How A Thrifty Chrysler Launched The Grand Cherokee With A Car Crash

When Patrick posted a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee video from Regular Car Reviews, I saw a video clip I hadn't seen in years: The reveal of the original 1993 ZJ at the 1992 North American International Auto Show.


The early '90s were strange times for Chrysler. They had a bunch of products that were, well, not Chryslers. Many of the Jeep and the now-defunct Eagle models carried over from AMC, which Chrysler bought in 1987. And most of the Eagle models at that time were derived from Renault or Mitsubishi — as well as several Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler-badged vehicles.

Chrysler needed something that would make a statement and would separate them from the herd. SUVs hadn't totally dominated America yet, but it was looking that way when GM introduced four-door versions of the Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy and Ford came along with the Explorer.

Enter the Grand Cherokee, which AMC began developing in the '80s before Chrysler took over. But was it enough to just put another four-door truck on the road and hope for people to buy it just because?

Auto shows are often a dog-fight for attention among journalists, and being that Detroit's show was (and still is) the biggest in the U.S., whoever commanded the most attention won the brass ring.

So the story goes, Chrysler didn't have much of a public relations budget for the biggest reveal, so they worked with what they had. They invited journalists to crowd around the lobby of Cobo Hall and be patient for something exciting.


A few miles away, a police escort was leading a fresh-off-the-line Jeep Grand Cherokee from the Jefferson North Assembly Plant (which just built the five millionth Grand Cherokee a few months ago) down Jefferson Avenue to Cobo. If you know Detroit, this is a straight shot from point A to point B.

Chrysler staged some prop glass in the Cobo lobby and the driver of the Grand Cherokee pushed the SUV up the stairway and through the glass (though if you pay close enough attention, you can hear the glass break a microsecond before it crashes through). The media was astounded and reporters declared victory for Chrysler.


If you were in Detroit at the time, the Grand Cherokee bursting through the glass was all over the news for a week. People couldn't get enough of seeing that thing. In retrospect, it seems pretty silly and anyone could have thought of it — but this was 1992, after all.

Look closely at the video, and Jefferson Avenue hasn't changed that much, either. That McDonald's is still there, most of the apartment buildings are still there, Jefferson Chevrolet is still there. Jefferson-Chalmers, the area around JNAP, is seeing a slow revival thanks to some revitalized storefronts, but it is weird to see the old Crain Communications building before they moved over near Eastern Market.


(Something I didn't notice until now: The first Grand Cherokee has eight slots in the grille as opposed to seven slots like all Wranglers. All Jeeps from then on had seven slots, and designers won't let you forget that.)

Chrysler would repeat the Grand Cherokee-through-the-glass entrance at future auto shows but nothing tops the original. Check out this longer video of the assembly-line production at JNAP.


Way too bad this platform will never be accepted by mainstream volume buyers anymore. Dana straight axles, NP Tcase, link/coil suspension, excellent engine/trans configurations. A very durable setup, easy to modify and cheap to repair. A shitload were sold through '98 (with many still on the road).

Alas, the motoring public has been spoiled to the point we think smoother ride, a quieter interior, and amenities make a better suv. Depends on your definition of 'better', I guess. Capability and durability are high on my list for this type of vehicle.

I love my '95 V-8 ZJ.