Last weekend, I used a 2020 Jeep Gladiator to bring home a free 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and while, from a distance, the SJ Jeep is a beautiful wood vinyl-covered classic, a closer look reveals that it is deeply flawed.

I’m not sure anyone will be surprised to hear that a free Grand Wagoneer has some problems, but I figured I may as well introduce readers to my new machine, which I plan to either use as a test-bed for body work and paint, or as a winter beater. Probably both.

I’ll begin with the worst part, namely, the interior, which emits a putrid smell that could only be emanating from rodent excrement.

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The front center armrest is pretty toasty, and there’s junk all over the cushions and floorboards (well, “floorboards”—I’ll get to that in a sec), but for the most part, the front seat area looks workable. It’s the rear that has me concerned:

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There’s a lot of crap back there, which isn’t a huge deal, except that I’m 90 percent sure that much of it (especially that paper towel roll shown above) has been used as nesting material for small critters. I say this because just look at this nest inside my headliner:

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Here’s a look at it through the rear window:

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I’d wondered how the headliner had gotten so droopy, but this makes sense: Some heavy, urine-filled animals lived up there.

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One of the more immediate issues preventing me from moving this Jeep from my backyard is that I don’t have a key. Well, I should say that the key that I do have only works for the doors and not for the ignition, so I’ll have to crack into that steering column and replace the lock cylinder.

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OK, now for the most predictable attribute of this free Grand Wagoneer from Ohio: rust. The worst of it is the driver’s side floor, through which one can see the carpets. Here’s the front:

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The good news is that the main hat-channel stiffeners seem solid, it’s just the mostly-flat sheetmetal pans that need to be replaced. Here’s shot of the paper-thin pan in the rear:

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Up top, there are a few rust spots on the driver’s side, including on the front fender:

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The bottoms of the doors are looking a bit toasty, as well.

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And on the inside, the driver’s door is starting to rot:

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And though the rocker panel appears to only contain a few perforations, a few swift kicks would open up a four-foot hole, as the metal is as floppy as a wet shirt. This rocker panel is hanging on by a thread:

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There’s also a bit of brown on the rear quarter panel:

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Moving to the passenger side, the floors look much better:

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Towards the rear, though, there is a fairly sizable hole, but it’s still not nearly as bad as the driver’s side:

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Somehow, despite having nicer floors, the passenger’s side rocker panel looks worse than the driver’s side (though, again, all it would take is a few swift kicks and the driver’s side would likely look even worse):

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The passenger-side quarter panel is also toasty:

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My biggest concerns, of course, are the structural bits. The fuel tank skid plate, which has the job of not only protecting, but to holding up my fuel tank, is pretty far along on its journey towards total disintegration:

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I also noticed a small hole in the frame near that fuel tank. I’ll have to break out the hammer and punch to make sure this region—which tends to be where dirt collects as it gets squished between the frame and the fuel tank—isn’t too structurally compromised.

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Another thing worth mentioning is that there appears to be a crusty body mount on my dashboard for some reason:

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And upon slamming the free Woody’s door during unloading, this fell from underneath. That looks like part of a body mount.:

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There are also a couple of smaller rust-areas like this one behind the grille:

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And this one just above the rear glass:

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But that’s enough talking about the bad stuff, because this Wagoneer’s actually got some great features. First off, the vinyl looks great!

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Plus, look at this gorgeous hood ornament:

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Not to mention, both the front and rear bumpers are dent-free, and so is most of the exterior trim:

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Sure, the Jeep’s clear coat is pretty roached, but overall, I think the body looks decent from up top.

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The engine, which only has about 150,000 miles on it, doesn’t appear to be missing any major components, and the oil not only looks decent, but it’s at the right level. I bet this AMC 360 V8 will purr by the time I’m done with it.

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That engine bay does seem to have housed some wasps. Here’s a nest on my ignition module:

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And here’s one on my AC compressor:

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There was also a nest on my passenger-side front door, and I’m sure I’ll find quite a few others as I start cleaning this thing.

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So, as much as this is an article about the Grand Wagoneer’s faults, there’s no doubt I’m missing a lot of them, since I really haven’t dug into this thing. But even just a few minutes of tinkering revealed that my rear brakes have a leak somewhere, since my front reservoir was empty:

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So it’ll be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t as I really start wrenching on this beast. I sincerely hope this nice towing connector functions.

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And hopefully this brake controller does, too:

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Gosh I can’t wait to get this thing back on the road. There’s just something exciting about bringing an old machine back to life after years of dormancy. Who knows what mysteries I’ll discover.