cruising. In most cases, true four-wheeling aficionados tow their rigs to the point where the modern highway stops and the real back country begins. With the new Willys station wagon in the garage, the other car is no longer a necessity — this is one vehicle that’s equally at home anywhere. It’s also big enough for the whole family, and even the little lady wouldn’t be ashamed to drive it to her weekly bridge club. 

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Note that with both front wheels at lower limits of travel, they have undergone little or no camber changes.


The Truck Trend test wagon was loaded with just about everything offered: power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, independent front suspension, radio and heater, plus a host of minor accessories. One other small, but important, accessory was the Warn hubs installed on the front wheels. These enabled us, by a simple twist of the wrist, to “cut out” the front drive in two~whee1 drive. This means less drag, therefore, better gas mileage, as well as less wear. We were favorably impressed with the recently introduced “Tornado-230” engine. This is the only single overhead cam engine produced in America at this time and could mean that if Willys is successful with it, other manufacturers might follow suit. This in-line Six features an aluminum head, 8.5-to-1 compression ratio, two-barrel carburetor, and 230 cubic inches. Horsepower is very conservatively rated at 140 at 4000 rpm. The relatively long stroke-to-bore ratio brings the torque peak in at a rather low rpm (210 pounds-feet at 1700 rpm) which means that this engine will really buckle down and pull when the going is tough and slow. Out on the highway, the high horsepower peaking speed allows the Wagoneer to keep up with traffic and still have plenty left for passing. The power flow is smooth and even though this is an ohc engine, its operation is very quiet.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Engine feels like its developing more than its rated 140 hp. Aluminum head keeps engine weight down to 575 lbs.


The automatic transmission, made by Borg-Warner, is hooked up to the front and rear axles through a single-range transfer case. Models with three-speed manual transmissions are equipped with a dual-range transfer case (Hi and Lo). Two-wheel-drive models can be had with three-speed manual overdrive transmission. Our test car had the standard (for automatics) 3.73-to-1 axle ratio. Wagons with manual transmissions have 4.09 rear axle ratios.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Wagoneer offers first 4WD with automatic transmission. Even steep grades with loose, sandy soil didn’t faze it. Conditions have to be really extreme before it bows to manual gearbox.


Acceleration is quite lively for a vehicle of this type. It compares favorably to most of the passenger cars of its size. A top speed of 90 mph (true — not indicated) was reached on the test track at Riverside Raceway. The standing quarter-mile took 20.5 seconds, with a speed of 68 mph. Standing-start acceleration runs of 0-30, 0-45, and 0-60 mph took 4.6, 8.8, and 16.1 seconds. We didn’t use forced shifts during any of the acceleration tests, but let the transmission do its own work. Maximum speeds, at shift points, were 31 mph (4000 rpm) in first and 51 mph (3800 rpm) in second.

At this time, Willys is selling all of this model they can produce, and they even have a rather large quantity of back orders. As a result, we couldn’t keep the Wagoneer as long as we’d have liked (it was already sold), so our fuel consumption figures aren’t as complete as they usually are. We were able to determine that normal city and freeway driving will give figures in the 14-to-18-mpg range, going as high as 21 or 22 mpg for steady, legal-limit highway cruising. In rough back country, with all four wheels pulling, the range drops to 10 to 14 mpg. With the 20-gallon fuel tank, this gives an operating range of anywhere from 200 to slightly over 400 miles to a tank of gas — regular grade at that.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Dash layout is simple and convenient. 4WD lever has in-and-out action, with indicator light above.


One of the few complaints we had with the car centers on the fuel tank. Its a long, narrow tank that nestles up between the rear driveshaft and the curb-side frame rail. This in itself is fine, because it’s out of the way and well protected, but by necessity, the fill pipe, located on the driver’s side. is extremely long and almost horizontal — and because of this, it seems to take forever to fill the tank. Owners will have to make sure that station attendants really fill the tank, because most of them have a tendency to assume that the tank is full when gas begins to slosh out on the ground — and this happens constantly as the Wagoneer’s tank is being filled.

While we’re on the minus side, we’ll mention the compass that comes as standard equipment on all Wagoneers. This can be a very useful accessory in a vehicle such as this, and while it was accurate (as near as we could tell), it was designed in such a way as to make it a nuisance during night driving. The compass light is within the unit and not shielded at all. As a result, the light shines in the driver’s eyes, a perfect reflection of the compass is thrown up on the windshield, and since the light is behind the compass dial, the dial isn’t illuminated and can’t be read from the driver’s seat.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Cargo area is large and has more height than most wagons. Rear passenger seat can be folded to provide even more area.


1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

We also felt the brakes could be improved a bit. During the course of our rough-country tests, we ended up on what must have been a wagon trail used by the original Forty-niners. It was about 50 miles long and took us up and down several mountains, through dry washes, and across a couple of stretches where the road disappeared completely. We didn’t break any speed records getting through this stretch but we didn’t waste any time either, and several times we had to stop to let the brakes cool down before we could continue. We found that they faded rather quickly on the 6O-mph stops during our brake tests. Also, when the brakes got hot they had a tendency to lock up suddenly, and this was accompanied by swerving. Pedal pressures were neither too heavy nor too light with power assist and didn’t require any getting used to.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Single pivot front axle allows differential to swing with curb-side half. Short upper A-arms tie into torsion bars at their inner pivot points. Warn hubs allow driver to easily engage or disengage front wheels and drive train when vehicle is in two-wheel drive. This means less drag and increased economy.


Next to the new engine, the most significant engineering advancement on the test car was the independent front suspension layout. In a way, it resembles the famous Mercedes unit. Basically, it’s a single pivot swing axle, but where Mercedes uses a pivot point several inches below the axle’s longitudinal axis, Willys’ pivots it right on the center line. Mercedes uses the low pivot to keep camber changes at the wheel to a minimum. Because the Willys unit is used at the front, it naturally contains steering knuckles at each end and in normal operation there are no camber changes at the wheel. So in effect, while it’s basically a swing axle, the steering knuckles allow it to operate just like a full independent system. The axle is the lower control arm and works with a shorter upper control arm, which is tied into a torsion bar at its inner pivot point.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Axles are located fore and aft by control link in lower right of picture. Torsion bar anchor is at top left of picture.

The Wagoneer is also available with the more conventional rigid front axle and semi-elliptic leaf spring system. Two-wheel-drive models use a tubular axle and leaf spring system or a swing axle with torsion bars. We would definitely recommend the independent layout and feel that its added advantages are worth every penny of the extra cost (approximately $160).

The rear suspension is conventional, with rigid axle and semi-elliptic springs. The springs are four-leaf, with an additional top half-leaf to prevent spring wind-up.

The boulevard ride is surprisingly smooth and not at all choppy. In two-wheel drive, the handling characteristics are quite a bit different from those of 4WD. The car seems to “heel” over suddenly in corners and doesn’t feel completely stable. This is, no doubt, caused by the amount of negative caster present in the front wheels – a necessity since directional stability increases with negative Caster in front-wheel-drive vehicles – just the opposite of rear-wheel-drive vehicles. With the front wheels engaged, the Wagoneer corners very well and directional stability is excellent.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Independent front suspension is at its best in terrain like this. In addition to improved traction, ride is very comfortable.

In the rough stuff, the i.f.s. really comes into its own. Traction is greatly improved, and it’s almost impossible to get the vehicle in a position where one of the front wheels is off the ground. With limited-slip differentials, front and rear, the Wagoneer would be able to keep pulling even with one or more wheels off the ground — but try as we did, we couldn’t get it into this position. With a straight front axle, it’s a fairly common occurrence in rough country. We maneuvered through quite a few exceptionally rough stretches that would have jarred our teeth loose, if it hadn’t been for the front suspension.

To check out the pulling power, we took the Wagoneer where the soil was loose and sandy and went as far as we could in two-wheel drive. When it bogged down, we engaged the front wheels and the Wagoneer kept right on going. The only time we ever lost traction completely was on a real steep grade (no road) where the ground was covered with loose shale.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer Motor Trend road test

Big advantage with this type of vehicle is that you aren’t limited to staying on conventional roads. Angle of departure here caused bumper to drag.

The fact that we could go just about anywhere wasn’t so surprising, because this is what you should be able to expect with 4WD. What surprised us was that we were able to do it with an automatic transmission. The transfer case is operated by shifting a single, two-position floor-mounted lever. This can be accomplished whether the car is moving or standing still. A light, mounted under the dash and right above the lever, indicates when 4WD is engaged.

A lot of quality has been built into these vehicles, and like their military forebears, they look as if they’re built to last and last. The interiors are finished in tasteful colors and materials that belie the car’s utilitarian purpose. Six good-sized passengers can be carried in complete comfort, with plenty of hip, head, and leg room available for everyone. There is also plenty of cargo space, which can be increased by folding the rear seat.

All controls and instruments are within easy reach of the driver, while seat adjustment is enough to satisfy anyone. All-around visibility is excellent, almost completely unobstructed. There’s also plenty of working space in the engine compartment for servicing.

Following the rest of the industry, Willys is offering extended lubrication periods. Under normal operating conditions, chassis points require service every 30,000 miles with oil-change intervals at 6000 miles. To complete the all-purpose character of the Wagoneer, options include power take-off (on 4WD models) for front-mounted snow plows and winches.

Willys Jeep Wagoneer
Layout 6-passenger station wagon
Options on car tested Automatic transmission, independent front suspension, power steering, power brakes, radio, heater, Warn hubs, electric windshield wipers
Basic price $3,525.80
Pirce as tested $4479.05 (plus tax and license)
Odometer reading at start of test 225 miles
Recommended engine red line 500 rpm


Acceleration (2 aboard)
0-30 4.6 secs
0-45 8.8
0-60 16.1
Standing start 1/4 mile 20.5 secs and 68 mph
Speeds in gears at shift points
1st 31 mph @ 4000 rpm
2nd 51 mph @ 3800 rpm
Observed miles per hour per 1000 rpm in top gear 20.5 mph
Stopping distances
From 30 mph 38 ft
From 60 mph 185 ft


Engine layout Sohc in-line 6
Bore 3.34 in.
Stroke 4.38 in.
Displacement 230 cu in.
Compression ratio 8.5:1
Horsepower 140 @ 4000 rpm
Torque 210 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
Horsepower per cubic inch 0.6
Ignition 12-volt coil
Gearbox 3-speed automatic, with single-range 4-wheel-drive transfer case
Driveshaft 2, one-piece open tube
Differential (front and rear), standard ratio Hypoid — semi-floating, 3.73:1
Suspension, front/rear Independent — single pivot swing axle with torsion bars and direct-acting tubular shocks/rigid axle, with leaf springs and direct-acting tubular shocks
Steering Cam and lever, with external power-assist cylinder
Turning diamter 41.2 ft
Turns lock to lock 5.6
Wheels and tires 5-lug, steel disc wheels, 6.70 x 15 4-ply tires
Brakes (size) Hydraulic, with power assist; cast iron drums (11-in. dia. x 2 in. wide)
Effective lining area 161.16 sq in.
Body and frame Separate body and frame
Wheelbase 110.1 in.
Track, f/r 57.0 in/57.0 in
Overall length 183 11/16 in.
Curb weight 3701 lbs


The article mentions that their test truck was borrowed from Jeep and it had actually been sold already. I can’t imagine the proud owner of the allegedly brand new Wagoneer would have been too happy if he saw the kind of use it got on its way to him!

I had guessed that the i.f.s. setup would make for poor cornering due to excess camber changes. Apparently not! According to the test, there is virtually no camber change and it corners quite well, at least in four wheel drive. In two wheel drive, they say that it “seems to ‘heel’ over suddenly in corners and doesn’t feel completely stable.” The author attributes this to the negative caster, which is known to give a feeling of heeling over. He also says that’s “a necessity since directional stability increases with negative Caster in front-wheel-drive vehicles – just the opposite of rear-wheel-drive vehicles.” Maybe that was the practice then, but I’m not sure it is now. At any rate, the amount or direction of caster wouldn’t be inherent to the suspension design, so it could have been refined, and perhaps was during its five years of production.

I would be tempted to credit the extremely skinny 6.7 in. bias ply tires for any poor handling, though I’m sure the testers were used to that type of tires on most cars and they wouldn’t be responsible for any perceived deviation from normal handling standards. I do think it surely suffers from the lack of a sway bar.

The independent suspension cost $160 extra, which on the $3,332 base price would be only about 5%. That’s less than you’d have paid for the automatic transmission or (starting in 1965) the 327 Vigilante AMC V8. Motor Trend said “We would definitely recommend the independent layout and feel that its added advantages are worth every penny of the extra cost.” So why didn’t more customers choose it?

Of course there are some more questions outstanding, like: Were there reliability issues? How big of an improvement in ride or off-roading did the i.f.s. give compared directly to the solid axle?

In other areas, the review is mostly positive. They found the new Tornado SOHC engine quiet, smooth and reasonably powerful. They liked its roominess and versatility and even allowed that “the little lady wouldn’t be ashamed to drive it to her weekly bridge club.” If that isn’t a ringing endorsement, 60’s style, I don’t know what is.