With Jeep set to reintroduce the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer in 2021, vintage Jeeps have been on the rise. Jeep itself has already made Moab concepts that call back to the brand’s history, and there’s no shortage of companies that can restomod a classic SUV into a luxurious driver. But sometimes, these restorations can go a bit overboard, when they should’ve kept it simple. Which makes what Jay Leno recently drove, the Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip concept, all the more refreshing.
A brief Wagoneer history
Before the first Range Rover, there was the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. It’s widely considered to be the first luxury SUV, although it’s also arguably more of a lifted station wagon with four-wheel drive. It’s also worth bearing in mind the Grand Wagoneer debuted in 1962: a ‘luxury SUV’ at the time was one that had a solid roof and an automatic transmission.
But the Jeep Wagoneer had staying power. So much so, it was in production until 1991. If anyone ever complains about the Toyota 4Runner feeling old, point them to this Jeep. However, just like the 4Runner, Jeep did update the SUV over the years. Amenities like leather seats, wood exterior trim, power windows, and independent front suspension were added on. The drivetrain was also updated, although even with a 5.9-liter V8, the Wagoneer isn’t exactly quick, as The Smoking Tire discovered.
But, because the Jeep Wagoneer was produced for so long, many people have fond memories of it. And in 2018, for the annual Easter Jeep Safari, Jeep designers decided to rekindle those feelings. So, FCA designer Chris Pisticelli got to work and made the 1965 Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip concept.
Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip concept
Starting with a 1965 Wagoneer found on Craigslist, Pisticelli and his team moved the front and rear axles to stretch the wheelbase 5”. This, Pisticelli told Leno, was to give the Wagoneer proportions more like a modern SUV. The team also widened the track, replaced the stock bumpers with modified Chevy C10 ones, as well as reshaped the wheel wells and added fender flares.
The extra space meant the team could fit 17” steel wheels with 33” BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain off-road tires. In addition to improving traction, this also raised the SUV’s ground clearance slightly. Off-road capability was further improved with Dana 44 front and rear axles, like those on a modern Wrangler, and by swapping out the original leaf springs for 4-link suspension with coil-over springs. The Jeep Wagoneer was already body-on-frame, but to improve rigidity, the team boxed and reinforced the frame. And to help it stop, it now has four-wheel disc brakes.
Originally, the Wagoneer came with an inline-6. This has been replaced with a 5.7-liter V8, making roughly 380 hp, mated to a four-speed automatic. Pisticelli revealed a Hellcat engine could have potentially fit, but the intent for this concept was relaxed daily-driving, not crazy power.
The interior certainly fulfills the mission. The old headliner was replaced with a wicker one, and the stock front and rear bench seats have been reupholstered in red (‘Oxblood’, as FCA, calls it) leather. There’s also a cooler in the back, made out of 60s luggage, and a toolbox made from the original engine’s valve cover. However, the carpets have been removed, so they wouldn’t get dirty from the Moab dust.
Did Jay Leno like the Jeep?
In a marked contrast from his time with the Drako GTE, Jay Leno seemed to enjoy the Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip.
He admired how period-correct the concept looked, and the lengths the design team went to in order to maintain the overall design while updating it. Jay also liked how the SUV wasn’t obscenely powerful; he appreciates its more ‘relaxed’ nature. He was also a big fan of the original metal dash, despite—or perhaps, because of—its less-than-modern safety factor. Jay Leno also commented on how often people were showing their appreciation for the Jeep.
Considering the new Wagoneers are going to be plug-in hybrids, and how they have to conform to modern safety standards, the Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip will remain a concept. But maybe it’ll also be an inspiration for future restorations to keep it simple.
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