Back when legendary designer Brooks Stevens helped style the original “Rhino Grille” 1963 Jeep Wagoneer, he probably didn’t expect Jeep to keep the basic fascia design alive for 29 model years. And yet, the brand did just that, though the average person may not realize it.
My 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle is outfitted with a very 1970s-ish grille known among Jeepers as the “Pig Nose Grille.” The chrome-plastic grille has nine short horizontal rows that stretch from one square headlight to the next—as well as a number of vertical columns—all attached to a thick grille surround that reaches up into the void made by the raised center of the hood, outboard to the fenders, and also down below to the front turn signals.
But though it looks like a unique front fascia, my Golden Eagle is hiding a bit of history behind that grille.
The top photo shows what’s underneath my 1979 Jeep Cherokee’s face. There’s a tall and narrow opening in the center for a radiator, two empty round inboard holes, two larger round outboard holes and a bunch of little brackets on the bottom of the fascia.
Take away the square headlights in the round holes, imagine all the brackets gone, put a chrome grille in the middle, some round lights on the outside and some fake vent-covers in the inboard holes, and you’ll end up with something that looks a lot like this:
The reason for this is that Kaiser Jeep and AMC found a brilliantly cheap way to refresh Stevens’s awesome original “Rhino Grille” design throughout the years: they simply screwed a new grille over the old face.
It’s pretty fascinating the way they did it. AMC literally built little brackets to allow assembly-line workers to screw a square headlight into a round hole. It’s totally bonkers. They also welded onto the bottom of the former Class-A surface (a “styled” surface that people see) a bunch of tiny brackets that jutted out towards the front of the Jeep, allowing the new grille to simply screw right over the old face.
Notice how, at the center of the Pig Nose Grille grille below, there’s a raised section that reaches into the hood, and at the bottom there’s a dip to cover where the bottom of the old Rhino grille once sat.
Along the bottom of the grille are holes through which screws are spun into the tiny brackets on the old fascia, the top of the grille is adorned with little brackets through which bolts holds the top of grille to the radiator support, and there are little black rubber strips on the outside edges of the grille surround to fill the gap between it and the fender.
What’s wild is that Kaiser and AMC did this for years. Here’s a look at what’s known as the Muscle Grille on my 1985 Jeep J10.
If you look closely through the grille slots, you’ll spot the old Kaiser-era fascia below the new face:
Just look at the square headlight screwed into the round hole:
Like in my Cherokee, the new grille is bolted to the radiator support from the top:
And like the Cherokee, there are a number of brackets welded to the base of the old fascia, into which the new grille screws:
Heck, AMC was so lazy and cheap when it did the redesign for the Muscle Grille, it just kept a bunch of the old, unnecessary brackets around. Here’s a look through a grille slot of one of two brackets on the base of the old fascia that’s not even used:
And here’s a closer look at the black rubber strip between the grille and the fender:
This cheap but effective way of restyling the Wagoneer and other “SJ” platform Jeeps continued on for many years, with the last fascia redesign happening for 1986 on the Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
The “Final Type” grille, as it’s called among Jeep folks, was the last of the SJ grilles, remaining until the last SJ—the Jeep Grand Wagoneer—went extinct following the 1991 model year. But even that final 1991 model was hiding a bit of 1963 behind its grille:
Like the other grilles mentioned, headlight brackets allowed for a square to be bolted into a round hole, and a bunch of small brackets at the base of the old fascia held the bottom of the new grille on:
Bolts held the top of the grille to the radiator support, and a black rubber strip filled the gap between the grille and the fender:
But my favorite of the Wagoneer redesigns was the “Razor Grille.” It fastened to the old facia via small brackets, and it also bolted to the radiator support, though it didn’t have prominent rubber strips between the grille and the fender.
If you look at the picture above closely, you can see the inner vent holes from the original Rhino grille. This particular vehicle (the Jeep Wagoneer Road Trip Concept) actually came from the factory with the old Kaiser grille, but Jeep designers decided they liked the later Razor grille better, so they did what Kaiser did in 1966, and simply slapped the Razor over top of the old fascia.
Unlike the previously-mentioned SJ grilles, the Razor does not have a “bump” at its center to fill the void created by the raised center of the hood. Instead, Kaiser Jeep decided to use a “hood bar” to fill that space, keeping the top of the grille itself nice and horizontal.
That hood bar is a common thing to break, and finding replacements is tough. Above is a hood bar-less Jeep Cherokee being sold at Mecum Auctions. It doesn’t quite look right.
You can see the full Smorgasboard of Jeep redesigns here, but don’t be fooled by any of them: underneath each grille lies the original legendary face of Gladiators and Wagoneers from the early 1960s.