Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

When I took ownership of my free Jeep Grand Wagoneer last summer, I had low expectations. The Jeep hadn’t run in many years, it was filled with mouse crap and it was fairly rusty. But after some wrenching and cleaning, I’ve now got a decent example of one of the most value-appreciating Jeeps in all of the land. Check it out.

Advertisement

The plan for this Jeep Grand Wagoneer has from day one been to fix it, sell it, and use the funds to resurrect my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle from its sad, sad state. When I picked it up, the Woody had been sitting on the previous owner’s property for many years. Its tires were bad, its floors rusted out, its interior filled with mouse excrement. There was no key and the motor did not run, which is why Rodney, the previous owner’s boyfriend, had to use a tractor to push the dead carcass onto my U-Haul railer:

Advertisement

The tires are still awful, but they still inflate, and the floors on the driver’s side are still crusty as hell (we’ll show that in a bit). But otherwise, I’ve gotten this Grand Wagoneer into respectable, sellable shape without having to do too much work.

One of the first things I did was replace the ignition switch, which required taking apart the steering column. This wasn’t a huge deal, as the steering wheel puller and a lock plate remover I needed were available for free rental at the local car parts store.

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

Here’s the new ignition cylinder:

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

I also swapped out the Jeep’s fuel pump, since—as has been typical of every neglected mechanical fuel pump I’ve ever dealt—it no longer worked:

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

I also replaced a starter motor, changed the oil, and filled the cylinders with automatic transmission fluid to make sure those walls were nice and lubricated before I tried to crank the Jeep (with the spark plugs removed, of course). After shooting out the ATF from the cylinders and replacing the plugs I was able to get the Jeep firing well, though I had to jump the starter relay as the ignition switch in the column wasn’t activating the starter:

Advertisement

You’ll notice in the video above that I was running the vehicle off a jerry can. This was because I wasn’t sure how old the gas was in the fuel tank and I didn’t want that to be a factor in my engine diagnosis. My goal was to first see if the AMC 360 motor ran and take it form there. Luckily, it did.

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

More recently, I had to replace brake lines. I only did the fronts as I knew for a fact that as soon as I tried bleeding the rear brakes, I’d break off the rusty nipples on the wheel cylinders and next thing you know I’d be rebuilding a set of drum brakes. I wanted to focus on getting the Jeep driving, so that I could diagnose other faults; plus, the front brakes are the more important ones, anyway.

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

With a running, stopping Jeep, I then turned my attention on the ignition system. I’d replaced the lock cylinder in the steering column and I’d even thrown in a new starter relay and a fresh battery. What was the deal? Well, the answer ended up being a few crossed wires on that solenoid:

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

This made it so that the starter wouldn’t engage reliably when I turned the key, but when the engine was running, it would. This made a horrible noise. Luckily, swapping the two wires and tightening the battery clamps is all it took, and now the starter engages only when I turn the key in the steering column. More importantly, the engine fires up, idles, and revs smoothly despite me not having to even touched the carburetor.

Before I could take the Wagoneer on a maiden voyage, I had to clean the interior, which was infested with mouse droppings, a mouse carcass and an open jug of disgusting, gelatinous herbicide with a bunch of dead bugs swimming in it. I really should have taken a picture of that because the actual jug itself had disintegrated and that buggy herbicide was the thing of nightmares.

Advertisement

But no fear, because I do have pictures of some other nightmare-fodder I found in that interior:

Advertisement

Here’s a more recent disturbing discovery under the front center seat/armrest:

I tried using my own household vacuum cleaner to suck up all the mouse nests/droppings, but I think I might have killed my machine because it’s lost all suction. I got some of it cleaned but ultimately had to drive to a local gas station. Yes, you read that right, after inflating its tires, I drove the free Wagoneer for the first time. And my god was it glorious:

Advertisement

Even at the gas station, one of the vacuums lost suction, but eventually I found a dirt-sucker that could handle the job and the result—as shown in the clip above and in the images below—is a pretty respectable Jeep interior. (Droopy, mouse crap-filled headliner notwithstanding).

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement
Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement
Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

I even found the key to the glovebox while cleaning the Jeep out, and inside was the original owner’s manual:

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

Clearly, this Wagoneer still has some major issues. That interior will need a deep clean and maybe reupholster, the driver’s seat leans back too far and needs some sort of structural repair, the dash is cracked and the Jeep will need a new headliner (I’ll be tearing the old one out soon). Plus, again, there’s some rust, especially on the floors on the driver’s side:

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

And the fuel tank skid plate is toast, as are both rockers.

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

I also found a tiny hole in the frame near the fuel tank. It doesn’t seem like a major issue, and poking around that hole seems to reveal reasonably strong metal. But this is something that should probably be hit with a welder soon:

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

There’s also a decent amount of surface rust on the rear quarter panels:

Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic
Advertisement

Obviously, this Jeep is still very much a project and, at least aesthetically, I didn’t really do much to the exterior—it looked okay when I bought it, but needs plenty of rust and paint work. But this won’t be a project for me, because I’m going to wash my hands of the free Wagoneer.

I might take care of that rear brake line and grind off some of the surface rust on the quarter panels, but otherwise, this Jeep is done taking up my wrenching time. It’s time to put it up for sale. I think it’s a pretty decent example, at least, as far as Wagoneer projects go.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

I haven’t decided what I’ll sell the Jeep for. There aren’t too many Grand Wagoners for sale near Detroit, but a few states over, ones in similar (okay, slightly better) shape seem to list for around $4,000. I know Wagoners have been appreciating, but that seems high, so who knows if anyone anyone will actually buy mine at anything like that price, especially given the current economy. I’ll have to do some more research on this.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

This is going to be my first true “flipping” experience, and I have to admit that it feels a bit dirty. Cars are so much more to me than financial objects. They are soulful mechanical beings that deserve respect. But in this case, I’ll try to sleep at night by telling myself that this Jeep needed to be saved, and that letting it go will give life to my eight other Jeeps that need time and money dumped into them.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled How I Turned A Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer Into A Decent Example Of A True Classic

I just need to have the discipline to avoid driving this machine, because if I spend too much time behind the wheel, I know I’ll fall in love. Grand Wagoneers have a certain charm about them that’s simply irresistible.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

actualrootwyrm
Spamfeller Loves Nazi Clicks

Actually, David, I don’t believe that’s a rust hole there in the frame. Frame looks dead solid, albeit in need of a wire brush and repaint.

The hole you see there is - I believe - a stress relief cut for the welding of the body mount immediately adjacent. (I know the SSJ has similar punches in it which have been marked as ‘do not fill.’) I would be entirely comfortable saying this frame appears solid with no known or significant rust-through.

As far as pricing, I’m as flummoxed as you. The fact is this is a very complete, numbers matching restoration candidate. It’s an excellent restoration candidate with relatively low miles and has NO defects that would not be expected on one of these. The headliner on these always falls apart, the rockers always rot out, you know the routine.

Given it runs and drives, has actual value-add repairs made, and doesn’t leak like a sieve, I honestly think if the rear window electrical works (all the glass being intact is a big plus here) that $3500-$4000 would not be at all out of line. But with the current everything, it’s very unlikely to find a buyer regardless of price.

But, I’m also very much of two minds. The Golden Eagle deserves a textbook restoration; this one doesn’t. It’s not rare, it’s not in excellent shape, but it’s not a basket case either. It’s the perfect basis for a fun and functional project. Maybe build a rusEFI-based MPFI 360ci with Edelbrock heads at around a 9.5-10.5:1 CR (should be good for ~375-425ft/lbs while opening higher range,) mild towing reinforcement on the frame, some junkyard Buick seats, put together a nice tow rig for the next Moab basket case.