For sale right now near Providence, Rhode Island is a beautiful, garage-kept example of a “Holy Grail” Jeep Grand Cherokee—one of only ~1,500 ever built with a manual transmission. I once went through hell to obtain a broken one of these rare vehicles, but now there’s one in seemingly decent condition ready to be snatched up for under three grand.
Back in December, my friend Brandon and I sacrificed years of life expectancy to limp home a $700, 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee equipped with the coveted (by me and a handful of other Jeep-obsessed weirdos) AX-15 five-speed manual transmission.
Since then, I’ve been driving the “ZJ”-generation Grand Cherokee regularly, and its excellence has exceeded my expectations. It takes everything good about the Jeep Cherokee XJ and adds significantly more interior space and ride comfort (it does sacrifice styling and some off-road capability, admittedly). It’s a good compromise, and though I still prefer the smaller XJ as an all-rounder, the manual ZJ is truly an exceptional and underrated Jeep, which is why I’m actually tempted to pick this one up from Massachusetts:
My own “Holy Grail” manual Jeep Cherokee is plagued with awful paint, a dented quarter panel, incomplete plastic body cladding, and a cracked and crusty interior. Restoring it to excellent condition would probably cost me $5,000, and that’s if I fixed everything myself and only left the paint and rear quarter panel to the experts.
This 182,000 mile Jeep for sale for $2,650 is clearly a better buy than mine was at $700 (Well, maybe not clearly—it does have one major flaw, which we’ll get to in a moment). Here’s what the listing says about the Jeep’s apparently “great” condition:
1994 4x4 Jeep grand Cherokee STANDARD great condition was mostly garage it’s whole life well cared for with all maintenance records clean inside and out. Was our aunts vehicle no problems with the vehicle at all this jeep would make a great project if somebody wanted to make it into a rally or just use it as is it’s mint for the age. No ticking engine runs perfect. Original clutch just to give you an idea how well it was cared for
Garage kept, single-family owned, maintenance records included—that all sounds pretty good. And the Jeep looks good, too. Check out this nice interior; it looks excellent, even if I do prefer my Jeep’s brown innards to this one’s gray:
Now let’s get to this Jeep’s main flaw: Rust. The seller says this ZJ is in “great condition,” but if you zoom in on that front-end photo, you’ll see corrosion at the front of the hood where it meets the grille and headlight on the driver’s side:
This prompted me to ask the seller for underbody photos. What I received was an email saying that the rust wasn’t too bad, though one of the photos has me a bit concerned:
You’ll notice that, where the transfer case crossmember mounts to the main structural unibody rail on the driver’s side, there appears to be quite a bit of scaly rust.
I don’t know what it would take to remove/repair the rust in this area, but it’s concerning to have what looks like significant rust in such a crucial part of the body. I’d rather have the floors in this shape than a main longitudinal rail. Speaking of the floors, one photo from the seller shows what looks like the original rustproofing/NVH foam. It looks quite nice:
Assuming the rust isn’t as bad as it looks, this Jeep would be a great buy if I wanted to restore a manual Grand Cherokee, which I do want to do at some point. But alas, I took my rattle-canned, imperfect Jeep to the prom, so it’s with her that I must dance. Someone else will have to twirl this amazing Jeep’s steering wheel around America’s asphalt dance floor.