Vintage Wagoneers and Why Fake Wood is Cool Again

The Jeep Wagoneer was around from 1963 to 1991, making it one of the longest-running models in the U.S. It was also arguably the first luxury sport-utility vehicle, even though that terminology had not entered the mainstream lexicon when rigs like this 1975 model were in dealer showrooms.

Today these things are coveted among nostalgic Generation Xers who recall taking childhood road trips in them or wish they had. Unlike 1970s Ford Country Squires, Oldsmobile Vista Cruisers and other big station wagons of the 1960s and 1970s, Wagoneers were considered a cut or two above mass-market family conveyance. They pulled horse trailers and sailboats and turned up on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard (before everyone and his brother started going there).

Survivor SUV: This 1975 Jeep Wagoneer is a nice example of how long a well-cared-for old truck can last. when meticulous
Survivor SUV: This 1975 Jeep Wagoneer is a nice example of how long a well-cared-for old truck can last. when meticulous

The Wagoneer even made the list of “Proper Makes” in Lisa Birnbach’s original “Preppy Handbook” of 1980 – right up there with BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

In truth, they are seriously flawed machines prone to problems from annoying quality-control snags to structural corrosion that can render them unserviceable. And at this point they are so old that many on used-car lots are suffering from some sort of terminal ailment, often rust-related. Shopping for one can be an exercise in heartbreak. Find a good one, though, and you will be cruising in style and evoking envy wherever you go.

A growing number of classic-car purveyors are taking note of vintage SUVs and tracking down and restoring well-kept, low-mileage examples. One who has done this for more than 20 years is Wagonmaster in Kerrville, Texas. But beware — the company’s inventory might give you sticker shock.

Over the past decade or so I have watched prices for these Wagoneers go from the $30,000 and $40,000 range to the high 50s and low 60s. But that might simply be what it takes to get an example that isn’t falling apart. S

One look at Wagonmaster’s inventory can trigger flashbacks to the 1970s and 1980s.

everal people who bought Wagonmaster vehicles say they are a good deal. One bicoastal family I know keeps one of the SUVs in California and another in Maine.

Who says faux-wood paneling is tacky?


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